Communicative language teaching
Communicative language teaching (CLT) is an approach to the teaching of second and foreign languages that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of learning a language. It is also referred to as “communicative approach to the teaching of foreign languages” or simply the “communicative approach”.
Relationship with other methods and approaches
Historically, CLT has been seen as a response to the audio-lingual method (ALM), and as an extension or development of the notional-functional syllabus. Task-based language learning, a more recent refinement of CLT, has gained considerably in popularity.
The audio-lingual method (ALM) arose as a direct result of the need for foreign language proficiency in listening and speaking skills during and after World War II. It is closely tied to behaviorism, and thus made drilling, repetition, and habit-formation central elements of instruction. Proponents of ALM felt that this emphasis on repetition needed a corollary emphasis on accuracy, claiming that continual repetition of errors would lead to the fixed acquisition of incorrect structures and non-standard pronunciation.
In the classroom, lessons were often organized by grammatical structure and presented through short dialogues. Often, students listened repeatedly to recordings of conversations (for example, in the language lab) and focused on accurately mimicking the pronunciation and grammatical structures in these dialogs.
Critics of ALM asserted that this over-emphasis on repetition and accuracy ultimately did not help students achieve communicative competence in the target language. Noam Chomsky argued "Language is not a habit structure. Ordinary linguistic behaviour characteristically involves innovation, formation of new sentences and patterns in accordance with rules of great abstractness and intricacy". They looked for new ways to present and organize language instruction, and advocated the notional functional syllabus, and eventually CLT as the most effective way to teach second and foreign languages. However, audio-lingual methodology is still prevalent in many text books and teaching materials. Moreover, advocates of audio-lingual methods point to their success in improving aspects of language that are habit driven, most notably pronunciation.
The notional-functional syllabus
A notional-functional syllabus is more a way of organizing a language learning curriculum than a method or an approach to teaching. In a notional-functional syllabus, instruction is organized not in terms of grammatical structure as had often been done with the ALM, but in terms of “notions” and “functions.” In this model, a “notion” is a particular context in which people communicate, and a “function” is a specific purpose for a speaker in a given context. As an example, the “notion” or context shopping requires numerous language functions including asking about prices or features of a product and bargaining. Similarly, the notion party would require numerous functions like introductions and greetings and discussing interests and hobbies. Proponents of the notional-functional syllabus claimed that it addressed the deficiencies they found in the ALM by helping students develop their ability to effectively communicate in a variety of real-life contexts.
Learning by teaching (LdL)
Learning by teaching is a widespread method in Germany (Jean-Pol Martin). The students take the teacher's role and teach their peers.
CLT is usually characterized as a broad approach to teaching, rather than as a teaching method with a clearly defined set of classroom practices. As such, it is most often defined as a list of general principles or features. One of the most recognized of these lists is David Nunan’s (1991) five features of CLT:
- An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.
- The introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation.
- The provision of opportunities for learners to focus, not only on language but also on the Learning Management process.
- An enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.
- An attempt to link classroom language learning with language activities outside the classroom.
These five features are claimed by practitioners of CLT to show that they are very interested in the needs and desires of their learners as well as the connection between the language as it is taught in their class and as it used outside the classroom. Under this broad umbrella definition, any teaching practice that helps students develop their communicative competence in an authentic context is deemed an acceptable and beneficial form of instruction. Thus, in the classroom CLT often takes the form of pair and group work requiring negotiation and cooperation between learners, fluency-based activities that encourage learners to develop their confidence, role-plays in which students practice and develop language functions, as well as judicious use of grammar and pronunciation focused activities.
In the mid 1990s the Dogma 95 manifesto influenced language teaching through the Dogme language teaching movement, who proposed that published materials can stifle the communicative approach. As such the aim of the Dogme approach to language teaching is to focus on real conversations about real subjects so that communication is the engine of learning. This communication may lead to explanation, but that this in turn will lead to further communication.
Classroom activities used in CLT
Learning by teaching
However, not all courses that utilize the Communicative Language approach will restrict their activities solely to these. Some courses will have the students take occasional grammar quizzes, or prepare at home using non-communicative drills, for instance.
Critiques of CLT
One of the most famous attacks on communicative language teaching was offered by Michael Swan in the English Language Teaching Journal in 1985. Henry Widdowson responded in defense of CLT, also in the ELT Journal (1985 39(3):158-161). More recently other writers (e.g. Bax) have critiqued CLT for paying insufficient attention to the context in which teaching and learning take place, though CLT has also been defended against this charge (e.g. Harmer 2003).
