For the majority of language learners, their new-found language skills are intended to be used to support their business or personal interests. They are learning a language to enable themselves to communicate with new customers, to get a new job or to talk to native speakers when travelling overseas.
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!
1. It’s real!
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.
2. Working with authentic language learning materials
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.
3. Personal experience matters
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.
4. CLT is a student-centred learning method
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.
5. Get creative
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.
6. Makes writing tasks more engaging for students
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.
7. Develops students’ reading skills
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.
8. Accuracy vs. Fluency
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!