Current Language Teaching Approaches

Essay, 2016

6 Pages


Current Language Teaching Approaches

The spread of English in the era of globalization has led to a growing need for good communication skills in English. Hence there is a strong demand for an appropriate teaching methodology. Language teaching has gone through many changes in terms of methodologies used. First, the traditional approaches which focus on the mastery of grammar and then the communicative language teaching CLT emerged. According to Richards (2005), there are different current approaches which can be viewed as falling within the general framework of communicative language teaching:

1. Process-based CLT approaches ( content-based instruction & task-based instruction).
2. Product-based CLT approaches (text-based instruction &competency-based instruction).

Therefore, the main principle of all communicative approaches is that the learner must not only know how to make a grammatically correct structure, but must also improve the ability to use language to carry out various real-world tasks (Nunan, 1988). In this essay, I am going to give a critical overview and comparison of these approaches with examples from English language teaching settings in Australia.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) does a lot to expand on the goal of creating communicative competence compared to earlier methods that professed the same objective. Teaching students how to use the language is considered to be at least as important as learning the language itself. Kumaravadivelu (2006) stated: “The phrase “competence in terms of social interaction” sums up the primary emphasis of CLT” (p.60).

Moreover, Harmer, (1988, p. 69 ) argued that when students are engaged in meaning-centered communicative tasks, then the language will take care of itself and that abundant exposure to language in use and plenty of chances to practice it are useful for a student's enhancement of knowledge and skill.

The need for authenticity. Since real communication is a basic characteristic of CLT, classroom activities should be related to real life and provide opportunities for real communication. Authentic materials should be the basis for classroom learning and they are not necessary derived from authentic text as long as the learning processes were authentic.(Richards, 2005). However since the advent of CLT textbooks and other teaching resources are designed to similar standard of production as real world sources such as popular magazines

In CLT, classroom activities often take the form of pair and group work requiring negotiation and cooperation between learners, fluency-based activities that encourage learners to develop their confidence, or role-plays in which students practice and develop language functions. Learners’ errors are accepted as an inevitable aspect of language acquisition. Learners’ independence should be encouraged in learning and the teacher acts as facilitator of learning.The linguistic variation and sequencing of materials and methodology are important (Richards & Rodgers, 2001).

One of the drawbacks of CLT has been perfectly described by Bax (2003) who says: “CLT neglected one key aspect of language teaching – namely the context in which it takes place … ”. In other words CLT does not pay much attention to the culture, context, and students’ requests and desires. In Australia, for example, there has been growing dissatisfaction with communicative language teaching used in AMEP classrooms since the late 1980s. Students, particularly those who are newly arrived, were not used to the less hierarchical roles of teachers and learners , activities that focus on communication and language use rather than grammar and the lack of a textbook. In a response, the genre-based approach emerged .(Burns & de Silva Joyce, 2007, p. 12).

Process-based CLT approaches are extensions of CLT but take different ways to develop learners’ communicative competence. Richards (2005) pointed out that Content-based approach (CBI) creates processes by using content as the basis of classroom activities and linking all the different dimensions of communicative competence, including grammatical competence, to content. Krahnke (as cited in Richards, 2005, p. 24) defines CBI as teaching the language from the content being taught. In contrast, traditional approaches make decisions concerning grammar, skills, functions etc as the starting point in planning the lesson and after these decision have been made, content is selected.

In CBI, classroom activities are specific to the subject being taught and are prepared to stimulate students to use the target language when thinking and learning. For example, in a program prepared for ESL students in an Australian high school, topics were chosen as the basis for the course and primarily to cater to the students’ needs and interests. Linguistic appropriateness was another factor taken into account. Topics that fulfilled these criteria include multiculturalism, the nuclear age, sports, the Green movement, street kids, and teenage smoking (Wu as cited in Richards, 2005). This approach offers unlimited chances for teachers and course designers to match students' interests and needs with interesting and meaningful topics and as a result, all of these lead to more successful program outcomes than the other language teaching approaches.

