The official website of educator Jack C Richards

Communicative teaching


submitted by Manana Mohamed, UK

In your opinion, do you think that communicative teaching can succeed in any context? 

Dr Richards Responds:

The overarching principles of communicative language teaching methodology can be summarized as follows.

  • make real communication the focus of language learning
  • provide opportunities for learners to experiment and try out what they know
  • be tolerant of learners’ errors as they indicate that the learner is building up his or her communicative competence
  • provide opportunities for learners to develop both accuracy, and fluency
  • link the different skills such as speaking, reading and listening, together, since they usually occur together in the real world
  • let students induce or discover grammar rules

In applying these principles in the classroom, new classroom techniques and activities were needed, and new roles for teachers and learners in the classroom. Instead of making use of activities that demanded accurate repetition and memorization of sentences and grammatical patterns, activities that required learners to negotiate meaning and to interact meaningfully were required. These processes were thought to constitute essential conditions for second language learning. Teachers were recommended to use a balance of fluency activities and accuracy and to use accuracy activities to support fluency activities. Accuracy work could either come before or after fluency work. For example, based on students’ performance on a fluency task, the teacher could assign accuracy work to deal with grammatical or pronunciation problems the teacher observed while students were carrying out the task. While dialogs, grammar, and pronunciation drills did not usually disappear from textbooks and classroom materials at this time, they now appeared as part of a sequence of activities that moved back and forth between accuracy activities and fluency activities. And the dynamics of classrooms also changed. Instead of a predominance of teacher-fronted teaching, teachers were encouraged to make greater use of small-group work. Pair and group activities gave learners greater opportunities to use the language and to develop fluency.

One of the most positive outcomes of CLT was the generation of a new wave of enthusiasm in language teaching and a transformation of the resources available to teach English. The constraints imposed on teachers and materials designers by the somewhat rigid methodologies of audiolingualism and situational language teaching were removed as the focus shifted to learner-focussed materials and activities which drew on authentic or semi-authentic texts, role-play and other communicative classroom activities. At the same time, some critics posed a note of caution.

For example Holliday argued that the communicative orthodoxy taught to teachers who are native-speakers of English reflects a view of teaching and learning that closely reflects culturally-bound assumptions derived from the cultures of origin –Britain, Australasia, and North America – which Holliday refers to as BANA entitities. The teaching methods developed in BANA centres reflect the kinds of learners who study in institutes and universities serving students who generally have instrumental reasons for learning English, namely for academic or professional purposes or as new settlers. Their needs however may be very different from learners learning English in state-based educational programs (e.g. public schools) in other parts of the world – studying in tertiary, secondary or primary settings and hence referred to by Holliday as TESEP contexts. Holliday describes these two learning contexts as creating very different contexts for learning and containing very different parameters. Methods developed in one context (e.g. BANA settings) will not necessarily transfer to others (TESEP settings), and as Holliday points out, most of the literature on English language teaching reflects a primarily BANA understanding of teaching, learning, teachers, learners, and classrooms.