Grade: all
Subject: Language


Language, level: all
Posted Wed Sep 5 03:49:28 PDT 2007 by William Peters (
Suwon Foreign Language High School, Korea
Materials Required: none


The communicative approach focuses on language as a medium of communication. Recognizes that all communication has a social purpose - learner has something to say or find out.

The communicative approach to language teaching became so popular because it makes a lot of sense to educators. In the communicative approach, participants use the language to accomplish some function, such as instructing, inviting or requesting. The teacher sets up a situation that students are likely to encounter in real life. Speakers choose a particular way to communicate depending on the relationship.


The following exercise is taken from a 1987 workshop on communicative foreign language teaching, given for Delaware language teachers by Karen Willetts and Lynn Thompson of the Center for Applied Linguistics. The exercise, called "Eavesdropping," is aimed at advanced students.

"Instructions to students" Listen to a conversation somewhere in a public place and be prepared to answer, in the target language, some general questions about what was said.

1. Who was talking?
2. About how old were they?
3. Where were they when you eavesdropped?
4. What were they talking about?
5. What did they say?
6. Did they become aware that you were listening to them?

The exercise puts students in a real-world listening situation where they must report information overheard. Most likely they have an opinion of the topic, and a class discussion could follow, in the target language, about their experiences and viewpoints. The approach seeks to personalize and localize language and adapt it to interests of pupils. Meaningful language is always more easily retained by learners.

Even the most trifling dialogue can be transformed to a communicative. If the dialogue starts

A: - How are you?
B: - And you?

boring, and predictable. This dialogue is not informative, and similar to those which the students must learn by heart in terms of a prepared situation recipe. By contrast, the dialogue below is unpredictable, interesting and informative:

A: - How are you?
B: - Is it true, that you ... or
A: -I heard that you found 100,000 dollars in a bad outside your home.
B: - Tell me, what are you going to do with it?

The answer is unexpected and related to the questions only associatively. During a language lesson, such dialogues can reflect spontaneous situations.

Teachers in communicative classrooms will find themselves talking less and listening more--becoming active facilitators of their students' learning. The teacher sets up the exercise, but because the students' performance is the goal, the teacher must step back and observe.