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The Role Of Communicative Language Teaching

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 4970 words Published: 4th May 2017

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Foreign languages play a very important role in our system of knowledge. They are not only an effective tool for us to exploit information to acquire scientific technology, to share experiences with or to learn experiences from others in specialized fields but also a useful means of improving people’s material and spiritual lives. In the sixteenth century English became known as a communication language for people around the world. Its popularity as a foreign language has been increasing since then and been developing into the second language of many countries (Richards and Rodgers, 2002). English is now the most popular foreign language in Vietnam and English competence is considered one of the most necessary characteristics for anyone who would like to integrate themslves into the global society and access the world’s knowlege to be sucessful in life. English gradually becoming the main communication language in parts of education, business, entertainment and culture exchanges with other cultures excitingly taking place in daily life in Vietnam require appropriate recognition of English speaking from Vietnamese learners, especially teachers and those who are working in education. Language teaching profession has experienced many changes and a number of different language teaching methods and approaches have been proposed and applied for the sake of teachers and learners’ benefits in their teaching and learning so far. However, which one is the most appropriate for teachers and their learners depending a lot in their teaching and learning context. Therefore, Communicative Language Teaching has been employed in most of Vietnamese classrooms, especially in PVMTC, for its advantages in improving the speaking skills though it is not the latest one.

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Since the begining of the twentieth century, communication between people of different cultures in differrent parts of the world has became urgent request. Teaching and learning a foreign language became more and more popular. However, to teach a foreign language effectively requires a lot of effort from the teachers who have direct and significant impact on their students’ achievement which is controled by the methodology they choose to apply to their language teaching in different learning and teaching contexts. Understanding the importance of the matter , linguists and teachers themselves have been done a large number of studies on language teaching in order to find out and introduce more practical and effective language teaching methods and approaches that help teachers in performing well their job.

The two recent centuries have witnessed ceaseless changes and innovation in language teaching in terms of teaching methods and approaches. These decide how the language is taught and what materials and activities are used in the classroom to help learners get the best achievement in their language learning. Thus, each approach shows its own view of the nature of the language and how the language is learnt.

According to Richards and Rodgers (2002, p. 3), Latin was the “dominant language of education, commerce, religion and government in the Western world” until the sixteenth century when French, Italian and English gradually replaced it to become the languages of communication. However, the tremendous impact of Latin teaching and learning principles and procedures on the way of teaching and learning the newly emerging languages was still occuring until the nineteenth century. This language teaching method has been known as Grammar Translation Method (GMT). As the result, the language lessons occured mostly in students’ first language, heavily focused on grammar rules which were deductively taught to students in order to guide them to decoding written texts and producing correct writing in target languages (Prator & Celce-Murcia, 1979). Translation activities with the assistant of billingual dictionaries were conducted to achieve the accuracy. Students were expected to memorize a number of words and their meanings and all grammar rules and then apply them to make sentences. They were also expected to read, comprehend literature and write sentences without errors. Listening skill and speaking skill were completely ignored (Larsen-Freeman, 1986) in GMT classrooms.

