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CLT paper




Since the introduction of communicative language teaching (CLT) in the late 1970s, there have been different definitions and interpretations of the communicative approach to second language (L2) instruction. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in several misconceptions of CLT and how it is implemented in the L2 classroom. While most descriptions of CLT emphasize the communication of messages and meaning, there is disagreement as to whether CLT should include a focus on the analysis and practice of language forms. There is also some debate (and confusion) as to whether the inclusion of literacy skills, use of the first language (L1), and vocabulary instruction is compatible with the principles and practice of CLT. These differences in interpretation and implementation of CLT are sufficiently problematic to suggest that CLT has become a rather vacuous term. Indeed, some have argued that, as a label for a language teaching method, CLT has lost its relevance to L2 teaching. In this chapter, I will describe some of the developments in CLT theory, research, and practice that point to the conclusion that a balance needs to be struck within CLT—one that allows for the integration of more direct instruction of language (including grammatical, lexical, and socio-pragmatic features) with communicative skills.


The ever-growing need for good communication skills in English has created a huge demand for English teaching around the world. Millions of people today want to improve their command of English or to ensure that their children achieve a good command of English. And opportunities to learn English are provided in many different ways such as through formal instruction, travel, study abroad, as well as through the media and the Internet. The worldwide demand for English has created an enormous demand for quality language teaching and language teaching materials and resources. Learners set themselves demanding goals. They want to be able to master English to a high level of accuracy and fluency. Employers, too, insist that their employees have good English language skills, and fluency in English is a prerequisite for success and advancement in many fields of employment in today’s world. The demand for an appropriate teaching methodology is therefore as strong as ever.

In this paper we will examine the methodology known as communicative language teaching, or CLT, and explore the assumptions it is based on, its origins and evolution since it was first proposed in the 1970s, and how it has influenced approaches to language teaching today. Since its inception in the 1970s, CLT has served as a major source of influence on language teaching practice around the world. Many of the issues raised by a communicative teaching methodology are still relevant today, though teachers who are relatively new to the profession may not be familiar with them. This paper therefore serves to review what we have learned from CLT and what its relevance is today.


1. What is Communicative Language Teaching.

Perhaps the majority of language teachers today, when asked to identify the methodology they employ in their classrooms, mention “communicative” as the methodology of choice. However, when pressed to give a detailed account of what they mean by “communicative,” explanations very widely. What do you understand by communicative language teaching?

Communicative language teaching can be understood as a set of principles about the goals of language teaching, how learners learn a language, the kinds of classroom activities that best facilitate learning, and the roles of teachers and learners in the classroom.

2. The Background to CLT

Language teaching has seen many changes in ideas about syllabus design and methodology in the last 50 years, and CLT prompted a rethinking of approaches to syllabus design and methodology. We may conveniently group trends in language teaching in the last 50 years into three phases:

Phase 1: Traditional Approaches (up to the late 1960s)

Traditional approaches to language teaching gave priority

to grammatical competence as the basis of language proficiency. They were based on the belief that grammar could be learned through direct instruction and through a methodology that made much use of repetitive practice and drilling.

The approach to the teaching of grammar was a deductive one: students are presented with grammar rules and then given opportunities to practice using them, as opposed to an inductive approach in which students are given examples of sentences containing a grammar rule and asked to work out the rule for themselves. It was assumed that language learning meant building up a large repertoire of sentences and grammatical patterns and learning to produce these accurately and quickly in the appropriate situation.

The four skills usually in the sequence of speaking, listening, reading, and writing were introduced through oral drilling and controlled practice.

Phase 2: Classic Communicative Language Teaching

(1970s to 1990s)

In the 1970s, a reaction to traditional language teaching approaches began and soon spread around the world as older methods such as Audiolingualism and Situational Language Teaching fell out of fashion. The centrality of grammar in language teaching and learning was questioned, since it was argued that language ability involved much more than grammatical competence. While grammatical competence was needed to produce grammatically correct sentences, attention shifted to the knowledge and skills needed to use grammar and other aspects of language appropriately for different communicative purposes such as making requests, giving advice, making suggestions, describing wishes and needs, and so on. What was needed in order to use language communicatively was communicative competence. This was a broader concept than that of grammatical competence.

Phase 3: Current Trends in Communicative Language Teaching

Since the 1990s, the communicative approach has been widely implemented. Because it describes a set of very general principles grounded in the notion of communicative competence as the goal of second and foreign language teaching, and a communicative syllabus and methodology as the way of achieving this goal, communicative language teaching has continued to evolve as our understanding of the processes of second language learning has developed. Current communicative language teaching theory and practice thus draws on a number of different educational paradigms and traditions. And since it draws on a number of diverse sources, there is no single or agreed upon set of practices that characterize current communicative language teaching. Rather, communicative language teaching today refers to a set of generally agreed upon principles that can be applied in different ways, depending on the teaching context, the age of the learners, their level, their learning goals, and so on. The following core assumptions or variants of them underlie current practices in communicative language teaching.

