Method of teaching (Nailul muna)



The origins of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) are to be found in the changes in the British language teaching tradition dating from the late 1960s. Until then, situational language teaching represented the major British approach to teaching English as a foreign language. In situational Language Teaching, language was taught by practicing basic structures in meaningful situation based activities. But just as the linguistic theory underlying Audiolingualism was rejected in the Unites States in the mid-1960s, British applied   linguistic began to call into question the theoretical assumptions underlying Situational Language Teaching.

By the end of the sixties it was clear that the situational approach…had run its course. There was no future in continuing to pursue the chimera of predicting language on the basis of situational events. What was required was a closer study of the language itself and a return to the traditional concept that utterances carried meaning in themselves and expressed the meaning and intentions of the speakers and writers who created them (Howatt 1984: 280)

This was partly a response to the sorts of criticism the prominent American linguist Noam Chomsky had leveled at structural linguistic theory in his now classic book Syntactic Structures (1957). Chomsky had demonstrated that the current standard structural theories of language were incapable of accounting for the fundamental characteristics of language creativity and uniqueness of individual sentences. British applied linguist emphasized another fundamental dimension of language teaching at the time the functional and communicative potential of language. They saw the need to focus in language teaching on communicative proficiency rather than on mere mastery of structures. Scholars who advocated this view of language, such as Cristopher Candlin and Herry Widdowson, drew on the work of British functional linguists. (e.g. John Firth, M. A. K. Hallinday), American work in sociolinguistics (e.g. Dell Hymes, John Gumperz, and William Labov), as well as work in philosophy (e.g., John Austin and John Searle).

Another impetus for different approaches to foreign language teaching came from changing educational realities in Europe. With the increasing interdependence of European Common Market. The council of Europe, a regional organization for cultural and educational cooperation, examined the problem. Education was one of the Council of Europe’s major areas of activity. It sponsored international conferences on language teaching, published books about language teaching,, and was active in promoting the formation of the International Association of Applied Linguistics. The need to develop alternative methods of language teaching was considered a high priority.

In 1971, a group of experts began to investigate the possibility of developing language courses on a unit-credit system, a system in which learning tasks are broken down into “portions or units, each of which corresponds to a component of learner’s need and is systematically related to all the other portions” (van Ek and Alexander 1980: 6). The group used studies of the needs of European language learners, and in particular a preliminary document prepared by a British linguist, D. A. Wilkins (1972), which proposed a functional or communicative definition of language that could serve as a basis for developing communicative syllabuses for language teaching. Wilkins’s contribution was an analysis of the communicative meanings that a language learners needs to understand and express. Rather than describe the core of language through traditional concepts of grammar and vocabulary, Wilkins attempted to demonstrate the systems of meanings that lay behind the communicative uses of language. He described two types of the meanings:  national categories (concepts such as time, sequence, quantity, location, frequency) and categories of communicative function (request, denials, offers, complaints). Wilkins later revised and expanded his 1972 document into a book titled National Syllabuses (Wilkins 1976), which had a significant impact on the development of communicative Language Teaching. The Council of Europe incorporated his semantic/communicative analysis into a set of specifications for a first-level communicative language syllabus. These threshold level specifications (van Ek and Alexander 1980) have had a strong influence on the design of communicative language programs and textbooks in Europe.

The work of Council of Europe; the writing of Wilkins, Widowson, Candlin, Crishtopher, Brumfit, Keith Johnson and other British applied linguist on the theoretical basis for a communicative or functional approach to language teaching; the rapid application of these ideas by textbook writers; and the equally rapid acceptance of these new principles by British language teaching specialist, curriculum development centers, and even governments gave prominence nationally and internationally to what came to be referred to as the Communicative Approach, or simply Communicative Language Teaching. (The term national functional approach and functional approach are also sometimes used). Although the movement began as a largely British innovation, focusing on alternative conception of a syllabus, since the mid-1970s the scope of Communicative Language Teaching has expanded. Both American and British proponents now see it as an approach (and not a method) that aims to (a) make communicative competence the goal of language teaching and (b) develop procedures for the teaching of the four language skills that acknowledge the interdependence of language and communication. Its comprehensiveness thus makes is different in scope and status from any of the other approaches or methods discussed in this book. There is no single text or authority on it, nor any single model that is universally accepted as authoritative. For some, Communicative Language Teaching means little means more than an integration of grammatical and functional teaching. Little wood (1981: 1) states, “One of the most characteristic features of communicative language teaching is that it pays systematic attention to functional as well as structural aspects of languages.” For others, it means using procedures where learners work in pairs or groups employing available language resource in problem-solving tasks. A national primary English syllabus based on a communicative approach (syllabuses for primary schools 1981), for example, defines the focus of the syllabus as the “communicative functions which the forms of the language serve”. The introduction to the same document comments that “communicative purposes may be of many different kinds. What is essential in all of them is that at least two parties are involved in an interaction or transaction of some kind where one party has an intention and the other party expands or reacts to the intention”. In her discussion of Communicative syllabus design, Yalden (1983) discusses six Communicative Language Teaching design alternatives, ranging from a model in which communicative exercise are grafted onto an existing structural syllabus, to a learner-generated view of syllabus design (e.g., Holec 1980).