However, the changes in the society at the time resulted in the change of learners’ goal of learning languages: learning languages to communicate. The Grammar Traditional Method then couldn’t meet the requiement since it appeared to fail to equip learners with interaction and communication skills in the target language (Larsen-Freeman, 2000, p. 23). In 1880 Francois Gouin, a teacher of Latin in France introduced a famous book called “Art of teaching and learning of languages” to the public. His assumptions of how a foreign language could be taught together with those of Henry Sweet, an English philologist, came together on encouraging students to think in the target language in learning process (Nagaraj, 1996, p. 71-72). This shaped the early version of the Direct method, a revolution in foreign language teaching, which went against the current traditional one. The Direct Method (known as Natural Method) was first introduced in Germany and France and it was the strong response to the drawbacks of the Grammar Translation Method. It then became popular in The United States in the late of nineteenth century. At the time, Lambert Sauveur, “an extraordinary man” and his colleage, Gottlied Henness, first applied object lesson technique to teach German and French in their classrooms and they enjoyed great success. Sauveur after that developed this teaching method to the one known as Natural Method and used it widely in his language schools (Howatt, 2004, p. 217). At the same time, Maximilian D Berlitz also used this teaching method in his language schools in the US but in another name: Berlitz Method. Basically, the Direct Method based on the assumption of using the target language to teach itself and that oral practice could help students assess the target language in terms of forms and meanings. It was also the advocacy for the natural language learning principles and teaching of oral skill. So all instructions in the classroom were in the target language. Pronunciation and speaking skill were strongly emphasized by conducting question-and-answer activities to motivate and encourage students in using the language confidently (Larsen-Freeman, 1986). Interaction between teacher and students in the target language was considerd a way to present it. Grammar, vocabulary and translation skills which were very important under the Grammar Translation method was now marginalized to guaratee the acquisition of oral proficiency because the proponents of the method had a strong belief that everyday vocabulary used in the classroom could be learnt effectively through visual presentations and that grammar rules could be worked out by students through the teacher’s inductive grammar teaching. By means of its innovation in language teaching, the Direct method, which negated the effectiveness of the Grammar Translation method, became the first and the most concerned language teaching method that “marked the begining of the method era” (Richards & Rodgers, 2002, p. 14). However, apart from being a breakthrough in teaching interactive speaking skills, the Direct Method also showed its weaknesses in terms of applied linguistics which made the method “not take well in public education where the constraints of budget, classroom size, time, and teacher background made such a method difficult to use” (Brown, 1994, p. 54) or to Richards and Rodgers it was a dramatic alteration in language teaching which firmly focused on oral skill but “lacked a systematic basic in applied linguistic theory and practice” (2002, p. 38).

In the 1920s and 1930s in Britain, British applied linguists led by Harole Palmer and A. S. Hornby exerted themselves to establish an approach called Oral Approach (or Situation Language Teaching) to language teaching based on “more scientific foundation”, in which sponken language was important, only general and useful vocabulary was introduced, grammar was graded strictly and all practice took place in situations. The approach also enjoyed the popularity in English for decades there and many textbooks and courses were designed under it principles (Richards and Rodgers, 2002, p. 36-41).

Another method became known as the Army method fisrt and then Audio Lingual Method (ALM) as we know it now was a new creative trend in language teaching methodology in The US in the second World War. It was first applied in a special language training programs of Military of the United States. It was devised by an American linguist, Leonart Bloomfield for the servicemen who were going to work as translators, interpreters and quickly needed to have perfect communicative proficiency to perform their jobs in different parts of the world. The method was the combination of language teaching through intensive practice of speaking skills to develop communicative competence with the language learning method based on the disciplines of descriptive linguistics and behaviuor pychology (which considers language learning is a set of language). In this method, immitation, repetition, memorization and reinforcement were impressed within speaking practice with variety of drills. Limited vocabulary was introduced. Grammar was important but was taught inductively and inexplicitly throughout the conversational dialogues that learners practised orally but no errors were accepted because according to them errors could become bad habits. It was Charles Fries, another American linguist advocating Audio Lingual Method applied the method widely in his English language center, who deserved credit for making this method popular in foreign language teaching in the United States particularly in the 1950s and 1960s (Wong, 2006) and the world.

However, the effectiveness of Audio Lingual Method on oral proficiency got questioned in the 1960s. Many experiments were done and according to Scherer and Wertheimer (1964), this effectiveness was not significant. In the 1970s, the new method based on the wiew of language learning as active mental processes, which was advocated J.B. Carroll and K. Chastain in the 1960s, Cognitive-code-Method was born. As Carrol stated, this deductivist method was a “modified, up- to-date grammar-translation theory” (1966 cited in Stern, 1987, p. 469). It adopted generativist grammatial theory (Danesi, 2003) and focused on grammar structures and all four skills. Clear examples and grammar structure explanation to learners came first. Learners were then asked to pracise them in meaningful contexts. Despite the fact that the method did not win the teachers and linguists’ favour for long, it deserved merit in leaving “contexttualized gramar tranning and the technique of Error Analysis” to language teaching (Danesi, 2003, p. 11).

In the early 1980s, the Natural Approach was developed by Tracy Terrell and Stephen Krashen based on Krashen’s theory about second language acquisition. It looks at language as a set of messages which can be understood. Vocabulary and meaning are primary (Terrell & Krashen, 1983 cited in Richards and Rodgers, 2002) and the principles for teaching a language are based on the five hypotheses in Krashen’s second language acquisition theory. The approach was widely welcomed in the US and around the world for its positive influence on forming more overall principles for effective language teaching that have been considered in the later approaches.

