Teaching methods have evolved over the course of time. In the 1960s, teaching languages was all about behaviorism, which consisted in drills and patterns you would learn by heart and mechanically respond to. There also was the grammar and translation only approach, which taught about structures and vocabulary, but not how to communicate. For quite a few decades, teachers have been using the communicative approach, and here is why.
The Communicative Language Teaching (or CLT) focuses on the acquisition of four major skills:
- Written Comprehension
- Written Expression
- Oral Comprehension
- Oral Expression
The theory behind CLT is that in order to achieve communication, any student needs to work on these skills and hone them, as they are very closely intertwined in any given situation. For instance, a conversation with a neighbor is going to involve a mix of listening and speaking. Responding to an email will involve reading and writing.
On top of these 4 major skills can be added a secondary set of skills that will allow students to gain proficiency:
- grammar skills: to improve your syntax and understanding of structures
- semantic skills: to enlarge your vocabulary and go further in
- pragmatic skills: to interact and interpret situations properly
- methodological skills, to improve efficiency in learning
The benefits of this method have been proven by many studies, and here are some of the most important ones:
- The activities done with a teacher using CLT are anchored in a context, giving meaning and logic to the activity. The skills then involved in this activity should be transferable from the classroom to real life. Knowing that they have a purpose in actual situations makes the students more motivated. They are no longer learning something just for a test, they are learning something for their personal enrichment.
(Example: watching a scene of people ordering at a restaurant, studying the questions, the vocabulary, the behavior of the people involved, and then producing a dialogue between a customer and waiter so as to be able to do that for real one day)
- This approach also revolves around the idea of deconstructing the language, manipulating it, producing and achieving. It has the benefit of making students more involved and active in their learning process. The students are no longer automats, they are builders of sense.
- The focus of CLT is to achieve communication, getting a point across, even imperfectly. It does not matter if the message is flawed, as long as it is understood, the student has succeeded. The point of this approach is to reinforce students’ confidence in themselves and their abilities, and encourage them to continue.
- CLT is a more complete approach than other methods as it does not focus on one aspect of language acquisition, therefore making each learner better trained and prepared for real life communication.
Many countries in the world have trained their teachers to work using the communicative approach, especially in Europe through the implementation of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL), and science has also confirmed the benefits of this approach. So now, it is up to you to develop the minds of your students!