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 CLT Overview
Home • ~Alexandra Rowe • CLT • CLT Overview
An Overview of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)

by Dr. Alexandra Rowe with acknowledgment to Lish Simpson, M.A., University of South Carolina

1.0 What is CLT?  CLT is a language teaching approach based on the linguistic theory of communicative competence.  Developing communicative competence in learners is the goal of CLT.  CLT emphasizes “humanism,” which focuses on students’ needs and individual affective factors; advocates several language-learning principles, as opposed to an articulated learning theory; and draws from several language teaching methods.  Therefore, CLT is an approach rather than a method of English language teaching (ELT).

2.0 Where did CLT originate and why is it so popular?  CLT was developed in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s and popularized by the British Council and the Council of Europe.  CLT was a reaction to language teaching methods that seemed ineffective (e.g., grammar/translation [GT], audiolingual method [ALM]) in developing learners “who can communicate both orally and in writing with native speakers in a way appropriate to their mutual needs”  (Ellis, p. 214). English has become the international language of commerce, science, and technology.  As a result, many people around the world are now experiencing “English fever,” which is a great desire to learn English, especially how to engage in conversation in English.

3.0 What are the features of CLT?
3.1 Focus on negotiation of meaning and meaningful communication (rather than linguistic structures)
3.2 Focus on active learning and active learners (collaboration among learners and purposeful interactions)
3.3 Focus on the affective domain of the classroom and creating a language-learning environment that supports risk-taking by the learners, i.e., a community of learners
3.4 Focus on “whole learner,” i.e., learner with his/her own learning style + person with emotions and individual needs
3.5 Focus on teachers as facilitators
3.6 Use of “authentic” materials, i.e., materials aimed at native English speakers rather than ESL learners, and realia, i.e., real objects from a native-English speaking culture, such as an advertisement
3.7 Use of a variety of strategies, which address different learning styles and language skills
3.8 Tolerance for errors
3.9 Teaching of target language culture(s) to accompany language teaching

4.0 What are some common misconceptions regarding CLT?
4.1 CLT does not teach grammar.
It was Stephen Krashen, not CLT advocates, who spoke against explicit grammar teaching.  Dr. Krashen’s second language acquisition (SLA) theory, the Monitor Model, inspired the development of the Natural Approach and Focal Skills in ELT.  CLT advocates urge that grammar be taught inductively (guiding students to discover the rules themselves, as in linguistics data problems) rather than deductively (the teaching of rules).  However, because adult learners possess analytical skills, they sometimes demand and often benefit from explicit grammar teaching.  Grammatical analysis and drills do not dominate CLT classrooms because CLT teachers realize that learners learn more by using the language than by learning about the language.
4.2 CLT teaches only speaking.
CLT is based on the linguistic theory of communicative competence, which includes more than just negotiating meaning through oral interaction alone.  Communicative competence includes the following components: grammatical competence, psychomotor (pronunciation) competence, lexical (vocabulary) competence, discourse (overall organization of an oral or written utterance, coherence or unity of topic, and cohesion or sentence-to-sentence fluency) competence, strategic (overall fluency and linguistic spontaneity) competence, sociolinguistic (cross-cultural awareness) competence, and pragmatic (culturally appropriate rhetoric and paralinguistic behaviors) competence.
4.3 CLT uses only pair work and/or group work in the classroom.
CLT teachers tend to use a lot of pair work and group work in the classroom in order to highlight the interactional nature of real language.  However, individual work is also a part of a CLT classroom.
4.4 CLT uses only English in the classroom.
The CLT teacher does not hesitate to use the learners’ native language to expedite learning.  Usually such native language use is limited to clarifying a vocabulary item or a complex grammatical structure.  
4.5 CLT encourages fossilization in learners.
CLT teachers tolerate errors, but they are aware that developing communicative competence includes learners’ developing interlanguages, or learners’ own understanding of how the language works, which is often flawed until learners develop a higher proficiency level of their interlanguages.  CLT teachers look for patterns of errors in a learner, rather than all the mistakes, and the CLT teachers correct the patterns.  CLT teachers do not focus on accuracy at the expense of fluency or communicativeness.  CLT teachers aim first for fluency, then for accuracy.

