Communicative Language Teaching: Theory and Practice

Communicative Language Teaching: Theory and Practice - By: Luqman Ahsanul Karom -2111040038

Keywords: Social view on SLA, Interaction, Communicative Language Teaching, Communicative Syllabus

Social view on Second Language Acquisition (SLA) has influenced the development of teaching methodology.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) which is based on Communicative Approach has been widely used as a teaching method troughout the world.

It is reasonable to say that the CLT has widely replaced the use of Grammatical Approcah that has been applied before.

Therefore, in this short article, we are going to examine the CLT, theory behind it and its practice in the field of language teaching.
1. How do sociolinguists view second language acquisition?
2. What is the implementation of the view on English teaching field?

Social View of Second Language Acquisition

The discussions about second language acquisition are always initiated by the questions around what exactly the L2 learner comes to know, how the learner acquires this knowledge, and why some learners are more successful than others. For instance, linguists answered the questions by grammatical approach, which believe that the goal of second language acquisition lies in gaining grammatical competence. Furthermore, learners gain this competence through the exposure of grammar. Thus, a successful learning is resulted from an adequate exposure of grammar. In contrast, a less successful learning is resulted from the lack of the exposure.

However, sociolinguists offer answers for those questions from their social perspective. In spite of believing that the goal of English teachings lies in the achievement of grammatical competence, they believe that a successful learner is the one who is successful in communication. In English teaching field, it is said that a successful English teaching is achieved when the learners have gained communicative competence. Moreover, the process of language acquisition is mediated by input and interaction. The more one is involved in live communication with L2, the more successful he/she will be in the process of learning.

Aspects on Second Language Acquisition in Social Context

Variation on Learner Language

The variation also occurs in L2 learners, some learners are more successful than others. In explaining this phenomena, sociologists argue that variable feature occurs in the production of any one speaker (native or language learner) depends largely on the communicative contexts in which it has been learned and is used. Furthermore, The extent of using English in communication becomes a factor influencing the acquisition of L2.

The variation of L2 learners is recognized by changes that occur in what learners know and can produce as they progressively achieve higher levels of L2 proficiency. It was previously considered as unsystematic irregularity, but recently sociolinguists found that the variation seems to follow such paricular predictable patterns in form and meaning. Accordingly, the changes are grouped under following dimensions:

Linguistic context

Elements of language form and function associated with the variable element. In the examples given above, for instance, the phonological variable [ŋ] in coming is more likely to be used before a word which begins with a back consonant or before apause, and the variable [n] in comin’ is more likely before a front consonant. The part of speech canalso be a relevant linguistic context, with production of [ŋ] most frequent in one-syllable nouns such as ring or sing, and [n] in the progressive form of verbs, as in I’m workin’.

Psychological context
Factors associated with the amount of attention which is being given to language form during production, the level of automaticity versus control in processing, or the intellectual demands of a particular task. In learners’ production, for instance, the copula of that is a big book may be produced during a formal second language lesson in in a writing exercise but omitted in informal conversation even at the same point of L2 development. Similarly, the variable [ŋ] is more likely to be used by L1 or L2 speakers when they are focusing in their pronunciation in a formal setting thatn in casual conversation.

Microsocial contexts
Features of setting/situation and interaction which relate to communicate events within whicih language is being produced, interpreted, and negotiated. These include level of formality and participants’ relationship to one another, and wheter the interaction is public or intimate. Such features interact imprtantly with the amount of attention that is paid to language form, as illustrated above for the probability that the copula or [ŋ] versus [n] will be produced, or that the difference among see, saw, and have seen will be consistently observed.

Input and Interaction
It is obvisous that input plays important roles in SLA. However, among disciplines of study, the role of input is still in dispute. As a matter of fact, followers of behaviorist learning theories consider input to form the necessary stimuli and feedback which learners respond to and imitate; followers of Krashen’s Monitor Model consider comprehensible input not only necessary but sufficient in itself to account for SLA; proponents of UG consider exposure to input a necessary trigger for activating internal mechanisms.

Sociolinguists also have their own view on the role of input in SLA. They consider language input as primary “data” for essentially linguistic and/or cognitive process. In other words, it is the source of data which in turn is further processed in the interaction to gain more advanced knowledge. Furthermore, interaction is generally seen as essential in providing learners with quantity and quality of external linguistic input which is required for internal processing. Therefore, language input and interaction play important roles in the process of acquisition.

Input Modification
In some learning contexts, language inputs are often modified to gain success in communication. The modification is intended to achieve meaningful communication, since it is considered primary in sociolinguistic’s view on language. Furthermore, the modification can be a simplified form of language, and it sometimes occurs naturally. In fact, learners with low proficiency will get difficulties in attending a communication where the speakers are natives and use a high grammar of language. In this regard, the natives will naturaly and automatically simplify the form of their language, so the learners will have better understanding on the language, and the communication will run meaningfully.

