Applying the Communicative Language Teaching Approach

The growing need for fluent communication skills in today’s globalized world creates a challenge for foreign language teaching. Students must be given a proper foundation of communication skills that are demanded in different interactive real-world situations outside of the classroom. Students need to be prepared for real-life scenarios instead of just helping them to pass a superficial paper exam.

Communicative teaching methods are currently a popular point of discussion and their effectiveness has been taken into account by language teachers all over the world. This article aims to provide an overview of communicative language teaching (henceforth CLT) methods and encourage teachers to apply them to their foreign language teaching.


What is Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)?

Communicative language teaching emerged in the 1980s as a response to the growing demand for a language curriculum that would enable learners to use the second language in real-life situations. Previously, foreign language teaching has predominantly had its emphasis on grammatical competence, rather than actually focusing on developing students’ communication and interaction skills.

At the end of the day, language does principally exist to make communication possible. CLT methods primarily focus on the interaction during a classroom-based foreign language class or online language learning session, in which students actually produce speech and engage in conversations for most of the classroom time using the target language.

The main purpose behind communicative language teaching methods is to prepare students to be confident communicators in different real-life contexts, through repetitive oral practices and student-student cooperation. In CLT, communication is the end and the means of the teaching method.

You can read more about the advantages of the CLT approach here: “What are the advantages of Communicative Language Teaching?

“One can master the rules of sentence formation in a language and still not be very successful at being able to use the language for meaningful communication (Richards 2006).”


Encourage student-student interaction with role-playing and collaborative tasks

Student-student interaction plays an essential role in applying a communicative teaching approach. As the more traditional teaching styles have usually been rather teacher dominant with students mainly learning through passive listening, student-student interaction, on the contrary, focuses on the active interaction among the students themselves during language classes.

Student-student interaction embraces the strategies of cooperative learning in which each student’s learning success is dependent on the whole group’s input during the classroom sessions. This is an effective way of engaging the whole class as such exercises engage all students, not just the minority of active students who typically participate in a regular class.

One popular CLT activity is role-playing. There is a playful component in role-playing that helps students practice speaking without feeling pressure. You can for example assign parts to your students, or let them decide on a specific setting. Choose a topic that is relevant to students, or one that connects to other topics explained in class. This will ensure that role-playing is an integral part of language lessons and not only a stand-alone experience.

Collaborative tasks like assigning student groups to solve a puzzle using only the target language are also popular activities in CLT. This type of exercise allows not only to enhance students’ communication skills but also to experiment with the peer-learning approach, which is useful in strengthening relationships among students.


How to make use of communicative language teaching in your language classroom?

Although a teacher’s role is not as dominant during exercises that emphasize student-student interaction, it certainly is substantial in making the interactional learning space as functional for the students as possible.

In order to implement CLT methods successfully, it requires more than simply placing students into pairs and groups. To quote Felder and Henriquez (1995: 25):

The benefits of the approach are fully realized when the group work is structured to assure such features as positive interdependence, individual accountability, and appropriate uses of teamwork and interpersonal skills”.

Each student in a language classroom or language lab has individual needs, levels of abilities, and interests. Therefore, having different tasks designed to meet the needs and skills of different students is essential in CLT. Also, providing a supportive learning environment makes participation easier for students, especially those who easily feel shy about active participation.


5 practical tips towards applying the communicative language teaching method:

  • Have plenty of communicative student-student activities (pair discussions, role-playing, puzzle-solving, and other collaborative tasks) so that each student is constantly exposed to the target language.
  • Communicative activities should include a clear situation or context, the roles of the speakers, and a communicative purpose.
  • Practice different formal and informal interactions through games, role-play, and problem-solving tasks.
  • Teachers should concentrate on providing a supportive learning atmosphere and selecting personalized tasks for students in terms of their individual level, needs, and interests.
  • Use the right tools for creating and assigning speaking-based language learning activities. For example, you can use modern language teaching software tools like Sanako Connect that allow recording each students’ individual speaking practices and group work. This also enables important self-evaluation by allowing students to listen back to their own speech and recordings.

Read also our guide on “how can language educators most effectively use CLT when teaching remotely“.


Sanako Connect banner - solution for communicative language teaching

Sanako Connect software is designed for creating a communicative and speaking-based language learning environment in the classroom and remotely. Language teachers can use it to create & assign role-play activities and facilitate live pair and group discussions. Book a FREE remote demo and discover how Sanako Connect helps to improve your students’ oral language proficiency.


References used in this article:

Felder, R. & Henriques, E. 1995. Learning and Teaching Styles in Foreign and Second Language Education. Foreign Language Annals 28, 1.

Jacobs, G. 2016. Student-Student Interaction. Simple, Powerful Strategies for Student Centered Learning: Chapter 2. SpringerBriefs in Education.

Richards, J. 2006. Communicative Language Teaching Today. Cambridge University Press, New York.

OnTESOL. How To Use the Communicative Approach – Free Introduction to the Communicative Approach.

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