Howatt distinguishes between a “strong” and a “weak” version of Communicative Language Teaching:

There is, in a sense, a ‘strong’ version of the communicative approach and a ‘weak’ version. The weak version which has become more or less standard practice in the last ten years, stresses the importance or providing learners with opportunities to use their English for communicative purposes and, characteristically, attempts to integrate such activities into a wider program of language teaching… the ‘strong’ version of communicative teaching, on the other hand, advances the claim that language is acquired through communication, so that  it is not merely a question of activating an existing but inert knowledge of the language, but of stimulating the development of the language system itself. If the former could be describe as ‘learning to use’ English, the letter entails ‘using English to learn it.’ (1984: 279)

Finocchiaro and Brumfit (1983) contrast the major distinctive features of the Audiolingual Method and the Communicative Approach, according to their interpretation:


  1. Attends to structure and form more than meaning
  2. Demands memorization of structure-based dialogues
  3. Language items are not necessarily contextualized
  4. Language learning is learning structures, sounds, or words.
  5. Mastery, or “over-learning,” is sought
  6. Drilling is a central technique
  7. Native-speaker-like pronunciation is sought
  8. Grammatical explanation is avoided

Communicative language teaching

  1. Meaning is paramount
  2. Dialogues, if used, center around communicative function and are not normally memorized
  3. Contextualization is a basic premise
  4. Language learning is learning to communicate
  5. Effective communication is sought
  6. Drilling my occur, but peripherally
  7. Comprehensible pronunciation is sought
  8. Any device that help the learner is accepted- varying according to their age, interest, etc

(1983: 91-93)

Apart from being an interesting example of how proponents of Communicative Language Teaching stack the cards in their favor, such as a set of contrast illustrates some of the major differences between communicative approaches and earlier traditions in language teaching. The wide acceptance of the Communicative Approach and the relatively varied way in which it is interpreted and applied can be attributed to the fact that practitioners from different educational traditions can identify with it, and consequently interpret it in different ways. One of its North American proponents, Savignon (1983), for example, offers as a precedent to CLT a commentary by Montaigne on his learning of Latin through conversation rather than through the customary method of formal analysis and translation. Writer mountaigne, “without methods, without a book, without grammar or rules, without a whip and without tears, I had learned a Latin as proper as that of my schoolmaster” (Savignon 1983: 47). This antistuctural viw can be held to represent the language version of a more general learning perspective usually referred to as “learning by doing” or “the experience approach” (Hilgard and Bower 1966). This notion of direct rather than delayed practice of communicative acts is central to most CLT interpretations.

The focus on communicative and contextual factors in language use also has an antecedent in the work of the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski and his colleague, the linguist john firth. British applied linguists usually credit Firth with focusing attention on discourse as subject and context for language analysis. Firth also stressed that language needed to be studied in the broader sociocultural context of its use, with included participants, their behavior and beliefs, the objects of linguistic discussion, and word choice. Both Micheal Hallyday and Dell Hymes, linguist frequently cited by advocates of Communicative Language Teaching, acknowledge primary debts to Molinowski and Firth.

Another frequently cited dimension of CLT, its learner-centered and experience- based view of second language teaching, also has antecedents outside the language teaching tradition per se. an important American national curriculum commission in the 1930s, for example, proposed the adoption of an Experience Curriculum in English. The report of the commission began with the premise that “experience is all the best of all schools…The ideal curriculum consist of well-selected experiences” (cited in Applebee 1974: 119). Like those who have urged the organization of Communicative Language Teaching around tasks and procedures, the committee tried to suggest “the means for selection and weaving appropriate experiences into a coherent curriculum stretching across of the years of school English study” (Applebee 1974: 119).

Common all to versions of Communicative Language Teaching is a theory of language teaching that starts from a communicative model of language and language use, and that seeks to translate this into a design for an instructional system, for materials, for teacher and learner roles and behaviors, and for classroom activities and techniques. Let us now consider how this is manifested at the levels of approach, design, and procedure.