In the 1970s, the need for communicative competence continued to increase in line with the changes of economic and political situation in Europe. But teachers and linguists did not satisfy with the current language teaching methods and approaches which were not effective in helping learners use the target language to interact or communicate in real life situations. Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) or Communicative Approach to the teaching of foreign languages then emerged as the answer to the problem. It has didfferent features from those of the other approaches since “one of the most characteristic features of Communicative Language Teaching is that it pays basic attention to functional as well as structural aspects of language” (Littlewood, 1992, p. 1). To serve communicative goal of language learning, “the Communicative Approach is based on the premise that what we do in the classroom should have some real life communicative values” or it “looks at what people do with language and how they responde to what they hear” (Flowerdew & Miller, 2005, p. 12). Therefore, all activities used in a CLT classroom are appropriately designed based on these principles. Teachers measures language learners’success by looking at their development in communicative competence which is implied in their making use of any means of communication, verbal or nonverbal, within the limited knowledge of the language they have to. To some extent, CLT makes use of presenting and practising speaking and listening in real life situations to help students complete tasks and build their fluency and confidence.

The last approach I would like to mention is Task-Based Approach popularized by Prabhu. The method has attracted teachers and linguists in recent years. It impresses on using authentic language in real life, classrooms are managed to take place in real world communicative context in form of tasks and the tasks’ outcome, not the accuracy of language forms, is used to evaluate students’ progress and competence. The activities in the classroom mainly focus on speaking and students are required to be highly active and cooperative. The approach is rather new and not very familiar to teachers and students in some Southeast Asian countries. However, nobody who concerns linguistics negates its state of the art in the field and it is considered the development of CLT.


In the last twenty years, the demand for communicating between people of different cultures has pushed English to its recent status as a popular global language. English has become an official languge in Singarpore, India, the Philipines, Hongkong and a popular foreign language in most Asian nations for economic and political reasons. English teaching profession in the region, as the result, receives more concern of teachers, educators and linguists. In line with the current language teaching trends of the world, English language teaching in Asia has also been inspired by a more effective alternative, Communicative approach which emerged in the ash of less effective approachs and methods of language teaching that had big impact on English language learning and teaching for a long time. The wind of changes prevails and results in a lot of other changes related to English language teaching. Teachers have been encouraged to employ CLT in their English classrooms to improve students’ speaking skill. However, in some Asian countries of ESL where CLT and other later approaches have been imployed in English classrooms and claimed for some success whilst in Asian EFL classrooms whether CLT has been really applied or not, and if it has, how effective it has been, is still questioned. So, what has been the problems?

In his study, Hird (1995, cited in Lewis & McCook, 2002) stated that the differences in cultures led to the differences in interpreting CLT. The Asian traditionally appreciate the perfection such as acurracy in learning, CLT to their understanding, however, emphasizes more on fluency, appropriateness and spontaneity, not acurracy. Therefore, teachers as well as students were dubious about the effectiveness of CLT. A study of Musthafa Personal author, compiler, or editor name(s); click on any author to run a new search on that name. (2001, p. 1-10) on CLT in Indonesian argued that “the communicative approach has failed to help students become any more competent in the use of the English language for real-life purposes”. Or Manajitt (2008, p. 83-87) pointed out, although most of the Thai EFL school teachers in Bangkok were very intersted in CLT, learnt about it in many ways and had clear CLT conceptualization, their teaching and their students’ learning was still a combination between traditional and communicative approach or still stayed traditional because of difficulties they faced while organizing a CLT classroom.