In this case, for instance, there is a term “foreigner talk”, a language addressed by L1 speakers to L2 learners with frequent and systematic difference compared to that is addressed to native or very fluent speakers. The characteristics of the modified variety is listed below:

Simple vocabulary, using high frequency words and phrases
  • Long pauses 
  • Slow rate of speech 
  • Careful articulation 
  • Loud volume 
  • Stress on key words 
  • Simplified grammatical structures 
  • Topicalization (topic at the beginning, then a comment about it) 
  • More syntactic regularity 

Retention of full forms (e.g. less contradiction, fewer pronouns) For instance, in an introduction context, native speakers will speak in a simplified form:
_ you like to play football? (deletes do)
_you live in this city? (deletes do)

In a classroom context, a teacher also sometimes simplify their language forms:
Would give us _pencil? (deletes a)
Could you close_door, please? (deletes the)

In learning and teaching context, it is found that a teacher often speaks in a modified form of language as like in the above example. The modification can also occur in academic texts, it is due to the fact that using the modification will make the learners to feel easier in arranging their composition. In academic texts, the patterns of modification is characterized as follows:
  • Frequent organization markers, such as headings and linking devices 
  • Clear topic statements 
  • Highlighting of key terms and inclusion of synonims and paraphrase 
  • Bulleted of numbered lists of main points 
  • Elaboration of sections which require culture-specific background knowledge 
  • Visual aids, such as illustrations and graphs 
  • Explicit summations at regular intervals 
  • Questions which can used for comprehension checks 
 All above descriptions about input modification show the regularity found in L2 learners’ language. As a matter of fact, some of the oral modifications may make acquisition easier, but all L1 and many L2 learners can succeed without them. Furthermore, modifications in written input which improve comprehension are similar for L2 and L1 students, but research on their effectiveness for SLA is quite limited.

Interactional Modification
In sociolinguists’ view on SLA, interaction is generally seen as essential in providing learners with the quantity and quality of external linguistic input which is reqiured for internal processing. Thus, as stated earlier, the more a learner has a chance to communicate with the target language, the more successful he/she will be.

In teaching and learning context, the interaction is also sometimes modified namely interactional modification. This modification can be recognized to have some following characteristics:

  • Teacher : This is your assignment for tomorrow? 
  • Student : what? 
  • Teacher : This is your assignment. 
  • Teacher : This is your assigment for tomorrow? 
  • Student : what? 
  • Teacher : This is homework. 
Expansion and elaboration
  • Student : Hot. 
  • Teacher : yes, it’s very hot today 
Sentence completion
  • Student : For tell how old tree is, you count…… 
  • Teacher : Rings. Tree rings. 
Frame for substitution
  • Teacher : How old are you? 
  • Student : Five old are you. 
Vertical construction
  • Student : Ana. (name of another student) 
  • Teacher : what did Ana do? 
  • Student : pencil. 
  • Teacher : what did Ana do with the pencil? 
  • Student : throw. (makes throw motion) 
  • Teacher : Ana, don’t throw pencils. 
Comprehension check and request for clarification
  • Teacher : substract, and write the reminder here. 
  • Student : what is “remain”? 

As like input, social interaction plays an important role in L1 acquisition: no children can learn their initial language by merely listening to tape recordings, radio broadcasts, or television programs. However, some other views argue that L2 learners can acquire a high level of competence without interacting with speakers of the target language. Therefore, the disscussion about the necessity of interaction is also in dispute.

However, sociolinguists tend to see that the modification is necessary in teaching and learning contexts, since the core of every communication lies on interaction. Again, it is essential to provide learners with external inputs for internal processing.

Communicative Competence
As stated earlier, communicative competence becomes the goal of English teachings. However, the term communicative competence itself remains unclear without examining another definition of the term competence from another field of study. For instance, Chomsky as a linguist defined competence as static knowledge lies in mind, a state of product that excludes any notion of “capacity” or “ability”. Furthermore, competence becomes performance when the competence is put in use. Therefore, he distinguished between competence, a static knowledge, and performance, an active use of the knowledge.

Instead of seeing the competence as a static knowledge, the proponents of communicative approach believe that “competence” covers both the static knowledge and the active use of the knowledge. In addition, the term competence is also accompanied with the notion of communication. Thus, it is necessary to define the notion of communicative competence in a comprehensible definition. Accordingly, some models of communicative competence have been proposed in order to meet the comprehensible definition.

The Model of Communicative Competence
The model which will be presented here is the model proposed by Canale & Swain (1980 in Murcia, Dorney & Thurell, 2006:7). It is the first proposed model, and it posited four components of communicative competence:

Grammatical competence – the knowledge of the language code (grammatical rules, vocabulary, pronunciation, spelling, etc.). 

