Setting straight what Communicative Language Teaching is all about

Where to start?

The transition to Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) or the Communicative Approach has been sneaking into all the classroom around the world for the past few years now. I know some of us may think it is a quite recent concept, but in fact it has been around since the 1970s. Yes, that’s right. In the 1970s the concept was introduced as what we now know as Classic Communicative Language Teaching, which revolutionized teaching at the time. So how come we’re only hearing about it since the late 90s, well that’s when some ideas behind the notion were revamped and the current CLT approach came about. When giving teacher training sessions I have explored this topic quite a few times, and there are still misconceptions from two main aspects, so I wanted to take advantage and see what your thoughts are on this topic. The two main misconceptions lie in:

What it means (and what it doesn’t mean)

Everyone uses the term Communicative Approach as a “sales pitch” nowadays. But how many people that use it can actually define it. And I don’t mean a longwinded explanation that leads nowhere, but just a simple phrase or sentence to really define it. Give it a try, before reading on try to give your definition of it.

Go on, give it a try.

Got it?

picOk, so before I give you the definition, let’s explore a little bit what it’s not. CLT is not strictly focused on speaking, which in the same way does not mean that grammar is no longer important. In previous teaching approaches and methods teachers were expected to correct every single mistake a student made, in an effort to avoid fossilizing mistakes, that’s not what CLT is about either. The teacher is no longer a monitor, but this doesn’t mean that they are off the hook and it’s all in the student’s hands.

Ok so, what does it mean.

Communicative language teaching (CLT), or the communicative approach, is an approach to language teaching that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of study.”


Jack C. Richards, in his book Communicative Language Teaching Today, summarizes it quite well stating what CLT actually includes. CLT is all about knowing how:

  • To use language for a range of different purposes and functions.
  • To vary our use of language according to the settings and participants.
  • To produce and understand different types of texts
  • To maintain communication despite having limitations in language knowledge.

How to actually apply it class

When teachers are faced with planning classes every single day, they may say they are applying CLT, but the fact is we sometimes fall into some old habits in an attempt to make planning easier. So how can we assure that we applied CLT? Next time you plan a class or even after you give it try going over if you applied these concepts.

Swap target language for communicative task

CLT suggests that instead of choosing a grammar topic and planning a two hour session with fill in the blank exercises and a few activities from the book, we should identify the communicative task (which most books clearly identify in their “Scope and Sequence” or Contents page) and then inherently include activities to target through communication the necessary grammar, vocabulary, and language skills that must be used and/or learned to accomplish the given task.

Assuring our speech supports the learning process

Our speech must be clear and precise so as to be coherent to our communicative task. We can serve as models and purposely use the target language in our speech, so students can begin to mirror it. So make sure you take a second glance at how you word your instructions, or what vocabulary words you are using in your examples.

Giving balance to the language

CLT is not all about speaking, so find a balance between the four skills (speaking, reading, writing, and listening) . At the end of the day, these are just a means to an end. They are ways to put in practice, model, or mimic the communicative task we want our students o hopefully do on their own at the end of the session.

Making content useful and meaningful

In an effort to engage our students, we have to always try to make the content of our classes as useful or meaningful as possible. This will allow our students to focus more on the topic than the language, while adapting to the tasks at hand.

The main idea behind CLT is teaching in a way that our students can become proficient in a variety of scenarios. Can you guys give me some examples how you apply CLT in your classes, or maybe some challenges you’ve faced when trying to apply it.



Richards, J. C. (2006) Communicative Language Teaching Today. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press


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