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Communicative language teaching or CLT underlines a creative, task-driven, and purposeful approach to teaching English as a second or foreign language. CLT promotes the perspective that µuse makes usage¶ by emphasizing the fact that language facilitates human socialization and that language presents an interpersonal communion among society members. The most significant goal of CLT is communicative competence that encourages the students to explore the importance of the mechanics of the language and also its contextual and socio-cultural factors. This reaction paper serves to analyse, evaluate and respond to the article written by Jason Beale (2002) entitled µIs Communicative Language Teaching a Thing of the Past¶. It will also explore how CLT activities influence the teaching of English language in the classroom and also the strengths and weaknesses of the approach. To give more meaning to the discussion, all these would be tied up to the Malaysian context.
2 1.0 INTRODUCTION
Communicative language teaching or CLT is very much a product of communicative competence which was proposed by Dell Hymes in his paper entitled µOn Communicative Competence¶ (1971). Communicative competence was Hymes¶ response to Chomsky¶s theory of linguistic competence which was considered by the former inadequate to explain communicative differences among children. It is also noted that Hymes¶ criticism against Chomsky theory centres on its lack of relevance to social aspect of language or aptly referred to as sociolinguistic. The theory of communicative competence was further developed by other scholars but most notably Canale and Swain (1980) who identified the four main areas of grammatical competence, discourse competence, strategic competence and sociolinguistic competence that underlie the notion of communicative competence. Communicative language teaching views grammar as one of the four strands of communicative competence. µLinguistic competence¶ as it is known refers to competence that focuses directly on the knowledge and the skills required to understand and express accurately the literal meaning of utterances (Canale and Swain: 1980). Linguistic competence is said to complement three other aspects of sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence and strategic competence. Communicative approach asserts that the use of language has to go beyond linguistic competence to reflect language, as how it is used in the real world. In Malaysia communicative language teaching has no lesser influence. With the introduction of the Integrated Curriculum for Secondary School (KBSM) in 1988, the three areas of language are integrated with the four main skills of reading, listening, speaking and writing under a communicative framework:
³The new English Language Curriculum was implemented in schools beginning 1988, based on a communicative model of language teaching and learning.´
(Pillay and North, 1997)
The introduction of a communicative model took place as a result of an increasing awareness in the part of the government that the nation is in need of workforce which is able to µengage in local and international trade and commerce¶. The main principle of the new model is to teach language for communication, not just as linguistic knowledge that cannot be manipulated for communication.
3 2.0 Is Communicative Language Teaching A Thing of The Past?
The title of the article by Jason Beale (2002) clearly questions the relevance of communicative language teaching in the current ELT scene. This is by far not an overstatement because many ELT scholars opine that we are moving into a µpost communicative era¶ (Acar: 2005). Beale (2002) emphasizes that the Canale and Swain¶s model of communicative competence is µa very useful sociolinguistic model telling us what natural communication involves, but not how it should be taught in the classroom settings¶. The uncertainties surrounding communicative language teaching is very much on the application of the principles to classroom settings. The three pedagogical principles that have been developed based on CLT which are the presentation of language forms in context, the importance of genuine communication and the need for learner-centred teaching are well established but these principles are still not that well defined. This has resulted into two different schools of thoughts which are referred to as weak and strong versions of CLT. The weak version would consist of pre-communicative tasks such as drills and cloze exercises. An example of this approach would be the PPP lesson of presentation, practice and production. The Strong version on the other hand, would be µless controlled¶ in the sense that learners¶ role is of utmost importance and they take centre stage in managing their own learning. Beale (2002) also stresses that CLT needs to have a strong foundation of learning theory and the µcollection of loose techniques¶ that forms the basis of CLT is far from adequate. One theory would be the µcreative construct hypothesis (Sanders: 1987) which states that language learners create their own internal language system. The use of conversational interaction to develop communicative competence or is referred to as indirect approach is a technique that relies on learners¶ ability to µnegotiate meaning¶ and in doing so µunfamiliar language forms and rules are made comprehensible to the learners¶. The underlying principle behind this is very much related to the µinput hypothesis¶ which conditions µcomprehensible input¶ as a crucial factor in mastering a language. The hypothesis was put forth by Krashen (1982). He draws distinction between µacquiring¶ and µlearning¶. According to him the way we acquire language is very much similar with the way children pick up their first language, with no attention at all to form. Learning is defined as a conscious process to study the language through explicit instruction of the forms of the language and can only lead to µlearned competence¶.
