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Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Anwar Rahman   
Monday, 11 October 2010 08:48

What is CLT (communicative language learning)?

Communicative language teaching began in Britain in the 1960s as a replacement to the earlier structural method, called Situational Language Teaching. Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) is an approach to the teaching second and foreign language 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”.
Communicative language teaching makes use of real-life situations that necessitate communication. The teacher sets up a situation that students are likely to encounter in real life. Unlike the audiolingual method of language teaching, which relies on repetition and drills, the communicative approach can leave students in suspense as to the outcome of a class exercise, which will vary according to their reactions and responses. The real-life simulations change from day to day. Students' motivation to learn comes from their desire to communicate in meaningful ways about meaningful topics.

As an extension of the notional-functional syllabus, CLT also places great emphasis on helping students use the target language in a variety of contexts and places great emphasis on learning language functions. Unlike the ALM, its primary focus is on helping learners create meaning rather than helping them develop perfectly grammatical structures or acquire native-like pronunciation. This means that successfully learning a foreign language is assessed in terms of how well learners have developed their communicative competence, which can loosely be defined as their ability to apply knowledge of both formal and sociolinguistic aspects of a language with adequate proficiency to communicate.

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:


  1. An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.
  2. The introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation.
  3. The provision of opportunities for learners to focus, not only on language but also on the (Learning Management) learning proccess.
  4. An enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.
  5. 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.

Classroom activities used in CLT
Example Activities

  • Role Play
  • Interviews
  • Information Gap
  • Games
  • Language Exchanges
  • Surveys
  • Pair Work

Teachers have to change their mind that students come to English class with various purposes such as increasing their score of English subject in the report, preparing for job promosion, seeking for job and just willing to be able in speaking English. Generally students want to improve their language competence not linguistic competence. So learning English is not only mastering of structure, vocabulary and pronunciation, but also and most important is the abilities of the communication.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) has some principle and features which distinct from other approach. They are in the following:

  1. Communicative principle; real communication to promote learning
  2. Task principle; do meaningfull task to promote learning
  3. Meaningfulness principles; meaningful language to support learning process

Features of CLT

Information gap; it exists when one person in an exchange knows something that the other person does  not.
Choice; the speaker has a choice of what she/he will say and how she/he will say it.
Feedback from the listeners;  statements ><responses

CLT  usually uses authentic materials for teaching in the purpose of promoting learning. So that the learners have the opportunity to understand language as it is actually used by native speakers. For example; don’t say: ‘It’s I’ but you say ‘It’s me’
Don’t say: If you agree, I agree too. Therefore introducing how to say in English authenticly (pronunciation, intonation, gesture, accents and vocabulary) is highly recommended in teaching English.

Teaching Communicative Competence

The concept of communicative competence was originally developed thirty years ago by the sociolinguist Hymes (1972), as a response to perceived limitations in Chomsky's competence/performance model of language. According to Canale (1983: 5), communicative competence refers to 'the underlying systems of knowledge and skill required for communication'. The four components of communicative competence can be summarized as follows:
Grammatical competence
producing a structured comprehensible utterance (including grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and spelling).
Sociocultural competence
using socially-determined cultural codes in meaningful ways, often termed 'appropriacy' (e.g. formal or informal ways of greeting).
Discourse competence
shaping language and communicating purposefully in different genres (text types), using cohesion (structural linking) and coherence (meaningful relationships in language).
Strategic competence
enhancing the effectiveness of communication (e.g. deliberate speech), and compensating for breakdowns in communication (e.g. comprehension checks, paraphrase, conversation fillers).
This is a very useful sociolinguistic model telling us what natural communication involves, but not how it should be taught in a classroom setting. Three key pedagogical principles that developed around CLT were: the presentation of language forms in context, the importance of genuine communication, and the need for learner-centred teaching. The former includes pre-communicative tasks (such as drills, cloze exercises, and controlled dialogue practice) along with communicative activities. Littlewood (1981), for example, described pre-communicative activities as a necessary stage between controlled and uncontrolled language use.
One example of such an approach to CLT is what is known as the PPP lesson (for presentation, practice, and production). Language forms are first presented under the guidance of the teacher, then practiced in a series of exercises, again under the teacher's supervision. The chosen forms are finally produced by the learners themselves in the context of communicative activities that can be more or less related to the learners' real lives and interests.
Willis (1996:134) driscibed that a typical PPP lesson normally proceeds like the following:
1. Presentation stage
Teacher begins by presenting an item of language in a context or situation which help to clarify its meaning. Presentation my consist of pattern sentences given by teacher, or short dialogues illustrating target items acted out by teacher, read from textbook, or heard on tape

2. Practice stage
Students repeat target items and practice sentences or dialogues, often in chorus and/or in pairs, until they can say them correctly. Activities include pattern practice drills, matching parts of sentences, completing sentences or dialogues and asking and answering questions using pre-specified forms.

3. Production stage
Students are expected to produce in a ‘free’ situation language items they have just learnt, together with other previously learnt language. This ‘free’ situation can be a role play, a simulation activity or even a communication task.

Harmer (2007:51) purposed, when thinking about an English lesson it is useful therefore to keep the following three elements in mind - Engage - Study - Activate
1. Engage
This means getting the students interested in the class. Engaging students is important for the learning process.

2. Study
Every lesson usually needs to have some kind of language focus. The study element of a lesson could be a focus on any aspect of the language, such as grammar or vocabulary and pronunciation. A study stage could also cover revision and extension of previously taught material.

3. Activate
Telling students about the language is not really enough to help them learn it. For students to develop their use of English they need to have a chance to produce it. In an activate stage the students are given tasks which require them to use not only the language they are studying that day, but also other language that they have learnt.

Brown, H. Douglas (1994). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. Prentice Hall.
Beale, Jason (2008). Is communicative language teaching a thing of the past?. TESOL article.
Harmer, Jeremy (2007). How to teach English. Pearson Longman.
Richards, Jack C (2002). Methodology in Language Teaching.. Cambridge University Press.
Willis, Jane (1996). A Framwork for Task-Based Learning. Longman.
Jason Beale

Last Updated on Monday, 11 October 2010 09:08