What is Communicative Language Teaching Method in ESL: CLT meaning • Grade University

What is Communicative Language Teaching?

What is Communicative Language Teaching?

31.10.2023

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  • Cambridge English
  • Teaching qualifications
  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

The skill of communication must be mastered in order to learn English. This is how the fundamental idea behind Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) sounds. 

CLT is known as a form of instruction that emphasizes conversation and interactive activities to improve students’ language skills.

In this article, we will discuss all the peculiarities of Communicative Language Teaching, including its concepts, methodology, advantages, and exercises. We will also try to explain its popularity among educators all around the world.

How to boost students' learning progress?

Defining CLT

CLT or Communicative Language Teaching is an approach that  aims to develop  English speaking fluency first and foremost.

By fluency, we mean proficiency in language usage, the capacity to effectively and coherently express thoughts and feelings, as well as appropriateness to various social contexts where language knowledge is required.

CLT method pays extra attention to the practical application of all the material.

Therefore, students may often be found role-playing various common everyday situations, solving some problems, asking for information, etc. 

The communicative approach in teaching is basically meant to prove that it’s not enough to know the grammar well or learn the whole wordlist that the teacher has assigned to be a successful speaker. 

To reach this goal it is necessary to have constant practice and this is exactly what Communicative Language Teaching provides students with.

Transform your teacher talk

Say bye to boring lessons

Principles and hacks of CLT

Now, that we know more about the concept of the Communicative method, it’s time to have a look at the main principles:

Make your lessons speaking-focused

We have already clarified that the main aim of CLT is to teach  students how to speak and give them enough space to practice  and develop their communication skills.

It means that you need to make your lessons as speaking-centered as possible. 

Make sure to miss no chance to assign students with an additional speaking task. And frankly speaking, almost any task can be turned into speaking practice. 

Say, you want your students to check the activity they have just completed. Don’t give them the answers right away. Don’t nominate them to read the answers front. How about discussing their ideas and comparing them? 

This is how even the most regular part of the learning process may become a new reason for the interaction.

Practice using functional language

But just speaking is, for sure, not enough.

Students have to make attempts to apply their target vocabulary and grammar rules while speaking.

That is why the tasks chosen or created by the teacher have to facilitate this need. Make sure to help your students if they feel confused about the target language (pronunciation, meaning, etc.) while completing their communication activity: answer the questions, write down common mistakes and discuss them after, and pay attention to the most difficult cases. 

Сommunication as a form of activity at the lesson is not the final aim.

Students have to learn something through the communication process.

Implement TBL (task-based learning)

As far as CLT method specialists are concerned, all the tasks that students complete at the lesson should be meaningful and interconnected with a certain topic or even plot.

There should be a sense of discovery, so try implementing task-based learning to achieve this goal.

How to use tasks in ELT?

Embrace cooperative learning

There won’t be a better chance for students to cooperate than during CLT classes.

Communication is not something that one can do on their own. Therefore, there should be a lot of space for pair or group exercises, games, role-plays, etc.

These tasks will often imitate real-life situations which require communication with other people.

That is why ESL teachers should embrace cooperative learning and get  their  students used to working together. After all, it always turns out to be their favorite part about the lessons. 

Make your classroom student-centered

In CLT, the teacher is an advisor rather than an instructor.

Therefore, you don’t have to answer every single question or explain every single thing. Give your students an opportunity to do so. Chances are, some of them do know the right answers and can explain certain things themselves.

By giving your students a chance to contribute to the explanation and express their opinions on certain matters, you make the lesson more engaging, dynamic, easy to follow and fun.

This is something that is much harder to get if the lessons are teacher-centered and the only thing that students need to do is follow the teacher’s instructions.

Introduce real context and use authentic materials

Textbooks are certainly not enough when it comes to teaching students how to speak.

That is why you have to implement as many authentic materials as possible. It is crucial because both coursebook texts and the latest TV-show serve as examples of the language to the students, the examples that can and even must be copied. 

The ESL teacher’s responsibility is to make sure that these examples are worth copying as they represent the language that is really spoken and can be used.

Be error-tolerant

It may sound weird, especially if you are used to a traditional classroom, but you don’t have to correct every single mistake you hear.

The main goal of CLT is to help students gain confidence in language usage rather than making them build that one perfect sentence. 

Constant instant error correction demotivates students especially when it comes to the lower levels where students are not sure about their skills at all and may be oversensitive to criticism. 

Practice various forms of error correction and choose delayed error correction over the instant in order to boost students' motivation to speak.

How to deal with errors?

