Communicative Language Teaching (The Communicative Approach)
As the language theories underlying theAudiolingual method and the Sitiuational Language Teaching method were questioned by
prominent linguists like Chomsky (1957) during the 1960s, a new trend of language teaching paved its way into
classrooms. Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) Which is an approach to the teaching of second and foreign languages,
emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of learning a language. It is also referred to as “Communicative
Approach”. Historically, CLT has been seen as a response to the Audio-Lingual Method (ALM), and as an extension or development of
the Notional-Functional Syllabus. Task-based language learning, a more recent refinement of CLT, has gained considerably in
Shortcomings of structuralism and behaviorism
The theories underlying the audiolingual method and the situational language teaching were widely criticized during the 1960s. Noam
Chomsky, for instance, rejected the structuralist view of language and demonstrated that there is a distinction between performance
and competence. The goal of the linguist is to study the linguistic competence native speakers are endowed with. He also showed,
rightly, that structuralism and behaviorism were unable to account for one fundamental aspect of language, namely the creativity
and uniqueness of individual sentences. A child is able to produce an infinite number of sentences that s/he has never encountered.
This makes the factors of imitation, repetition and habit formation weak arguments to account for any language learning theory.
A shift towards communicative proficiency
The increasing interdependency between the European countries necessitated a need for a greater effort to teach adults the principal
languages of the continent. New goals were set in language teaching profession:
The paramount importance of communication aspects of language.
The increasing interest in meaningful learning.
The growing centrality of the learner in teaching processes.
The subordinate importance of structural teaching of language.
Notional / functional dimension of language
Applied linguists and philosophers addressed another fundamental dimension of language: the functional and communicative
potential of language. The speech act theory showed that we do something when we speak a language. We use language ( cf
to get things,
to control behavior,
to create interaction with others,
to express personal feelings,
to create a world of imagination,
to communicate information.
Besides applied linguists emphasized a teaching of language based on communicative proficiency rather than mastery of structures.
instead of describing the core of language through traditional concepts of grammar and vocabulary, they (Van Ek & Alexander, 1975;
Wilkins, 1976) attempted to show the systems of meaning underlying the communicative use of language. They described two kinds
Notional categories: concepts such as time, sequence; quantity, location, frequency.
Functional categories: requests offers, complaints, invitation …
In other words, a “notion” is a particular context in which people communicate. A “function” is a specific purpose for a speaker in a
given context. For example, the “notion,” of shopping requires numerous language “functions,” such as asking about prices or
features of a product and bargaining.
One language competence or numerous competences?
For Chomsky the focus of linguistics was to describe the linguistic competence that enables speakers to produce grammatically
correct sentences. Dell Hymes held, however, that such a view of linguistic theory was sterile and that it failed to picture all the
aspects of language. He advocated the need of a theory that incorporate communication competence. It must be a definition of what
a speaker needs to know in order to be communicatively competent in a speech community.
Later Canale and Swaine (1980) described four dimensions of communicative competence.
Grammatical competence: refers to what Chomsky calls linguistic competence.
Sociolinguistic competence: refers to an understanding of the social context in which communication takes place (role
relationships, shared beliefs and information between participants …)
Discourse competence: refers to the interpretation of individual messsage elements in terms of their interconnectedness and
how meaning is represented in relationship to the entire discourse or text.
Strategic competence: refers to the coping strategies that participants use to initiate terminate, maintain, repair and redirect
According to the the communicative approach, in order for learning to take place, emphasis must be put on the importance of these
Communication: activities that involve real communication promote learning.
Tasks: activities in which language is used to carry out meaningful tasks supports the learning process.
Meaning: language that is meaningful and authentic to the learner boosts learning.
Acquiring or learning?
Stephen Krashen later advocated in his language learning theory that there should be a distinction betweenlearning and acquiring.
He sees acquisition as the basic process involved in developing language proficiency and distinguishes this process from learning.
Acquisition is an unconscious process that involves the naturalistic development of language proficiency while learning is the
conscious internalisation of the rules of language. It results in explicit knowledge about the forms of language and the ability to
verbalize this knowledge. Learning according to Krashen can not lead to acquisition.
