1. Language is primarily a tool of
communication. Learning a language means
learning to perform communicative speech
acts with it.
In CLT, "communication" means using
language to make requests, give advice, agree
and disagree, complain, praise, to try to
persuade people to do things, and so on. The
focus should be on meaning, not on form.
Some supporters of CLT, like Geoff Thompson
argue that this is a misconception of CLT.
However, even he admits that there are good
reasons for this "misconception"
2. There is something called a
"communicative syllabus" which replaces and
is superior to a structural syllabus" .
It is often argued that a typical structuralist
syllabus focuses on the grammatical structure
of language rather than on the
"communicative" or pragmatic uses of those
language For example, so the argument goes
terms like "The Present Continuous", tell us
little or nothing about the fact that typical
examples of this form such as "You're standing
in my way" or "You're driving too fast" are
or that one of the most frequent uses of the
Present Progressive is not to talk about actions
in the present but about pre-arranged actions in
the future, For this reason, many CLT
supporters used to argue and still do that
language lessons should not be about "The
Present Continuous" or "The Present Perfect",
but about "Giving and getting personal
information", "Asking for and giving
directions", "Expressing Opinions", etc.
3.Communicative goals can be specified. We
can accurately describe what learners
should have learned and be able to do with
language at the end of the lesson
An example of a typical "communicative goal
is given below.
- talk about their own jobs and ask classmates
-use the Present Simple accurately and fluently
in this context
-choose correctly between a/an pronounce the
unstressed form of "d‘ you in their question
"Teacher-centred" means "BAD" The teacher
doles out formal knowledge of the language
like a cook giving prisoners thin soup and stale
bread in a Victorian prison. "Learner-centred"
This view is best summed up for me by Julian
Edge in what I think is the best and most
clearly written exposition of CLT principles,
Many classrooms are arranged so that all
students face forward to the teacher; the
message is clear.
◦ the teacher dominates
◦ all information will come from the teacher
◦ interaction between or among students is less
Edge goes on to describe other seating
arrangements which encourage co-operative,
communicative pair-work and group-work. In
one picture we see ten or eleven young
learners, perhaps in their late teens or early
twenties, listening attentively to one member
of the group talking.
In a second picture we see four learners
working together. The learners are
smiling, eager, interested, entirely absorbed in
the communicative task that they are
performing. These two pictures seem for me at
least to communicate better than any
others, the great intuitive appeal of CLT.
Professor John Trim, one of the founders of
CLT, has said that "children learning in school
must be taught that language learning is about
communicating, not getting things right". Trim
believes in "emphasising the importance of
repair strategies and of the acceptance of
He asks "if certain learner errors are so
predictable, how much effort is justified in the
attempt to put them right, instead of
developing different ways of enlarging that
person's communicative range?". Instead of
correcting mistakes, we should be doing things
that will extend the communicative range of
Strict turn-taking, "display questions", etc. are
"uncommunicative" and do not reflect the
"real world" outside the classroom. The
classroom must become like the world outside
the classroom, where we see people using
language spontaneously and communicatively.
The question "Is form as important as meaning?"
is fundamentally mistaken. Form IS part of
meaning. It matters whether I say "If I have time
I'll see you" or "If I had time, I'd see you " just as
it matters whether I say "A man attacked a
woman " or "The woman attacked the man. " The
kind of meaning we get from syntactic form tells
us essential things, such as "who did what, how,
and to whom."
One of the many questions for teachers and
materials writers is "How can we make
learners aware of how form contributes to
meaning?" I will give one possible answer to
that question at the end of this article.
It may be possible to communicate very basic
messages using words alone, but this is a
It is also possible and probably more effective
to communicate such messages using no
words at all. Hunger, thirst, anger, rage, sexual
desire, frustration and interest and most other
emotions can all be communicated through
gestures with perhaps a few grunts for
emphasis. This is not the kind of
"communication training" people are prepared
to pay money or give up time for.
Language- as Geoffrey Leech argues, has two
different domains. There is a GENERATIVE
and a PRAGMATIC domain. The generative
domain is syntactic and structural. It is
possible to state general rules at least about
how those syntactic structures are formed. The
pragmatic domain is concerned with speech
acts cannot be generated without
syntax, but speech act theory analyses
them purely in terms of their pragmatic
effect. Speech act theory tells us nothing
about how they are generated, and
nothing about how they are learned in the
The "narrow" or fundamentalist version of CLT can
easily become a stifling orthodoxy in which things
like rote-learning, memorisation, "display questions",
"teacher-talk" automatically mean BAD. None of
these things alone is bad. What matters is how, when
and why they are done. Although Thompson and
Edge have a much broader vision of CLT than the
fundamentalist version, it is often that narrow version
that prevails among teacher-trainers and other people
in strong positions of authority.