Communicative Language Teaching

There are many different styles to teaching, but none better than Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) for ESL teachers. The Communicative Language Approach attempts to focus on integrating grammar and vocabulary lessons for realistic purposes, such as language that helps a person express feelings, make requests, make suggestions, or give directions. This might seem obvious to many ESL teachers now-a-days, but in the past more focus was placed on repetition of grammar forms that could not be personalized.

The Communicative Language Approach is a four-pronged approach that develops speaking, listening, reading and writing skills and applies those skills to perform a real-life function. The focus is entirely on the students implementing tasks that encourage language fluency rather than precision. The CLT method assumes students will eventually learn the grammar systematically from their resources as they practice their speaking abilities, but does not always try to force correct grammar. Grammar drills and repetition are not part of the CLT method.

Teachers act as facilitators by talking less and doing more listening. Students are generally placed in groups and asked to work through a real life situation or problem. The teacher will walk around the classroom and metaphorically prod students assisting them in the goals of the task. Teaching as a facilitator is kind of like being an air traffic controller in which you are not flying the plane, but give guidance on where to turn and when to land. Real life situations aren’t always possible for the really young learners, but it is still important to push these students in the direction of self-discovery, rather than giving them the answers through repetition. For example with young learners, holding a flashcard and asking the students “what is this?” and giving simple and easy language that guides them to the correct answer is better than telling them what it is. In this role you take a step back and allow students to find their own way.

A common mistake of beginners teaching ESL is that they give too much explanation. This will confuse your students I guarantee it! What you want to do is elicit responses from students so they can develop a picture in their brain. Ideally you need to present material to the students without explanation. If you are new to teaching ESL this may seem like an odd concept, but trust me it works. Students will inductively grasp the concept if you let them experiment.

How do you get students to experiment with language? Well as the teacher you want to control the first stages of experimentation by asking many questions of your students, this process is called eliciting. Eliciting can involve simple questions like holding up a flashcard and asking “What color is it?” “Where do you see this?” “What is the shape?” “When do you use this?” “Who needs this?”

ESL activities for the CLT method include a number of open-ended tasks where there isn’t usually one answer. Teaching CLT in Korea can be frustrating at first because you will, more often than not, find your students all coming up with the same ideas for an open-ended task. This is because repetitive closed tasks that involve finding a single correct answer is very common to Asian style teaching. Give it some time; reward students that are more creative and the others will catch on. Some tasks you may include in your CLT teaching are providing a problem where students need to make a decision and reflect on why they made that decision, information gap exercises where one student knows an answer and uses open ended reasoning to assist the other student in guessing the answer, predicting is common where students are given a picture an encouraged to be creative and predict what is happening now or what will be happening next, role plays are a staple in the CLT method where students act out a real life situation and must create their own dialogues. And most importantly always allot time for pair work activities when possible. Have students practice and experiment together allowing them to make mistakes and correct each other.