3. Procedure of CLT

Because communicative principles can be applied to the teaching of any skill, at any level, and because of the wide variety of classroom activities and exercise types discussed in the literature on communicative Language Teaching, description of typical classroom procedures used in a lesson based on CLT principles is no feasible. Finocchiaro and Brumfit offer a lesson outline for teaching the function “ making a suggestion “ for the learner in the beginning level of secondary school program that suggests that CLT procedures are evolutionary rather than revolutionary :

1. Presentation of a brief dialog or several mini-dialogs

2. Oral practice of each utterance of the dialog segment to be presented that day

3. Question and answer based on the dialog topic.

4. Question and answer related to the student’s personal experience

5. Study one of the basic communicative expressions in dialog.

6. Learner discovery of generalizations or rules underlying the functional expression

7. Oral recognition, interpretative activities

8. Oral production activities proceeding from guided to freer communication activities

9. Copying of the dialog or modules if they are not in the class text

10. Sampling of the written homework assignment

11. Evaluation of learning.

4. Principal of CLT

Principle 1: Use Tasks as an Organizational Principle

Some proponents (see Breen 1987; Long 1985; Nunan 1989; Prabhu 1987) suggest using tasks as central units that form the basis of daily and long-term lesson plans. Such an approach to syllabus design has become known as Task-Based Instruction (TBI). The rationale for the employment of communicative tasks is based on contemporary theories of language learning and acquisition, which claim that language use is the driving force for language development (Long 1989; Prabhu 1987). For example, advocates of such theories (see Pica, Kanagy, and Falodun 1993) suggest that, as Norris et al. (1998) put it, “the best way to learn and teach a language is through social interactions. [. . . they] allow students to work toward a clear goal, share information and opinions, negotiate meaning, get the interlocutor’s help in comprehending input, and receive feedback on their language production. In the process, learners not only use their interlanguage, but also modify it


Principle 2: Promote Learning by Doing

In research on SLA, the “learning by doing” principle is strongly supported by an active approach to using language early on. For example, Swain (1985, 1995) suggests that learners need to actively produce language.

Principle 3: Input Needs to Be Rich

Considering the rich input we each experience and are exposed to while developing our native tongue, growing up speaking in our native languages means that we are exposed to a plethora of language patterns, chunks, and phrases in numerous contexts and situations over many years. Such a rich exposure to language ultimately allows us to store language in our brains that we can retrieve and access as whole chunks.

Principle 4: Input Needs to Be Meaningful, Comprehensible,

and Elaborated

This means the information being presented must be clearly relatable to existing knowledge that the learner already possesses. This existing knowledge must be organized in such a way that the new information is easily assimilated, or “attached,” to the learner’s cognitive structure (Ausubel 1968).

Meaningfulness, however, has emerged as a primary principle of CLT—and as a counter-reaction to audiolingual teaching, which was criticized for repetitive drills that did not require the processing of language so the content made sense or was meaningful to learner.

Principle 5: Promote Cooperative and Collaborative Learning

In such an approach, classrooms are organized so that students work

together in small cooperative teams, such as groups or pairs, to complete activities. In second language learning environments, students work cooperatively on a language-learning task or collaboratively by achieving the goal through communicative use of the target language. Particularly in the latter case, if the learning tasks are designed to require active and true communicative interaction among students in the target language.

Principle 6: Focus on Form

A focus on form approach to explicit grammar teaching emphasizes a form-meaning connection and teaches grammar within contexts and through communicative tasks.

Principle 7: Provide Error Corrective Feedback

In a general sense, feedback can be categorized in two different ways:

positive feedback that confirms the correctness of a student’s response. Teachers demonstrate this behavior by agreeing, praising, or showing understanding. Or, negative feedback, generally known as error correction, which has a corrective function on a student’s faulty language behavior.

In language learning, many research studies have documented that teachers believe in the effectiveness of feedback and that students ask for it, believe in the benefits of receiving it, and learn from it. For example, in a classroom study of the effectiveness of various feedback techniques, Lyster and Ranta (1997) found that when a teacher repeats a student’s faulty language production, but In a correct way—were the most widespread response to learner error


Principle 8: Recognize and Respect Affective Factors of Learning

One characteristic of language learning that has received a great deal of attention over the past years is the role of anxiety during the learning process. In particular, with active language performance as a major goal of CLT, anxiety has been noticed as a trait with many individual learners. Anxiety manifests itself in many ways such as self-belittling, feelings of apprehension, stress, nervousness, and even bodily responses such as faster heartbeat. Numerous studies have corroborated what Krashen contended

in his Affective Filter hypothesis, which states: “Language learning must take place in an environment where learners are ‘off the defensive’ and the affective filter (anxiety) is low in order for the input to be noticed and gain access to the learners’ thinking” (Krashen 1982, p. 127). There is a clear negative relationship between anxiety and learning success. Anxiety as a personal trait must be recognized and kept at a minimal level for learning to be maximized.

