10/13/2010

Communicative Language Teaching


BACKGROUND
Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) is a language teaching tradition which has been developed in the United Kingdom in 1970's. Different from the other teaching methods that have been discussed in this book, CLT is seen as an approach instead of a method. CLT is regarded more as an approach since the aims of CLT are a) to make the communicative competence the goal of language teaching and b) to develop procedures for the teaching of the four language skills that acknowledge the interdependence of language and communication (Richards and Rodgers, 1986: 66). CLT deals more with assumptions about language and language learning and Larsen-Freeman (1986) names it the Communicative Approach.

The emphasis on the communication makes the proponents of this approach pay attention to functional as well as structural aspects of language. It is believed that no single set of procedures or texts that is accepted as typical procedures of CLT. Different people have interpreted the concept of the combination of functional and structural aspects of language in different ways (Richards and Rodgers, 1986: 66). For some, CLT means an integration of grammatical and functional teaching while for others, the approach means using procedures where learners work in pairs or groups employing available language resources in problem-solving tasks. The first concept suggests that language items are presented in situations in the classroom to ensure that their meaning is clear, and then practiced as formal structures by means of exercises of sufficient variety to sustain the interest of the learner and in sufficient numbers to establish the structures in the learner's memory (Widdowson, 1983: 117-8). This concept of CLT is not regarded as the right assumption of CLT since the aim of communicative teaching is not only the ability to compose correct sentences but also the ability to communicate. The second concept seems to be not the only aim of CLT. Language learners should do more than working in-groups to learn to use the language in communication.

The concept of CLT can be traced back by looking at the concept of communication itself. Widdowson (1983: 118) states that communication only takes place when we make use of sentences to perform a variety of different acts of an essentially social nature and we use sentences to make statements of different kinds, to describe, to record, to classify and so on, or to ask questions, make requests, give orders. It implies that language teaching should be contextualized by presenting language items in situational settings in the classroom. In other words, in CLT language teachers should consider the formal structures in situational settings in the classroom. Even though it may be argued what type of contextualization (signification or value) can be provided to the students in the classroom, Widdowson (1983: 119) suggests that whatever the contextualization the teacher provides will help the students learn the communicative function of the language.  Another way of teaching a foreign language as a means of communication is what Allen and Widdowson suggest (1983: 125). They consider the language as a medium of teaching another subject. . Language as communication no longer appears as a separate subject, but as an aspect of other subjects. The target language should be presented in such a way as to reveal its character as communication. Therefore, designing an English course, for students of science, should cover common topics in basic science and language items. The purpose of English teaching is to develop in the students an awareness of the ways in which the language system is used to express scientific facts and concepts. Their idea suggests that the target language be used in an immersion program in order for the teaching of the target language to be communicative. 



PRINCIPLES OF CLT
To develop the procedures of teaching, language teachers may consider the underlying principles of CLT developed by different authors. These principles are worth considering not only for preparing what learning-teaching activities are expected but the whole processes that cover the preparation of language materials, the sequence of the materials, the presentation, and the evaluation of the output. However, different writers have different stresses of the principles of CLT. Howatt (cited in Richards and Rodgers, 1986: 66) states that there are a strong version and a weak version of CLT:
The weak version of CLT stresses the importance of 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…If the former could be described as 'learning to use' English, the latter entails 'using English to learn it'.

The two different versions need not be contrasted. CLT principles may be a continuum. One side of the interval of CLT is the weak version and the other side of the interval is the strong version. The procedure developed based on the principles of the weak version of CLT may be the starting point of teaching a foreign language communicatively. Then, the procedure of CLT ends with the activities developed based on the strong version of CLT. It seems impossible to teach English by using the target language to learn it in a setting where English is really a foreign language, such as Indonesia. Probably, the procedure of the strong version of CLT may be introduced without considering the weak version in countries where the target language is the second language, or where the target language is used in an immersion program.
  