Communicative language teaching syllabus organizes the teaching according to the notional and functional categories of language
rather than according to its structures.It concentrates on the following:
Interactions: using language to communicate,
Tasks: using language to perform meaningful tasks
Learner: puting the learner’s interesets, needs in the forefront.
Merits of CLT
There are many advantages in teaching according to the communicative approach:
CLT is a holistic appraoch. It doesn’t focus only on the traditional structural syllabus. It takes into consideration communicative
dimension of language.
CLT provides vitality and motivation within the classroom.
CLT is a learner centered approach. It capitalizes on the interests and needs of the learner.
In a world where communication of information and information technology have broken new considerable ground, CLT can
play an important role in education.
Notional syllabus was criticized as merely replacing one kind of list, namely a list of grammatical structures, with another list of
notions and functions.
The various categories of language functions are overlapping and not systematically graded like the structures of the language.
The communicative approach focuses on the use of language in everyday situations, or the functional aspects of language, and
less on the formal structures. There must be a certain balance between the two.It gives priority to meanings and rules of use
rather than to grammar and rules of structure. Such concentration on language behavior may result in negative consequences
in the sense that important structures and rules would be left out.
The approach relies extensively on the functional-notational syllabus which places heavy demands on the learners.
A major principle underlying this approach is its emphasis on learners’ needs and interests. This implies that every teacher
should modify the syllabus to fit the needs of the learners.
The requirements are difficult. Not all classrooms can allow for group work activities and for teaching aids and materials.
In spite of its critics, CLT has gained widespread acceptance in the world of language study. CLT can succeed, as long as teachers
don’t completely reject the need for the structure provided by grammar. Teachers must strive for moderation and don’t neglect the
merits of other methods. CLT, in the hands of a balanced teacher, can bring new life and joy to the classroom. Its vitality makes it an
important contributor to language learning approaches.
The Communicative Approach
A. The Contributions of the Communicative Movement
1. Goal of Language Teaching: Communicative Competence that can best serve the needs of the learner.
Communicative Competence (Canale and Swain, 1980)
(knowledge of lexical items and of rules
of morphology, syntax, sentencegrammar semantics, and phonology)
(knowledge of the
relation of language
use to its nonlinguistic context)
(verbal and non-verbal communication strategies that may be called
into action to compensate for breakDiscourse
downs in communication due to
(knowledge of rules performance variables or to
governing cohesion insufficient competence)
2. A New Type of Syllabus: Notional/Functional Syllabus
A notional/function syllabus is one "in which the language content is arranged according to the meanings a learner needs to express
through language and the functions the learner will use the language for... A notional syllabus contains (a) the meanings and
concepts the learner needs in order to communicate (eg time, quantity, duration, location) and the language needed to express
them. These concepts and meanings are called notions. (b) the language needed to express different functions or speech acts (eg
requesting, suggesting, promising, describing)." (Richards, Platt, and Weber, 1985, p. 196)
3. A New Category of Classroom Activities: Meaning Focused Activities
1) Information transfer -- is a type of communicative activity that involves the transfer of information from one medium (eg., text)
to another (eg form, table, diagram). Such activities are intended to help develop the learner's communicative competence by
engaging them in meaning-focused communication.
Example 1: Listen to the story and then add names to the family tree (explanations of the symbols omitted).
I'd like to tell what I know about Ed and Mary's family. Ed and Mary first met at college. Both of them were 19 at the time and they
started dating in their third year at college. They got married soon after they graduated from college. Two years after their marriage,
their first child was born. It was a boy. They name him Frank. A year later, they had another child. This time, it was a girl. They
asked Mary's parents to give her a name. They named her Judy. Frank and Judy grew up. They went to the same college their
parents went to. Judy met her boyfriend Eric at college. Soon they decided to get married. Ed and Mary thought Judy was a bit too
young, but Eric was such a nice young man, they thought it was all right. Soon, Judy and Eric had their first child. It is a son. Judy
and Eric had a hard time naming their son. First they thought of Alexander. They both liked the name, but it seemed such a long
name for such a little baby. They decided to ask Judy's parents for help...