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In Vietnam, English became one of the subjects at school in 1987 after Vietnam started Doi Moi in 1986. English appeared in classrooms in some parts of the country. The course books at the time focused on reading skills and grammar and the Grammar Translation Method was applied widely in English teaching in Vietnam (Denham, 1992) beacause the new approaches and methods of teaching English did not reach the country yet and the teachers who were trained before 1986 felt “most confident using it” (Pham, 1999). Speaking skills were overlooked. Students had to work very hard with grammar rules to past the examinations. Teachers taught to test and students studied to do tests. In 1996, English proficiency at different levels was required to high chool and university students when they finished their study. English joined the rank of major subjects at education institutions. However, teacher-centred or teacher-fronted classrooms remained typical ones in Vietnam (Sullivan, 2000). Students continued with their rote learning in teacher-centred classrooms and the English teaching methods of the teachers in Vietnam in the late of 1990s were out-of-date (Kennett & Knight,1999). The fact that teaching and learning English in Vietnam for over a dacade was staying the same. Yet the social demands for English for communication purposes were increasing because more and more activities in different fields needing poeple with good communicative English competence urgently required a significient change in language teaching profession.

In an attempt to improve the quality of teaching and learning English especially the speaking skill, a movement to “transform curriculum, text books, and teaching methodologies” (Kim, 2001, p.140) was launched. Now, CLT has been announced to be the best choice to replace Grammar Translation approach in Vietnam. Teachers are annually invited to attend workshops about CLT. The new versions of English text books for students at secondary and high schools have replaced the old ones. The new text books, however, include more every day dialogues as the only evidence for the change since long reading texts and grammar exercies which promise to be the most in typical tests that students are going to take still predominent these books. As a result, speaking skills are skipped in class. Teachers spend most of the time on explaining grammar rules and translating reading texts to students. Students have to work with reading and grammar even harder than ever to survive the exams which mainly comprise long reading texts and extremely complicated grammar points. So, CLT although is officially prefered in Vietnam but whether it is really applied in classrooms to enhance students’ communitive competence or not is still a big question to anyone who has ever taught English in Vietnam. These lead to far-reaching consequence. At universities and colleges, Communicative course books are also chosen for students like the Lifelines set (Hutchinson, 2001), International Express set (Taylor & Lane, 2007). The course books cover four macro skills. However, no oral or listening tests but reading and writing tests are carried out during the course. Inconsistencies between teaching and examinations lead to serious consequence like speaking skills are inorged in such these test-oriented tertiary EFL classrooms, students don’t even have oppotunities to use the language verbally inside their classrooms because Vietnamese is used by teachers and students most of the time (Bui, 2006). Under these conditions, students suffer from the failure in communicating or interacting. In terms of applying effectively new methods to teach English to students to help them use English communicatively, teachers fail to teach their students how to speak or listen but read and write in the target language. According to Pham (1999), there are “socio-cultural factors against success in tertiary English language training programs in Vietnam”. He emphasizes the fact that not only students but also teachers who lack ability of communicating in the target language get so scared to be in CLT classrooms where speaking skills are focused. The new method required both teachers and students really work actively in class. However, they got used to learning and teaching passively with Grammar Translation Method and they have to struggle to overcome their inherent passiveness, shyness, inferiority and fear to deal with the lesson in the new method. To these teachers and students, their English class put them in a state of panic. These have resulted in “the quality of teaching speaking skills at university in Vietnam” is still “poor”. And the explanation of the poor quality speaking teaching in English language tertiary education in Vietnam which “results in a large number of graduates who have difficulty with communicating English” (Bui, 2006) must take into account the concrete factors such as teachers and students’ conceptualization and practice of CLT, teachers’ ability and enthusiasm for their badly paid jobs, budget for language education, syllabus design, material and assessment which are the same in most developing countries (Gorlach, 1995).

PetroVietnam Manpower Traning College (PVMTC) belongs to the system of vocational schools in Vietnam but mainly funded by Petrovietnam. For nearly fifteen years, the Streamlines set was used as the main course books and Grammar Translation Method was applied in teaching English in our college. But since 2007, we have replaced the course books with the Lifelines and International Express set. CLT has hardly received any warm welcome from the senior teachers beause they do not want to change the method that they have used for such a long time and as for them, they do not believe in the effectiveness of the new method and they even do not exactly know what CLT is and how to apply it. However, it has enjoyed the popularity among the younger teachers like me. We have been sent to have training courses on CLT together with our colleagues from other schools and colleges. We have excitingly discorvered it and applied or adapted it to our classes when we teach thousands of both types of students studying English there: regular students and project students.