Since the emphasis of teaching is the use of the language for communication, language errors are tolerated and seen as a natural outcome of the development of communication skills (Larsen-Freeman, 1986: 129). Language teachers are not suggested to correct all of students' errors. As long as the ideas expressed in the target language can be understood, the minor errors may be ignored. Corrections are done when the errors may hinder the understanding of the communication. Language teachers should be selective in correcting errors. They should provide their students with opportunities to express their ideas in the target language and the target language is used as a vehicle for communication in the classroom.

CLT emphasizes on linguistic performance instead of linguistic competence. The goal of teaching a foreign language is the actual use of language in real situations. This is a response to traditional methods that are concerned with what so called linguistic competence. Linguistic competence is understood as concerned with the tacit knowledge of language structure, that is, knowledge that is commonly not conscious or available for spontaneous report, but necessarily implicit in what the (ideal) speaker-listener can say (Hymes, 1983: 7). This concept is used to contrast it with linguistic performance, which is mostly concerned with the processes often termed encoding and decoding. This practical goal gives a direction to language teaching activities. The activities done to present language materials should be oriented to the ability to use the target language in communication. This principle is related to the first principle that CLT sees errors as a natural outcome. The main concern of teaching is communication with ease in the target language without being occupied with error correction.  One of the characteristic features of communicative approach to language teaching is that it enables us to make assumptions about the types of communication we will equip learners to handle (Morrow, 1983: 155).

The principles of CLT will be more easily understood by contrasting CLT with another method. Finacchiaro and Brumfit contrast the major distinctive features of CLT with those of Audio-Lingual Method.


Communicative Language Teaching                Audio-Lingual Method
Meaning is paramount.
Attends to structure and form than meaning.
Dialogs, if used, center around communicative functions and are normally memorized.
Demands memorization of structure-based dialogs.
Language learning is learning to communicative.
Language learning is learning structures, sounds, or words.
Effective communication is sought.
Mastery, or "over-learning' is sought.
Drilling may occur, but peripherally.
Drilling is a central technique.
Comprehensible pronunciation is sought.
Native-speaker-like pronunciation is sought.
Any device which helps the learners is accepted-varying according to their age, interest, etc.
Grammatical explanation is avoided.
Attempts to communicate may be encouraged from the very beginning.
Communicative activities only come after a long process of rigid drills and exercises.
Judicious use of native language is accepted where feasible.
The use of students' native language is forbidden.
Translation may be used where students need or benefit from it.
Translation is forbidden at early levels.
Reading and writing can start from the first day, if desired.
Reading and writing are deferred till speech is mastered.
The target linguistic system will be learned best through the process.
The target linguistic system will be learned through the overt teaching of the patterns of the system.
Communicative competence is the desired goal
Linguistic competence is the desired goal.
Linguistic variation is a central concept in materials and methodology.
Varieties of language are recognized but not emphasized.
Sequencing is determined by any consideration of content, function, or meaning which maintains interest.
The sequence of units is determined solely by principles of linguistic complexity.
Teachers help learners in any way that motivates them to work with the language.
Teachers control learners and prevent them from doing anything that conflicts with the theory.
Language is created by the individual often through trial and error.
"language is habit" so errors must be prevented at all costs.
Fluency and acceptable language is the primary goal: accuracy is judged not in the abstract but in context.
Accuracy, in terms of formal correctness, is a primary goal.
Students are expected to interact with other people, either in the flesh, through pair and group work, or in their writings. 
Students are expected to interact with the language system, embodied in machines or controlled materials.
The teacher cannot know exactly what language the students will use.
The teacher is expected to specify the language that students are to use.
Intrinsic motivation will spring from an interest in what is being communicated by the language.
Intrinsic motivation will spring from an interest in the structure of the language.
(cited in Richards and Rodgers, 1986:67)

The principles of CLT mentioned above cover not only the theory of language and language teaching, but also the procedures of presenting language materials, the sequencing, the objectives of language teaching, and the language testing. Considering that CLT has basic concepts of language teaching like the other methods discussed in this book, CLT is regarded more as a method. 

