Teaching English in the Light of Communicative Language Teaching

Innovation in teaching English has started happening in recent years in Bangladesh. Traditional teaching focuses on grammatical rules rather than meaning. Image source: TESOL Trainers
Innovation in teaching English has started happening in recent years in Bangladesh. Traditional teaching focuses on grammatical rules rather than meaning. Image source: TESOL Trainers
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

Innovation in teaching English has started happening in recent years in Bangladesh. Traditional teaching focuses on grammatical rules rather than meaning. Teaching a grammatical structure is believed by the traditional teachers that learning a foreign language is about learning to master its linguistic system and if students know the grammar rules, they will be able to learn the language well. The facts show that although students can learn and remember grammar rules very well, they cannot communicate in the target language at the expected level.  However, in the CLT class, the teacher pays more attention to enabling students to work with the target language during the lesson and communicate in it by the end of it.  The following is the typical procedure of a grammar lesson according to a CLT author named Adrian Doff.

In a typical grammar class according to Communicative Language Teaching, the teacher uses visual aids to present the grammar structure to be taught. Students deduce the meaning, the form and the use of it. The teacher checks students’ understanding by asking yes /no questions focusing on form, meaning and use. The teacher gets students to practice the structure through Repetition and Substitution Drills. The teacher tries to provide maximum practice within the controlled but realistic and contextualized framework and to build students’ confidence in using the new language.

In teaching English, the teacher provides students with opportunities to use a new language in a freer and more creative way. The teacher creates activities in which students can integrate new language with the previously learnt language and apply what they have learnt to talk about their real life activities. What makes this kind of lesson different from the traditional one is that the teacher tires to make the language used in the lesson real and true. The teacher creates real or like-real situations in which the language can be used. This will better enable students to communicate in English not only in the classroom but also outside the classroom.

We should always consider why do people learn a foreign language and what do they do with it when we teach a foreign language. Indeed, the reasons to learn a foreign language can vary and we should always keep the learners ‘needs in mind. People learn a language e.g. for their work, out of interest or simply because it belongs to the school syllabus.

People sometimes think that communication means only speaking i.e. conversation between two or more people. Actually, facts go beyond this notion. People can communicate by writing too which inevitably involves reading. When people talk to each other, they also have to listen. When people read a newspaper article they may want to discuss it with somebody else or they may read it out loud so that others can listen to them.  When people write letters this is usually in response to something else. Thus we use more than one skill though we tend to focus on one. Now the question arises, if we have determined that language is a means of communication, then why do we often put so much emphasis on the structure or only one skill at a time? At the secondary level in our country regarding teaching English, the focus tends to be entirely on grammar.

It is surprising to see how many students have to analyze sentences up and until the most complicated labels for different sentence elements. As soon as it comes to reality the language, however, they are often at a loss. If we focus entirely on grammatical correctness, students may become reluctant to use the language for fear of making mistakes. If, on the other hand, we focus on using the language from the very beginning, this will give the students more confidence. if students know all about structure, does it make them more independent, can they really apply rules in other contexts? If we want to teach structure, we should at least provide a realistic context and relate it to communicative situations. The best thing to do is probably to integrate all different aspects of language. It is all right then to introduce and explain grammatical rules as we go along. We should not teach grammar simply for the sake of grammar.

How can we create communicative situations in the classroom and at the same time make these situations resemble real life? A classroom is of course, not a rich linguistic environment most of the time. It can never replace a learning situation in which the learner is surrounded by native speakers and is forced to use the foreign language all the time.  But since it is not feasible to send all our students abroad to learn English we have to make most of the classroom situation. What we have to do then is to provide students with a linguistic and situational context.  It means what they do and exercise can be imagined in realistic activities. Communicative language teaching sometimes combined with some traditional language teaching has proved successful in many cases.  Of course, it requires some courage, extra skill and definitely some perseverance on the teacher’s side while teaching English. It is worth a serious try. It has to have a serious and thorough preparation on the part of a teacher.

Based on my teaching experience in teaching English, the statement of grammar teaching should be implicit, not explicit.  Whether to teach grammar as an extracted focus of ELT or more passively as an inductive, integral topic has been the theme of countless debates on the part of institutions, professors, grammarians and language researchers for decades. Grammar is the branch of linguistic dealing with the form and structure of words or morphology, and their interrelation in sentences called syntax. The study of grammar reveals how language works, an important aspect of both English acquisition and learning.

Grammar is a theory of language structure rather than a description of actual sentences is believed by language experts. Strictly explicit grammar study, however, and even-grammar-focused lessons are often not communicatively based. They can therefore be boring, cumbersome and difficult for students to assimilate. The strict teaching of grammar can be frustrating and highly ineffective. By providing grammar in the context of teaching English, in an implicit manner, we can expose students to substantial doses of grammar study without alienating them to the learning of English. The principal manner in which I accomplish this is by teaching short grammar-based sessions immediately followed by additional function-based lessons in which the new grammar is applied in context.

It can be said that adult language students have two distinct ways of developing skills and knowledge in a second language, acquisition and learning. Acquiring a language is ‘picking’ it up. i.e. developing ability in a language by using it in natural, communicative situations. Some students are logical or linguistically-biased thinkers who respond well to a structured presentation of new material. Young learners have a more natural facility in the acquisition, while adults may benefit substantially from more ‘formal’ language learning. Learning styles and intelligence strengths are also significant factors. We must not forget that grammar provides for a communicative economy. While language practice and use provide spontaneity of using it. It is freer and mostly communicative.

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as an Education Expert in the BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and President of the English Teachers' Association of Bangladesh (ETAB), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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