2) Information Gap -- is a type of communicative activity in which each participant in the activity holds some information other
participants don't have and all participants have to share the information they have with other participants in order to successfully
complete a task or solve a problem.
Example 1: There are two shuttles leaving Atlanta airport for Auburn, one at 11:00 am, and the other at 8:00 pm. Someone is
coming to Auburn from Chicago. She or he wants to find a flight that arrives in Atlanta airport 45 minutes to an hour before the
shuttle leaves for Auburn so that he or she can have enough time to catch the shuttle, but does not have to wait for too long. Four
students participate in this activity. Their task is to find two flight they meet the above criteria. Each student has the flight
information for only one of the following four airlines, Delta, Northwest, United, and American. They have to share the flight
information they have to identify two flights that best fit for this person's need.
3) Problem Solving
Example 1: Listen to the following dialogues and find out how much each customer needs to pay for his or her order. Use the menu
provided (menu not shown here).
--Are you ready to order?
--Yes. I'd like to have a hamburger, French fries, and a cola, please.
--Is that all for you?
--Please pull to the front. Thank you.
--How can I help you?
--I'd like to have a chicken sandwich with cheese and an iced tea please.
--Is that all for you?
--I need a medium French fries too.
--May I take your order?
--I'd like to have two hamburger with chili please.
--Would you like to have something to drink?
--Yes, two colas please.
4) Role-Playing and Simulation
Remember what the CLT group did in class? They asked you to get into small groups and imagine that you were sitting in an
airplane. You talked among yourselves while enjoying the food and drink. It is very close to a simulation activity. For a simulation
activity, you may divide the class into 4-5 groups of 4 to 5 students each, as the CLT group did. After demonstrating how to offer
food and drink and accept/decline an offer, the instructor can ask each student to take turn to act as a flight attendant, offering food
and drink to the rest of the group. I suspect that after all the four or five members of a group have done it, everyone should be
highly familiar with how to fulfill these functions in the target language.
4. New Areas/Topics of Research for Enhancing Second Language Teaching
a. Need Analysis
Need analysis is the assessment of the needs for which a learner or group of learners may require a language. As a research area, it
started in the early 1970s along with the development of the communicative approach and has gone through substantial
developments in the 1970s and 1980s owing much to the work done by researchers such as Richterich, Munby. Proponents of the
communicative approach argued that the selection of instructional materials should be based on a systematic analysis of the
learners' needs for the target language. The rational behind need analysis is straightforward: people learn a foreign language for
different purposes and need it to do different things. The type of language varies along with the learners' needs for the language. A
graduate student learning a second language for academic purpose requires different language skills from a flight attendant. Thus, to
design an effective language course, it is critical to know why a learner decides to study a second language and under what
circumstances she or he is going to use it.
Need analysis involves "compiling information both on the individuals or groups of individuals who are to learn a language and on the
use which they are expected to make of it when they have learnt it." (Richterich, 1983, p. 2) A variety of data collecting methods are
used in need analysis, such as questionnaires, interviews, and observations. Information may be obtained from the learner,
sponsoring organization, receiving institutions, people already in the target situation. Different kinds of framework have been
established for analyzing language learners' needs. The following information is often taken into consideration need analysis (as part
of a learner's needs profile):
--reasons for learning,
--place and time of anticipated target use,
--others with whom the user will interact,
--content areas (such as traveling, telephone conversations),
--skills (listening, speaking, note-taking, translation, reading, etc.),
--level of proficiency required;
--how do the learners learn (e.g., learning styles and strategies)?
--what resources are available (e.g., teachers' proficiency in L2; cultural factors; amount and quality of input outside classroom)?
--who are the learners (e.g., age, background language)?
