On the history of CLT: everything you need to know

The History of the Method: Communicative Language Teaching

The History of the Method: Communicative Language Teaching


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Communicative Language Teaching. You have definitely seen this combination of words before and have probably been considering applying it due to its popularity worldwide.

In this article, within the History of the Method series, we are going to examine how Communication Language Teaching works and what an ESL teacher should do to turn it into an effective approach.

Audio-lingual method: on the history

What do we mean when we say CLT?

A method of teaching and learning languages called Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) aims to increase students’ communicative competence, specifically, their capacity to use the language correctly and successfully in a variety of situations.

The major objective of Communicative Language Teaching is to empower students to speak and be able to react to instant real-life challenges. This method places a strong emphasis on the value of context, problem-solving, and engagement in language acquisition.

What it really means is that students aren’t supposed to memorize incoherent grammar rules and endless word lists. They are taught how to actually use the language freely.

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How has CLT appeared?

The shifts in the British language teaching tradition starting in the late 1960s are where Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) got its start. Up until that point, language was taught via situational language teaching, which involved practicing fundamental structures in relevant contexts.

At that time, established approaches to teaching language neglected to effectively address another essential aspect of language, which British applied linguists highlighted: communication. They realized that teaching language should put more emphasis on communicative competence than just structural mastery.

Different techniques for teaching foreign languages were also promoted by Europe’s shifting educational field. The necessity for increased efforts to teach adults the basics of communication in English became more and more obvious with the drastic political, technological, and cultural changes.

What is the story behind the CLT appearance

The Council of Europe published books and monographs about teaching languages, and it supported international conferences on the subject. It was thought that developing and articulating various approaches to language instruction was extremely important.

This is how such linguists as Wilkins, Wid­dowson, Candlin, Christopher Brumfit, Keith Johnson, and others got the chance to focus on their research regarding restructuring ESL teaching practices to become  more successful in developing English learners’ speaking skills.

Learn more about the direct method

What are the key characteristics of CLT?

Undoubtedly, it is important to understand the key principles and characteristics of CLT before moving on to applying its methods. 

Therefore, the principles of CLT are the following:

  1. Emphasis on communication. CLT reviews extensive focus on grammar and direct translation and offers to provide students with real-life situations and practice looking for solutions which enhance the general ability to speak as well as the level of students’ self-confidence.
  2. Task-based and project-based learning. CLT followers are not fans of meaningless and repetitive activities. Each task should be presented for a reason. That is why CLT is based on task-based and project-based learning within which students learn to deal with challenging situations, embrace their creativity, and apply their soft and hard skills. Such tasks include role-playing, debating, problem-solving games and various types of projects.
  3. Collaborative learning. Within CLT language is viewed as a tool that helps people to connect and collaborate. Therefore, this is what a student should learn during their ESL class. CLT followers tend to give a lot of tasks that require communication and team work.
  4. Student-centered learning. In CLT, the teacher is not the center of the class anymore. An educator is supposed to reduce their TTT and create as many opportunities for the students to express themselves as possible.
ClT key characteristics

What are the typical activities in CLT classroom?

Role-playing and problem-solving games

Implementing this kind of activity makes students more prepared for various communicative situations like making purchases, asking directions, scheduling an appointment, paying in a taxi, etc.

The more engaging these activities are, the better as games increase retention and engagement.

Debates and dialogues

Open-class activities turn into a much rarer occasion because an ESL teacher’s goal is to give everyone as much space for communication as possible.

Therefore, debates and dialogues where students have to express their opinions, agree and disagree proved themselves extremely effective.


Language often serves as a tool for solving various creative tasks and producing new ideas and knowledge etc.

Therefore, CLT teachers pay a lot of attention to students’ projects as they require the implication of many various language skills, especially writing and speaking.

Also, searching for information and structuring it is done with the help of reading and listening skills as well as learning some new vocabulary and practicing functional language.

The balance between TTT and STT

What are the pros and cons of CLT?

No method is perfect, so it is always important to be aware of both advantages and disadvantages:


Makes students better speakers. Due to the constant emphasis on speaking, students do progress with developing this skill pretty fast.Doesn’t pay enough attention to other skills. With such a great focus on speaking, students often become deprived of opportunities to work on some other skills which are less related to communicative situations, for example, writing.
Promotes active and life-long learning. Students start seeing that learning is not only about recreating grammar rules and the possibilities to learn surround us everywhere. May be challenging for people with a more conservative educational background. CLT offers a lot of new methods and techniques which may seem weird for people who are used to repetitive activities, memorizing grammar rules, and direct translation.
Provides a lot of cultural context. CLT is impossible without constant references to some great authentic materials. Therefore, students interact with real language which is extremely culture-coded.May be irrelevant for people who have different objectives. CLT might be less effective for people who need to boost their writing skills rather than speaking, for example.
Has a positive influence on the students’ physiological state. Students tend to get rid of their anxiety very fast as well as become much more confident and active.May be hard for introverted people. Such a high intensity of interactions with other people might be challenging for some people. 
Advantages and disadvantages of CLT

Summing everything up, Communicative Language Teaching promotes student participation, teamwork, and active learning, eventually equipping students with all the necessary skills and tools to manage any situation. No wonder it is loved by so many great ESL specialists.

Does CLT help to improve writing skills?

Is CLT suitable for very shy people?

Is it true that CLT fails to provide enough cultural context?

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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