It is important to use the oral form of a language when learning it. Most language learners become structurally competent in their new language and easily manage the written aspects (reading and writing) but struggle with listening and most importantly speaking. And we know that the latter is an important communication tool.
Through speaking we communicate our ideas and feelings to others and through speech we learn about the world around us. Therefore, in any language, people should be trained in the important skill of speaking.
Speaking abilities are important in every area of life, namely work or career related, or in your personal life. It is important, then, in foreign language learning, to solve the problem that most students encounter which is the inability to sustain a conversational interaction.
Communicative language teaching (CLT) has tried to bridge the gap by advocating a change of mindset. Language learning is seen less as “learning about a language” and more as the acquisition of a tool that we will be able to use.
You may know all the grammar rules about a language and still be unable to use the language adequately.
What is communicative language teaching (CLT)?
“Communicative language teaching can be understood as a set of principles about the goals of language teaching, how learners learn a language, the kind of classroom activities that best facilitate learning…” Jack C. Richards
The knowledge we have of a language gives us the ability to produce sentences in that language.
“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)” Jack C. Richards.
So, how is it possible to train learners?
It is important to show them the different use of language and plant in them the need to interact using the foreign language. They should understand that learning a language is a means to an end. Language is an instrument in their arsenal to communicate with the world around them.
Language teaching in a communicative way, should help the students understand the three processes of language use:
When scanning, the student gets in touch with the information and deals with it.
Evaluation is when the student compares the speaker’s aim and identifies discrepancies.
Formulation is when the student reacts and produces a sentence as a result of the previous two steps.
All three processes must be made very quickly in real time and this is what Keith Johnson calls fluency.
Materials that help develop communicative competency.
These are media destined to native speakers. A newspaper can be a good example. It allows the learner to study the language in its context. It gives him/her the opportunity to be exposed to natural language spoken in diverse situations. The ideal- after reading the news clip- is to retell what is read in one’s own words.
Another useful exercise is to predict the rest of the story after reading the first paragraph allowing the learner to speculate about the outcome. This encourages them to use the vocabulary that they have studied as well as new terms and expressions. This activity boosts their desire to know, so that they must carry on reading to compare their answers to what is described in the rest of the article.
Authentic materials should be used when introducing the language to students
Extremely useful in a classroom environment as it involves interacting with a peer, or the teacher can participate in the case of one-on-one instruction.
Roles are assigned like doctor/patient or boss/employee. Here the learner must work together with someone else, improve his/her interpersonal skills, wait for feedback. This is a motivation booster as they want to learn more so that they can perform better.
Picture strip story
A first picture is shown, and the learner must predict what the second picture is about. Afterwards, he/she compares his/her prediction to the actual picture and based on the second one they carry on developing the story. This allows the student to develop ideas and use their own words to make the predictions.
As an example, three newspaper pictures are given to the learner and he/she is asked to create a story using them. This story should be narrated to the group or teacher later. After the reading everyone discusses the elements of the story as well as its structure. Also, the language used is analysed.
These are only a few examples of communicative teaching in the classroom.
In general, the role of the teacher should be as a facilitator by creating opportunities for the learner to express himself/herself. The teacher must create an enjoyable environment to allow students to relax and feel at ease and one important point is avoiding constant corrections that might have a detrimental effect.
Improving speaking skills increases learners’ confidence and gives them a better understanding of the use of the target language. If the teacher succeeds, it can be considered as mission accomplished.