There are many approaches to language learning. Language Link, like many other schools, has adopted 'The Communicative Approach'. This is the approach that you will be expected to use when teaching your students. That being the case, you, as a new Language Link teacher, must have a good understanding of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT).
What then is the 'Communicative Approach'? It is the theory that language is communication and it is on this theory that the methodology used in Language Link schools is based. The set of principles which underlie this theory include:
- Learners learn a language through using it to communicate.
- Authentic and meaningful communication should be the goal of classroom activities.
- Fluency is an important dimension of communication.
- Communication involves the integration of different language skills.
- Learning is a process of creative construction and involves trial and error.
The goal of CLT is communicative competence. In order to foster communicative competence the teacher has two main roles: the first being to facilitate the communication process in the classroom and the second, to act as an independent participant within the learning-teaching group. The teacher is also expected to act as a resource, an organizer of resources, a motivator, a counselor, a guide, an analyst, and a researcher. This list is not exhaustive: there are many other minor roles expected of a teacher. Further examples include being an actor and an entertainer. If you find this a little strange, it isn't! A good lesson must be interesting for the students, or they will 'switch off' and learn nothing.
In practical terms however, what does all this mean?' In order to address this question the following must be considered:
- Teacher - Student Interaction
Since our aim is communicative competence, it is essential that students be given every opportunity to practise communicating. In an old-fashioned classroom, it would have been usual to see the teacher standing at the front of the class lecturing for most of the lesson. Unfortunately, this teaching approach allowed the students very little opportunity to practise communication, and so is totally unsuitable for the communicative classroom. In the communicative classroom teacher talking time (TTT) must be kept to a minimum. This is not to say that the teacher should not speak but merely that TTT must be both controlled and appropriate. The classroom should be learner centered. The teacher's role is to facilitate student communication. This is done by the careful selection of materials and activities relevant to the aims of the lesson in which they are used. Communication can be divided into two categories: input and output. The four communicative skills can be put into these categories.
Regardless of which of these skills is being taught, the main focus must be on the student and not on the teacher. The interaction therefore should usually be student to student and should include the teacher only where necessary. During most classroom activities the teacher will monitor the communication intervening only when needed.
Classroom activities should, as far as is possible, be carried out in the target language (English). Having said this, there may sometimes be occasions where allowing the students to briefly discuss a point in their native tongue can promote greater understanding and assimilation of new information. However, this is a controversial issue and should not usually be permitted.
There are many different types of activities which provide speaking, listening, writing and reading practice as well as aiding production. These include games, role-plays, simulations, information gaps etc. They can be found in books containing supplementary material such as Reward Resource Packs. Many teachers enjoy creating their own activities, which can be tailored specifically to their class' needs. Activities used in the classroom must be selected carefully. If they are above the level of the students, they can destroy self-confidence and if below, they can bore the students. Activities usually involve the students working together either in pairs or in small groups.
Activities are often used to practise real-life situations involving social interaction and so a high level of social and functional language should be expected.
Materials fall into three broad categories: text-based, task-based and realia. They can be used as the basis for classroom activities. Once again not only must the activity be appropriate to the level of the students but the materials used must be appropriate too.
Text-based materials such as practice exercises, reading passages, gap fills, recordings, etc. can be found in almost any course book as well as in books containing supplementary materials. They form an essential part of most lessons.
Task-based materials include game boards, role-play cards, materials for drilling, pair work tasks, etc. They might be used to support 'real life' tasks such as role-playing booking into a hotel or a job interview.
Realia include such things as magazines, newspapers, fruit and vegetables, axes, maps - things from the real world outside the classroom. They can be used in many activities. For example, fruit and vegetables could be used in a shopping activity; an axe could be used to show the effect of using the present continuous on a short action verb.
To return to the question of 'What does the communicative approach mean in practical terms?' We should now understand that the teacher's job is to get their students to communicate using real language by providing them with instruction, practice and above all opportunities to produce English in activities, which encourage acquisition and fluency. See also Tips for Teachers.
This information is also available as a CLT PowerPoint Presentation.