The Functional and Social Dimension of CLT

Communicative Language Teaching does not represent a method per se, but rather a spectrum of methodologies and activities that prioritize communication. In other words, it is not a method in the sense it has a clearly identified content, syllabus, or teaching routines. There is no single text or authority on it, nor a single model that is generally accepted.

According to the Dictionary of Applied Linguistics and Language Teaching (2002), it represents an approach to foreign or second language teaching which emphasizes that the goal of language learning is COMMUNICATIVE COMPETENCE and which seeks to make meaningful communication and language use a focus of all classroom activities. The definition of the term is quite loose, it varies from one writer of the field to another, all pointing out various matters, but the core idea is that the main goal of Communicative Language Teaching is that learners develop communicative competences, in other words they are to become able to use the language fluently and spontaneously inside or outside the classroom. In addition to this, the focus is bound to be on real  life situation, the acquisition of vocabulary rather than grammar ,and most importantly on determining students’ motivation by content to which they can easily relate.

As for what the communicative skill is, it is generally assumed that it represents the ability to maintain a conversation, but methodologists regard it as an interaction between many skills and acquisitions that regard more than one’s linguistic level.  Brandl (2007:6) argues that the communicative competence is a very complex one, comprising an entire range of linguistic, social and psychological abilities: the knowledge of grammar and vocabulary(linguistic competence); the ability to say the appropriate thing in a certain social situation (sociolinguistic competence); the ability to start, enter, contribute to, and end a conversation, and the ability to do this in a consistent and coherent manner (discourse competence); the ability to communicate effectively and repair problems caused by communication breakdowns (strategic competence). Richards (2006:3) defines the communicative competence quite similarly referring to written discourse as well: Communicative competence includes the following aspects of language knowledge: knowing how to use language for a range of different purposes and functions; knowing how to vary our use of language according to the setting, and the participants (e.g., knowing when to use formal and informal speech or when to use language appropriately for written as opposed to spoken communication); knowing how to produce and understand different types of texts (e.g., narratives, reports, interviews, conversations);knowing how to maintain communication despite having limitations in one’s language knowledge (e.g., through using different kinds of communication strategies). In other words, the communicative skills refers to how one uses language appropriately for the context, social situation, the participants involved and the relationships between them.

Harmer (2001:69-70) argues that purpose of CLT is that students should acquire communicative skills by focusing on the variety and content of the language, not on the grammatical structures, by triggering intrinsic purpose and desire to communicate and by using materials that need an information gap. Therefore it is necessary that students be engaged in real or realistic communication acts where the accuracy of the language is less important the final achieved product. Students should be allowed to be spontaneous, and not limitted by language forms dictated by their teacher. The teacher no longer seeks to correct mistakes, and does not interrupt pupils, but encourages them to communicate fluently. It is not considered necessay to insist on 45 grammar,or pronunciation accuracy, translations, but the functions of the language (greeting, thankin, making an invitation, etc.), what the student can do with the language. What the teacher does guide, is which register should be used, what words should be selected, which is the appropriate tone in various communication situations such as a party, an interview, official speech. It is also very important the interest in creating and maintaining conversation is kept. The gap that must be covered creates communication, as the students have to learn from each other in order to perform the task. So, the conversation is maintened through the information gap the exercises render, the lack of predictibility of the outcome, which triggers the psychological necessity to communicate. Littlewood (1986:1-5) emphasizes that language carries both a functional and a social dimention. Hence the one who communicates does not only provide, and recieves back knowledge, but also takes into cosideration the politeness,and formality degree demanded by the particular context. He does not exclude the importance of grammar he arguess that it can be aquired within the communicative contexts, as grammar itself carries meaninng.

Littlewood (1986:6) summerizes four broad principals of CLT: firstly, students must obtain a high degree of linguistic competence by developing their skills to the point where they are able to use spontaneously and flexibly the message they want to convey; secondly students must distinguish between linguistic and communicative competence; thirdly the student should develop skills and strategies to use the language for communication purposes, learn to use the feedback to appreciate success, and the failure to use a foreign language; fourthly students should adapt their language to different social circumstances to avoid awkwardness.

Richards (2006:2) focuses more on the methodological principals, and a need for a syllabus built to incorporate the principles of CLT. According to his definition CLT can be understood as a set of principles about the goals of language teaching, how learners learn a language, the kinds of classroom activities that best facilitate learning, and the roles of teachers and learners in the classroom. He also differentiates between two branches of CLT, the traditional one that developed between the ‘60s, and ‘90s that revolutionized the syllabus and lesson planning and class teaching, and the current one which evolved after the 90s. The traditional CLT encompassed a new vision the approach shifted from grammar based methodologies to skill based methodologies that required students interaction, materials that would raise the interest of learners. Also, a new way of learning appeared, as the students had to 46 learn from both the teacher and their peers hence becoming more assumed for the process. The current approach of CLT continues the basic principles of the traditional CLT, but with a concern for grammatical acquisition through communicative activities and identifying learners’ needs of communication, so that they can apply language in real life situations. So, the first period was about implementing the new methodology and achieving a new syllabus rejecting the old grammatical approaches, whereas the second is characterized by analysing learners’ communication needs and approaching grammar through deductive, inductive and communicative methods.

Berns (1990 quoted by Savignon 2015)1 argues that, the Communicative language teaching has made a great impact on teaching and learning foreign languages ever since it has emerged. Although, it consists of a multitude of methods and approaches, they all promote the idea that language teaching is based on a view of language as communication. The writers of the field state that nowadays, the Communicative language teaching is the most utilized method in ESL classes all over the world.

In brief, CLT is centered on the idea of communication, which means that  students who  learn to express themselves in foreign languages, develop  automatically the competence to communicate in the target language. The communicative competence,  originally introduced in sociology, refers directly to  the practical understanding of the system of values that governs a society, and the use of language in a social context according to the parameters required by the particular situation. Thus, communicating in a foreign language is not just about knowing the linguistic system but also how to use it in a social text. Since there is no clear definition of the approach itself, neither is there a strict classification of its aims, goals and objectives, there are common opinions.

1. Brandl, Klaus (2007) Communicative Language Teaching in Action Putting Principles to Work: Pearson
2. Harmer, Jeremy (2001) The Practice of English Language Teaching, 3rd Edition: Longman Handbooks for Language Teachers
3. Littlewood William. (1981). Communicative language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4. Richards, Jack C. (2006). Communicative Language Teaching Today: Cambridge University Press
5. Savignon. Sandra Communicative Language Teaching: Linguistic Theory and Classroom Practice


prof. Oana Crăciunescu

Școala Gimnazială George Vâlsan, Amara (Ialomiţa) , România
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