The advantages of CLT

Undoubtedly, implementing CLT by practicing all the principles mentioned above in your ESL class will have such positive effects as:

  • Increasing students’ speaking ability. Sure, if you provide  more opportunities to speak, students get more practice and therefore speak better. After all, as we all know, the more you practice, the better you become. 
  • Overcoming language-barrier. CLT definitely drags some students out of their comfort zone. Yes, it might be hard to speak at first. Yes, you will hear a lot of complaints and things like “I am not ready” or “I know too little to speak”. But the truth is that the earlier students start implementing  the target language you learn into their speech, the quicker they will overcome their inability to speak and get used to “feeling the language in their mouth”.
  • Being able to react in various communicative situations. This is where we see some positive results of task-based learning and contextualizing the materials we teach. Students can  see clearly where and how they can apply certain vocabulary and grammar and therefore can  act appropriately in various real-life situations.

There are even more principles to follow:

  • Participating in a meaningful studying process. You have to be aware that some students are going to go through the phase of rejection of certain things. It is OK, especially if they have some traditional learning background (for example, their school teacher used to teach according to the Grammar-Translation Method). Give students some time and explain that studying a language is not about completing countless activities and being able to translate words from one language to another.

It’s more about meaningfulness and being able to see when and how exactly you have to apply certain material even if you don’t have your teacher or your coursebook around. Soon even the most skeptical students will get the meaning of the term “meaningful studying process”.

  •  Promotion of active, independent and even lifelong learning. Teacher-centered learning was proven to make students over-dependent  on their teacher, make students seek their instructors’ recommendations every time they have to make a language decision or ask for help if they find themselves in need of some additional resources. This is not something that the CLT method popularizes. 

CLT professionals stand on the idea of encouraging students to do further research, to look for additional materials, and to constantly go beyond the course, as it only develops their independence and lust for learning the language outside the classroom.

What short stories can you read with the students?

Activities you may use within CLT

There are plenty of activities ESL teachers may use in the Communicative method in order to boost students’ communication skills. 

Let’s look at some of them:

Role-playing 

Role-playing is a great example of how task-based learning works.

Teachers have to come up with a certain situation (like shopping, ordering in a  restaurant, asking for news, agreeing or disagreeing with a certain controversial notion) which depends on the topic of the lesson and ask students to create a dialogue that corresponds to the situation and solves the problem presented in it. 

This is a great chance to apply new grammar and target vocabulary as well as construct a certain model of how you can act and what you can say in case you really find yourself in a similar situation.

Pictionary

Visual aids are always helpful and undoubtedly they may become a powerful tool to boost your students’ discussions and exchange of ideas.

Make your lessons as visual as possible with the help of various ESL games and tools. It makes the learning process more engaging, memorable and fun.

Problem-solving and critical-thinking activities

We could have named this paragraph as “project-based learning” too as the main goal of every project is to use the collective effort and knowledge in order to solve some problem by applying certain material that the students have learned.

This approach turned out to be extremely effective, as students manage so many things at the same time

On the one hand, they have to complete an assignment aka use certain vocabulary or grammar in the given context. 

On the other hand, project-based learning is so much more: cooperation, critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, leadership etc. 

No wonder CLT professionals are so keen on implementing projects in their curriculum. 

Debating 

Another interesting task, which is quite popular within CLT, is debating.

An ESL teacher has to prepare a list of various controversial topics that are likely to provoke a natural debate as students may have different opinions on it. 

Making students prove their point is a great way to practice speaking, apply some words, functional language and grammar and generally improve their soft skills. 

However, make sure you establish some rules before the start. Debating should not be offensive in any way.

Tips to run a speaking club!

FAQ

What is the teacher’s role in the CLT classroom?

A teacher is an advisor and a moderator rather than a person who only gives instructions and expects wordless obedience.

What language skills are paid more attention to? What areas are less emphasized?

Speaking and listening are the main priorities within CLT. Writing and reading are less paid attention to, on the other hand.

Can a student's native language be used in the ESL classroom within CLT?

No, not really. Both teachers’  and students’ final goal is to work on developing English interaction only.

How to take care of the accuracy if fluency is the main priority?

Of course, focusing  on fluency doesn’t mean ignoring accuracy. Teachers should be attentive to  the students’ mistakes made during the communication. ESL educators are supposed to note them and refer to them after some time (for example, the thematic block of the lesson, or at the end of the class). 

There are plenty of ways you can correct your students’ mistakes without interrupting them too much. You can read more about them in our article.

Conclusion

To sum up, CLT may become an extremely beneficial experience for both students and teachers if applied correctly. Learn even more hacks about teaching approaches by joining our community of ESL professionals

And by the way, do you use CLT in your ESL classroom? Don’t forget to share your experience in the comments section.

Debating is a great representation of CLT methods.

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko

    Author

    Teacher of General English & IELTS

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