why clt is the best method?
Communicative Language Teaching or CLT is widely recognised across language classrooms globally as a highly applicable and effective teaching and learning approach. But why is the CLT approach so effective and what are the advantages of the communicative language teaching approach for educators and students?
The CLT approach focuses on giving students the skills to clearly and confidently communicate in real-world situations with native speakers of their target language. As such, it moves away from a traditional focus on grammar to encourage the active and authentic use of language in learning and acquisition. CLT therefore prioritises interaction and problem solving and usually involves classroom activities such as role play and pair or group work.
Author and researcher David Nunan identified five key elements to the CLT approach:
For further support on applying the CLT approach in language teaching, please see this Sanako blog post on the subject.
According to Harmer, 1988 and Savignon, 2002, the CLT approach offers many advantages for both teachers and students. These are summarised in brief below:
Firstly, CLT delivers a clear and obvious benefit to learners – they’re actually able to use the skills they’ve learnt to communicate in their target language. CLT is not about learning just for learning’s sake, it has a clear and definable purpose. Students become competent communicators, able to use the right grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure in different real-life contexts and are flexible enough to adapt as circumstances dictate.
As such, CLT typically places less emphasis on rote learning of detailed grammatical rules in favour of gaining greater fluency in the target language. Students are assessed on their level of communicative competence rather than on their ability to regurgitate information. This approach also enables learners to quickly gain confidence when interacting with other people, which helps them enjoy using their new-found language skills.
The above advantage also help us to identify a second – that the CLT approach tends to be a more student-centred and situation-oriented language teaching practice. In fact, according to Oxford (1990), CLT deliberately emphasizes “self-direction for the learners”. Given that the teacher will not be available to help students when they’re out in the real-world, it’s appropriate that they should take the lead in developing their core language skills and find ways to prioritise communication and conversation. Oxford believes that this is: “essential to the active development of the new language.”
In this light, CLT also has a highly positive impact on the relationships between teachers, students and their peers. At the highest level, CLT requires all participants to move away from the traditional teacher / student model to be successful. In the language classroom, learners also need to engage in learning activities in a cooperative rather than individualistic manner – it’s vital that they work together to build effective conversations and to complete the pair / group tasks that are at the heart of the CLT approach. As such, teachers can develop more creative language learning activities that go beyond the traditional repetition and the memorization of sentences and grammatical patterns.
As a result, evidence suggests that the CLT approach usually increases the students’ engagement and enjoyment of their lessons. Where classroom resources and tasks are grounded in everyday situations with immediately evident, real-world application, students come alive. They become the protagonists at the centre of learning rather than the audience on the sidelines watching on (Dos Santos, 2020). Furthermore, students are also immediately able to take their learning and put it into practice in their engagement with native speakers outside of the classroom.
As well as offering clear advantages to the student, the CLT approach can also offer significant benefits to educators by fundamentally changing their role in the classroom. The educator is both a “facilitator, a guide and a helper” as well as being a “coordinator, an idea-person and a co-communicator” (Oxford, 1990). Teachers talk less and listen more as well as being more focused on students’ individual learning journeys and working closely with them to achieve their goals.
As adopting the CLT approach usually means that traditional, repetitive Instructional tasks become less important, teachers have more scope to be creative in the classroom. Although this means that additional time is needed to prepare appropriate teaching resources, there’s significant benefit in increased student engagement and motivation.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, CLT is a powerful teaching approach to encourage the development of the four macro skills in language learning— speaking, listening, reading and writing. These are a core part of CLT from the very start, since active communication serves to integrate the different skills. The use of authentic or real teaching materials (brochures, flyers, timetables, menus and magazines) also helps ensure that students develop relevant grammar and vocabulary while working through activities that build these core skills.
As Belchamber (2007) concludes:
In this blog post, we explored the advantages of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), a widely recognized and effective language teaching approach. The primary focus of CLT is enabling students to communicate confidently in real-world situations by engaging in authentic and interactive learning activities.
We discussed the key elements of CLT, as identified by David Nunan, which emphasize interaction, authentic texts, learner-centeredness, personal experiences, and a connection between classroom learning and language activation outside the classroom.
