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THE COMMUNICATIVE – STYLE TEACHING

Ionela Tatiana RACOLȚA - Școala cu clasele I – VIII „Rudolf Walther”, Timișoara

As teachers in general, and English teachers in particular, it is essential for us to ask

ourselves a certain question whenever we enter a classroom: “What should my students really be

able to do at the end of this class/semester/school year?” For it is extremely easy to get lost in all

those grammar rules and explanations in all the repetitive drills and translation exercises. What we

need to bear in mind is the fact that the ultimate goal of the educational process we are leading is to

have our students prepared for real-life situations.

Just like in any field of activity, in English teaching methodology the way of doing things

has greatly evolved over the past decades. If until several years ago, the grammar and translation

(also known as the grammar – translation method) exercises we mentioned before were considered

the favourite and most efficient activities of learning and practising among Romanian English

teachers, the modern literature comes forward, suggesting a new approach: the communicative

language teaching.

In Romania, the communicative approach seems to gradually take roots (if not put in

practice, at least acknowledged), but it is still necessary to clarify its underlying principles, to

emphasize its importance and illustrate it in practice.

Firstly, the communicative – style teaching relies on authentic use of language in classroom

exchanges. Thus, it makes use of real-life situations, in which students engage, motivated by their

desire to communicate in efficient and meaningful ways. Interaction becomes the key to good

classroom practice, both as means and as the ultimate goal of learning English. In this respect,

Berns explains that “language is interaction; it is interpersonal activity and has a clear relationship

with society. In this light, language study has to look at the use (function) of language in context,

both its linguistic context (what is uttered before and after a given piece of discourse) and its social,

or situational context (who is speaking, what their social roles are, why they have come together to

speak)” (Berns: 1984, 5).

The communicative approach plays such an important part in the educational process due to

the fact that it does not merely involve learning a language for the sake of passing exams; it rather

makes use of language for true communication. It is the student who is in the centre of the

classroom activities, and no longer the teacher. Thus, the role of the teacher shifts from that of

controller to that of facilitator and monitor. In communicative activities, the emphasis is on

meaning, rather than form. In other words, the focus is on students’ fluency and efficiency in

getting the message across, while the accuracy of language ranks second. The teacher sets up

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activities similar to real-life situations, and in order to motivate the students and determine them to

engage in exchanges, s/he makes use of topics with which they are already familiar and directly

interests them. The resources that are employed are authentic (newspaper and magazine articles,

recipes, poems, news bulletins, videos), exploited in various ways, and related to the students’ own

lives and interests so as to provoke practical communicative language. The use of songs, games and

flashcards is also meant to stimulate the students’ active participation. Moreover, language is not

used in monotonous, repetitive ways, but in natural, meaningful contexts.

From this perspective, students learn how to be spontaneous and improvise, they are

prepared to cope with unforeseen situations that may occur in real life, when they are no longer

students, but speakers. In order to achieve this goal, students need practice, they need to learn how

to use language in a flexible and intuitive way. This is another reason why communicative – style

teaching is of paramount importance in the educational process.

During the communicative activities, mistakes are seen as a natural part of learning the

language and the feedback and correction stage is usually performed at the end of tasks, rather than

at the point of error, so as not to interrupt the students’ flow of ideas and discourage them. One

aspect that needs to be highlighted at this point is represented by the fact that communicative

activities involve two different kinds of feedback. “Context feedback” (Harmer: 1991, 237) concern

an assessment of how well the students have performed the task, whereas “form feedback”

(Harmer: 1991, 238) focuses on telling the students how well they have performed linguistically,

how accurate they have been. Teachers are recommended to offer their feedback in a discreet

manner, encouraging their students to learn from their own mistakes.

In order to shed a more practical light on the features of the communication approach we

mentioned, we need to think of clear examples of communicative activities. First of all, these should

be based on a realistic and relevant situation and should involve a large spectrum of communicative

functions, such as socialising, apologizing, telephoning, giving and asking for directions,

complaining, expressing likes and dislikes, job interviews, etc. These could take the form of role-

plays, simulations, reaching a consensus, projects, debates, discussions, surveys, etc., that is

activities that are characterised by spontaneity, creativity and improvisation, and which are likely to

require multiple turn taking.