BASIC ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT LANGUAGE
In Richards and Rodgers' s view (1986: 71), CLT has a rich theoretical base at the level of language theory. At least four basic assumptions about language are proposed.
1.     Language is a system for the expression of meaning.
2.     The primary function of language is for 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. 

The four basic assumptions of language suggest what aspects of the language should be taught, how language should be presented in language class and how language competence should be evaluated. The four assumptions mentioned above seem to derive from a single theory that emphasizes the use of language in daily life for practical reason: communication.

Different from traditional methods which regard language as a system consisting of grammatical units, CLT regards language as means for communication and interaction. This assumption suggests language teachers to consider what language should be taught. The discussion on what aspects of a foreign language should be taught will lead us to decide what syllabus is appropriate for our language learners. The discussion also influences the sequence of the materials that has been chosen to be the language syllabus. This idea may be debated without an end.

Wilkins (1983: 82) argues that the content of learning is still thought of in grammatical terms and he believes that the applicability of the knowledge the students gain through such an approach is in question. This type of syllabus is believed not to support the theory of language proposed in CLT. A type of syllabus Wilkins believes to support the theory that language is a system for the expression of meanings is the notional syllabus. Through this syllabus, language materials will be arranged based on the notional analysis. This syllabus establishes the grammatical means by which the relevant notions are expressed. This type of syllabus, which consists of structures plus notions, is not the only syllabus suggested in CLT. There are some other types of syllabus that can be implemented in CLT, namely: functional spiral around a structural core, structural, functional and instrumental syllabus, functional syllabus, notional syllabus, interactional syllabus, task-based syllabus, and learner generated syllabus (Richards and Rodgers, 1986: 74). 

The assumptions about language discussed above also have impact on the language teaching (Brumfit, 1983: 183). Traditionally, language class has followed the tradition of procedure that starts from the presentation of language items, followed by drills that are used to internalize patterns of language, and ends with the practice in context. Contrarily, in the communicative model language learners are expected to communicate as far as possible with all available resources, this step is followed by the presentation of language items shown to be necessary for effective communication, and then language learners are provided with drills if necessary.   

The movement of communicative approach has also given impact on what aspect of language and how should be measured. The design and construction of the test to measure communicative proficiency should be different from that of the traditional approach. Morrow (1983: 145) argues that the advocates of the behaviorist view of learning through habit formation tend to make language tests by posing questions to elicit responses which show whether or not correct habits have been established. In such language test correct responses are rewarded and negative ones punished in some way. The reward and punishment may be in the forms of scores given to language learners. As mentioned earlier that one of the characteristic features of communicative approach to language teaching is that it enables us to make assumptions about the types of communication that we will equip learners to handle. In language testing, consequently, there is unlikely to be a single overall test of language proficiency. However, Morrow suggests that there are three implications in this.
First, the concept of pass: fail loses much its force; every candidate can be assessed in terms of what he can do. Of course some will be able to do more than others, and it may be decided for administrative reasons that at certain level of proficiency is necessary for the awarding of a particular certificate. But because of the operational nature of the test, even low scores can be shown what they have achieved. Secondly, language performance can be differentially assessed in different communicative areas. The idea of "profile reporting" whereby a candidate is given different scores on, e.g. speaking, reading, writing and listening tests is not new, but it is particularly attractive in an operational context where scores can be related to specific communicative objectives.

The third implication is perhaps the most far-reaching. The importance of specifying the communicative criteria in terms of which assessment is being offered means that examining bodies will have to draw up, and probably publish, specifications of the types of operation they intend to test, the content area to which they will relate and the criteria which will be adopted in assessment.

The system and the criteria used in TOEFL, to some extent, may be similar to the suggestions. Whatever the TOEFL score one has cannot be used to judge whether he/she fails or passes and he will receive a certificate that shows the level of his/her proficiency. And, we may decide whether we want to take Test of Written English (TWE) or TOEFL without a writing section. The suggestions mentioned above seem to have practical problems when implemented in the schooling system.