Often, the communicative approach is deemed a success if the teacher understands the student. But, if the teacher is from the same region as the student, the teacher will understand errors resulting from an influence from their first language. Native speakers of the target language may still have difficulty understanding them. This observation may call for new thinking on and adaptation of the communicative approach. The adapted communicative approach should be a simulation where the teacher pretends to understand only what any regular speaker of the target language would and reacts accordingly.
Task-based language learning
Task-based language learning (TBLL), also known as task-based language teaching (TBLT) or task-based instruction (TBI) focuses on the use of authentic language and on asking students to do meaningful tasks using the target language. Such tasks can include visiting a doctor, conducting an interview, or calling customer service for help. Assessment is primarily based on task outcome (in other words the appropriate completion of tasks) rather than on accuracy of language forms. This makes TBLL especially popular for developing target language fluency and student confidence.
TBLL was popularized by N. Prabhu while working in Bangalore, India. Prabhu noticed that his students could learn language just as easily with a non-linguistic problem as when they were concentrating on linguistic questions.
According to Jane Willis, TBLL consists of the pre-task, the task cycle, and the language focus.The components of a Task are 1 Goals and objectives 2 Input 3 Activities 4 Teacher role 5 learner role 7 Settings
The core of the lesson is, as the name suggests, the task. All parts of the language used are deemphasized during the activity itself, in order to get students to focus on the task. Although there may be several effective frameworks for creating a task-based learning lesson, here is a rather comprehensive one suggested by Jane Willis.
In the pre-task, the teacher will present what will be expected of the students in the task phase. Additionally, the teacher may prime the students with key vocabulary or grammatical constructs, although, in "pure" task-based learning lessons, these will be presented as suggestions and the students would be encouraged to use what they are comfortable with in order to complete the task. The instructor may also present a model of the task by either doing it themselves or by presenting picture, audio, or video demonstrating the task.
During the task phase, the students perform the task, typically in small groups, although this is dependent on the type of activity. And unless the teacher plays a particular role in the task, then the teacher's role is typically limited to one of an observer or counselor—thus the reason for it being a more student-centered methodology.
Having completed the task, the students prepare either a written or oral report to present to the class. The instructor takes questions and otherwise simply monitors the students.
The students then present this information to the rest of the class. Here the teacher may provide written or oral feedback, as appropriate, and the students observing may do the same.
Here the focus returns to the teacher who reviews what happened in the task, in regards to language. It may include language forms that the students were using, problems that students had, and perhaps forms that need to be covered more or were not used enough.
The practice stage may be used to cover material mentioned by the teacher in the analysis stage. It is an opportunity for the teacher to emphasize key language.
Task-based learning is advantageous to the student because it is more student-centered, allows for more meaningful communication, and often provides for practical extra-linguistic skill building. Although the teacher may present language in the pre-task, the students are ultimately free to use what grammar constructs and vocabulary they want. This allows them to use all the language they know and are learning, rather than just the 'target language' of the lesson. Furthermore, as the tasks are likely to be familiar to the students (eg: visiting the doctor), students are more likely to be engaged, which may further motivate them in their language learning.
There have been criticisms that task-based learning is not appropriate as the foundation of a class for beginning students. The major disadvantage for beginning students is that the focus of task-based language learning is on output, when beginning language learners often go through a silent period requiring massive amounts of comprehensible input. Others claim that students are only exposed to certain forms of language, and are being neglected of others, such as discussion or debate. Teachers may want to keep these in mind when designing a task-based learning lesson plan.
Related approaches to language teaching
Dogme language teaching shares a philosophy with TBL, although differs in approach. Dogme is a communicative approach to language teaching and encourages teaching without published textbooks and instead focusing on conversational communication among the learners and the teacher.
Learning by teaching
In professional education, learning by teaching designates currently the method by Jean-Pol Martin that allows pupils and students to prepare and to teach lessons, or parts of lessons. Learning by teaching should not be confused with presentations or lectures by students, as students not only convey a certain content, but also choose their own methods and didactic approaches in teaching classmates that subject. Neither should it be confused with tutoring, because the teacher has intensive control of, and gives support for, the learning process in learning by teaching as against other methods.
