ERIC Identifier: ED357642
Publication Date: 1993-06-00
Author: Galloway, Ann
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Communicative Language Teaching: An Introduction and Sample
Activities. ERIC Digest.
This digest will take a look at the communicative approach to the teaching of
foreign languages. It is intended as an introduction to the communicative
approach for teachers and teachers-in-training who want to provide opportunities
in the classroom for their students to engage in real-life communication in the
target language. Questions to be dealt with include what the communicative
approach is, where it came from, and how teachers' and students' roles differ
from the roles they play in other teaching approaches. Examples of exercises
that can be used with a communicative approach are described, and sources of
appropriate materials are provided.
WHERE DOES COMMUNICATIVE LANGUAGE TEACHING COME FROM?
origins are many, insofar as one teaching methodology tends to influence the
next. The communicative approach could be said to be the product of educators
and linguists who had grown dissatisfied with the audiolingual and
grammar-translation methods of foreign language instruction. They felt that
students were not learning enough realistic, whole language. They did not know
how to communicate using appropriate social language, gestures, or expressions;
in brief, they were at a loss to communicate in the culture of the language
studied. Interest in and development of communicative-style teaching mushroomed
in the 1970s; authentic language use and classroom exchanges where students
engaged in real communication with one another became quite popular.
In the intervening years, the communicative approach has been adapted to the
elementary, middle, secondary, and post-secondary levels, and the underlying
philosophy has spawned different teaching methods known under a variety of
names, including notional-functional, teaching for proficiency,
proficiency-based instruction, and communicative language teaching.
WHAT IS COMMUNICATIVE LANGUAGE TEACHING?
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.
Margie S. Berns, an expert in the field of communicative language teaching,
writes in explaining Firth's view that "language is interaction; it is
interpersonal activity and has a clear relationship with society. In this light,
language study has to look at the use (function) of language in context, both
its linguistic context (what is uttered before and after a given piece of
discourse) and its social, or situational, context (who is speaking, what their
social roles are, why they have come together to speak)" (Berns, 1984, p. 5).
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF COMMUNICATIVE EXERCISES?
communicative classroom for beginners, the teacher might begin by passing out
cards, each with a different name printed on it. The teacher then proceeds to
model an exchange of introductions in the target language: "Guten Tag. Wie
heissen Sie?" Reply: "Ich heisse Wolfie," for example. Using a combination of
the target language and gestures, the teacher conveys the task at hand, and gets
the students to introduce themselves and ask their classmates for information.
They are responding in German to a question in German. They do not know the
answers beforehand, as they are each holding cards with their new identities
written on them; hence, there is an authentic exchange of information.
Later during the class, as a reinforcement listening exercise, the students
might hear a recorded exchange between two German freshmen meeting each other
for the first time at the gymnasium doors. Then the teacher might explain, in
English, the differences among German greetings in various social situations.
Finally, the teacher will explain some of the grammar points and structures
The following exercise is taken from a 1987 workshop on communicative foreign
language teaching, given for Delaware language teachers by Karen Willetts and
Lynn Thompson of the Center for Applied Linguistics. The exercise, called
"Eavesdropping," is aimed at advanced students.
"Instructions to students." Listen to a conversation somewhere in a public
place and be prepared to answer, in the target language, some general questions
about what was said.
1. Who was talking?
2. About how old were they?
3. Where were they when you eavesdropped?
4. What were they talking about?
5. What did they say?
6. Did they become aware that you were listening to them?
The exercise puts students in a real-world listening situation where they
must report information overheard. Most likely they have an opinion of the
topic, and a class discussion could follow, in the target language, about their
experiences and viewpoints.
Communicative exercises such as this motivate the students by treating topics
of their choice, at an appropriately challenging level.
Another exercise taken from the same source is for beginning students of
Spanish. In "Listening for the Gist," students are placed in an everyday
situation where they must listen to an authentic text.
"Objective." Students listen to a passage to get general understanding of the
topic or message.
"Directions." Have students listen to the following announcement to decide
what the speaker is promoting.
"Passage." "Situacion ideal...Servicio de transporte al Aeropuerto
Internacional...Cuarenta y dos habitaciones de lujo, con aire
acondicionado...Elegante restaurante...de fama internacional."
(The announcement can be read by the teacher or played on tape.) Then ask
students to circle the letter of the most appropriate answer on their copy,
which consists of the following multiple-choice options:
a taxi service
Adapted from Ontario Assessment Instrument Pool, 1980, Item No. 13019)
Gunter Gerngross, an English teacher in Austria, gives an example of how he
makes his lessons more communicative. He cites a widely used textbook that shows
English children having a pet show. "Even when learners act out this scene
creatively and enthusiastically, they do not reach the depth of involvement that
is almost tangible when they act out a short text that presents a family
conflict revolving round the question of whether the children should be allowed
to have a pet or not" (Gerngross & Puchta, 1984, p. 92). He continues to say
that the communicative approach "puts great emphasis on listening, which implies
an active will to try to understand others. [This is] one of the hardest tasks
to achieve because the children are used to listening to the teacher but not to
their peers. There are no quick, set recipes.