The advantages of CLT include learning with a clear purpose, fostering a student-centered approach, increasing student engagement, promoting lesson variability and creativity, and developing all core language skills. Teachers in a CLT classroom take on roles as facilitators, guides, and co-communicators, enhancing the learning experience for students.
Despite the numerous advantages, it’s important to consider the challenges or limitations of CLT when determining if it’s the right approach for your specific context. Overall, CLT has proven to be a valuable and versatile method for language teaching, equipping learners with practical communication skills and fostering a supportive and engaging learning environment.
Sanako’s software solutions have been specifically designed to help language educators maximise the time their students spend developing their core skills. As such, our solutions are perfectly suited to supporting CLT teaching methodologies and are used in 50,000 classrooms worldwide to develop competent and confident communicators. Book a free online demo now to see how we can help you to take your approach to Communicative Language Teaching to the next level!
There are various features to the communicative language teaching approach, including the integration of reading, writing, and speaking. For example, a teacher may ask students to watch a video and then write a one to two sentence opinion about the video on the board. Students will then read each other's opinions and discuss how they felt about what they watched. This allows for multiple skills to be practiced at once, which is beneficial to a student's ability to communicate effectively with others.
CLT also uses groups or pairs for activities, which allows for collaboration to be instilled in the language-learning classroom. Group work or work in pairs allows for students to discuss, practice, and master material without feeling isolated in the process of learning a new language. Often times, students who work together will feel more comfortable practicing fluency over the mistakes they make in their grammar. This ensures that students are on the road to becoming fluent in the new language through collaboration, where students may learn from one another and work together.
The communicative approach uses tools, and technology for a personalized learning approach as well. Each student learns differently and has different interests, so through CLT, teachers can make learning more individualized to best meet the needs of their students. For example, students may enjoy talking about sports or popular culture, so the teacher may ask students to discuss those areas with one another through multiple activities, such as role-playing real-life scenarios, group discussion or pair discussion, among other various activities that encourage collaboration.
Role-playing is an effective activity that is often used in the CLT classroom. For example, some students may love shopping, so the teacher decides that they should discuss their love of shopping through a role-playing activity. One student will act as the cashier while the other will act as the customer. Through this role-playing activity, the two students can have a conversation that one may often hear between cashiers and customers in real life, such as being asked how the weather is, how their day is going, what brings them into the store, and so much more.
Interviews are also a great way to use CLT in the classroom. For example, students may be put into a group together and asked to interview each other about their interests, such as what hobby is their favorite. The teacher may then ask students to relay the information they learned from each peer by giving a summary of the other student's favorite hobby and why it is their favorite. This allows for students to repeat the information they heard but also work together in an informal, low-stakes manner that does not make them feel like they are learning on their own.
Group discussions and pair discussions are effective ways to prioritize student-to-student interaction, which creates a more open and safe atmosphere. When students are listening to a teacher give a lecture, they may not retain that information as much as they would if they were asked to put their skills to practice in a low-stakes way, such as through group discussion. When students have their mistakes pointed out, such as grammatical mistakes they made on a worksheet, they may feel like they alone are not capable of learning. When put in groups or asked to practice the language with others, they might see that they are not alone in the process of learning a new language.
The CLT approach focuses on giving students the skills to clearly and confidently communicate in real-world situations with native speakers of their target language. As such, it moves away from a traditional focus on grammar to encourage the active and authentic use of language in learning and acquisition.
It’s vital therefore that language educators ensure that their teaching responds to these needs, so that their students are equipped to flourish in the real world. As a result, the communicative language teaching strategy (CLT) has rapidly become one of the most-widely used pedagogical methodologies. To understand the background to the communicative language teaching approach, please read our previous blog post on the topic here: “applying the communicative language teaching approach“.
But why should you use CLT in your language lessons? This blog post highlights 8 key reasons why language educators should give it a try!
Advocates of the CLT approach highlight that it is just as important for students to just try to speak the language instead of learning key grammatical constructs by rote. They believe that languages are skills that are designed to be used and that learners are not just learning to simply acquire knowledge.
