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Applying a Communicative Approach in Foreign Language Teaching

Written by Ilona Ellonen

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The growing need for fluent communication skills in today’s globalized world creates a challenge for foreign language teaching. Students must be given a proper foundation of communication skills that are demanded in different interactive real world situations outside of the classroom. Communicative teaching methods are currently a popular point of discussion  and their effectiveness has been taken into account by teachers all over the world. This article aims to provide an overview of communicative language teaching (henceforth CLT) methods and encourage teachers to apply them to their foreign language teaching.

What is CLT?

Previously, foreign language teaching has predominantly had its emphasis on grammatical competence, rather than actually focusing on developing students’ interactive skills. At the end of the day, language does principally exist to make communication possible. CLT methods primarily focus on the interaction during a foreign language class or online language lab session, in which students actually produce speech and conversation for most of the classroom time. The main purpose behind CLT methods is to prepare students to be confident communicators for different real life contexts, through the repetitive oral practises and student-student cooperation.

“One can master the rules of sentence formation in a language and still not be very successful at being able to use the language for meaningful communication”

(Richards 2006)

Student-Student Interaction

Student-student interaction plays an essential role in applying a CLT approach. As the more traditional teaching styles have usually been rather teacher dominant with students mainly learning through listening, student-student interaction, on the contrary, focuses on the interaction among the students themselves during class. Student-student interaction embraces the strategies of cooperative learning in which each student’s learning success is dependent on the whole group’s input during the classroom sessions. This is an effective way of engaging the whole class as such exercises engage all students, not just the minority of active students who typically participate in a regular class. 

How to Make Use of CLT?

Although a teacher’s role is not as dominant during exercises that emphasize student-student interaction, it certainly is substantial in making the interactional learning space as functional for the students as possible. In order to implement CLT methods successfully, it requires more than simply placing students into groups. To quote Felder and Henriquez (1995: 25); “The benefits of the approach are fully realized when the group work is structured to assure such features as positive interdependence, individual accountability, and appropriate uses of teamwork and interpersonal skills”. Each student in a language classroom or language lab has individual needs, levels of abilities and interests. Therefore, having different tasks designed to meet the needs and skills of different students is essential in CLT. Also, providing a supportive learning environment makes the participation easier for students, especially those who easily feel shy about active participation.

4 Practical Tips Towards CLT:

Inspired by OnTESOL

  • Have plenty of communicative student-student activities so that students are constantly exposed to the target language.
  • Communicative activities should include a clear situation or context, the roles of the speakers, and a communicative purpose.
  • Practise different formal and informal interactions through games, role-play, and problem solving tasks.
  • Teachers should concentrate on providing a supportive learning atmosphere and selecting personalized tasks for students in terms of their individual level, needs, and interests.

By Ilona Ellonen – Student Language Ambassador

Creating different levelled language exercises and paying attention to each individual in the class can be easily managed with Sanako’s Online Language Teaching Softwares Reactored and Connect. Read more from here and here!


Felder, R. & Henriques, E. 1995. Learning and Teaching Styles in Foreign and Second Language Education. Foreign Language Annals 28, 1.

Jacobs, G. 2016. Student-Student Interaction. Simple, Powerful Strategies for Student Centered Learning: Chapter 2. SpringerBriefs in Education.

Richards, J. 2006. Communicative Language Teaching Today. Cambridge University Press, New York.

OnTESOL. How To Use the Communicative Approach – Free Introduction to the Communicative Approach.

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