Communicative Language Teaching approach

The Definition Of CLT

       Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) originated from the changes in the British Situational Language Teaching approach dating from the late 1960s (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). Stemming from the socio-cognitive perspective of the socio-linguistic theory, with an emphasis on meaning and communication, and a goal to develop learners¡¯ ¡°communicative competence¡±, Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach evolves as a prominent language teaching method and gradually replaced the previous grammar-translation method and audio-lingual method (Warschauer & Kern, 2000). Since the concept of ¡°communicative competence¡± was first introduced by Hymes in the mid-1960s, many researchers have helped develop theories and practices of Communicative Language Teaching approach (Brown, 1987; Canale, 1983; Hymes, 1971; Littlewood, 1981; Nattinger, 1984; Nunan, 1987 &1989; Richards & Rodgers, 1986; Widdowson, 1990). Hymes coined this term in contrast to Chomsky¡¯s ¡°Linguistic Competence¡±. As Stern (1992) explicated, ¡°Competence represents proficiency at its most abstract and psychologically deepest level¡± (p.73). Chomsky indicated that underlying the concrete language performance, there is an abstract rule system or knowledge and this underlying knowledge of the grammar of the language by the native speaker is his ¡°linguistic competence¡±. In contrast, Hymes argue that in addition to linguistic competence, the native speaker has another rule system. In Hymes¡¯ view, language was considered as a social and cognitive phenomenon; syntax and language forms were understood not as autonomous, acontextual structures, but rather as meaning resources used in particular conventional ways and develop through social interaction and assimilation of others¡¯ speech (Warschauer & Kern, 2000). Therefore, speakers of a language have to have more than grammatical competence in order to be able to communicate effectively in a language; they also need to know how language is used by members of a speech community to accomplish their purposes (Hymes, 1968). Based on this theory, Canale and Swain (1980) later extend the ¡°Communicative competence¡± into four dimensions. In Canale and Swain,  ¡°¡®Communicative competence¡¯ was understood as the underlying systems of knowledge and skill required for communication. Knowledge refers here to what one knows (consciously or unconsciously) about the language and about other aspects of communicative language use; skill refers to how well one can perform this knowledge in actual communication (Canale, 1983, p.5)¡±. From this perspective, what language teachers need to teach is no longer just linguistic competence but also socio-linguistic competence (¡°which utterances are produced and understood appropriately in different socio-linguistic contexts¡±), discourse competence (¡°mastery of how to combine grammatical forms and meanings to achieve a unified spoken or written text in different genres¡±), and strategic competence (¡°mastery of verbal and non-verbal communication strategies that may be called into action for compensating or enhancing communication¡±) (Canale, 1983, pp.7-11).

Distinguishing Features Of CLT

Richards and Rodgers (2001) have reviewed a number of people¡¯s works on CLT and described several distinguishing features of it. As ¡°communicative competence¡± is the desired goal, in CLT, meaning is paramount (Finocchiaro & Brumfit, 1983, cited by Richards and Rodgers, 2001). In socio-cognitive perspectives, language is viewed as a vehicle of conveying meaning, and knowledge is transmitted through communication involving two parts, for example, speakers and listeners, and writers and readers, but is constructed through negotiation. As a consequence, ¡°communication is not only a matter of following conventions but also of negotiating through and about the conventions themselves. It is a convention-creating as well as convention-following activity (Breen & Candlin, 2001, p.10)¡±. Therefore, there are three elements involved in the underlying learning theory: communication principle, task-based principle, and meaningfulness principle (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.161). Based on this perception, when applied to language learning, ¡°functional activities¡± and ¡°social interaction activities¡± (Littlewood, 1981) are consequently selected according to how well they engage the learner in meaning and authentic language use; learning is interpersonal to learn to communicate; attempt to communicate may be encouraged from the very beginning; dialogues, if used, centre around communicative functions and not normally memorized; and contextualization is basic premise; drilling may occur, but peripherally; any device that helps to communicate and understand is acceptable (Finocchiaro & Brumfit, 1983, cited by Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.156). To some extent, that is to say, students do not simply learn the linguistic structures and grammar rules. Rather, they should be actively making meaning through activities such as collaborative problem solving, writing for a purpose, discussion of topics of genuine interest, and reading, viewing and responding to authentic materials (Murphy, 2000). 

Since knowledge and learning are viewed as socially constructed through negotiation according to socio-cognitive perspectives (Breen & Candlin, 2001), another dimension of CLT is learner-centred and experience-based.  ¡°With interactive communicative language use as the call of the day, communicative processes became as important as linguistic product, and instruction became more learner-centered and less structurally driven¡± (Kern & Warschauer, 2000, p.5). In another word, in CLT context, learners are seen as active participants in the construction of knowledge, rather than passive recipients of information provided by the teacher or the textbook. In contrast, language teachers are no longer viewed as the authority of the knowledge, playing a dominant role. Rather, they share different roles such as communication facilitater, independent participant, needs analyst, counselor, and group process manager (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p.167) to create more fascinating experiences for the learners.

Besides the above features, Richards and Rodgers (2001) describe other significant characteristics of this approach including its efforts to make tasks and language relevant to a target group of learners through an analysis of genuine, realistic situations, its emphasis on the use of authentic, from-life materials, and its attempt to create a secure, nonthreatening atmosphere. All these attempts also follow the major principles of communicative view of language and language learning: helping learners learn a language through authentic and meaningful communication, which involves a process of creative construction, to achieve fluency. In this vein, in terms of classroom activity, it includes group work, task-work, information-gap activities, and projects.  

The Weaknesses Of CLT

Yet, inevitably, despite these outstanding characteristics, CLT also have weaknesses. Schmitt (2000) argued that CLT needs supportive vocabulary for functional language use but it gives little guidance about how to handle vocabulary. However, it has been now realized that mere exposure to language and practice with functional communication will not ensure the proficiency in language learning, so current best practice includes ¡°both a principled selection of vocabulary, often according to frequency lists, and an instruction methodology that encourages meaningful engagement with words over a number of recyclings¡± (p.14). Stern (1992) also pointed out that CLT approach puts an excessive emphasis on the single concept ¡°communication¡± so that ¡°in order to account for all varieties and aspects of language teaching we either stretch the concept of communication so much that it loses any distinctive meaning, or we accept its limitations and then find ourselves in the predicament of the ¡°method¡± solution¡± (p. 14). Some people criticized that as CLT focus on learner-centered approach, while in some accounts of CLT, learners bring preconception of what teaching and learning should be like, which when unrealized can lead to learner confusion and resentment (Henner-Stanchina & Riley, 1978, cited by Richards & Rodgers, 2001).

In addition, some people contended that CLT has not given an adequate account of EFL teaching despite its initial growth in foreign language teaching in Europe (Li, 2001). Stern (1992) argued that one of the most difficult problems is making classroom learning communicative is the absence of native speakers. Apparently, CLT are more successful in English as a Second Language (ESL) context because students usually have a very supportive learning environment outside school. They have more chances to be exposed to the authentic contact with native speakers and the target language, which reinforces what they learn in class. Besides, they have the motivation to work on oral English because they need it in their lives. In contrast, in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) context, due to some physical limitations, such as the purpose of learning English, learning environments, teachers¡¯ English proficiency, and the availability of authentic English materials, CLT meets much more difficulties during its application.

confronted by language teachers but it has a great potential that gain the apparent popularity in language teaching and learning domain. It also needs to realize that there In summary, CLT cannot be seen as a panacea for the problems that have been isn¡¯t a fix framework of CLT. As learners and the learning context are dynamic, when CLT is applied to a certain context, the adaptation and innovation of it is necessary.


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