BASIC ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT LANGUAGE LEARNING       
Richards and Rodgers (1986) argue that little has been written about learning theory of CLT. They state further that elements of an underlying learning theory may be discerned in some CLT practices. One of the elements of learning theory of CLT is that activities that involve real communication promote learning (Richards and Rodgers, 1986, 72). This implies that language learning will learn the target language optimally when they communicate in the language. They should use the language to carry out meaningful tasks, not just learn the language. Communication practice is believed to develop linguistic skills. It seems that the role of teacher is likely to be teaching communication via language, not teaching language via communication (Allwright, 1983: 167). Allwright (1983: 170) acknowledges that this strategy may be argued since absolute beginners cannot be expected to solve communication problems. Language beginners seem not to be able to use the target language for conveying meanings. They are in the process of learning to convey meanings by using the language. The problem that language learners are not yet able to use the language for communication need alternative techniques of CLT. The weak version of CLT discussed above could be the answer to this problem.     

Another principle of CLT which is related to learning theory is the meaningful task principle, meaning that activities in which language is used for carrying out meaningful tasks promote learning (Richards and Rodgers, 1986, 72). However, language tasks performed in interaction are not necessarily meaningful. Pair work, which is often considered as the main element of CLT, does not always produce meaningful tasks. Pair work makes learners work together and help each other but in the interaction in the pair work may not convey meanings. In meaningful communication there must be information gaps. Language teacher should create situations in which information gaps exist among learners. The attempt to create information gaps in the classroom, thereby, producing communication viewed as the bridging of the information gap, has characterized much recent communicative methodology (Johnson, 1983). These attempts may take many forms, for examples, identifying objects in a picture, providing uncomplete plans or diagrams, developing listening texts and telling the content to others, and others.        

A principle that may be regarded as another assumption about language learning in CLT is that the grammar and vocabulary the students learn from the function, situational context, and the roles of the interlocutors (Larsen-Freeman, 1986: 130). Larsen-Freeman provides an example of the assumption by observing a class taught through CLT that after the role-play is finished the students elicit relevant vocabulary. This seems in accordance with the first assumption that the emphasis of teaching a language is communication. After communication, as well as games and role-play, is finished the students may discuss the elements of the language: grammar and vocabulary. The elements of the language come later after the first priority of language teaching: communication is over.

SOME MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CLT
Many teachers remain somewhat confused about what exactly CLT is. It is clearly understood that the emphasis of CLT is communicating by means of the foreign language. Practically, the teaching of the foreign language is often strongly associated with a number of particular classroom activities, such as problem-solving and pair work. This misconception is not the only one among language teachers and applied linguists. Thompson (1994) identifies three main misconceptions about communicative language teaching. He states that a number of applied linguists have argued strongly and in theoretically persuasive terms that the grammar teaching should be avoided since the knowledge that a speaker needs in order to use a language is simply too complex. The exclusion of explicit attention to grammar is certainly understandable that this was a reaction of CLT against the heavy emphasis on structure at the expense of natural communication. Thompson argues that in the consensus view of CLT it is now fully accepted that an appropriate amount of class time should be devoted to grammar.

The second misconception about CLT that Thompson (1994: 11-12) identifies is that CLT emphasizes speaking and listening skills and ignores written language. He acknowledges that learners are probably likely to talk more in a successful CLT class than in classes using traditional methods. The reason of this misconception is that CLT stresses the need for the learners to have sufficient practice. This is often translated that TTT (teacher talking time) is to be reduced and STT (student talking time) is to be maximized -chiefly by putting students into pairs and telling them to talk to their pairs. However, as the emphasis of teaching a foreign language through CLT is communicating, communication may happen in any form of interaction. Communication through language does not only take place through speech; it can happen in both the written and spoken language. This implies that the goal of CLT should be communicating by means of language both in oral and written forms.  

The third misconception is that the proponents of CLT often considers that role-play is the signal that the implementation of CLT principles. Role-play is a useful technique of CLT but the activities in playing roles are not necessarily the learning processes suggested in CLT. In teaching a foreign language communicatively, pair work and role-play language learners should provide opportunity for the learners to choose what to say and how to say it. Learners should be given the opportunity to learn the target language and to learn how to make choices. Language teachers of CLT should not control over students' learning all the time.