4 The writer cautioned that research findings alone cannot be the sole basis of teaching practice and reminded that µsecond language acquisition (SLA) research is limited by the very unpredictability of language learning itself¶. The idea of controlling the process of acquisition through instructions in the classroom is somewhat bogus because there are countless factors that come into play. He stresses on the idea of nurturing the best possible environment for acquisition to take place rather than trying to take control of the acquisition process. This would suggest that the more effective way of teaching a language is to identify the optimum conditions of learning a language. Beale (2002) commented that CLT has been popular due to its perceived role of bettering the µolder courses¶ like grammar translation method which was widely practiced in a country like Japan and had inadvertently produced learners with µbeginner-level fluency¶ even after so many years of learning. The writer further contends that communicative pedagogical principles as outlined by Finocchario and Brumfit (1983) are difficult to apply to classroom context. This claim is substantiated by the fact that many communicative games which are intended to increase learners¶ meaningful language use through negotiation of meaning are not actually genuinely meaningful due to their lack of µunpredictability¶ and µrisk taking¶ for the learners. The writer indicated that µa strictly communicative syllabus has not been widely embraced¶ judging from the set up of many coursebooks which are organised according to stipulated grammar, vocabulary and functional language skills. Another problematic area is the area of assessment and evaluation. In order to do justice to students¶ development of communicative competence, a qualitative assessment is needed. But as noted, qualitative evaluation of productive skills is time-consuming and complicated. An answer to the problems surrounding the application of communicative competence to teaching and learning might be provided by content and task-based syllabus which is considered as µa more successful realization of communicative competence¶. In task-based syllabus the language forms to be learned are not predecided and the learners are given the freedom to use any structure they are able to use in completing a certain task. Task based syllabus is said to be an appropriate answer to research that acknowledges the necessity of negotiated interaction to facilitate comprehension and production of language. Beale (2002) emphasizes on the importance for CLT to incorporate µboth the experiential level and the more intellectual, reflective level of language learning¶. This would include the inclusion of somewhat contradictory methods of µthe teaching of strategies¶ and µform focu ssed exercises¶. This led the writer to conclude that in order to have more success in the
5 teaching of English as a second language; we have to adopt an eclectic outlook or the µmixing of teaching methods¶. This would suggest that in order for CLT to stay pertinent, it has to evolve and integrate other methods even if it means that the original principles of CLT have to be sacrificed. Short of this, would see the possibility of CLT being seriously under threat of becoming obsolete or µa thing of the past¶.