Richards (2005) argued that one of the weaknesses of this approach is that learners may bi-pass grammatical accuracy since their primary concern is mastery of content rather than development of accurate language use. Another issue is that most language teachers are trained to teach language as a skill rather than teach a content subject. Thus teachers may teach subject matter in which they have not been trained (Richards & Rodgers, 2001). For example, I teach English with a group of English teachers at a technical college in Saudi Arabia. We have difficulties with specialized content areas such as computing, electronic etc, because we do not have the necessary subject- matter expertise.

Task-based approach (TBI) makes tasks the central unit in the learning process. The rationale behind this approach is that by focusing on the completion of the task, students will learn language in the same way if they are focusing on language forms (Harmer, 1988). Its advocates claim that second language acquisition (SLA) research can and should guide second language instruction. The purpose of such research is to enable designers to determine the types of tasks which can best facilitate acquisition of specific target language structures and functions (Loschky & Bley-Vroman, 1990).

Tasks such as listing tasks, sorting and ordering, comparing, problem solving etc are the basis for TBI, therefore traditional classroom activities such as drills, cloze activities etc are not recommended in TBL. The advocates of TBI also claim that students do not achieve progress in their grammatical development through a PPP methodology (presentation, practice and production) because language learning result from meaningful interaction using the language and not from controlled practice (Richards, 2005).

Baylis (2007) indicated that learners of this approach are free to use any language form, language forms are not prescribed in advance, to achieve the outcomes. Encouraging learners to work towards the creation of a meaning system is the purpose of the communicative task and in order to do this they may choose to ignore grammatical correctness and create forms for themselves which are not approved by the target norms. Paul Seedhouse (as cited in Harmer, 1988, p.73 ) criticizing its overall applicability, he argues that it may be possible to base some learning on tasks, but it would be difficult to base the whole pedagogical methodology on them.

Moreover, The process-based methodologies relied on similar principles to Problem-based Learning which has been around since the 1960s. They were criticised for providing inexplicit roles for teachers and learners and little direct intervention in language and literacy development (Bourne, as cited in Burns & de Silva Joyce, 2007, p. 12).

Product-based CLT approaches focus more on the outcomes or products of learning as the starting point in course design than on classroom processes. Teaching strategies are then selected to help achieve these goals.( Richards, 2005). Recent teaching approaches have focused on what learners do with extended stretches of language in authentic contexts of use. Text-based approach (TBI) is mainly concerned with what learners do with whole texts in context. It is concerned with units of discourse called texts. ( Feez, 1998).

According to this view learners in different contexts have to master the use of the text types occurring most frequently in specific contexts. These contexts might include: studying in an English medium university, studying in an English medium primary or secondary school, working in a restaurant, working in an office, etc.( Richards, 2005).

Text types are identified through needs analysis and through the analysis of language as it is used in different settings thus TBL has much in common with an ESP approach to language teaching. However other components of texts, such as grammar, vocabulary, topics and functions usually are specified in a mixed syllabus, one which integrates reading, writing and oral communication and which teaches grammar through the mastery of texts rather than in isolation. For example, the Certificates in Spoken and Written English, which are widely taught language qualifications in Australia, include the following text-types: exchanges, forms, procedures, information texts, story text and persuasive texts.( Richards, 2005).

Criticisms of this approach are that it concentrates on specific skills instead of focusing on more general language proficiency and it is probably impractical in many situations (Richard, 2001). Likewise critics point out that there is a danger that the approach becomes repetitive and boring over time.

Competency-based approach (CBIT) is an approach to vocational education and training which focuses on the competencies gained by an individual rather than the training process itself. According to Richards (2005), CBIT has been followed since the 1970s as the basis for the design of work-related and survival-oriented language teaching programs for adults.


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Current Language Teaching Approaches
University of Western Sydney
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Language (TESOL)
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ISBN (Book)
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Academic Awards: Master of Arts (TESOL) with Distinction
current, language, teaching, approaches
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Ahmad Altasan (Author), 2016, Current Language Teaching Approaches, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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