5. The Roles of Teachers and Learners in the Classroom

The type of classroom activities proposed in CLT also implied new roles in the classroom for teachers and learners. Learners now had to participate in classroom activities that were based on a cooperative rather than individualistic approach to learning. Students had to become comfortable with listening to their peers in group work or pair work tasks, rather than relying on the teacher for a model. They were expected to take on a greater degree of responsibility for their own learning. And teachers now had to assume the role of facilitator and monitor. Rather than being a model for correct speech and writing and one with the primary responsibility of making students produce plenty of error-free sentences, the teacher had to develop a different view of learners’ errors and of her/his own role in facilitating language learning.

Classroom Activities in Communicative Language Teaching

I. Accuracy Versus Fluency Activities

The following are examples of fluency activities and accuracy activities. Both make use of group work, reminding us that group work is not necessarily a fluency task (see Brumfit 1984).

* Fluency Tasks

The teacher and a student act out a dialog in which a customer returns a faulty object she has purchased to a department store. The clerk asks what the problem is and promises to get a refund for the customer or to replace the item. In groups, students now try to recreate the dialog using language items of their choice. They are asked to recreate what happened preserving the meaning but not necessarily the exact language. They later act out their dialogs in front of the class.

* Accuracy Tasks

Students are practicing dialogs. The dialogs contain examples of falling intonation in WH-questions. The class is organized in groups of three, two students practicing the dialog, and the third playing the role of monitor. The monitor checks that the others are using the correct intonation pattern and corrects them where necessary.

The students rotate their roles between those reading the dialog and those monitoring. The teacher moves around listening to the groups and correcting their language where necessary. Students are practicing dialogs. The dialogs contain examples of falling intonation in WH-questions. The class is organized in groups

of three, two students practicing the dialog, and the third playing the role of monitor. The monitor checks that the others are using the correct intonation pattern and corrects them where necessary.

The students rotate their roles between those reading the dialog and those monitoring. The teacher moves around listening to the groups and correcting their language where necessary.

II. Mechanical, Meaningful, and Communicative Practice

v Mechanical practice

Examples of this kind of activity would be repetition drills and substitution drills designed to practice use of particular grammatical or other items.

v Meaningful practice

For example, in order to practice the use of prepositions to describe locations of places, students might be given a street map with various buildings identified in different locations. They are also given a list of prepositions such as across from, on the corner of, near, on, next to. They then have to answer questions such as “Where is the book shop? Where is the café?” etc. The practice is now meaningful because they have to respond according to the location of places on the map.

v Communicative practice

For example, students might have to draw a map of their neighborhood and answer questions about the location of different places, such as the nearest bus stop, the nearest café, etc.

III. Information-Gap Activities

For example, Students practice a role-play in pairs. One student is given the information she/he needs to play the part of a clerk in the railway station information booth and has information on train departures, prices, etc. The other needs to obtain information on departure times, prices, etc. They role-play the interaction without looking at each other’s cue cards.

IV. Jigsaw activities

For example, The teacher plays a recording in which three people with different points of view discuss their opinions on a topic of interest. The teacher prepares three different listening tasks, one focusing on each of the three speaker’s points of view. Students are divided into three groups and each group listens and takes notes on one of the three speaker’s opinions. Students are then rearranged into groups containing a student from groups A, B, and C. They now role-play the discussion using the information they obtained.


Communicative Language Teaching is best considered an approach rather than a method.

Since its inception in the 1970s, communicative language teaching has passed through a number of different phases. In its first phase, a primary concern was the need to develop a syllabus and teaching approach that was compatible with early conceptions of communicative competence. This led to proposals for the organization of syllabuses in terms of functions and notions rather than grammatical structures. Later the focus shifted to procedures for identifying learners’ communicative needs and this resulted in proposals to make needs analysis an essential component of communicative methodology. At the same time, methodologists focused on the kinds of classroom activities that could be used to implement a communicative approach, such as group work, task work, and information-gap activities.

Today CLT can be seen as describing a set of core principles about language learning and teaching, as summarized above, assumptions which can be applied in different ways and which address different aspects of the processes of teaching and learning.

Today CLT continues in its classic form as seen in the huge range of course books and other teaching resources that cite CLT as the source of their methodology. In addition, it has influenced many other language teaching approaches that subscribe to a similar philosophy of language teaching.


http://www.pearsonhighered.com/samplechapter/0131579061.pdf downloaded on 30 of October at 1p.m

http://www.cambridge.org/other_files/downloads/esl/booklets/Richards-Communicative-Language.pdf downloaded on 30 of October at 1 p.m

http://www2.vobs.at/ludescher/Alternative%20methods/communicative_language_teaching.htm downloaded on 30 of October at 1p.m

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