The field of language teaching is always on the move. Every decade or so there is an innovative way to approach language teaching. For a recap of the language teaching methodologies that have surfaced over the past century take a look at this post. Over the past decade many foreign language teachers have embraced communicative language teaching, which focuses on authentic communication over language forms such as grammar structures.
To be clear, a certain level of accuracy of language is needed to convey a message that is comprehensible. The difference from methodologies of the past is that previous approaches to language teaching focused almost solely on accuracy of language. These days we see the value in focusing on the message, even when that means looking past some errors when the learner has not yet acquired the language structure. ACTFL has compiled a significant amount of research to support the the effectiveness of communicative language teaching.
There has been a significant shift in mindset along with the arrival of communicative language teaching. Previous methodologies focused on what learners did wrong rather than on their progress. The goal was complete accuracy in the past along with the belief that a speaker would not be understood if the language was not completely correct. We now accept that communication can happen despite occasional inaccuracy. This is the base of the difference in mindset, or underlying tenets that support the approaches.
Here are four areas of this mindset shift that distinguish current communicative approaches from accuracy-centered approach of the past.
Objectives and Content:
- Past: The teacher was the all-knowing possessor of knowledge and directed all content and objectives to ensure progress toward correct language.
- Present: The teacher works in collaboration with students and there are shared learning objectives. Content is driven by both the teacher and the student.
- Past: Typically communication was focused on the four traditional language skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking. This usually meant that these skills were practiced in isolation and were not interconnected.
- Present: The three modes of communication (presentational, interpretive, interpersonal) are now the focus. They provide students with opportunities to do something with the four skills.
- Past: The focus was on what students knew about the language and its structures. Practice of correct grammatical forms of the language were typically done in isolation and out of context.
- Present: The focus is on what the learner is able to do or accomplish with the language. This is always tied to context and students communicate authentically with the language despite occasional inaccuracy in language when the message is clear.
- Past: Assessments determined the level of language accuracy and the teacher could easily and quickly point out what was incorrect, such as verb forms, noun gender, adjective agreement, etc.
- Present: Assessments are performance-based. Teachers use tools and strategies such as backwards design and Can-Do statements to guide students toward communication.
Where are you regarding your teaching mindset? If you want to embrace communicative language teaching, take a look at the “present” mindset statements and see where you are. It can take some time and a solid approach is always evolving. It doesn’t have to happen this week. Download this PDF with some questions to help keep your lesson planning in the “present.”