Everything you need to know about Community Language Learning

The History of the Method: Community Language Learning

The History of the Method: Community Language Learning


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Welcome back to our series on discovering teaching methods’ history! Now it’s time for our next method — Community Language Learning (CLL) introduced by Charles A. Curran in the 1970s.

It has played a role in revolutionizing language instruction by emphasizing community involvement, collaboration, and learner-focused strategies.

We will explore the origins of the method, its principles, the teacher’s role as well as the advantages and disadvantages associated with Community Language Learning.

Sounds interesting? So, let’s dive deeper into this method!

Discover Communicative Language Teaching

What is the Community Language Learning Method?

Community Language Learning is an approach that focuses on building an interactive learning environment in the classroom.

Unlike methods that depend on structured lessons and teacher-led activities, CLL prioritizes the learner and their specific requirements, creating a more engaging and personalized learning atmosphere.

In the language teaching tradition, CLL is sometimes considered an example of a “humanistic approach”.

The content of a language course comes from the topics that learners want to discuss and teachers translate their needs into a suitable curriculum.

Links can also be established between CLL processes and bilingual education processes, especially all the bilingual processes known as language substitution or code-switching.

The definition of Community Langugae Learning

What are the key principles of the method?

The teacher’s task, in addition to teaching the language directly, is to create an atmosphere in which the students “release” their defenses; to establish mutual understanding and collaboration both between the learners and between themselves and the learners.

This collaboration, according to Curran, is achieved through six elements — psychological requirements. They are Security, Aggression, Attention, Reflection, Retention, and Discrimination (SAARRD):

  • Security. If students do not feel safe, they will find the learning process itself difficult.
  • Attention. Lack of attention, and lack of participation of the learner in learning activities means that it is necessary to diversify the learning process and increase the attention of the learners to the acquisition of a foreign language.
  • Aggression. Having learnt something new, the learner is looking for an opportunity to show his/her knowledge and skills, to demonstrate the formed skills, using new knowledge as a tool for self-assertion.
  • Retention. If a learner is fully engaged in learning a language, then what he/she has learnt. becomes part of his/her identity.
  • Reflection. A period of silence during the lesson to focus on the material learnt in the last hour, to analyse their progress, and to adjust their goals and needs for the next stages of learning a foreign language.
  • Discrimination. This is the learners’ readiness to go deeper into the learnt material, to analyse the connection of one linguistic phenomenon with another. The process of discrimination allows learners to use language to communicate outside the classroom.

Curran believed that for learners to successfully acquire a foreign language, the teacher needs to create a certain environment for them in which all six psychological requirements are satisfied.

What is the Silent Way?

What is the role of the Teacher in the Method?

In Community Language Learning, the teacher takes on the role of a facilitator or counselor rather than a traditional instructor.

The teacher provides emotional support, guidance, and assistance as learners navigate the complexities of language acquisition. This approach creates a more dynamic interaction between the teacher and students, fostering a sense of trust and cooperation within the learning community.

To ensure a sense of security, it is important not to forbid the learner to speak in the mother tongue if it is noticeable that the learner has forgotten or does not know a word in the foreign language. The teacher himself uses the mother tongue if there are difficulties in understanding the language unit.

To  enhance the feeling that everything that happens in the lesson is their initiative, the teacher should carefully lead students to this idea by setting them appropriate thinking tasks.

When offering question-and-answer exercises, it is necessary to read the psychological readiness of students to answer and, if it is obvious that the student does not know the answer, not ask him/her.

More on the teacher's role within the Community Language Learning class

How to use the Method?

The key concept is that students decide what they are going to learn and the teacher will be a facilitator, providing support.

A maximum of 12 students sit in a circle. Inside the circle, there’s a small electronic tape recorder. The teacher referred to as the “Knower” stands outside a circle. 

When a student decides to speak in another language, he calls the Knower and whispers what he’s about to say a word/phrase in his mother tongue.

Then the teacher, in a whisper, offers the same words in English or the target language.

With encouragement from the Knower, the student tries to repeat that conversation with the eavesdroppers. The student will record the conversation when the Knower has been satisfied. Then, until such time as a dialogue has been recorded, another student will repeat the procedure. The Knower then rewinds the tape, transcribing it on his board.

It is followed by analysis, and questions from students.

The Knower may propose actions arising from the dialogue in a future meeting. Gradually, the students spin a web of language.

Everything about the Audio-Lingual Method

What are the advantages of the method?

Before applying any of the methods, knowing all the benefits your classroom may get is a must.

Here is a list of the pros CLL gives to the daring enthusiasts:

Enhancing communication skillsCommunity Language Learning pays a lot of attention to real-life communication, allowing learners to take part in conversations and develop practical language skills that can be applied in everyday situations.
Individualized learningThe approach makes language instruction much more personal. This allows teachers to facilitate all the needs, requirements, preferences, and skill levels. The outcome of such an approach is an increased efficiency of the overall English learning journey. 
Building a supportive learning communityCLL is loved because of how effectively it boosts motivation. Students feel much more engaged and ready to collaborate and support each other. Naturally, such a friendly atmosphere creates a sense of belonging and encourages students to actively participate in every activity you offer them to do on their language learning journey.
Well-rounded language acquisition processLanguage learning is a holistic process that involves not just cognitive but also emotional, social, and psychological aspects. And CLL professionals are well aware of that. Therefore, the approach followers are really trying to contribute to a more well-rounded language education.
Emphasis on learning autonomyThe method empowers learners to take control of their learning process. By encouraging autonomy, students become less teacher-dependent and more motivated, fostering lifelong language learning.

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What are the disadvantages of the method?

What is even more important though is knowing when it is better to not use CLL and which expectations it is not able to satisfy. 

Here is a list of potential challenges you may face:

Structure and assessment limitsCritics argue that the method may lack a structured framework and formal assessment methods, making it a challenge to ensure that all the material is covered clearly and the results are evaluated fairly. 
Timing problemsThe emphasis on group discussions, reflective listening, and personalized interactions can be time-consuming. This might pose a challenge, especially in educational settings with strict time constraints and predefined curricula.
Potential for unequal participationIn group activities, there is a risk of unequal participation, with some learners being more vocal or dominant than others. This imbalance may cause difficulties with the full engagement of all students in the learning process.
Dependency on teacher skillsThe success of Community Language Learning often relies heavily on the skills and abilities of the teacher as a facilitator. If educators are not well-trained or experienced in this approach, the effectiveness of the method may be compromised.
Not universally applicableWhile CLL can be highly effective for certain learners and contexts, it may not be universally applicable. Some students may prefer a more structured and traditional approach to language learning, making it important to consider individual preferences and learning styles.

Grammar Translation Method


Community Language Learning is an example of how language education is constantly changing. Through its focus on teamwork, personalized learning, and fostering a sense of community CLL has made a lasting mark on language teaching practices

Like any approach, it's important to take into account the requirements and choices of learners, understanding that there isn't one method that suits everyone. In essence, the evolution of Community Language Learning reflects the pursuit of impactful and meaningful language education that surpasses norms.

Can the students call their teacher “a teacher”?

Article authors & editors
  • Yuliia Fedochenko

    Yuliia Fedochenko


    Teacher of General English & Business English



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