The implementation of a communicative syllabus in the Malaysian context has also received considerable criticism. Since the introduction of the new KBSM (Integrated Curriculum for secondary schools) English Language Syllabus, there has been a continuous tension between the syllabus which aims at promoting indirect teaching through skills and topic and the practitioners who feel more comfortable with a more explicit and direct approach. There are clear guidelines which state the general approach on how the teaching of grammar should be carried out in the classroom:
³Teachers are encouraged to teach these grammatical items in the contexts of the topics. If extra practice is required for better understanding and retention, items can be specifically taught in isolation.´
(KBSM English Language Syllabus of 2003)
This would suggest that the general principle of developing students¶ grammatical competence prioritise on implicit teaching through exposure to examples over explicit teaching of rules. The introduction of the new syllabus is not unproblematic. Many have expressed their concern over the issue and most of them are practitioners or teachers who are largely affected by it. The root of the problem lies in the syllabus which is communicative and thus giving more credence to exposure of meaningful discourses rather than grammatical forms. There is an even serious criticism against CLT which claims that it is fundamentally flawed. Acar (2005), in his article entitled µThe ³Communicative Competence Controversy¶, argues that that the theory of communicative competence µis based on highly unsound and unidealized evidence¶. He criticised those who subscribed to Hymes¶ linguistic theory and applied it to foreign and second language teaching field without assessing its basic premises. This has led them to adopt a
6 somewhat µcontroversial model of language in the specification of teaching and learning goals and the selection of language content to be taught and learned¶. Hymes justified his development of the theory of communicative competence based on the inadequacy of Chomsky¶s linguistic competence. His criticism of Chomsky¶s theory was very much aimed towards its inefficiency in explaining language problems among disadvantaged children and the communicative ability of the normal ones. Hymes included the ability for using the language as part of competence considering its educational purposes. According to Acar (2005), Hymes argument against Chomsky is faulty since µChomsky did not intend to develop linguistic competence for educational purposes but for the study of the language system¶. He further reiterated that µa very broad hypothesis of communicative competence which was developed on an unsound basis has become the main focus of second language teaching field¶. As a result of this, second language teaching field has been focussing on a µvery general and complicated theory of communicative competence about the real content of which we know very little¶. The points brought up by Acar (2005), may be partly relevant in explaining the problems faced in the Malaysian context. The uncertainty surrounding the implementation of a communicative syllabus may have blurred the very objectives that teachers have to achieve within the four walls of the classroom and thus causing the tension between the syllabus and practice. As brought up by Beale (2002), communicative language teaching has to have strong foundation of learning theories rather than just a collection of teaching techniques. This would imply that CLT lacks theoretical foundation that it should have. The main pedagogical principles of CLT are also questioned due to the perceived difficulties in implementing them. This is further supported by the fact that the appropriate assessment of communicative competence is considered impractical when judged from the classroom perspective. This sounds very familiar to us. Although the English KBSM syllabus strives on producing communicatively competent individuals, little has been done to assess the learners¶ productive skills of speaking as reflected in the public exams like PMR and SPM. However, I would disagree with Acar (2005) that the foundation of CLT is simply fundamentally flawed and thus discrediting most of the ensuing principles and practice of CLT. As dynamically suggested by Beale (2002), µthe various difficulties of applying a communicative approach do not require us to question its pedagogical principles as such; rather it may simply be a case of putting new wine into old bottles¶. It is evident that CLT has its own strengths. Discarding the whole theory and
7 teaching paradigm is not the way to go as improvement and adjustment can still be made. Xin (2007) summarised that even though communicative language teaching suffers from problems, communicative competence would always be µthe worthwhile aim of teaching and learning¶. More and more scholars who are for CLT are in agreement that other new teaching paradigms could be integrated into CLT to consolidate it. The two paradigms that are mentioned in the article by Beale (2002) are focus on forms or consciousness raising and task based learning. A strong proponent of consciousness raising (CR) activities is Rod Ellis (1990) who describes that CR µinvolves an attempt to equip the learner with an understanding of a specific grammatical feature-to develop declarative rather than procedural knowledge of it¶. It is said that CR contributes indirectly to the acquisition of implicit knowledge by facilitating acquisition. Savignon (2002) admitted that µresearch findings overwhelmingly support the integration of formfocused exercise and meaning-focussed experience¶. She further stated that form focussed activities that are within a meaningful context should be welcomed but cautioned that such activities cannot replace practice in communication. As a teacher who has been directly involved in implementing the communicative English syllabus in the school, I would be inclined to believe that the uncertainty surrounding the essential traits of CLT is very much caused by the explosion of suggested activities that are labelled communicative. Since CLT is still very much in the process of taking a definite shape, more and more effective and empirically proven theories and principles should be integrated within the framework of CLT to further establish it. The inclusion of form focussed activities in a communicative syllabus would in many ways help to resolve the dilemma faced by teachers in Malaysia.
