Are we Really Using
The Communicative Approach?
By Marita de la Lama
Very recently, in a teacher training course, one of the participants avowed that the Communicative Approach was the latest approach to teach foreign languages. This thought still remains a common assumption for many local English teachers, despite the fact that new methods such as the Task-Based approach, among others, have emerged.
Why is it that even in 2016, many English teachers consider the Communicative Approach as the latest method? To begin with, it is by far one of the most popular systems all over the world. Its popularity lies in the fact that this procedure involves the best teaching practices that have proved very effective in the teaching-learning process. However this conveys another problem: everything we do in class is indiscriminately labeled communicative. We need to put together theory with practice and reflect on what is actually communicative and what is not. Since many teachers know the characteristics of the Communicative Approach by heart, it will be helpful to list just the teaching practices that are not communicative, in particular in our popular grammar lesson.
1. Many teachers insist to start a lesson by writing a sample of the structure to be learned on the board. But what happens to the idea that presentations are to provide students with real input of the new structure? Presentations need to display the new structure within a real context, one that turns out appealing to the students. Quite contrary, we start using the written language since the very presentation stage.
2. The written exercises offered in the textbooks have a leading role overshadowing the development of oral communication skills in the learners. Commonly I have observed lessons in which the teacher “leaps” from a controlled practice of the new structure to the textbook’s written exercises. Where does that leave the Communicative Approach?
3. The very few activities of pair work or group work conducted in class do not usually bare a real need for communication. Two things constantly materialize in class: or the students know the answers to the questions before they are even asked, or perhaps the answers allure them slouching shamelessly at their disposal at the back of the textbook! Thus, our communicative activities have stopped being real, are out of context and wind up being quite boring for our students.
4. Skills are not integrated at all. Often, due to time restrictions, we end up working only one skill in a lesson, whether it is reading, listening, or writing, without linking at least a couple of skills, such as reading with speaking or listening with reading. We need to remember that the integration of skills is one of the main characteristics of the Communicative Approach.
5. It is still considered that to use the Communicative Approach implies to have our students speak the language without receiving any feedback from their teachers about their oral production. Teachers proceed from one activity to the next without giving the students appropriate feedback about their oral production. The command of a language does not improve just by asking students to speak it; this is just half of what we need to do; we also need to provide our students with the needed feedback in order to prevent them from committing to memory their own mistakes.
DE LA LAMA, MARIA, holds a Master´s Degree in Applied Linguistics and Bachelor´s Degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California; MBA Universidad del Pacifico. Current Director at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacifico.