THE COMMUNICATIVE APPROACH REVISITED

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1 Antalya International University 1 st ELT Seminar THE COMMUNICATIVE APPROACH REVISITED Penny Ur

2 1. The communicative contrasted with traditional Some preliminary definitions 2

3 An approach A theoretical construct, which will underly any practical methodology In the case of English language teaching: Based on assumptions as to the nature of language and the second-language acquisition process 3

4 A language-teaching method A coherent set of teaching procedures and behaviors based on a given approach 4

5 Traditional approach(es) Based on the assumptions that: Language is composed of a set of sounds, (visual symbols), lexical items and grammatical constructs that need to be mastered. If you are informed about these and practice them, you will master the language. 5

6 So: Methodologies will include: Explicit information about grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and spelling Exercises that require learners to construct acceptable sentences based on these. Intensive study of texts milked for language to be learnt Practice in reading, writing, listening, speaking (emphasis on accuracy) 6

7 The communicative approach Language is a means of communication. If you master how to communicate using the target language components, you will master the language. Naturalistic language learning processes are the basis of second language learning, as they are the basis of the first. 7

8 So: Communicative methodologies will include: authentic communication tasks; group discussions; purposeful writing; listening comprehension; extensive reading. 8

9 And will eliminate or de-emphasize Grammar explanations Deliberate vocabulary teaching Exercises and drills Error correction 9

10 Communicative Approach buzz-words activity real, authentic tasks negotiation facilitation reading / listening strategies information gap collaboration natural

11 2. The communicative and traditional approaches today: What s going on? An unresolved dissonance 11

12 A swing towards communicative Until the late 1970s the traditional approach predominated, both in practice and in the literature. From then on, the communicative approach has been promoted in the literature as a better basis for an effective methodology. To the present day.

13 Today The literature, and most speakers in conferences, promote the communicative approach and an associated task-based methodology. 13

14 BUT The traditional approach, and associated methodology, predominates in most classrooms worldwide And in most published course materials. 14

15 The result: An unresolved dissonance Teachers are doing one thing while being urged to do something else. Why? 15

16 The academics say... Teachers are uninformed, not up to date, using old-fashioned methods because that is the way they were taught. (Skehan, 1997: 94) 16

17 The teachers say Academics are not in touch with classroom realities. Task-based (communicative) methods don t work in the school classroom. (personal communications) 17

18 Who is right? And how can we find out? 18

19 Communicative versus traditional Evidence from the research 19

20 WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY? There is no empirical evidence that indicates that either the communicative or the traditional approach produces more effective learning overall.

21 There is, however......specific evidence about the effectiveness of selected teaching/learning procedures. For example... 21

22 1. Explicit grammar teaching Explicit teaching of grammar on the whole gets better results than implicit. Norris & Ortega (2001)

23 2. Explicit vocabulary teaching Some focused vocabulary teaching is necessary in order to achieve target-like levels of proficiency Zahar et al. (2001); Schmitt & Sonbul (2010)

24 3. Error-correction Explicit error-correction contributes to both accuracy and fluency. Ellis et al. (2006)

25 4. Immersion programs Immersion programs do not seem to produce target-like proficiency. They need to be supplemented by explicit instruction. Swain (2000)

26 5. Communicative tasks The introduction of a communicative approach in some Asian cultures does not seem to work. Hu (2002)

27 6. Meaningful practice Accuracy-focused practice exercises are more effective if they are also meaningful. Kanda & Beglar (2004).

28 So to summarize so far: Today, most ELT theorists support the communicative approach in principle and recommend implementing this in taskbased instruction (e.g. Ogilvie & Dunn, 2010). But it is now generally accepted that there is also a place for explicit instruction with regard to grammar, vocabulary etc.

29 The communicative approach revisited: Proposal 1 An essentially communicative approach, with added traditional components 29

30 1. Consciousness-raising A basically communicative (task-based) methodology, but Occasional focus on grammatical rules to raise awareness Exercises to clarify understanding of the rule Ellis (2001)

31 2. Focus on form A basically communicative (task-based) methodology. Occasional time out for focus on form. Long & Robinson (1998)

32 Integrated and isolated focus on form It is suggested that this can also include isolated focus on form, as well as focus on form integrated into a communicative task Spada & Lightbown (2008)... and grammar exercises Shak & Gardner (2008) 32

