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.

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.

Grammar Translation Method

Grammar Translation Method is a method of teaching language through translation.  This method requires learners to translate texts from English (in this case) to the student’s native language.  Some of these texts may be literary works.  I have seen some teachers use this method to teach English and you may be tempted to use this method with beginners, but Grammar Translation Method is an ineffective method for teaching the English language!  Here are the reasons why:  

Translating from one language to another does not reflect authentic communication and how we interact with one another.  Communication is meaningful, spontaneous, natural, and requires other forms of communication such as speaking and understanding, not just reading and writing.  In order to effectively communicate with English speakers, English language learners need to use all four skills of the English language (understanding, speaking, reading, and writing) in a variety of situations with a variety of people.  This model of teaching is called Communicative Language Teaching.  Grammar Translation Method does not reflect this model. 

The only type of thinking involved in Grammar Translation Method is translation only.  There are no other ways of thinking while learning English.  Thinking about how to translate from one language to another does not reflect how we think when we are communicating through language. 

 There is too much emphasis on the student’s native language instead of the focus being on English.  If ESL students need to learn English, then students need to use English as much as possible. 

Some vocabulary words do not translate directly between two languages. 

Grammar Translation Method is boring and students need to be motivated to learn any language!   

Bilingualism/Multilingualism: Early Childhood

Most of the world is bilingual.  How does this happen?  How do children become bilingual?  What are the most effective ways for children to learn a second or third language?  Does learning a second language benefit or hinder a child’s language abilities?

As ESL/ELL teachers, it is important to know about bilingualism because most to all of your students are bilingual.  At parent/teacher conferences, you may need to address parents’ concerns about their child learning two languages, and what type of method is the most effective for their child for acquiring two languages.

Some children learn two languages from infancy.  This kind of bilingualism is called simultaneous bilingualism.  Simultaneous bilingualism refers to a child from birth who learns both languages at the same time.       

Other children learn one language at birth, and then the other language later on.  This is called sequential bilingualism.  

Parents may wonder if learning two languages is confusing or overwhelming for their child.  They may also question whether or not learning two languages hinders their child’s language skills.  Children are like sponges and soak much information from their surroundings. This is a crucial time for language development and therefore, it is very important to foster their learning at this age.  The process of a child acquiring two languages is not destructive to the child’s language abilities or progress.  Learning two or more languages is actually a natural process because as humans, our brains are programmed to be able to learn, store, and discriminate between languages from infancy.  


Factors that Ensure Successful Bilingualism

Children need to be able to differentiate between the two languages.  Studies have shown that children as young as infants show discrimination between the two languages very early on.  This may be due to research that has shown that infants begin to hear language sounds while in the womb.  By the age of two, bilingual children know which language to speak to which person and in what situation.

Children need to effectively store the two languages.  As stated above, this is a natural process because we are biologically programmed to store language(s).  

Types of Early Childhood Bilingualism

  One Parent – One Language

The one parent- one language method is when one parent speaks one language to the child, and the other parent speaks the other language to the child.  For example, the father speaks Farsi to the child, and the mother speaks English to the child.  This is considered a successful method for a child to acquire two languages.  One would assume that the child would become equally proficient in each language (balanced bilingualism), but this is very rare.  Proficiency in a language depends on many factors.  One factor is which parent the child interacts with the most.  For example, the child may talk to the mother more because she remains in the home to raise the child versus the father who is absent due to working outside of the home.  As a result, the child may become more proficient in the mother’s language than the father’s language.  Another factor is the community language.  Despite the mother speaking one language to the child, the community may speak the other language.  For example, a mother using English with her child while the community speaks French.  Languages used by siblings or others in the the home, print, television, and the internet are other factors that may influence the proficiency of each language. 

  Language Used at Home is Different from Community Language   

One circumstance in which a bilingual child acquires two languages is when the language used at home is different from the community language.  The parents use one language at home with the child, and the child acquires the other language outside of the home.  This method is regarded as a successful method for acquiring languages.  For example, both parents speak Spanish to the child, and the child learns English at school and in the community.  Multilingualism could occur here where the child learns one language from the father, another language from the mother, and a third language at school and in the community.  An example of this is the father speaking Spanish to the child, the mother speaks German to the child, and the community language is English.  Maintaining all three languages over time may be difficult.   

  Languages that are Mixed

This method refers to both parents speaking both languages to the child.  

  Second Language is Introduced to the Child Later in Life

In this case, the parents may introduce the second language to the child later on in the child’s life.  For example, parents may speak Dutch to the child until the child is three or four, and then add English.  The purpose of this is to create a strong first language foundation in the child before the dominant language in the community becomes more prevalent. 

  Language Shift

A language shift may occur because of changes in a bilingual child’s life.  The child will most likely be more proficient in one language than the other.  However, the child can become more competent in the less proficient language if, for example, the child moves to an area where the language community uses the child’s weaker language.  



Incorporating All Four Language Skills

Effective English language teaching involves incorporating all four language skills (reading, writing, listening, understanding) into a lesson. Including culture is important as well. For example, when I would teach food, I would teach the student food vocabulary words as well as the phrase “I like” for learning grammar. We would discuss food that the student likes. This includes foods from their native culture and how they eat food (hands, chopsticks, on the floor) to tie in the student’s culture. We would then read texts about food that are at the student’s instructional level (practicing decoding, sight word recognition, and comprehension skills). We would then write about the foods that the student likes applying the grammar structure “I like”. The student sometimes put a pattern breaker at the end of their book stating what the student does not like, adding interest to their book while learning about pattern breakers.