Communicative Language Teaching: Definition, Overview & Example

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  • 0:04 English Language Learning
  • 0:34 Communicative Appraoch
  • 1:53 Strengths & Challenges
  • 3:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

The purpose of language is communication. But how can educators teach good communication to English language learners? In this lesson, we'll examine one method, communicative language teaching, and its strengths and challenges.

English Language Learning

Lilah is a new teacher. Her students are English language learners, sometimes abbreviated ELLs, or students whose first language is not English. Lilah isn't sure how to approach teaching them. She wants to do the best she can for them, but what is that? Should she give them grammar lessons and worksheets? Should she have them engage in discussions with classmates?

There are many different ways to approach teaching English language learners. To help Lilah plan, let's take a closer look at one of them, the communicative approach.

Communicative Approach

One way to think about teaching ELLs is to use the communicative approach, also called communicative language teaching. You'll probably notice right off the bat that the name has a lot in common with the word 'communication.' That's not by accident: the communicative approach focuses on teaching language through communication.

Of course, the goal of any language instruction is to learn how to communicate. But in communicative language teaching, communication is not only the goal but the method of teaching. The teacher in a communicative language classroom acts as a guide or facilitator and students engage in class activities to learn the language.

For example, Lilah might set up an activity where she asks students what their favorite holiday is and why. She can pair the students up and have them talk to one another about it while Lilah walks around the room and helps the pairs out. Through this activity, the students are learning the language through their discussion with other students. That is, they're learning through communication.

Notice that this is very different than if Lilah stood at the front of the classroom and explained the rules of English grammar to her students and then gave them worksheets. That method might also be focused on teaching students how to communicate, but the actual work in the classroom (the teacher explaining, the worksheets) is not communication, so it's not the communicative approach.

Strengths & Challenges

Lilah thinks that the communicative approach sounds great. She wonders why every teacher doesn't use it. After all, it just seems perfect. Communicative language teaching has both strengths and challenges, which is why not everyone uses it to teach.

On one hand, it's easy to see the strengths of the communicative approach. Communication is the reason for language, and the fact that this method is rooted in communication is a big plus. It's also holistic, meaning that it approaches language from a big picture perspective.

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