33 These are all based on the communicative approach, and there is a general consensus in the literature that the communicative task should be the basis of lessons I m not so sure

34 The communicative approach revisited: Proposal 2 A post-communicative approach? Effective language pedagogy as the primary goal. 34

35 1. Mistaken assumptions There are three mistaken assumptions underlying the conventional communicative approach: 35

36 First: Teaching language FOR communication means that you should teach language AS communication.

37 First: Teaching language FOR communication means that you should teach language AS communication. Widdowson (1990) Classroom learning should be investment, not rehearsal (Widdowson, 1986)

38 Second: One size fits all The communicative approach should be appropriate in any teaching situation 38

39 Second: One size fits all The communicative approach should be appropriate in any teaching situation Different situations may need different approaches and methodologies in order to achieve optimal learning outcomes. 39

40 Third The foundation of a successful languageteaching methodology is an understanding of language and how languages are learned. 40

41 Third The foundation of a successful teaching methodology is an understanding of language and how languages are learned. An understanding of language and language acquisition is only one factor in a successful methodology. Others have to do with pedagogical factors: motivation, classroom management, lesson planning, coping with upcoming exams... 41

42 Increasing criticism of communication-based methodologies Dekeyser (2007): Skill-based language learning Swan (2005): The limitations of task-based instruction Waters (2015): Communicating to learn, or learning to communicate? Ur (2013): The concept of method 42

43 What is the alternative? An approach that states frankly as its goal: Effective language learning... and that includes both noncommunicative and communicative procedures that lead to good learning. 43

44 So: A language pedagogy that is principled and localized, determined by the teacher(s), informed by reflection on experience and other professional knowledge sources 44

45 A language pedagogy that is principled and localized, determined by the teacher(s), informed by reflection on experience and other professional knowledge sources A pedagogy, not a method or approach because: 1. It may involve an unlimited variety of possible classroom procedures 2. It takes into account pedagogical aspects, such as student motivation, the local culture, student expectations, classroom management, large and/or heterogeneous classes, classroom climate, available resources... 45

46 A language pedagogy that is principled and localized, determined by the teacher(s), informed by reflection on experience and other professional knowledge sources The main principle is good learning. The teacher will choose those procedures that in his/her view lead to the best learning by students. Other principles: educational values; the creation of a positive classroom climate and student motivation... 46

47 A language pedagogy that is principled and localized, determined by the teacher(s), informed by reflection on experience and other professional knowledge sources Many decisions on principles and procedures will be based on local considerations: the local student population: expectations, norms, culture of learning; the teacher s own personality, strengths, weaknesses, preferences; the goals of the course; the local culture; upcoming exams 47

48 A language pedagogy that is principled and localized, determined by the teacher(s), informed by reflection on experience and other professional knowledge sources The teacher, or group of teachers in a school, decide on their pedagogy and choose material. Based on the teacher s sense of plausibility (Prabhu, 1990) 48

49 A language pedagogy that is principled and localized, determined by the teacher(s), informed by reflection on experience and other professional knowledge sources The primary source of the teacher s professional expertise is reflection on experience. Other sources include: Training courses Sharing with colleagues Feedback from students The professional literature (research, theory, teachers websites, books on language pedagogy, practical handbooks) Courses, conferences 49

50 Anything goes? Potentially any teaching procedure may be part of an individual teacher s pedagogy Provided he/she can justify it, based on the principles and considerations listed previously. 50

51 The functions of the teacher trainer Not to tell the teacher to use the communicative approach But to provide: 1. Evidence-based information about how languages are learnt and taught 2. A range of practical teaching ideas 3. Opportunities to experience, reflect and discuss 4. Localized or personal recommendations 51

52 Examples from my own pedagogy 52

53 My own teaching includes 1. Communicative discussion tasks 2. Grammar exercises 3. Use of L1 to teach new vocabulary 4. Game-like activities 53

54 Communicative discussion tasks 1. How many (non-obvious) things can you find in common with your partner, that you didn t know before? 2. In your groups, make a list of at least ten characteristics of a good teacher. Decide together how you would classify these characteristics into three categories: essential, desirable, optional. 3. Tell a story; each student in turn adds a sentence. 54

55 Because They help students learn to be fluent speakers Give them opportunities to practise language they know Are interesting and fun Help to strengthen group relationships 55