Sociolinguistic competence – the mastery of the sociocultural code of language use (appropriate application of vocabulary, register, politeness and style in a given situation).
Discourse competence – the ability to combine language structures into different types of cohesive texts (e.g., political speech, poetry). 

Strategic competence – the knowledge of verbal and non-verbal communication strategies which enhance the efficiency of communication and, where necessary, enable the learner to overcome difficulties when communication breakdowns occur. The model shows us that competence is not merely a static knowledge, but also it covers an active skill initially known as performance. As a matter of fact, discourse competence is an active ability in combining language structures into different types of cohesive texts, while grammatical competence is a static knowledge about language code. Therefore, the model is comprehensive enough to explain the competence from sociolinguists point of view.

The Implication of the Social View on Teaching-Learning Methodology

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)

One of the implication of the social view is a methodology so called Communicative Language Teaching. However, some teachers are often mistaken when asked what is CLT and how it is implemented in detail in a classroom setting. They often answered simply with group discussion. Therefore, we will examine in detail what is CLT and how it is implemented in a classrooom setting.

According to Richards (2006: 2), “CLT 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.” Thus, it is obvious that in defining CLT we need to observe each component above in order to gain a comprehensible definition. Therefore, we will examine them in turn.

The goals of language teaching
The goals of language teaching in CLT are communicative competence. Respectively, the explanation about the competence has come in the previous discussion. However, in a more practical term, the competence is summerized as follows:
  • Knowing how to use language for a range of different purposes and functions 
  • Knowing how to vary our use of language according to the setting and the participants 
  • Knowing how to produce and understand different types of texts 
  • Knowing how to maintain communicationdespite having limitations in one’s language knowledge. 

How learners learn language
The process learners learn language is viewed from the social point of view. It is seen as resulting from processes of the following kind:
  • Interaction between the learner and users of the language 
  • Collaborative creation of meaning 
  • Creating meaningful and purposeful interaction through language 
  • Negotiation of meaning as the learner and his or her interlocutor arrive at understanding 
  • Learning through attending to the feedback learners get when they use the language 
  • Paying attention to the language one hears (the input) and trying to incorporate new forms into one’s developing communicative competence 
Trying out and experimenting with different ways of saying things Of course, interaction is the backbone of the CLT, since the social view on language has become the backbone of language teaching and its most influencing perspective.

The kinds of classroom activities that best fasilitate learning
The kinds of classroom activities in CLT are grouped in activities such as the use of pair work activities, role plays, group work activities and project work. These are discussed in the following discussions.

The roles of teachers and learners in the classroom
The type of classroom activities in CLT and the view on the urgency of interaction also implied roles in the classroom for teachers and learners. The roles of learners in the classroom can be catogerized as follows:
  • Learners are to participate in classroom activities were based on collaborative rather than individualistic approach to learning 
  • Learners are to become comfortable with listening to their peers in group work or pair work tasks, rather than relying on the teacher for a model 
  • Learners are expected to take on a greater degree of responsibility for their own learning 
Meanwhile, the roles of teachers in CLT can also be characterized as follows:
  • Teachers are to assume the role of facilitator and monitor, rather than being a model for correct speech
  • Teachers are to be a facilitator in the process of language teaching
Proposals for Communicative Syllabus 
The four components of CLT should be facilitated in a systematic way that accomodates those components in term of syllabus design. Thus, CLT has its own design of syllabus which varies based on its function. Several new syllabus types are proposed by advocates of CLT. These include a skill-based syllabus, a functional syllabus, and English for specific purposes.

Skill-based Sylllabus 
This type of syllabus focuses on the four skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, and breaks each skill down into its component microskills: for example the skill of listening might be further described in terms of the following microskills:
  • Recognizing key words in conversations 
  • Recognizing topic for a conversation 
  • Recognizing speakers’ attitude towards a topic 
  • Recognizing time reference of an utterance 
  • Following speech at different rates of speed 
Identifying key information in a passage Advocates of CLT however stressed an integrated-skills approach to the teaching of the skills. Since in real life, the skills occur together, they should also be linked in teaching, it was argued.

Functional Syllabus
This type of syllabus is organized according to the functions the learner should be able to carry out in English, such as expressing likes and dislikes, offering and accepting apologies, introducing someone, and giving explanations. Communicative competence is viewed as mastery of functions needed for communication across a wide range of situations. Vocabulary and grammar is then chosen according to the functions being taught. A sequence of activities similar to the P-P-P lesson cycle is then used to present and practice the function. Functional syllabus are often used as the basis for speaking and listening courses.