CLT educators therefore specifically focus on giving students the skills to clearly and confidently communicate in real-world situations with native speakers of their target language, whether that’s in written or spoken form. By communicating real meaning in real-life situations, learners’ natural strategies for language acquisition are triggered. In doing so, students are increasingly motivated to learn – so if you’re struggling to get your students engaged using a CLT approach is certainly worth experimenting with.
Of course, it’s only possible to simulate real-life language situations in the classroom with authentic source materials. It’s essential to use genuine content (e.g newspapers, timetables, menus, podcasts, etc.) as part of a CLT approach so that students can easily see the similarity between the classroom activities and the real world.
Such materials give students (particularly at higher ability levels) exposure to unregulated native-speaker language and text. They genuinely show the language as it is used by native speakers communicating with other native speakers and can therefore be really helpful in teaching language conventions.
For your students, nothing is as real to them as their own lives and lived experience. CLT classrooms are therefore characterised by the extensive use of learners’ backgrounds and current situations (e.g looking for work, finding friends, starting a new hobby, etc.), all of which are considered as invaluable contributions to the lesson’s content.
For those language teachers who pride themselves on forming deep bonds with their students, the CLT method can be a powerful way to engage and support learners. Everyone in the classroom can practice forming questions by finding out information from their peers. And perhaps the combined wisdom of the classroom could help resolve some of the challenges international students might be facing.
CLT lessons prioritise the use of teaching techniques that require learners to respond to real-world environments and situations. Group and pair work are therefore particularly relevant and widely-used activities to bring language learning to life.
Having explained the key concepts in each lesson, the role of the language teacher is to provide scenarios in which students can practice what they have learned and understood. Students are therefore encouraged to spend most of the lesson communicating with their peers – through role plays that are guided but unscripted or through dilemmas and puzzles that need language and communication skills to solve.
Clearly this type of lesson requires more thought than simply getting students to learn something by rote. But they also therefore offer opportunities for teachers to demonstrate their creativity and to take risks in generating original and entertaining ways to engage students.
If you’re the type of teacher who enjoys creating lessons like this, then CLT is an approach you should definitely try! Your creativity will provide unique ways for students to maximise hands-on practice and to display their understanding of the key points through their communication.
Writing is often a difficult skill for language educators to teach and for students to master. It’s also usually a solo activity, conducted in silence and as such is perhaps not that attractive as a classroom activity. Indeed for many educators, a writing task is often used as a piece of homework, although most people don’t actually write anything longer than a shopping list in their everyday lives.
Making writing more purposeful and writing for a real audience can be powerful ways to use CLT techniques to improve students’ engagement with and attainment in writing tasks. And if you look hard enough, there’s no shortage of willing readers – e.g other educators, student peers or local communities – or of channels for students to use including newsletters, blogs or social media sites.
Developing students’ reading skills is of vital importance for all language educators and can make a significant difference to their lives. To communicate effectively in their target language, students will need to be able to understand a wide range of written material such as local council communications, public notices, emails from their bank, tax demands and residency information.
In an excellent blog post on the topic, the British Council identifies how to develop ‘pre-reading’, ‘while-reading’ and ‘post-reading’ stages and tasks. These leverage the core principles of the CLT approach to make reading more communicative, more engaging and more relevant for learners. Every language learner would benefit from improving their literacy skills in this way.
There are few more contentious debates in staff rooms than the arguments which rage over whether accuracy is more important than fluency or vice-versa. If you’re a member of Team Fluency, then using a CLT approach in your classroom could be a great idea!
The CLT approach believes that errors in language use are entirely natural. It recognises that even native speakers don’t always communicate with grammatical perfection all the time! CLT lessons therefore prioritise building learners’ fluency of communication rather than their accuracy. This enables students to build competence gradually and naturally with increased exposure and use.
As a side-note, it’s important therefore to ensure that you create a safe learning environment. One in which students feel comfortable, where they want to speak and be heard and where they want to participate in activities that build their core language skills.
Sanako’s software solutions have been specifically designed to help language educators maximise the time their students spend developing these skills. As such, our solutions are perfectly suited to supporting CLT teaching methodologies and are used in 50,000 classrooms worldwide to develop competent and confident communicators.
Book a free online demo now to see how we can help you to take your approach to Communicative Language Teaching to the next level!
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