Theory of Language

The Communicative Approach in language starts from a theory of language as communication. The goal of language teaching is to the develop what Hymes (1972) referred to as “communicative competence” Hymes coined this term in order to contrast a communicative view of language and Chomsky’s theory of competence. Chomsky held that

Linguist theory is concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-listener in a completely homogeneous speech community, who knows its language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitation, distractions, shift of attentions and interest, and error (random or characteristic) in applying his knowledge of the language in actual performance (Chomsky 1965: 3)

For Chomsky, the focus of linguistics theory was to characterize the abstract abilities speakers’ posses that enable them to produce grammatically correct sentence in language. Hymes held that such a view of linguistic theory was sterile, that linguistic theory needed to be seen as part of a more general theory incorporating communication and culture. Hymes’s theory of communicative competence was a definition of what a speaker needs to know in order to be communicatively competent in a speech community. In Hyme’s view, a person who acquires communicative competence acquires both knowledge and ability for language use with respect to

  1. Whether (and to what degree) something is formally possible
  2. Whether (and to what degree) something is feasible in virtue of the means of implementation available
  3. Whether (and to what degree) something is appropriate (adequate, happy, successful) in relation to a context in which it is used and evaluated
  4. Whether (and to what degree) something is in fact done, actually performed, and what its doing entails

                                                                   (Hymes 1972: 281)


This theory of what knowing a language entails offers a much more comprehensive view than Chomsky’s view of competence, which deals primarily with abstract grammatical knowledge. Another linguistic theory of communication favored in CLT is Hallyday’s functional account of language use. “linguistics…is concerned…with the description of speech acts or texts, since only through the study in language in use are all the functions of language, and therefore all components of meanings, brought into focus” (Halliday’s 1970: 145). In a number of influential books and papers, Halliday has elaborated a powerful theory of the functions of language, which complements Hymes’s view of communicative competence for many writers on CLT (e.g., Brumfit and Johnson 1979; Savignon 1983). He described (1975: 11-17) seven basic functions that language performs for children learning their first language:

  1. The instrumental function: using language to get things
  2. The regulatory function: using language to control the behavior of others
  3. The interactional of function:  using language to create interactions with others
  4. The personal function: using language to express personal feelings and meanings
  5. The heuristic function: using language to learn and to discover
  6. The imaginative function: using language to create a world of the imagination
  7. The representational function:  using language to communicate information

Learning a second language was similarly viewed by proponents of Communicative Language Teaching as acquiring the linguistic means to perform different kinds of functions. A more pedagogically influential analysis of communicative competence is found in Canale and Swain (1980), in which four dimensions of communicative competence are identified: Grammatical competence  refers to what Chomsky call linguistic competence and what Hymes intends by what is “formally possible.” It is the domain of grammatical and lexical capacity. Sociolinguistics competence refers to an understanding of the social context in which communications takes place, including role relationship, the share information of the participants, and the communicative purpose for their interaction. Discourse competence refers to the interpretation of individual message elements in term of their interconnectedness and of how meaning is represented in relationship to the entire discourse or text. Strategic Competence refers to the coping strategies that communicators employ to initiate, terminate, maintain, repair, and redirect communication.  The usefulness of the nation of communicative competence is seen in the many attempts that have been made to refine the original notion of communicative competence.

Some of the characteristics of this communicative view of language follow:

  1. Language is a system for the expression of meaning.
  2. The primary function of language is to allow interaction and communication
  3. The structure of language reflects its functional and communicative uses
  4. The primary units of language are not merely its grammatical and structural features, but categories of functional and communicative meaning as exemplified in discourse

Theory of learning

In contrast to the amount that has been written in Communicative Language Teaching literature about communicative dimension of language, little has been written about learning theory. For example, offers any discussion of learning theory. Elements of an underlying learning theory can be discerned in some CLT practices, however. One such element might be described as the communication principle: Activities that involve real communication promote learning. A second element is the task principle: activities in which language is used for carrying out meaningful tasks promote leaning. A third element is the meaningfulness principle: Language that is meaningful to the learner support the learning process. Learning activities are consequently selected according to how well they engage the learner in meaningful and authentic language use (rather than merely mechanical practice of language patterns). These principles, we suggest, can be inferred from CLT practices, (e.g., littlewood 1981; Jonhson 1982). They address the conditions needed to promote second language learning, rather than the processes of language acquisition. These and a variety of other more recent learning principles relevant to the claims of Communicative Language Teaching are summarized in Skehan (1998), and are further discussed in relation to Task Based Language Teaching.



  1. An integrative and context level (language as a means of expression)
  2. A linguistic and instrumental level (language as a semiotic system and an object of leaning)
  3. An affective level of interpersonal relationships and conduct (language as a means of expressing values and judgments about oneself and others)
  4. A level of individual learning needs (remedial learning based on error analysis)
  5. A general educational level of extra-linguistic goals (language learning within the school curriculum)

These are proposed as general objectives, applicable to any teaching situation. Particular objectives for CLT cannot be defined beyond this level of specification, since such an approach assumes that language teaching will reflect the particular needs of the target learners. These needs may be in the domains of reading, writing, listening or speaking, each of which can be approached from communicative perspective. Curriculum or instructional objectives for a particular course would reflect specific aspects of communicative competence according to the learner’s proficiency level and communicative needs.

 the end

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