COMMUNICATIVE LANGUAGE TEACHING: AN OVERVIEW
An article about CLT/ The Communicative Approach.
Language teaching approaches have always been serious attempts to better the educational process of teaching foreign languages. One of the outcomes of these attempts is the communicative language teaching approach. The latter has been empowered and undergirded by the greatest linguists, such as Chomsky, Hymes, and Michael Halliday, whose studies have immensely contributed to the development of the CLT approach.
First of all, it is quite appealing to open the discussion with a reflection on the historical background of the CLT approach as a preliminary stage in this article. Going back to the late 20s, the language teaching/learning scene was totally different. The language learning process was based on repetition and the habit of formation. Additionally, the focus of learning was primarily confined to the accuracy of production, rather than meaningful interaction. The focus of language learning lessons was centered on rehearsing grammatical patterns and vocabulary items. As a consequence, individuals who are taught according to this approach frequently experienced considerable difficulty in real-life communicative encounters. In this aspect, this teaching perspective has received critics from prominent linguists such as Noam Chomsky. The latter argued that the use of language should be beneficial for our actual performance. Hence, any language teaching attempt has to contribute to training learners to be good language users in real-life situations. Hymes (1971), in particular, stressed the need for language learners to develop communicative competence, which suggests that successful communication requires “knowing when and how to say what to whom’’. Therefore, the knowledge of grammatical structures and vocabulary is not sufficient to enable communication on a functional level. The critics mentioned above in addition to the expansion of global English resulted in a fundamental change in language teaching concepts. The passive skills –reading and listening- have been labeled as receptive ones. Furthermore, it has been recognized that communication consists not only of production (message-sending) and reception (message-receiving), but negotiation of meaning, or collaboration between senders and receivers. As a next step, then, the language education conception will be reframed from that of teaching a language to teaching students how to use the language.
Any attempt in the field of language teaching that aims at preparing adequate language users for real-life situations needs to adopt solid principles. The communicative approach is based on overarching principles that carry out different methods. Among the CLT principles stated by Berns 1990 are the following: first of all, language teaching perceives language as a social tool and key to communication in real-life situations. In addition, the aspect of diversity is highly relevant when it comes to language learning for communication purposes. Diversity is accepted in second language learning as similarly as in first language learning. Another significant principle is the aspect of culture in language. Language is the cornerstone of any culture. Thus, culture affects and shapes learners’ communicative competence in one way or another. Last but not least, learners need to do things with language. In other words, learners are taught languages to purposefully perform acts in various pragmatic contexts using language. Taking this scenario into consideration, we can assume that the CLT approach has treated language as a means of acting in different situations using language purposefully. All in all, language is the medium while communication is the aim.
Having in mind the aforementioned principles that construct the CLT approach, it is worthwhile to mention how the instructional practices in this approach promote the aspect of communication. In this regard, Nunan (1989) enumerated six basic elements that should be taken into account in designing communicative tasks, including (1) learning goals; (2) linguistic input; (3) classroom activities; (4) the teacher’s role; (5) the role of the students; and (6) the setting in which the activity is situated. The learning goal of a communicative activity indicates the outcomes expected from accomplishing a specific learning task. In terms of communicative language learning, these goals entail “establishing and maintaining relationships”; exchanging information; carrying out daily tasks; and obtaining and utilizing information from a variety of sources, such as the internet, television, and newspapers. Next, the linguistic input of the activity depends on the learning objective and the needs of the students. For instance, a teacher might design an activity framed around a newspaper article, a class schedule, a recipe, or a map…etc. Concerning classroom activities, they ‘‘should be designed to mirror authentic communicative scenarios as closely as possible’’. As a reason, the use of information-gap and problem-solving exercises, dialogs, role play, debates on familiar issues, oral presentations, and other activities is highly relevant. Such activities develop the learners’ skills that they will need to use the language in unrehearsed, real-life situations. Coming to the role of the teacher in CLT, Rodgers (2001) emphasizes the teacher’s role in this setting as that of a “needs analyst”. In other words, a teacher in CLT is a facilitator, activities designer, and monitor of students’ progress. Nunan 1989 also documented that the instructor may even take on the role of a participant in a given exercise, or even act as a co-learner himself, as students express themselves during the course of a communicative task. Equally important, the student's role is to negotiate meaning to accomplish a given communicative task. Since the activities are highly interactive, they can take place in small groups or even with the whole class. Finally, the setting where learning occurs does matter a lot in CLT. The classroom is not the only venue where communicative tasks can take place, but also other occupational settings, such as online instruction, community…etc.
Considering the implementation of the CLT approach in different EFL contexts, there are opposing perceptions about it. The CLT approach has been regarded as progressive and effective not only in settings where English is used as a second language but also in places where English is not the primary means of communication. However, an opposite view argues that the notion of creating authentic communicative scenarios in a foreign language setting is, in essence, a contradiction. In the same vein, Widdowson affirms that the target language as it is used in the EFL classroom “cannot be authentic because the classroom cannot provide the contextual conditions for it to be authenticated by learners”. Another challenge that encounters the effectiveness of CLT in the EFL context is the traditional teacher-fronted approach to language that students are accustomed to. They can hardly become active learners under such an approach.
In a nutshell, one cannot doubt the effectiveness of the CLT approach when it comes to teaching foreign languages. Though, applying this approach requires a lot of attention, creativity, and reasoning, especially when it comes to the setting as well as the activities planned to involve students in real interaction.