Misconceptions about CLT may happen everywhere. Misconceptions are really understandable since CLT is an open approach. Different people will interpret the principles of the approach in different ways depending on their perceptions and experiences. It is likely that CLT will be modified based on the situation and setting where is implemented. If it is so, there will be no single interpretation of CLT even though different people may have something in common about communicative approaches and communicative processes.

PROCEDURES OF TEACHING A LANGUAGE THROUGH CLT
Even though little has been written about theories of language learning underlying the principles of CLT as stated earlier, some writers suggest some techniques or procedures in the classroom that can support the goal of communicative teaching. The following principles are tips worth considering in communicative teaching suggested by Larsen-Freeman (1986: 128-130).
-       Whenever possible language as it is used in real context should be introduced.
-       The target language is a vehicle for classroom communication, not just the object of study.
-       Students should work with language at the discourse level.
-       Games are important because they have in common with real communicative events.
-       Students should be given an opportunity to express their ideas and opinions.
-       One of the teacher' s major responsibilities is to establish situations likely to promote communication.
-       The social context of the communicative event is essential in giving meaning to the utterances.
-       Learning to use language forms appropriately is an important part of communicative competence.
-       The teacher acts as an advisor during communicative activities.
-       Students should be given opportunities to develop strategies for interpreting language as it is actually used by native speakers. 

No fixed procedure has been claimed to be typical procedure of CLT. Different writers have suggested different set of procedures and different writers have emphasized different aspects and skills of language. The CLT classroom procedure below is the one suggested by Finocchiaro and Brumfit .
1.     Presentation of a brief dialog or several mini-dialogs, preceded by a motivation (relating the dialog situation (s) to the learners' probable community experiences) and a discussion of the function and situation-people, roles, setting, topic, and the informality or formality of the language which the function and situation demand. (at the beginning levels, where all the learners understand the same native language, the motivation can well be given in their native tongue).
2.     Oral practice of each utterance of the dialog segment to be presented that day (entire class repetition, half class, groups, and individuals) generally preceded by your model. If mini-dialogs are used, engage in similar practice.
3.     Questions and answers based on the dialog topics (s) and situation itself. (inverted wh, or or questions).
4.     Questions and answers related to the students' personal experiences but centered around the dialog theme.
5.     Study one of the basic communicative expressions in the dialog or one of the structures which exemplify the function. You will wish to give several additional examples of the communicative use of the expression structure with familiar vocabulary in unambiguous utterances or mini-dialogs (using pictures, simple real objects, or dramatization) to clarify the meaning of the expression or structure…
6.     Learner discovery of generalizations or rules underlying the functional expression or structure. This should include at least four points, e.g. "How about + verb + ing?"); its position in the utterance; its formality or informality in the utterance; and in the case of a structure, its grammatical function and meaning…
7.     Oral recognition, interpretative activities (two to five depending on the learning level, the language knowledge of the students, and related factors).
8.     Oral production activities-proceeding from the guided to freer communication activities.
9.     Copying of the dialog or mini-dialogs or modules if they are not in the class text.
10.  Sampling of the written homework assignment, if given.
11.  Evaluation of learning (oral only), e.g. "How would you ask your friend to ____? And how would you ask me to ______?"
(cited in Richards and Rodgers, 1986: 81)

The activities of the CLT procedure mentioned above seem not be exclusive to CLT classrooms. The procedure may be classified as the application of the weak version of CLT of  teaching the oral language. The following is one of the basic procedures in teaching writing suggested by Finocchiaro and Brumfit (1983: 151)
-       Motivate the material by giving a brief summary or by asking preliminary questions relevant to the theme of the passage.
-       Clarify any difficulty
-       Review the procedure you will follow.
-       Read the material through two times at normal speed.
-       Ask a question two times. Give the students time to write the answer.
-       Continue until you have given all the questions.
-       Read the passage or conversation again at normal speed.
-       Say the questions again.
-       Give the students about two minutes to check their own work and to make necessary changes.
-       Correct the material as in the dicatation. 

