CLT is an approach to teaching a second language or a foreign language through interaction with the aim of developing communication competence among students. The roots of CLT can be traced back to the British Language teaching from late 1960.Before then, the major British approach to teaching English as a foreign language was situational Language. Situational Language Teaching was taught through situation-based activities. There was a three phase sequence in a typical class lesson of situational approach. First was presentation which included presenting new grammar structures either through a conversation of short text where the teachers would explain them and master students comprehension. Secondly was practice and in this phase, students practiced the new structures in a controlled context then finally, was production where students practiced the new structure in different contexts mostly using their own content and information for fluency development (Berns, 2013). British linguists did not find much credibility in this process of learning because they believed learners only learned what is taught in the order in which it is taught and therefore saw the need of having a different fundamental dimension of language that focused of proficiency rather than mastery of structures. The increasing trade interdependence among the European countries also motivated this need to have major a languages in the European Common Market and Council of Europe. All these factors highly considered the need for articulating and developing an alternative language. The approach has expanded to American, British and other areas since the mid-1970s.Since the concept of communicative competence was developed, researchers developed theories and practices of CLT which explain its scope including its definition to characteristics.
There are many definitions provided by experts on CLT. Richard and Rogers (2001) asserts that communication competence is the foundation of CLT and its success is based on independence of communication and language by the teachers and students. CLT is usually characterized as a teaching approach rather than a teaching method. It encompasses a list of general principles. Cook (2013) gives five major characteristics of CLT. They include first, an emphasis on interaction as the main goal of learning how to communicate. Students communicate the language with each other and with the teachers through which they learn skills and fluency. The other characteristic is providing opportunities to students to enable them to focus not only on the language itself but also on the learning process. The third characteristic is introducing of authentic texts into learning. This aims at bringing an understanding of the social context where communication takes place. The leaners’ personal experiences are also enhanced which contribute to the elements of learning.This is through connecting the importance of language to its relationship to each. Finally is the incorporation of classroom language learning with outside activities of the language to necessitate good practice of the learners. Practitioners claim that these characteristics focus on the needs and desires of learners and also the connection of the language between its teaching in class and its use outside the classroom. They are all channelled into achieving the same goals.
The goals of teachers who use CLT are all based on having students to be communicatively competent. They all strive into achieving this competence by ensuring their students learns to use the language as a tool for expressing their opinions , judgments and anything else (Richards and Schmidt, 2014). They also look forward unto enabling students to learn to express the functions that communicate appropriately. All these points out to the ability to develop strategies which ensure effective communication is an essential part of communicative competence. By the end of the learning process, students should be able to engage in oral communication such that they get themselves understood by others and also interpret their listeners’ intentions perfectly. This ability is achieved by employing a number of strategies starting from initiating and maintaining communication, sharing and making information clarifications to redirecting and terminating information. The speakers must carry out these communications in social contexts that suit them and must also devise suitable strategies in that context. CLT is, therefore, an approach that intents to instil language knowledge and enable successful application of it. The teachers will have achieved their goals if their students obtain fluency of language, expression skills and generally suitable application of it highly enhanced by the methods they use.
According to a study carried out by Farooq (2015:184), the early methods the teachers used to teach foreign language were “audio-lingual grammars, audio visual technology, translation, communicative approach, direct method, natural approach, silent way and total physical response”. Today there are a significant number of teachers that incorporate these approaches to attend to modern teaching needs and deal with learning situations in which students face difficulties.
According to most scholars, those approaches focused on knowledge of structures rather than the development of language proficiency. The recent approaches of CLT as earlier mentioned incorporate some of these earlier language teaching approaches but the most credited CLT methods today include task-based language learning, the lexical approach, the neuro-linguistic programming, multiple intelligence theory, cooperative learning and Content-based instruction (Molina, G. T., Cañado, M. L. P., and Agulló, G. L. 2013).Task-based language learning involves problem-solving activities with one or several solutions. They include processes like listing, sorting, and gap filling among others. Example of these tasks are going shopping and completing a family tree. It basically studies and teaches cognitive processes like memory, attention, and recall. The lexical approach is an advancement of the traditional grammar where it considers a group of up to eight words. The idea of using multi-word items other than the traditional grammar or vocabulary is to bring a shift in the creativity of language.