Students as teachers in order to improve the learning-process
The first attempts using the learning by teaching method in order to improve learning were started at the end of the 19th century.
Selective descriptions and researches
Systematic research – though initially only descriptive – began in the middle of the 20th century. For instance Gartner 1971 in the US, in Germany Krüger 1975, Wolfgang Steining 1985, Udo Kettwig 1986, Theodor F. Klassen 1988,Ursula Drews 1997 and A. Renkl 1997
LdL as a comprehensive method
The method received broader recognition starting in the early eighties, when Jean-Pol Martindeveloped the concept systematically for the teaching of French as a foreign language and gave it a theoretical background in numerous publications. 1987 he founded a network of more than a thousand teachers that employed learning by teaching (the specifical name: LdL = "Lernen durch Lehren") in many different subjects, documented its successes and approaches and presented their findings in various teacher training sessions. From 2001 on LdL has gained more and more supporters as a result of educational reform movements started throughout Germany.
Learning by teaching by Martin (LdL)
LdL by Martin consists of two components: a general anthropological one and a subject-related one.
- The anthropological basis of LdL is related to the pyramid or hierarchy of needs introduced by Abraham Maslow, which consists, from base to peak, of 1) physiological needs, 2) safety/security, 3) social/love/belonging, 4) esteem/self-confidence and 5) being/growth throughself-actualization and self-transcendence. Personal growth moves upward through hierarchy, whereas regressive forces tend to push downward. The act of successful learning, preparation and teaching of others contributes to items 3 through 5 above. Facing the problems of our world today and in the future, it is essential to mobilize as many intellectual resources as possible, which happens in LdL lessons in a special way. Democratic skills are promoted through the communication and socialization necessary for this shared discovery and construction of knowledge.
- The subject related component (in foreign language teaching) of LdL aims to negate the alleged contradiction between the three main components: automatization of speech-related behavior, teaching of cognitively internalized contents and authentic interaction/communication.
The LdL approach
After intensive preparation by the teacher, students become responsible for their own learning and teaching. The new material is divided into small units and student groups of not more than three people are formed. Each group familiarizes itself with a strictly defined area of new material and gets the assignment to teach the whole group in this area. One important aspect is that LdL should not be confused with a student-as-teacher-centered method. The material should be worked on didactically and methodologically (impulses, social forms, summarizing phases etc.). The teaching students have to make sure their audience has understood their message/topic/grammar points and therefore use different means to do so (e.g. short phases of group or partner exercises, comprehension questions, quizzes etc.). An important effect from LdL is to develop the students' "websensibility," defined as "a cognitive and emotional sensibility for interdependence."
Building neural network: websensibility as target
Martin attempted to transfer the brain structure, especially the operating model from neural networks – to classroom interactions. The activities conducted during the various lessons phases and their consequences are summarized in the following table:
|Phases||Students' behavior||Teacher's behavior||Additional comments|
|Preparation at home||The students work intensively at home, because the quality of the classroom discussion (collective intelligence,emergence) depends closely on the students' ("the neurons") preparation. Students who are not prepared or who are often absent are not able to react to impulses or to "fire off" impulses themselves.||The teacher ("the frontal cortex") has to perfectly master the content because he or she must be able to intervene at any time, completing or giving incentives in order to enhance the quality of classroom discussion||Using LdL means that lesson time will not be used in order to communicate new content but instead for interaction either in little groups or with the entire class (collective knowledge constructing). The homework should prepare the students to interact on a high level during the lesson|
|Interactions during the lesson||The students sit in a circle. Each student listens with concentration to the other students and asks questions if something in the explanations is not clear||The teacher looks for absolute quietness and concentration during the explanations by students, so that each student may explain their thoughts without being interrupted and so that other students may ask questions of the student giving the lesson||Using LdL means that during the presentations and interactions the students have to be absolutely quietso that everybody is able to listen to the students' utterances. During the students' interactions, the teacher has to back off|
|Introduction: information gathering two by two: example "Dom Juan by Molière"||Using "human resources": the students in charge of the course briefly present the new topic and let the other students discuss what is new about this topic (for example about Dom Juan by Molière)||The teacher looks to see if the students really exchange their knowledge||Using LdL means that the students' already existing knowledge about the new topic will be "inventoried" in little groups|