Another application of the weak version of CLT has also been developed in teaching grammar (Thompson, 1994, 11).

Wherever possible, learners are first exposed to new language in a comprehensible context, so that they are able to understand its function and meaning. Only then is their attention turned to examining the grammatical forms that have been used to convey meaning. The discussion of grammar is explicit, but it is the learners who are doing most of the discussing, working out - with the guidance from the teacher- as much of their new knowledge of the language as can easily and usefully be expressed. Behind this strategy lies the recognition that the learners may well have "understood" more about the language than they - or the teacher- can put into words. If the new language were introduced in the form of an apparently all- embracing (but actually pitifully incomplete) rule from the teacher, this would convey unspoken message that the learners had nothing further to understand about the language point and simply needed to practice it. If, on the other hand, talking about grammar is postponed until learners themselves can contribute by bringing to light what already in some sense 'know', the unspoken message is that the process of acquiring the new knowledge is one which takes place inside them and over which they have some control.    

Some activities of the two procedures above may belong to the other methods that have been introduced earlier. As mentioned earlier that some writers regard CLT as an approach, not a method. As an approach, CLT is open for language teachers to develop their own activities based on the principles and the basic assumptions of CLT. It is not surprising that CLT and the other methods share similar activities or techniques; the activities or techniques may have been developed from the same assumptions about language or language learning. Each of the four skills may have different techniques even though they may come from the same assumptions.

Among the many activities which will promote our students' listening ability are the following (Finocchiaro and Brumfit: 1983: 138-54):
1.     Listening to you as you
-    present sound sequences or model sentences; 
-       read a passage;
-       describe simple or situational pictures;
-       etc.
2.     Listening to other people speaking.
3.     Engaging in dialog dramtization.
4.     Listening to recordings
5.     Attending lectures, speaking clubs, and other meetings conducted in the target language.
6.     Etc.

Speaking activities:
1.     Reply to directions or questions given by other people.
2.     Give directions for other people.
3.     Tell what objects appear in a picture or on a chart.
4.     Tell a story or retell an experience in their own words.
5.     Read a newspaper article in the native language and give a report on it in the target language.
6.     Etc.

Writing activities:
1.     Copy model sentences, dialogs, or anything that has been spoken or read.
2.     Write a summary of material which has been read.
3.     Complete an outline form of material they have read.
4.     Write a letter.
5.     Write a report on an article or book.
6.     Etc.

Reading activities:
1.     Ask the students to formulate questions on the passage.
2.     Have the communicative expressions, structures, and notions that were clarified before the reading used in original sentences.
3.     Engage in numerous word study exercises.
4.     Have students retell what happened in the passage from a list of key words you will place on the board.
5.     Have them look for the key words.
6.     Have them summarize the passage.
7.     Etc. 

As mentioned earlier that the activities developed for communicative abilities are not exclusive to CLT. If compared to the activities of the other methods presented in this book, the activities suggested for CLT have similarities with the activities of the other methods. Again, different methods may have the same assumptions about language and language learning; it is not surprising that different methods may have similar activities. 

Considering the objective of teaching a foreign language through the CLT, other elements involved in foreign language teaching should be taken for considerations. The performance of language is an essential element. Do language teachers in schools have English performance which enables them to communicate in the target language? If not so, how can they teach the target language as a means of communication in the class?
If language teachers can use the target language as a means of communication, other problems may still appear, such as the textbooks which may not have been developed for the communicative teaching. Should language teachers develop their own "textbooks"? Then, how should they evaluate the language class? Should (or not) they consider the national English tests, which are not always devised to measure the communicative ability of the students of high schools?

Again, language teachers or prospective language teachers have to ask themselves which principles can be implemented in English teaching in their condition and situation. They may develop some techniques deriving from the principles of the CLT and try out the techniques in teaching English in Indonesia. By trying out some techniques or procedures suggested in the CLT, they will enrich their understanding of communicative teaching. Finally, they will find relatively effective techniques to teach a language as means of communication.

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