The Implications towards Teaching and Learning of English
The evolving nature of CLT should have a great impact on its syllabus. The main problem is that the syllabus set for a particular education system is not as flexible as we want it to be. Changes in the syllabus design would entail great cost and is time consuming. Usually in Malaysia changes in the education syllabus would take place once in about every five years. The recent change in the English language syllabus took place in 2003 and yet many new developments in teaching methodologies were not taken into considerations. This is perhaps due to the relative newness of these developments. As a result an element which has been widely
8 accepted as being effective in facilitating acquisition by CLT scholars that is µconsciousness raising¶ is missing from the syllabus and thus the text books. However not all is lost. It does not mean that if a good practice is not in the syllabus, we can not implement it. As teachers we have the autonomy to carry out whatever ways deemed good to help students in learning. The important thing is to know the students¶ needs and to plan our teaching based on them. SLA research has proven that the relationship between what is taught and what is learned is indirect at best. As recommended by Beale (2002), we have to create the optimum conditions for learning to take place. As metaphorically put by him, teaching is like caring for a plant; µgiven a large pot, good soil, sufficient light and water, it will grow according to innate developmental process.¶ It is important for us, practitioners to continuously learn the best ways to develop these optimum conditions. Often teachers take for granted the opportunities for them to update their knowledge on the latest pedagogical principles and techniques that could improve their practice. We tend to rely heavily on the knowledge that we gained during our teacher¶s training college days and to remain stagnant. A novelty lesson I have learned from this article is that we have to learn from mistakes and to try out new ideas. This is the best way not to remain static and to maintain interest in the profession. Perhaps in years to come this quality would make me a great educator and would clearly set me apart from a bad one.
The title of the article poses a significant question of whether communicative language teaching is a thing of the past. Was the question answered by the author? As a teacher I would say that the article has managed to shed light on the prevalent current issues surrounding the implementation of communicative language teaching which is very much right up our alley. The author has raised some very relevan t problems of CLT and made a number of insightful comments on how to solve them. It is indeed apparent that CLT is far from perfect. Certain quarters have expressed their concerns over CLT¶s lack of shape or rather definitive stand on its principles and practices. This is also a problem shared by our teachers in school. In order for CLT to remain relevant it has to evolve and reflect the current concerns of teachers and students alike. Research and studies discussed have provided insights and ideas for classroom methodology and task design. All these will not work unless experience
9 and sound judgement of the local condition; something which only a teacher can offer, are brought into the whole picture.
Acar, A. (2005). The "communicative competence" controversy. Asian EFL Journal, 7(3), pp. 55-60. Beale, J. (2002). Is communicative language teaching a thing of the past? Babel, Vol. 37, No. 1, Winter 2002, pp. 12-16. Canale, M. and M, Swain. (1980). Theoretical Bases of Communicative Approaches to Second Language Teaching and Testing. 1-47.
Ellis, R. (1990). Instructed Second Language Acquisition: Learning in the Classroom . Oxford. Basil Blackwell.
Hymes, D. H. (1971). On communicative competence. In J. Pride and J. Holmes (Eds.), Sociolinguistics. Penguin, 1972.
KBSM English Language Syllabus. (2003). Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia.
Krashen, S. (1982). Principle and Practice in Second Language acquisition. Oxford. Pergamon. Pillay, H. and North, S. (1997) µTied to the Topic: µIntegrating Grammar and Skills in KBSM¶. The English Teacher. XXVI. 1-23. Savignon, S.J. (2002). Interpreting Communicative Language Teaching; Contexts and Concerns in Teacher Education. Yale University Press. Xin, Z. (2007). From communicative competence to communicative language teaching. Sino-US English Teaching, Vol. 4, No. 9, 2007, pp. 39-45.