5.0 What are some barriers to CLT?
5.1 High English language proficiency required of teachers
5.2 Test preparation required of teachers/ use of national, regional, and/or local non-communicative tests
5.3 Large class sizes (e.g., 50-60 students in a single class) for one teacher to handle
5.4 Fixed furniture, physically small classroom
5.5 Lack of teacher training in effective CLT strategies
5.6 Lack of practice among teachers in using effective CLT strategies
5.7 Expected classroom behavior among teachers and students in certain cultures
5.8 Much time on the part of the teacher needed for preparing effective CLT activities
5.9 Much time required in the classroom for implementing effective CLT activities

6.0 How can teachers surmount these barriers?
6.1 If necessary, improve oral/aural proficiency.
6.2 Try to develop an “eclectic” English teaching approach, which incorporates some traditional English teaching strategies along with CLT strategies.
6.3 The following guidelines have been developed in China to support teachers developing a CLT approach:
*Teaching should start with listening and speaking.
*Drills on language form should not be excessive.
*English should be used in class.
*Use of translation should be limited.
*Audio-visual aids like realia, pictures, over-head transparencies, audio-tapes,
videos, computers should be fully utilized.
*The teacher's role should be a facilitator and helper to guide students to develop
effective learning habits.
*Teachers should be aware of the individual differences among students in the
learning process.
*Appropriate encouragement should be given to students to reinforce their
(Liao, “How Communicative Language Teaching Became Acceptable in Secondary Schools in China”

7.0 Is English language teaching now entering a post-CLT era?  If so, what does this mean?
7.1 More Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL)
7.2 Balance of implicit and explicit teaching
7.3 Focus on “principled” language teaching (Brown):  Linguistic, Cognitive, Affective
7.4 Continuing focus on professional development for teachers, which includes reflection and “critical” questioning of approaches and strategies
7.5 “Despite changes in the status of approaches and methods, we can therefore expect the field of second and foreign language teaching, in the twenty-first century to be no less a ferment of theories, ideas, and practices than it has been in the past.”  (Richards & Rodgers, p. 254)

Questions for Reflection

Context for Questions Below:

In some countries—e.g, China, Taiwan, and South Korea—the government has mandated that CLT be used in K-12 classrooms.  In fact, the Curriculum Standards for the Nine-year Compulsory Education have adopted CLT as the preferred approach for teaching English in Taiwan, at least at the elementary level.  The Ministry of Education has set three goals for this English teaching:  students must develop (1) “basic communication ability,” (2) “interests in learning English,” and (3) “understanding of both the native culture and the culture of the target language.” (Yeh, “Communicative Web Learning and English Teaching in Taiwan’s Elementary Schools,”, no longer available)  According to Lillian Lin of the Central News Agency, Taiwan, English proficiency has become the “dominant issue in Taiwan’s education” (October 12, 2002).  Even so, CLT has met with resistance from teachers in these countries, as well as other countries.  Some CLT critics maintain that CLT grows out of western values and concepts and that CLT is not applicable to non-western cultures.  

1. Is CLT mandated in your school, region, or country?  Is any particular ELT method or approach mandated?
2. Is there an ELT curriculum established in your school, region, or country that all teachers must follow?
3. Are there school-wide, region-wide, or nationwide English language tests that all learners must take?  If so, what kinds of tests are these?  That is, are they “traditional”—i.e., testing discrete linguistic items as well as listening/reading comprehension— or are they communicative in nature—i.e., testing real language use (writing, oral interviews, etc.)  
4. Is there a business English curriculum established in your school, region, or country that all teachers must follow?  
5. Would you describe yourself as a CLT teacher?  If not, how would you describe yourself as a teacher in terms of the method(s) and/or approach(es) that you use when teaching?
6. Do you see any barriers or challenges to using CLT to teach business English?  If so, what are they?  If you have any, how could you overcome them?
7. Do you think that CLT, or some components of this approach, is applicable to the culture in which you teach?

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“Communicative Language Learning”  (“characteristics of good practice”)