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Communicative Language Teaching


Communicative language teaching was born in the 1970s and early 1980s. There was an increased demand for language learning, particularly in Europe, where migration was considerely growing. Consequently, there was a large population of people who needed to learn a foreign language for work or for personal reasons, and schools started to include a foreign language as part of the curriculum.

At that moment, the traditional method was based in grammar teaching. But the trend of progressivism, a philosophy based on the idea of progress, motivated educators to look for new methodologies. Progressivism held that active learning is more effective than passive learning, so learner had to have a more active place in the classroom. According to these new demands on education, it came up the theory of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT).

The teacher’s role in CLT

The teacher is a facilitator or monitor, rather than a model of speaking or writing. She is in charge of facilitating the communication between students, as well as group work manager and/or monitor, among others.

The learner’s role in CLT

Learners are responsible for their own learning. They are participants and have an active role in the classroom. Learners work in cooperative activities rather tan individualistic ones.

Communicative Language Approach

CLT aims to communicative competence. Opposite to the concept of grammatical competence, CLT includes another aspects of language knowledge, such as the use of language for different purposes and functions, knowing how to communicate despite having limitations in language knowledge, the variation of language according to the setting and situations, and much more.

When it came the idea of a CLT Classroom, a question to solve was: what would a communicative syllabus look like? Educators were about to change their syllabuses, as well as the materials, as grammar was no longer a start point. Several syllabus types were proposed, such as:

  • A skill based syllabus: focusing on the four skills of beading writing, speaking and listening, breaking this skills into more microskills.

  • A functional syllabus: organized according to the functions the learner has to achieve in english, and grammar and vocabulary are chosen depending on these functions to be taught.

As well as rethinking the nature of a syllabus, the new communicative approach prompted a rethinking of teaching methodology.

Some principles of this methodology are:

  1. The focus of language learning is real communication.

  2. Learners have the opportunity to try out what they know.

  3. Teacher is tolerant to learner’s errors, because they indicate that the learner is building his/her communicative competence.

  4. Learners have opportunity to develop accuracy and fluency.

  5. Different skills are linked, such as speaking, writing, Reading or listening, as happens in reallife.

  6. Students induce or discover grammar rules.

For applying these principles, new techniques and activities were needed.

Classroom activities in CLT

There is a wide variety of proposed activities for developing communicative skills in the classroom, such as fluency tasks, accuracy tasks, information gap and jigsaw activities, information gathering, opinion-sharing and task completion activities, and role plays. Group work is an important part of the class, as students can learn from hearing the language used by their mates, and develop fluency at the same time.

Real life situations and materials are a must, since this methodology seeks for communicative purposes. Students must experience and infere the useful tools of language for real communication. Furthermore, they will understand the foreign language as a culture carrier.

CLT Nowadays

The contemporary views of language learning argue that communication is seen as a result of interaction between learner and uses of the language, collaborative creation of meaning, negotiation of meaning to arrive to at understanding and experimenting different ways of saying things, among others.

There are many methodologies to achieve the goal of communicative competence, that we can call them extensions of CLT. We refer to them as process-based methodologies:

  • Content-based Learning: advocates of CBL believe that content has to be linked to all the dimensions of communicative competence, including grammatical competence. Content provides a coherent framework to develop language skills. one of the issues regarding this methodology, is the fact that learners focus on content rather tan accuracy in language use.

  • Task-based Learning: advocates of TBL argue that grammar and another dimensions of communicative competence can be developed by engaging learners in interactive tasks. Tasks are a primary unit in classroom activities, and they distinguish two kind of tasks:

  1. Pedagogical tasks: require interactional processes and the use of specific types of language, and provide useful input to language development. They are not situations that would normally happen in real life.

  2. Real world tasks: reflect real world uses of language. Willis proposed in 1996 six types of tasks; listing, sorting and ordering, comparing, problem-solving, sharing personal experience and creative tasks.

TBL seems similar to traditional teaching in practise. However, it differs from traditional teaching approaches because of the principles of the P-P-P lesson:

  1. Presentation: the new grammar structure is presented through a text or conversation.

  2. Practise: Students practise the new structure.

  3. Production: Students practise using the new structure in different contexts, often using their own content in order to develop fluency with the new pattern.

Some TBL advocates think that this principles do not work,as they believe that controlled practise doesn’t develop fluency.

Many issues arise when implementing a TBL. Task work may serve to develop fluency at the expense of accuracy, and selecting and sequencing tasks is problematic.

We have also some other approaches within this methodology; such as a Text-based aproach, that sees communicative competence as the mastery of different types of texts, and Competency-based approach, that seeks to teach student the basic skills they need to face situations they easily encounter in everyday life.

Today, CLT influences many other language teaching approaches with a similar philosophy of language teaching.


I wrote this research about these approach many years ago at the Teacher Training School, and my views today are not so structured regarding methodologies.

Our learners are to be exposed to multiple approaches and contexts, as the variety of skills and multiple intelligences push us to seek a mix of different approaches to be a successful teacher.

Which approaches are the ones you mix in your classroom?

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