Most of the students in PVMTC now are project students who are recent graduates or experienced technicians and engineers from different parts of Vietnam recruited to work for projects of Petrovietnam. They are paid to take a special intensive English course at PVMTC to improve their English skills, especially speaking skills, to perform their job together with foreign experts in their field at industrial facilities or in offices. They are highly motivated because they are given test of four skills and they are expected to achieve at least 650 marks on TOIEC when they finish the training course. They already took a placement test before doing the course and their English proficiency is Pre-intermediate. These are also advantages to us to apply CLT in these classrooms. International Express set is chosen for the course for its characteristics which support teachers and students a lot in conducting a communicative approach classroom. Inductive approach to grammar employed to guide students to work out rules and usage which is usually a foreseen failure to many regular classes for regular students can be acceptable in these classes although both teachers and students have to work extremely hard when dealing with complicated grammar points and occasional failures are inevitable. Students are offered oppotunities speak, to discuss to complete all the task given by the teacher or to solve the problems emerging in the lessons. They are encouraged to use their own experiences, limited language they have learnt and appropriate learning strategies to deal with the English language in particular situations together in pair and group work activities. They are encouraged to keep speaking English with their classmates and teachers as much as they can without caring much about making mistakes when speaking. Authentic materials such as video clips or articles from the internet or newspapers, or any sourses relating to the topics of the lessons can be taken into the classroom to link the language they learn in the cousre book and those in real life. Although English is used by teachers and students most of the time in class, most of the students, especially more advanced and senior ones, generally appear to be successful and get progressed in their learning in terms of using the language communicatively, fluently and confidently. With regard to applying CLT in teaching English speaking effectively in these kinds of classrooms, we proudly claim that both the teachers and students in PVMTC have worked increadibly hard to make it success.

We, however, confess our less successful outcome when applying CLT to most of the classes for regular students who are young adults at college and are being trained as workers to work for PetroVietnam’s subsidiaries. Most of them have been studying English for at least three years at high school but their English proficiency level is still beginner only. They are required to pass an English reading and writing test after finishing 90 hours of learning English in the first semester. Then they are offered a free optional 200 hour course of English to get the A level certificate as the education policy of PetroVietnam. The impacts of the different learning context on English teaching and learning are obvious in this situation. Therefore, as motivated language teachers, we have been doing our best to adapt the most appropriate teaching methods we have known to teach our students to get them improved and to these classrooms, an adapted combination of Audio Lingual Method and CLT has appeared to be the most appropriate.

To a large extent, CLT has enjoyed the popularity in PVMTC for proving itself a more effective method in teaching and learning English speaking skills in PVMTC context in this stage.


In conclusion, language teaching profession has undergone great changes. Teaching approaches and methods ranging from Grammar Translation to Task-based were born in different stages in teachers, linguists’ tireless attempts to improve quality of teaching and learning languages. The later coming into the world does not completely exclude of the previous ones but it maintains the quintessence and condemns the drawbacks of them and contributes innovation to the field ensuring its appropriateness for teaching and learning contexts in a particular period. A number of studies have been done for centeries on teaching approaches and methods reflecting increasingly concerns about speaking skills and the recognition of the importance of the the skills in teaching, learning and using the target language.

Improving the quality of teaching and learning English are the main chalenges facing Vietnam educators and government beacause it has been considered part of its social, economic and political development strategies. The first step as access to expected success has been made. In Vietnam, CLT has just really been popularized and used in English classrooms to ameliorate learners’ English competence. A lot of objective and subjective factors impacting on the effectiveness of this communicative method are still existing in Vietnam education system. So CLT will be the most appropriate one to use in the next years in Vietnamese teaching and learning context before trying to exploit the later ones.

PVMTC have become aware of the neccessary of choosing and applying CLT in teaching English to acheive the proposed objective of any English courses to satisfy our students’ need, to prepare them for their future jobs by getting students involved in using English communicatively effectively, And as I mentioned early, we have enjoyed remarkable success but sometimes our teaching ends in falures. In spite of those, I believe that no teaching methos or approaches are perfect to all types of learners and that depending on object of the courses, as asthusiastic language teachers and if we are creative enough in teaching art, we will know how to adapt the methods we have known for use in each of our particular teaching and learning contexts and we will be successful in preparing our students with communicative competence.


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