56 Grammar exercises Modals and semi-modals: insert the appropriate forms. 1. I m sorry, but I must leave early (have to). 2. When I was young, I played with dolls (used to). 3. We should try to stay calm (ought to). 4. Teachers must prepare lessons. (have to). 5. Teenagers should be in bed by 11 o clock (be supposed to). 6. After he left, we could speak more easily (be able to). 56

57 Grammar exercises Modals and semi-modals: insert the appropriate forms. 1. I m sorry, but I must (have to). 2. When I was young, I (used to). 3. We should (ought to). 4. Teachers must (have to). 5. Teenagers should (be supposed to). 6. After he left, we could (be able to). 57

58 Because They improve grammatical accuracy They give students opportunities to use the grammar in different mini-contexts (the more meaningful and interesting the better) 58

59 L1 for presenting new items to a class a man go a thing an apple a computer only think very young big 59

60 Because It is the easiest, quickest and often most accurate way of clarifying vocabulary meanings. It reflects students intuitive strategies It saves time for use of the item in English contexts It acknowledges and respects the students L1 There is research support for the use of L1 in vocabulary teaching (Laufer, 2008) 60

61 Game-like procedures Procedures that are similar to games, but lead to learning (What is a game anyway?) Guessing games (question forms) Brainstorming games Story-based games 61

62 Because Game-like activities are fun and motivating Increase attention and participation They contribute to a positive classroom climate They prevent discipline problems They encourage playful use of language (Bell, 2012) 62

63 To summarize The communicative approach was a useful antidote to overly grammar-focused and boring traditional approaches. But the time has come to rethink whether or not it is in fact the most effective basis for successful language teaching in different contexts. 63

64 The methods a teacher uses should not be based on the question Is this communicative? But rather on the question: Is this how my students will learn the language best? 64

65 Isn t this what is happening anyway? To some extent. But there is an underlying uneasiness due to: Dissonance between the officially approved method and the reality of the classroom. 65

66 This dissonance should be faced and resolved by releasing teachers from the pressure to teach communicatively ; increasing their awareness of current issues and research evidence through pre- and inservice teacher development courses; and sanctioning their right to teach the way they believe is best for their students learning. 66

67 References Bell, N. (2012). Comparing playful and nonplayful incidental attention to form. Language Learning, 62(1), Dekeyser, R. M. (2007). Introduction: Situating the concept of practice. In R. M. Dekeyser (Ed.), Practice in a second language: Perspectives from applied linguistics and cognitive psychology (pp.1-18). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ellis, R. (2001). Grammar teaching - Practice or consciousness-raising? In Richards, J. C. & Renandya, W. A. (Eds.), Methodology in Language Teaching (pp ). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hu, G. (2002). Potential cultural resistance to pedagogical imports: The case of communicative language teaching in China. Language Culture and Curriculum, 15(2), Laufer, B., & Girsai, N.. (2008). Form-focused instruction in second language vocabulary learning: A case for contrastive analysis and translation. Applied Linguistics, 27(4), Long, M. H. & Robinson, P. (1998). Focus on form: Theory, research and practice. In Doughty, C. & Williams, J. (Eds.), Focus on form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition (pp.15-41). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ogilvie, G., & Dunn, W. (2010). Taking teacher education to task: Exploring the role of teacher education in promoting the utilization of task-based language teaching. Language Teaching Research, 14(2),

68 References (cont.) Prabhu N. S. (1990). There is no best method - why? TESOL Quarterly, 24(2), Shak, J., & Gardner, S. (2008). Young learner perspectives on four focus-on-form tasks. Language Teaching Research, 12(3), Skehan, P. (1997). A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Spada, N., & Lightbown, P. M. (2008). Form-focused instruction: Isolated or integrated? TESOL Quarterly,, Swain, M. (2000). French immersion research in Canada: recent contributions to SLA and applied linguistics. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 20, Swan, M. (2005). Legislation by hypothesis: the case of task-based instruction. Applied Linguistics, 26(3), Valeo, A., & Spada, N. (forthcoming). Is there a better time to focus on form? Teacher and learner views. TESOL Quarterly. Ur, P. (forthcoming) Presentation, practice, production. In TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching. Wiley-Blackwell. Waters, A. (2015). Cognitive architecture and the learning of language knowledge. System, 53, Widdowson, H. G. (1986). Forty years on. ELT Journal, 40(4), Widdowson, H.G. (1990). The problems and principles of syllabus design. In Aspects of language teaching (pp ). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 68

69 Thank you for your attention!

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