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Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)

• CLT was developed in the 1970s, and in critical reaction to the formal and boring types of
exercises used under the audiolingual approach (‘drill-and-kill’ exercises).

• CLT puts the focus on communicative interaction in class, not on a correct but mind- and
meaningless reproduction of the linguistic forms prescribed for a specific lesson.

• CLT claims to represent a meaning- and learner-oriented approach to language teaching.

• CLT puts ‘fluency above accuracy’ (error tolerance).

• CLT goes together with social and political developments that call for emancipative and
anti-authoritarian approaches to teaching

The theoretical background of CLT

• CLT reflects, on the theoretical side, pragmatic and cognitive approaches to the study of

• Pragmalinguistic studies focus on the contexts which give language forms their context
specific meaning.

• People use language ‘to do things with words’ – not to show other people that they can
correctly produce sentences in the past tense or passive voice, for instance.

• Correspondingly it is important for ELT that students learn to use English for coping with
tasks that come up in everyday communicative situations. That is called task based learning
(handlungsorientiertes Lernen). Project work is an example.

• Some people say that students must learn to put their notions (ideas) and their
communicative intentions into words. They called for a ‘notional-functional syllabus’ to replace
the formal syllabus.

The communicative approach was championed in Germany by, for instance, E. Piepho:
Piepho, H.-E. 1974, Kommunikative Kompetenz als übergeordnetes Lernziel im
Englischunterricht. Dornburg-Frickhofen: Frankonius.
In the English speaking world CLT is represented by, for instance, the following books:
Breen, M. & Candlin, C.N. 1980, "The Essentials of a Communicative Curriculum in Language
Teaching." Applied Linguistics 1(2): 89-112.
Breen, M. 1983, How do we recognize a communicative language classroom. Dunford House
Brumfit, C.J. 1984, Communicative Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

The didactic challenge in CLT

• In CLT the challenge for the teacher is to create, in class, a situation that motivates the
learners to use English while, at the same time, making sure that the learners’ communicative
intentions are not frustrated by their lack of knowledge of words and phrases needed for saying
what they want to say.

• With CLT the role of the teacher changes from that of an instructor who presents and makes
the pupils learn the forms (grammar) prescribed by the syllabus, to an ‘enabler’, that is a person
who makes it possible for the learners to say things in English, and who helps them cope with
their learning problems.

• Practically, however, CLT leads to a compromise solution that aims to reconcile form-
oriented with meaning-oriented learning and teaching.

• CLT requires a skilful choice of topics that match both with the words and phrases which the
learners already know, and with their present communicative intentions. (Squaring the circle??)

Textbooks and the matching of forms and functions

Pictures and the compromise of form- with function-
oriented teaching
Task based learning and learner autonomy

• If task based learning (TBL) is put at the centre of ELT, the consequence is that learners
must learn to help themselves.

• The new approach, which aims to show learners how to help themselves, must stop to
prescriptively instruct them which language forms they have to learn in what sequence, and it
must stop giving them formal exercises and tests to do.

• The new approach places the focus on learner autonomy.

• An approach that puts the focus on learner autonomy must aim to promote and enhance
learning strategies.

• The table of contents of recent textbooks reflect the manifold didactic demands which arise
from that for textbook authors and teachers. Here is one example:
Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)
• The most recent approach which aims to reconcile form- with meaning-oriented learning is
CLIL. The German name is Bilingualer Sachfachunterricht.

• CLIL starts with giving learners, at the start, more time to learn the basics of communication
in English (at the expense of subjects like geography, history).

• Then, after about two years, the formal teaching of English is stopped but subjects like
geography and history are now taught in English.

• You find more information on CLIL on this website: