Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

A Closer Examination of Communicative Language Teaching

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

A Closer Examination of Communicative Language Teaching

Article excerpt


This paper offers an in-depth discussion of communicative language teaching (CLT). It elaborates upon the construct and characteristics of CLT, and then documents research findings on CLT's effectiveness. This paper then addresses components of a communicative curriculum, including the selection of materials, the design of activities, and the development of assessment formats.

Key words: Communicative language teaching; Communicative competence


Equipping students with communicative skills that enable them to use the language in the real world is a priority goal of English teachers in Taiwan. Communicative language teaching (CLT) aims to promote students' communicative competence, and therefore has become one of the mainstream pedagogical approaches utilized in Taiwan. This paper attempts to provide a more in-depth exploration of CLT with the intent of assisting English teachers in the construction of beneficial techniques, materials, and activities that will enhance their students' language proficiency.

This paper is comprised of six sections. First, it defines communicative competence, the construct of CLT, from which its principles evolve. Second, the characteristics of CLT are discussed. Third, research findings regarding the greater effectiveness of CLT in terms of facilitating the acquisition of communicative skills will be provided. Section Four illustrates different approaches to syllabus design, i.e. structural, notional-functional, and situational. Guidelines for material development and assessment will be also provided in this section. The fifth section introduces a variety of learning activities derived from the principles of CLT. Finally, ways to evaluate students' communicative competence are suggested.


CLT seeks to develop students' communicative competence, sufficiently that they will be able to use a language outside the classroom. Here, then, comes a crucial question: what does communicative competence consist of? Canale and Swain (1980) define a classroom model of communicative competence as an integration of four components, i.e. grammatical competence, sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence, and strategic competence.

Grammatical competence refers to expertise of the linguistic code, such as the lexical, morphological, syntactic, and phonological features. In CLT, grammar is not considered independent from communication, but rather is an access point to trigger meaningful language use in both oral and written communication. Specifically, students are taught to apply grammatical rules to construct sentences necessary for communication, rather than memorize them for examinations.

Discourse competence is defined as the ability to compile a string of sentences or utterances into a meaningful whole. With discourse competence, learners are better able to not only understand the concept of an entire passage, book, etc., but also to convey their ideas in a clear and coherent way. In CLT, students are trained to be familiar with various cohesive devices (such as pronouns, conjunctions, synonyms, ellipses, comparisons, and parallel structures) to construct global meaning of the text and to coherently express that meaning at the same time.

Sociolinguistic competence requires an understanding of the social rules applicable to the use of a language. Speaking or writing something inappropriate may cause offense. Therefore, a competent language user must know both what to say and how to say it in a certain situation. In CLT, students are instructed on the rules of a culture to minimize the potentiality of impropriety.

Strategic competence is the ability to maintain communication after it breaks down. No single second language user knows everything. It's quite common for someone to lack knowledge of a certain word, phrase, term, and the like. In CLT, students practice the use of paraphrasing, circumlocution, repetition, and guessing through a variety of activities, so they will be more likely to cope with communication failures. …

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