The Neurolinguistic programming is defined by Molina et al. (2013:38) as “collection of techniques, patterns, and strategies for assisting effective communication, personal growth and change, and learning. “It incorporates language into diverse areas like personal development, management, marketing or education. It is theory based on observation and experience. Multiple intelligence theory is theory involving intelligence areas like intrapersonal intelligence, linguistic intelligence, musical intelligence and naturalistic intelligence. Involving these intelligences is said to activate students to learn the target language, be more motivated and interested in taking the risk to try out new thinking processes.
In cooperative learning approach, students work in groups to arrive at common goals. It aims to foster cooperation and collaboration rather than competition. The final method is the content based instruction which integrates language instructions with content areas. It involves learning the language in real premises where students engage in meaningful activities. Teachers are responsible in mastering and acquiring full knowledge of the language. This approach also addresses the needs of the students, their previous experiences and connecting those experiences to new information. This approach is currently the most promising in the present and future trends of language teaching. In these approaches, both students and teachers have roles to play.
The main role of the teachers of CLT is establishing conditions and activities for students to practice the language in a meaningful context. These conditions should be those that instil positive attitude in the students to learning the target language. The teachers serve the role of acting as the facilitator of the target language. They are expected to predict the possible needs of students and have relevant activities readily available to meet those needs. The teachers also constantly review the content of the linguistic in different units to enable students to practise and internalize the language. It is also the role of teachers to act as models to their student by being always there for students to often communicate to and also further discover ways that will encourage learners to communicate with each other meaningfully. Teachers should ensure that the classroom is more student-centred than teacher-centred such that the students do most of the talking while the teachers just facilitate and offer direction. Teachers are also required to be more knowledgeable about the language, and this can be achieved by advancing their knowledge level through attending workshops and professional development among other opportunities. The students also have their roles to enhance cooperation between them and their teachers and enable a successful learning process.
It is the role of the students to evolve to the target language by increasing their level of interest and connecting it to their life experienced to find relevance in it. Students should show this development through making natural decisions regarding the interest and strengths of activities and projects practiced in the classroom. Students are also required to work towards their potential willingly using the opportunities provided. Finally, students are required to evaluate themselves by reflecting on what they have learned and what is still left for them to learn. All these roles are based on communicative exercises within the context of CLT.
One example of communicative exercises is printing different names on cards and passing them to different students. The teacher then models on how the exercise will be carried out.For example, the teacher can use a combination of the language and gestures and then assigns the task to students who then introduce themselves and get information from each other. Another exercise is listening to a recorded conversation in the target language, and the teacher translates it explaining grammar points and structures used. Another exercise can be placing students in an everyday situation where they can listen to an authentic text and especially for beginning students. Students can be asked to listen to a passage and the get the general understanding of the message, or they can be asked to listen to announcements and then given a multiple choice to select which one relates to the announcement. All these exercises among others are meant to motivate students to learn the language and advance their skills.
CLT has developed and gained popularity in the last few decades, and its visibility and implementation has been credited over the early foreign language teaching approaches. Teachers function as facilitators by talking less and listening more and letting the classroom to be student-centred. The new approaches and exercises have enabled students to gain competency in languages by enhancing fluency and creativity and further continues to provide opportunities for more competence. The emphasis remains to be fluency, meaning, and real-life communication.
Berns, M. (2013). Contexts of cCompetence: Social and Cultural Considerations in Communicative Language Teaching. Springer Science & Business Media.
Cook, V. (2013). Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. Routledge.
Farooq, M. U. (2015). Creating a Communicative Language Teaching Environment for Improving Students’ Communicative Competence at EFL/EAP University Level. International Education Studies, 8(4), 179.
Molina, G. T., Cañado, M. L. P., & Agulló, G. L. (2013). Current Approaches and Teaching Methods. Bilingual programs. Chapter 4 Handbookdefinitivo.
Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2014). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge University press.
Richards, J. C., & Schmidt, R. W. (2014). Language and Communication. Routledge.