However, there are a few steps that need to be followed when creating such an activity. At

first, we need to think of a realistic situation in which the language structures we have taught might

be employed and picture a setting, with concrete participants, a clear purpose of their conversation,

etc. Secondly, we should bear in mind that making the task interesting is a leading factor to getting

our students involved. Thirdly, we should think if the task we imagined requires preparation time or

not, and for which type of student groupings it is appropriate (pairs, smaller or larger groups). Once

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we have followed these steps, we should make sure students know and understand all the details

concerning the task (who their characters are, where they are, what they are supposed to do and why

they are talking). If necessary, we should allow our students some preparation time and we should

monitor their activity. During the performance of the students, we should not interrupt the students

in order to correct their mistakes, but we have to make sure that at the end of the activity we involve

our students in the self-correction of errors so as to make them aware of the problematic issues they

have encountered, help them learn from their mistakes and avoid, as much as possible, repeating

them.

Here are a few examples of real-life situations that can constitute the object of

communicative activities during our class work:

1) Oral activities:

A. Role-plays:

Imagine you are at a restaurant with a good friend of yours. You heard from some

friends that the restaurant was really nice, but when you got there, you encountered

serious problems: you couldn’t find a parking space, you got a table in the

“smoking” section although you specifically mentioned you were not a smoker, the

waiter was late in taking and bringing your order and finally the bill was higher than

you calculated based on the menu. So, you asked to talk to the manager, in the

presence of the waiter. Act out the scene.

Imagine you were invited at the cinema by your boyfriend/girlfriend, but when you

get there, you cannot decide which movie you want to watch: “Charlie and the

Chocolate Factory” or “Schindler’s list”. You usually enjoy childish, light movies

that make you feel optimistic, but your friend tends to be in favour of reality-based,

serious movies. Act out the conversation and decide which movie to watch.

Imagine you want to pay a visit to a good friend who recently moved to a different

city. You take the train and arrive in that city, but you don’t know how to get to your

friend’s house. You could call him, but you don’t want to ruin the surprise.

Fortunately, you know his exact address and you get across an extremely nice local

man who offers to help you and gives you the directions. Act out the conversation.

B. Discussions:

Think of as many consequences of drinking alcohol as possible.

Talk about the main advantages and disadvantages of using the Internet for solving

school tasks.

Think of as many summer holiday activities as possible.

C. Reaching a consensus:

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You are going in Paris for the weekend (it’s July), but you are not allowed to take

much luggage with you. Decide on ten objects you should take with you.

You saw an older colleague of yours stealing money from another student in your

school. Decide what you should do: a) report the incident to the headmaster; b)

ignore the incident; c) talk to the “thief” in private and try to solve the situation on

your own.

D. Debates:

Smoking should be strictly banned from all public places. Give arguments for and

against.

All schools should impose uniforms for their students. Give your pros and cons.

Violent movies should be forbidden on all TV channels. Give your pros and cons.

2) Written activities:

Design an advertisement for a new brand of make-up/cars.

Design a news broadcast about a serious accident that occurred in your town.

In groups, take turns writing only one sentence in order to make up a story starting from the

following line: “Once upon a time there was a poor girl who lived with her sick mother in an

old, shabby house.”

Choose a colleague in your class to be your penfriend. Exchange letters in which you advise

each other, get to know one another better, etc.

Of course, the list of communicative activities1 could go on, but this is not the purpose of the

present paper.

In conclusion, this paper does not militate in favour of the idea that the communicative-style

teaching is the sole and only method of English teaching, but it surely shouldn’t be ignored on the

path of our educational process, as we need to give our students the opportunity to practice real

speech acts and to learn how to be confident speakers. Only in this way will they be prepared to go

to a foreign country and cope with a variety of everyday situations.

Bibliography:

Berns, M. S., Savignon, S., Initiatives in communicative language teaching. A book of

readings, Reading, MA: Addison – Wesley.

Larsen – Freeman, D. (1986), Techniques and principles in language teaching, Oxford:

Oxford University Press.

Harmer, J. (1991), The Practice of English Language Teaching, London: Longman.

1 The examples of communicative activities presented above chiefly focus on groups of students who have an intermediate up to advanced level of English. However, communicative activities can be easily created also for beginner, elementary or lower-intermediate English users.