The “communicative approach to the teaching of foreign languages” — also known as Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) or the “communicative approach” — emphasizes learning a language through genuine communication. Learning a new language is easier and more enjoyable when it is truly meaningful.
Communicative teaching is based on the work of sociolinguists who theorized that an effective knowledge of a language is more than merely knowing vocabulary and rules of grammar and pronunciation. Learners need to be able to use the language appropriately in any business or social context.
Over the last three decades, theorists have discussed (and continue to discuss) the exact definition of communicative competence. They do agree, however, that meaningful communication supports language learning and that classroom activities must focus on the learner’s authentic needs to communicate information and ideas.
Grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary are, of course, necessary parts of effective communication. With the communicative method two primary approaches may be taken. Some teachers prefer to teach a rule, then follow it with practice. Most, though, feel grammar will be naturally discovered through meaningful communicative interaction.
The communicative approach is a flexible method rather than a rigorously defined set of teaching practices. It can best be defined with a list of general principles. In Communicative Language Teaching (1991), expert David Nunan lists these five basic characteristics:
1. An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.
2. The introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation.
3. The provision of opportunities for learners to focus, not only on language but also on the learning process itself.
4. An enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.
5. An attempt to link classroom language learning with language activities outside the classroom.
As these features show, the communicative approach is concerned with the unique individual needs of each learner. By making the language relevant to the world rather than the classroom, learners can acquire the desired skills rapidly and agreeably.