|First deepening: Gathering information in class||The leading students inspire their classmates to interact (they are sitting in circle) as long as all the questions are asked and answered. The students interact like neurons in neural networks and thoughts "emerge".||The teacher makes sure that each student has the opportunity to participate, and asks questions if something is not clear and needs to be clarified by the class (until the "emergence" has reach the desired quality)||The previous knowledge from each student is interchanged within the full-classroom discussion and aligned, since the new content will be fed in.|
|Introducing the new content in the classroom (example: "Molière's humor in Dom Juan")||The teaching students introduce the new content in small portions to their peers (for example, relevant scenes from Dom Juan) and they repeatedly ask questions in order to check if everything is clear||The teacher observes the communication and intervenes if something is not clear. The teacher continues to let the students clarify what they have said if meaning or content are not completely clear||By LdL the new content is shared in small portions and communicated step-by-step in the classroom.|
|The second deepening: Playing scenes||Led by the teaching students, the relevant scenes will be played and memorized (for example the seduction of the peasant-maid by Don Juan)||The teacher gives input of new ideas, and makes sure that there is adequate and successful scene-playing by the students||In LdL the teacher is a director and is not afraid of interrupting if presentations in front of the other students are not expressive enough (workshopambiance).|
|The third deepening: written homework (text task, interpretation of a place, for instance, Don Juan's discussion with his father)||All pupils work hard at home||The teacher collects all homework and carefully corrects it||In teaching younger grades the LdL tasks are prepared during the lessons themselves. For older grades, the preparation shifts more and more towards homework so that a bigger proportion of the teaching time is available for interactions (collective reflection) .|
Advantages and disadvantages
Most teachers using the method do not apply it in all their classes or all the time. They state the following advantages and disadvantages:
- Student work is more motivated, efficient, active and intensive due to lowered inhibitions and an increased sense of purpose
- By eliminating the class division of authoritative teacher and passive audience, an emotive solidarity is obtained.
- Students may perform many routine tasks, otherwise unnecessarily carried out by the instructor
- Next to subject-related knowledge students gain important key qualifications like
- The introduction of the method requires a lot of time.
- Students and teachers have to work more than usual.
- There is a danger of simple duplication, repetition or monotony if the teacher does not provide periodic didactic impetus.
Reception of Martin's methods
Martin's work has been well received in teacher training and by practicing teachers: since 1985 more than 100 teacher students in all subjects wrote their ending thesis about LdL. Also the education administration received both the theory and the practice of LdL (vgl.Margret Ruep 1999). In didactics handbooks LdL has been described as an "extreme form of learner centred teaching"). On the university level, LdL has been disseminated by Joachim Grzega in Germany, Guido Oebel in Japan and Alina Rachimova in Russia.
Learning by teaching outside the LdL-context
Sudbury schools, since 1968, do not segregate students by age, so that students of any age are free to interact with students in other age groups. One effect of this age mixing is that a great deal of the teaching in the school is done by students. Here are some statements about Learning by teaching in the Sudbury Schools:
- "Kids love to learn from other kids. First of all, it's often easier. The child teacher is closer than the adult to the students' difficulties, having gone through them somewhat more recently. The explanations are usually simpler, better. There's less pressure, less judgment. And there's a huge incentive to learn fast and well, to catch up with the mentor.
- Kids also love to teach. It gives them a sense of value, of accomplishment. More important, it helps them get a better handle on the material as they teach; they have to sort it out, get it straight. So they struggle with the material until it's crystal clear in their own heads, until it's clear enough for their pupils to understand."
Pupil-Team Learning: The Durrell Studies
In the 1950s Dr. Donald D. Durrell and his colleagues at Boston University pursued similar methods which they named Pupil-Team Learning. A year-long efficacy study in the schools of Dedham, Massachusetts, was published in the Boston University Journal of Education, Vol. 142, December, 1959, entitled "Adapting Instruction to the Learning Needs of Children in the Intermediate Grades" in which one of the authors, Walter J. McHugh, reported significant learning gains from the use of pupil teams.
Peer Learning and Teaching in Higher Education
Teaching and learning within a group or team context can be particularly effective in higher education. This cooperative atmosphere mimics potential workplace scenerios that students would expect to find in there careers after college. The skills learned in this group atmosphere, such as the ability to listen and learn from their peers, is essential in many vocations. Marbach-Ad and Sokolove found that in this peer-to-peer cooperative learning and teaching atmosphere resulted in students questioning and being involved at a higher-level.