Communicative Language Teaching
The main purpose of CLT is to facilitate the development of the learner’s functional communicative competence, in contrast for example with earlier – more traditional approaches – such as “grammar/translation”, the aim of which was to acquire an understanding of forms of the language, or the audiolingual approach which was prevalent in the 1960, based on a behaviourist learning theory of “operant conditioning”. The essence of this approach was drilling and memorisation based on repetition of prepared structures and phrases.
Communicative Language teaching conceives of language learning as a social activity, emphasizing the social roles of speaker and listener. It is learner centred, based on an identification of learner needs and it is centred around the learner’s involvement in meaningful interaction with language (“meanings that matter”).
A key aspect of Communicative language teaching and the associated pedagogy has therefore been the importance attached to learner autonomy – an idea which challenges more teacher-directed forms of teaching. Since the 1990s much work has been done on developing autonomy in language learning.
There has always been a link between CLT and Cultural Awareness, which became popular especially in the Anglophone world in the 1980s and 90s. More recently more consideration has been given to the related but not identical concept of Intercultural Competence. The assumption is that there must be something worth communicating – a meaning that matters) and that one of the points of language learning is to appreciate the ‘other’ which is also a way of establishing a sense of self identity.
One of the most common misconceptions about CLT is that it precludes any formal teaching about language (grammar). Certainly in Council of Europe descriptions and guidelines it is clear that communicative does not mean grammar free. Much attention has in fact been given to the development of a “communicative” or functional grammar.
Even so the debate – or pendulum swing – between on the one hand acquiring language for use (communication) and on the other learning about the forms of language as an end in itself (grammar) is one that continues to impact on thinking about language learning and teaching.
A more detailed consideration of some of these issues including some further reading can be found here.