That the teacher be a patient listener is the basic requirement" (p. 98).
The observation by Gerngross on the role of the teacher as one of listener
rather than speaker brings up several points to be discussed in the next portion
of this digest.
HOW DO THE ROLES OF THE TEACHER AND STUDENT CHANGE IN COMMUNICATIVE LANGUAGE TEACHING?
Teachers in communicative classrooms
will find themselves talking less and listening more--becoming active
facilitators of their students' learning (Larsen-Freeman, 1986). The teacher
sets up the exercise, but because the students' performance is the goal, the
teacher must step back and observe, sometimes acting as referee or monitor. A
classroom during a communicative activity is far from quiet, however. The
students do most of the speaking, and frequently the scene of a classroom during
a communicative exercise is active, with students leaving their seats to
complete a task.
Because of the increased responsibility to participate, students may find
they gain confidence in using the target language in general. Students are more
responsible managers of their own learning (Larsen-Freeman, 1986).
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT COMMUNICATIVE TEACHING?
the following documents on communicative language teaching are in the ERIC
database. They can be read on microfiche at any library housing an ERIC
collection or purchased in microfiche or paper copy from the ERIC Document
Reproduction Service (EDRS), 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, VA
Ben-Barka, A. C. . "In search of a
language teaching framework: An adaptation of a communicative approach to
functional practice." (EDRS No. ED 239 507, 26 pages)
Das, B. K. (Ed.) (1984). "Communicative language teaching." Selected papers
from the RELC seminar (Singapore). "Anthology Series 14." (EDRS No. ED 266 661,
Littlewood, W. T. (1983). "Communicative approach to language teaching
methodology (CLCS Occasional Paper No. 7)." Dublin: Dublin University, Trinity
College, Centre for Language and Communication Studies. (EDRS No. ED 235 690, 23
Pattison, P. (1987). "The communicative approach and classroom realities."
(EDRS No. ED 288 407, 17 pages)
Riley, P. (1982). "Topics in communicative methodology: Including a
preliminary and selective bibliography on the communicative approach." (EDRS No.
ED 231 213, 31 pages)
Savignon, S. J., & Berns, M. S. (Eds.). (1983). "Communicative language
teaching: Where are we going? Studies in Language Learning," 4(2). (EDRS No. ED
278 226, 210 pages)
Sheils, J. (1986). "Implications of the communicative approach for the role
of the teacher." (EDRS No. ED 268 831, 7 pages)
Swain, M., & Canale, M. (1982). "The role of grammar in a communicative
approach to second language teaching and testing." (EDRS No. ED 221 026, 8
pages) (not available separately; available from EDRS as part of ED 221 023, 138
Willems, G., & Riley, P. (Eds.). (1984). "Communicative foreign language
teaching and the training of foreign language teachers." (EDRS No. ED 273 102,
Readers may also wish to consult the following journal articles for
additional information on communicative language teaching.
Clark, J. L. (1987). Classroom assessment in a communicative approach.
"British Journal of Language Teaching," 25(1), 9-19.
Dolle, D., & Willems, G. M. (1984). The communicative approach to foreign
language teaching: The teacher's case. "European Journal of Teacher Education,"
Morrow, K., & Schocker, M. (1987). Using texts in a communicative
approach. "ELT Journal," 41(4), 248-56.
Oxford, R. L., et al. (1989). Language learning strategies, the communicative
approach, and their classroom implications. "Foreign Language Annals," 22(1),
Pica, T. P. (1988). Communicative language teaching: An aid to second
language acquisition? Some insights from classroom research. "English
Quarterly," 21(2), 70-80.
Rosenthal, A. S., & Sloane, R. A. (1987). A communicative approach to
foreign language instruction: The UMBC project. "Foreign Language Annals,"
Swan, M. (1985). A critical look at the communicative approach (1). "ELT
Journal," 39(1), 2-12.
Swan, M. (1985). A critical look at the communicative approach (2). "ELT
Journal," 39(2), 76-87.
Terrell, T. D. (1991). The role of grammar instruction in a communicative
approach. "Modern Language Journal," 75(1), 52-63.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
Berns, M. S. (1984). Functional approaches to language and language teaching:
Another look. In S. Savignon & M. S. Berns (Eds.), "Initiatives in
communicative language teaching. A book of readings" (pp. 3-21). Reading, MA:
Gerngross, G., & Puchta, H. (1984). Beyond notions and functions:
Language teaching or the art of letting go. In S. Savignon & M. S. Berns
(Eds.), "Initiatives in communicative language teaching. A book of readings"
(pp. 89-107). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (1986). "Techniques and principles in language teaching."
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Littlewood, W. (1981). "Language teaching. An introduction." Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Savignon, S., & Berns, M. S. (Eds.). (1984). "Initiatives in
communicative language teaching." Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.