English for Specific Purposes
Advocates of CLT also recognized that many learners needed English in order to use it in specific occupational or educational settings. For them, it would be more efficient to teach them the specific kinds of language and communicative skills needed for particular roles, (e.g. that of nurse, engineer, flight attendant, pilot, biologist, etc) rather than just to concentrate on more and more general English. This led to the discipline of needs analysis – the use of observation, surveys, interviews, situation analysis, analysis of language samples collected in different settings – in order to determine the kinds of communication learners would need to master if they were in specific occupational or educational roles and the language features of particular settings. The focus of need analysis was to determine the specific characteristics of a language when it is used for specific rather than general purposes. Such differences might include:
  • Differences in vocabulary choice 
  • Differences in grammar 
  • Differences in the kinds of texts commonly occuring 
  • Differences in functions 
Differences in the need for particular skills ESP courses soon began to appear addressing the language needs of university students, nurses, engineers, restaurant staff, doctors, hotel staff, airline pilots, and so on.

Activities in CLT’s classroom
In an attempt to have a complete definition of CLT, we need to examine the activities categorized as communicative activities. It is due to the fact that without a brief explanation of the activities, one can be mistaken in defining CLT, for instance, a teacher who simply considers CLT as a group discussion activity. Furthermore, group discussions cannot be easily categorized as communicative one, since they vary in its detail sequence of activities.

The activities in CLT’s classroom can be seen as following particular patterns as like focusing on fluency, emphasis on mechanical, meaningful, and communicative practice, considering information-gap, and one so-called jig-saw activities. There are also other activities categorized as communicative ones as like task-completion activities, information-gathering activities, opinion-sharing activities, information-transfer activities, reasoning-gap activities, and role plays.

Accuracy versus Fluency Activities
One of the goals of CLT is to develop fluency in language use. Fluency is natural language use occuring when a speaker engages in meaningful interaction and maintains comprehensible and ongoing communication despite limitations in his or her communicative competence. Fluency is developed by creating classroom activities in which students must negotiate meaning, use communication strategies, correct misunderstandings and work to avoid communication breakdowns.

Fluency practice can be contrasted with accuracy practice, which focuses on creating correct examples of language use. Differences between activities that focus on fluency and those that focus on accuracy can be summerazed as follows:
  • Activities focusing on fluency
  • Reflect natural use of language 
  • Focus on achieving communication 
  • Require meaningful use of language 
  • Require the use of communicative strategies 
  • Produce language that may not be predictable 
  • Seek to link language use to context 
Activities focusing on accuracy
  • Reflect classroom use of language 
  • Focus on the formation of correct examples of language 
  • Practice language out of context 
  • Practice small samples of language 
  • Do not require meaningful communication 
Choice of language is controlled However, it does not mean that the teacher cannot use the accuracy activities at all. The accuracy activities can be used as a supplement for fluency activities. Therefore, teachers are supposed to use both of them in balance in order to gain more success in teaching and learning.

Mechanical, Meaningful, and Communicative Practice
Another distinction that some advocates of CLT proposed was the distinction between three different kinds of practice – mechanical, meangingful, and communicative.

Mechanical practice refers to a controlled practice activity which students can successfully carry out without nececarily understanding the language they are using. Examples of this kind of activity would be repetition drills and substitution drills designed to practice use of grammatical or other items.

Meaningful practice refers to an activity where language control is still provided, but where students are required to make meaningful choices when carrying out pratctice. 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 now is meaningful because they have to respond according to the location of places on the map.

Communicative practice refers to activities where practice in using language within a real communicative context is the focus, where real information is exchanged, and where the language used is not totally predictable. For example, students might have to draw a map of their neighborhood and answer questions about the location of different places in their neighborhood, such as the nearest bus stop, the nearest café, etc.

Information-gap Activities
An important aspect of communication in CLT is the notion of information gap. This refers to the gap that in real communication, people normally communicate in order to get information they do not possess. This is known as information-gap. More authentic communication is likely to occur in the classroom if students go beyond practice of language forms for their own sake and use their linguistic and communicative resources in order to obtain information. In so doing, they will draw available vocabulary, grammar, and communication strategies to complete a task.

Jig-saw Activities
These are also based on the information-gap principle. Typically, the class is divided into groups into groups and each group has part of information needed to complete an activity. The class must fit the pieces together to complete the whole. In doing so, they must use their language resources to communicate meaningfully and so take part in meaningful communication practice.

  • Celce-Murcia, Marianne, Dorney, Zoltan & Thurrell, Sarah. 1995. Communicative Competence: A Pedagogically Motivated Model with Content Specifications. Issues in Applied Linguistics, (Online), Vol. 6, No.2, (http:// http://escholarship,ucop.edu, accessed on 17 December 2011)
  • Saville-Troike, Muriel. 2006. Introducing Second Language Acquisition. New York: Cambridge University Press
  • Richard, Jack. C. 2006. Communicative Language Teaching Today. New York: Cambridge University Press 
Communicative Language Teaching: Theory and Practice