--where and when will the ESP course take place?
b. English for Specific Purposes (or English for Special Purposes)
Another field of language teaching that is closely related to the communicative approach is English for Specific Purposes, or ESP. ESP
is not a result of the communicative movement. It started earlier than that, in the 1960s. However, the communicative movement
has certainly contributed a great deal in the rapid development of ESP since the 1970s and ESP in turn has much enriched the
ESP is contrasted with EGP, or English for General Purposes. When English is taught as a second language in elementary or middle
schools, it is generally taught with a general purpose, i.e., an educational purpose. English, along with other school subjects, is
considered something good for them, or something they may need in the future. There is usually no immediate requirement for the
students to use English for any real communicative purpose. Different from such English teaching as part of school curriculum, there
are circumstances where a learner learns English with an immediate and specific purpose and real needs. English learned under such
circumstances is called English for Specific Purposes. Many different terms exist to describe English teaching programs aimed for
different subject areas, such as English for Science and Technology, English for Nurses, English for International Business, English for
Finance. A distinction is generally made between English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and English for Occupational Purposes (EOP).
EAP deals with English learning in study settings such as learning English for pursuing a college degree. EOP deals with the learning
of English for professional purposes or in work places. It should be noted that such distinction is not always clear-cut.
According to Robinson (1991, pp. 2-4), there are two critical features that are shared by all ESP programs and three other features
that may apply to some ESP programs:
1) Critical Features:
--goal-directed, i.e., a means rather than an end in itself. Language is considered as a "service" rather than studied as a subject for
its own sake.
--based on an analysis of learners' needs (Jiang: including analysis of the register/genre of the language used in the target
2) Typical Characteristics:
--learners are frequently adults;
--the time period available for learning is often limited;
--homogeneity (of subject background or profession) may exist. (from Johnson and Johnson,1998)
In addition to keeping in line with the learner's language and learning needs, the selection and presentation of instructional materials
are also based on an analysis of the register and/or genre of the language used in the target situation.
The following are the components of a sample EAP course (from Jordan, 1997, p. 74)
time spent on
listening and note-taking
academic speech (oral presentation & seminar strategies)
reading comprehension and strategies
integrated study skills
individual study project
note-making (from reading)
English for social purposes
Primary School Network: Language Information for teachers
The communicative approach
The communicative approach is an overarching approach to the teaching of languages, which is
learner-centred and emphasises communication and real-life situations. It is not a particular teaching methodology, but rather the
teacher uses many methods, strategies and activities to reflect how learners learn in a wide variety of ways. There are three phases
in a communicative lesson:
ƒ Motivation: set the scene
ƒ Language input: teach or revise vocabulary and structures needed for the task
ƒ Practice the language in a structured way
Learners use the language do a communicative task
ƒ All four skills can be used integrated and used communicatively
ƒ Reflect on and analyse the task
ƒ Address difficulties and common errors, identify language for further input and future teaching points
ƒ Re-use the language in another context to promote transfer of skills
ƒ Language awareness and language learning strategies
Key features of communicative language teaching ; Focus on fulfilling communicative needs, e.g. giving and asking for information,
expressing an opinion or describing something. These are called language functions. ; Learners need something to communicate
about, so build lessons around topics or themes. ; When planning, consider both the topic and also the functions
that the learners will be learning, and using. ; Start with the learner’s interests and practical functions that the can relate to … that
express things they want to say, or to hear, read or write about. ; Learner involvement is important. Think about allowing your
students to choose what they would like to learn to do or say next, with relation to a topic or theme. ; Plan for progression in the
functions the learners can use. e.g. infants learning Irish will relate to talking about themselves. They might want to be able to say
their name, identify body parts and feelings. Sixth class children might be interested in talking about their personalities and
characteristics –perhaps linked to zodiac signs. Students learning a modern foreign language might like to learn how to talk about
feelings and relationships. You could use lyrics of relevant songs they downloaded from the internet to support this. ; Always work
towards a specific language objective e.g. to be able to express likes and dislikes, to understand and give information, to follow
instructions. ; In real life we use the skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing in an integrated way. Try to duplicate this in
lessons, and teach the skills in an integrated manner. ; You will find that the approach is rewarding and motivating for learners, as
they have achieved something tangible, and can use what they have learned in an active way. ; Teach grammar in context. Use
grammar activities to address common errors. Allow the learner the opportunity to work out rules, and to use the structures in