The Communicative Approach of Teaching English

By | August 18, 2013

The Communicative Approach of teaching English is a method that overtook older and more traditional methods such as the Grammar-Translation Method. These older methods worked on the assumption that students wanted to master the target language and studied for years before being able to use the target language competently in real life situations.

The Communicative Method of Teaching, also known as Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), started its rise to prominence during the 1970s and 80s. At this time, there was an increase in demand for language learning, particularly in Europe when the European Common Market opened. Moreover, more secondary and high schools began teaching foreign languages. In the United Kingdom, the creation of comprehensive schools gave all high school children the opportunity to learn a foreign language.

The aim of the communicative approach is to provide students with real life communication lessons that try to mimic the natural progression of language learning. The emphasis of genuine communication that imitate real life situations is supposedly more fun and more helpful for the students as they are learning a language in situations that it is used every day.

The idea is to make the target language more relevant to real world situations rather than the classroom.


When learning the English language (or any language for that matter), Grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation is very important and most teachers use the communicative approach in either one of two ways. Firstly, the point of grammar is taught and then the teacher asks the students to carry out exercises to practice the point in grammar. For example, the teacher is teaching the present continuous and outlines the structure of the tense. After this, the students are required to carry out activities where they might use it in real life situations. Alternatively, some teachers prefer to skip this part because they feel that the grammar will be learned naturally through communication exercises.

Using the CLT method of teaching English, there is no real methodology that can be outlined for teachers. Instead, it is a flexible method that uses a broad approach to teaching the language. Dr David Nunan, an Australian linguist and an expert in the topic outlined 5 features of the CLT method for teaching English in his 1991 book “Language Teaching Methodology”.

The 5 features are:

  1. An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.
  2. The introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation.
  3. The provision of opportunities for learners to focus, not only on language but also on the learning process itself.
  4. An enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.
  5. An attempt to link classroom language learning with language activities outside the classroom.

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Here you can see that the CLT method is interested in the individual needs of the students with a clear connection of using the language both in the classroom and in the outside world. Therefore, a teacher using this method should create a range of different activities that mimic the use of the English language outside of the classroom, including: pair work, group work, role plays, etc.

Classroom Activities

The Communicative Approach of Teaching EnglishThere are many activities that teachers can employ when using this method. As stated above, pair work, group work, and role plays work well. Also, interviews, games, surveys and learning by teaching are also good activities to carry out. Before carrying out any activities, it’s advisable to ensure that students have enough vocabulary and understanding of the situation in which they are learning. Students don’t really need to be knowledgeable about English grammar or the rules thereof, but instead they need to know what language is used for any given situation. For example, when practising ordering inside a restaurant, students need to know how to make requests, ask for information, etc.

Communicative Approach of Teaching English

The CLT method is widely used in ESL classrooms around the world. When learning to teach English, popular certification programs like CELTA, TEFL and TESOL courses often advocate this style of teaching. Many teachers utilize this style in the classroom to great effect and much emphasis is placed upon actual communication rather than rule based learning. Students actually learn by doing, rather than learning a long list of words and vocabulary. This method is at the moment one of the most popular methods of teaching English.

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