What Is The Communicative Approach?

Today we can look to past experiences in language learning that we ourselves, our parents or grandparents or even past generations have had in learning a second language. We can recognize that there are many methods and approaches to learning a new language that have been used over the years. Some or parts of these still exist today in various forms in various places: learning by memorization or rote, learning through translation, learning by drill work, learning by analyzing grammar, listening to teacher lecture about the language and taking notes followed by some practice with either oral or written exercises among many other approaches, methods or techniques.

Students at BridgeEnglish learn English with an approach we use called the communicative approach to second language acquisition. What exactly does this mean?

Let’s begin the response with two more questions.

1) Can a non-native speaker ever realistically aim to be 100% accurate in English, in grammar, in vocabulary, speaking or listening? Probably not.

2) Can a non-native speaker develop a high level of competence in English, in spite of occasional lapses or errors? Very probably.

And this is our philosophy: that non-native speakers of English can learn English through the appropriate use of English in a variety of situations, circumstances and practices that will eventually result in competence in communication.

Some key features of the communicative approach include the following:

• The teacher is more of a guide than a lecturer; student participation is encouraged as much as possible
• The cultural context in which the language is used is important in guiding appropriate use
• The focus is on meaning rather than structure
• Mistakes are appropriately corrected
• Classroom activities are based on real-life communication; not artificial drills or language
• Classroom activities are task based where the language used has a purpose students can relate to: asking for information, making a schedule, completing a survey, etc. In that sense, students can see how English relates to their own lives and needs and therefore makes the learning more interesting.
• Spoken and written language are both recognized as important
• Student needs guided course content. Is English needed for travel, business, getting into university or something else?
• Classroom work takes the form of pair work and group exercises, student-led and teacher-led activities in a variety of formats.
• The emphasis in class work is on a variety of types of interactions where language is used and then used again in a different context until the learner develops confidence in using the new language…perhaps 1st in a recorded listening exercise, then in a reading and finally as part of written homework.
• Grammar is recognized as important but not sufficient in and of itself. Grammar is introduced as it is appropriate to support language being learned.
• Individual learning styles are recognized and classroom work is adjusted accordingly to appeal to all types of learners.

The communicative approach is thus, in one sense, a very natural way to learn a language, introduced by example and practice, not by lecture or drill. Students are encouraged to participate as much as possible with the teacher guiding class work but not dominating it and correcting errors when appropriate. We’ve been using this approach for almost 30 years and our students love what we do and how we do it! Maybe you would like to try learning English with us using a communicative approach, too.

Have you learned English by any of the methods listed above? What did you think? Let us know by commenting below!