Communicative Language Teaching the Best Methodology to Prepare Students for the Cambridge First Certificate Exam?
Based on its emphasis on authenticity and relevancy to students' lives, it has been argued that the communicative language teaching approach may represent the best methodology to prepare students to take the Cambridge English: First for Schools (also known as First Certificate in English or FCE for Schools), which demonstrates student progress in second language acquisition for work and/or study applications. To determine if the FCE is in fact the best alternative approach for this purpose, this paper reviews the literature to provide a detailed outline of the communicative language teaching approach, a description of the Cambridge FCE, an analysis of what the FCE exam appears to be assessing and how, followed by an analysis concerning the degree to which communicative language teaching is an appropriate methodology for the FCE exam preparation class. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
Detailed outline of the communicative language teaching methodology
Communicative language teaching (CLT) is an approach to teaching world languages that is based on a theory of intercultural communicative competence in which second-language learners are encouraged to actively participate in communication with one another by their teacher in various settings (Burke 2007). According to Byram (2000), "Communicative language teaching refers to both processes and goals in classroom learning. A central theoretical concept in communicative language teaching is communicative competence, a term introduced into discussions of language use and second/foreign language learning in the early 1970s" (p. 124). The CLT methodology is drawn from five major theoretical sources as follows:
1. Anthropology with its concern for social contexts and the 'speech events' taking place in them;
2. Sociolinguistics with its observation of the patterns of adjustment individuals make in changing from one situation to another and its demonstration that linguistic rules should be understood as probabilities rather than absolute ones;
3. Social psychology for its mapping of affective judgments made between in- and out-groups and the way individuals converge or diverge from linguistic forms and the motivation they have for doing so;
4. The concern in philosophy for speech acts, intentions and interpretations, and the notion of the 'cooperative principle' in linguistic interactions; and,
5. Ethnomethodology, which addresses the rules governing micro-interactions, the conventions followed in social activity (Grenfell & Harris 1999, p. 37).
All of the foregoing theoretical sources contribute different perspectives concerning the social aspects of communication, with language playing a central role in all of them. For instance, Grenfell and Harris report that, "It was from the social sciences and a broad view of human discourse that the early advocates of communicative language teaching (CLT) took their inspiration" (1999, p. 37).
The emergence of the CLT approach to teaching foreign languages has been in response, in part, to recent trends that have placed greater emphasis on adopting a broader perspective of language that includes its grammatical mechanics, but the capability of employing a foreign language in various settings as well (Ruiz-Funes 2002). In this regard, Ruiz-Funes reports that, "The recent emphasis on communication in language teaching is expressed in attempts to develop students' socio linguistic and discourse competencies in addition to their grammatical competence. In short, the conception of what it means to be proficient in a language has expanded significantly" (2002, p. 14). This shift in the conception of the definition of foreign language proficiency has been based on concomitant changes in the world language education that have stressed the need to make learning relevant and authentic for L2 learners. For example, Ruiz-Funes notes that proponents of the CLT approach believe it is more "likely to produce foreign language learning and teaching that will better serve educational needs now and at the beginning of the 21st century than did the older emphases on structure, translation, and literature" (2002, p. 14).
This shift, though, has not been met with universal acceptance by L2 educators who cite CLT's lack of a language theory foundation and young learners' personal goals and intentions for their foreign language acquisition that may not be reflected in the CLT model (Grenfell & Harris 1999). In this regard, Tedick reports that, "In the last two decades, the movement toward a communication-oriented approach or communicative language teaching (CLT) has been a remarkable phenomenon in the contexts of both English as a second language (ESL) and English as a foreign language (EFL). However, it has been suggested that in some countries where EFL is taught, teachers find it difficult to implement communicative language teaching in their contexts" (2005, p. 113). In addition, Ruiz-Funes (2002) emphasizes that the CLT approach may require L2 teachers to change their teaching styles, a transition that may be especially challenging for novice educators. In this regard, Ruiz-Funes notes that, "It is this orchestration of teaching practices that poses the major challenge to beginning L2 teachers and interns. They often feel overwhelmed and unfortunately many of them go back to the way they were taught the foreign language, which tends to be grammar oriented" (2002, p. 14). Likewise, Byram (2000) reports that some L2 students may not prefer the CLT approach because of the extra effort that is involved. In this regard, Byram (2000) emphasizes that, "Communicative language teaching requires learners to respond and react" (p. 109).
A review of recent studies by Ruiz-Funes (2002) showed by many educators emphasized the following issues set forth in Table 1 below with respect to implementing and administering a CLT approach in the L2 classroom today:
Issues Affecting the Implementation and Administration of a Communicative Language Teaching Approach
The importance and need for language authenticity
Language authenticity is one of the most essential elements in foreign language teaching. Make language authentic in the classroom by using videos, poems, songs, movies, and so on, to help students weaken their tendency to think that "foreign languages are not real." Furthermore, language and culture cannot be separated, emphasizing the need for prospective FL teachers to study abroad in order to gain first-hand cultural experience that they can then share with their own students.
The importance and need for personalized language use
Make language personal in order to motivate the students to help them remember the language better and make it easier for the students to create with the language. To make language personal in that ways that students will remember it better; teachers should use personalized questions. Other salient guidance includes staying involved with school life in order to know what is happening to the students in school. By knowing students better, personalization becomes easier. This may require some effort and will involve asking students questions, becoming part of the school, getting actively involved and making sure students know that educators care about them. If specific students are struggling, find out what interests them and then provide them with some interesting hands-on activities that are tailored to their interests.
The role of accuracy and error correction
It is important to combine accuracy with communication and language creation. Students should always be encouraged to communicate in the target language without embarrassing them if they make a mistake. They all were in favor of indirect ways of correcting errors. Further, they stressed the need for FL teachers to use the target language in class as a preventive measure to avoid students' mistakes.
The importance of lowering the affective filter
Make students feel at ease while maintaining a good disciplined environment. This can be achieved by being attentive to the students' academic needs and showing a genuine interest in their success.
Source: Adapted from Ruiz-Funes 2002, p. 14
Assuming the decision has been made to implement communicative language teaching into classroom lessons, teachers can use a wide range of communicative activities to engage students' interests in second language acquisition (Burke 2007). According to this CLT proponent, "Focus on communication in the world language during classroom lessons can have a positive impact on student learning with visible improvement in classroom community, language production, student motivation, and student-to-student interaction" (Burke 2007, p. 442). As with other L2 educational models, the proficiency-based aspects of CLT require documentation of student progress in language acquisition as well as a classroom environment that emphasizes student-teacher collaboration (Burke 2007). For these documentation and collaborative purposes, Burke recommends that:
1. Student work in its best form should be posted in world language classrooms and in school hallways. Students value seeing progress with their classmates and school friends.
2. Portfolios (paper and/or electronic) document student progress in the world language throughout the semester, year, and beyond.
3. Student-centered learning inherently creates a positive community of learners. Student motivation increases and the will to learn the world language progresses.
4. Students should be rewarded when they show camaraderie within the classroom. Instead of allowing them free time when they might revert to English, encourage students to play board games while still using the world language (Burke 2007, p. 443).