Communicative Language Teaching

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) is one of the most effective methods for teaching the English language.  The goal of CLT is communicative competence.  Communicative competence is knowing when and how to say what to whom.  The following are characteristics of Communicative Language Teaching:

  Language learning occurs when students communicate in English.  Students practice using English instead of solely studying it.  Examples of communicative activities are role plays, games, and problem-solving tasks in pairs or small groups.  Working in pairs or small groups maximizes the amount of language practice the students receive.

  Students use authentic communication.  Authentic communication means language that is used in real situations.  Students are given many opportunities to practice authentic communication in a variety of social contexts such as role playing ordering food at a restaurant, meeting someone for the first time, asking for directions, or interviewing for a job. Students need to figure out whether the situation is formal or informal and appropriately communicate in the situation.

  The goal of the student is making themselves understood.  Negotiation of meaning is key where speakers try to reach a clear understanding of each other.

Authentic materials are used in lessons allowing students to work with natural language.  Students communicate with one another using authentic materials.  Examples of authentic materials include newspaper clippings, brochures, menus, or personal photographs.

Errors are perceived as a natural outcome of developing the English language and are part of the learning process. Teachers may not correct student errors, but may note these errors for future instruction. The focus of CLT is communication, so the goal of student interaction is being understood instead of speaking without errors.

  Learners’ fluency skills are evaluated by the teacher along with accuracy skills.

iTranslate App

iTranslate is an effective language translation app for communicating with ESL students.  You type what you want to say, and the app translates English to the student’s native language.  Students can also speak into the iPad and iTranlsate records what the student says.  The app translates the student’s native language into English.  I found this method to be less effective because iTranslate does not accurately record what the student says, even when the student is speaking slowly and clearly.  Despite this flaw, I still highly recommend iTranslate for ESL and classroom teachers who need to communicate with their English language learners.

iTranslate is also helpful for English language learners for learning new vocabulary words and grammar structures.

Reading and Writing Skills for Beginner ELL Students

There is debate whether or not to teach beginner students reading and writing skills before their oral language has developed. I say yes! Go for it! Even though my ESL students did not know any English, I began teaching them letter names, sounds, basic sight words as well as phonological and phonemic awareness skills from the very beginning. Since the ESL teacher’s goal is to catch ESL students up to their peers as quickly and effectively as possible, there is no time to waste! Also, I never encountered any problems with teaching all four skills right from the beginning. In addition, oral and written language often overlap since beginners are reading and writing simple sentences that reflect how we speak. For example, ESL students can learn common sight words from the simple sentences they learn from grammar instruction such as I, am, is, are, come, from, can, like, have, etc. In addition, students read these words in simple texts at their instructional reading level as well as write these words in writing pieces.

Contrastive Analysis

A useful strategy to use when teaching beginner ESL students is contrastive analysis.  Contrastive analysis is where you compare and contrast English and the student’s native language. You analyze vocabulary words (are there cognates or similar sounding vocabulary words), grammar (what is the syntax structure of the student’s native language), pronunciation (what are similar sounds between the two languages), and the reading and writing system (Latin, Arabic, Chinese). By doing a contrastive analysis, you are able to predict easier language skills as well as difficult language skills for the student as they are acquiring English. For example, Spanish speakers use the same writing system as English speakers, so forming letters will not be as challenging like it would be for Chinese speakers. However, Spanish speakers do not have the third person singular (He walks). Therefore, this skill will be more difficult for Spanish speakers to learn. As an ESL teacher, you know ahead of time that your students need more time to practice this skill. Contrastive analysis helps with reading in that you begin with letter names and sounds that are similar between the two languages.  Similar letter names and sounds will be easier to learn than letter names and sounds that differ between the two languages, which you teach last. If you do not know the similarities and differences between English and your student’s first language, listen carefully to the student when they speak their first language. Any sounds that are similar to English will be easier for the student to learn. I have noticed that the “th” sound (soft and hard) is difficult for many English language learners because most languages do not have this sound in their first language. If you have students who do not use the Latin writing system in their first language, then, as an ESL teacher, you can plan extra time for these students to learn how to form Latin based letters during your lessons.

Total Physical Response

Teaching the English language is a systematic and purposeful process. When you teach English, you build and expand on what the student already knows.

Total Physical Response (TPR), is a good example of systematic teaching. TPR is a teaching method where the teacher states and demonstrates basic commands and the student follows each command by copying the teacher. Examples of commands include simple verbs such as walk, read, write, open, close, draw, color, line up, etc. After the student has learned a list of commands, you can then combine each command with a school supply or classroom furniture vocabulary word that the student already knows or is learning. Examples are “walk to the door” or “line up at the door”, “write your name”, “open the book”, “close the book”, etc. This is an example of systematic teaching where you are building or expanding on what the student already knows. You are also teaching beginners authentic language, or common commands, that they would hear in school. When the student feels comfortable to speak, he/she can state commands for the teacher and their peers to perform.