By Geralde Vincent-Bancroft
Have you ever made a mistake in your native language? It can be embarrassing or even frustrating. But, when learning another language, mistakes are inevitable!
This blog post will talk about how a communicative approach to teaching languages deals with common errors and encourages students to speak without fear of making mistakes.
First, What is the communicative approach to language learning?
It is an approach that emphasizes interaction as the ultimate goal of study. That is, the focus is on using language for communication with their peers and instructors. To achieve this, learners are encouraged to use all of their senses: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. They use texts that are destined for native speakers; these are called: “authentic texts”. The use of the foreign language outside the classroom environment is highly encouraged.
Learners talk about their personal experiences as well as topics that interest them, to create meaningful conversations with peers and instructors. They are encouraged to focus on the learning experience- the journey- as well as learning the target language- the destination.
Communicative language teaching (CLT)- as the name suggests- places the goal of learning in the ability to communicate in the foreign language; in contrast to the traditional way of teaching grammar, verb tenses, and vocabulary drills.
The teacher facilitates the use of the foreign language. He/she creates the means for the practice. The teacher takes a back seat, instead of being the know-it-all instructor that vomits notions of the language in front of the classroom.
CLT’s approach is non-methodical. Books are used as a guide for the students but it is not followed systematically. The aim is to develop oral and verbal skills before reading and writing, just like children interact with their native language.
The idea behind the Dogme approach is that communication can lead to explanation, which leads to further learning. Savignon, Sandra J. (1987-09-01). “Communicative language teaching”.
2- How is a language taught when using the communicative approach?
CLT teachers choose activities based on what will help students develop communicative abilities in the target language. These activities might vary depending on the level of the students. Oral activities are always welcome because they include active conversations that will trigger unscripted answers from the students. They must express themselves in their own words or phrases, with different levels of support from the teacher.
The type of activities usually used are:
It is an activity usually done in pairs, and the main goal is to develop the students’ ability in a particular topic. The teacher sets the scene, the goal of the conversation, and the conversation happens.
It is usually done in pairs and the goal is to develop the students’ interpersonal skills in the target language. The teacher gives a set of questions to be asked, and the students take turns asking each other. This activity is mainly done at lower proficiency levels as the teacher can keep a close eye on what is happening as it is a more structured exercise. Higher levels should be encouraged to have more spontaneous conversations to mimic real-life interactions.
- Group work
This is to promote a collaborative interaction in the target language between more students. Each student is given a specific role within the group, each member of the group takes a designated time to work on the task and at the end, the group discusses the information found with each other and puts it together before submitting it to the rest of the class.
- Opinion sharing
This is a content-based activity, whose purpose is to gauge learners’ conversational skills while talking about a topic they care about. The teacher introduces a topic and asks the students to consider their opinions about it. Then they debate in pairs or in small groups. With one-on-one classes, the teacher adopts the other side of the debating spectrum.
These are just a few of the techniques used, but they will give you a good picture of what happens in the CLT classroom.
How to correct mistakes using the communicative approach
Now, how does this work to deal with mistakes?
The communicative approach is concerned with students using the target language for communication. This means that learners are encouraged to speak without fear of making mistakes. By making mistakes, learners not only learn vocabulary and grammar more efficiently but also quickly gain confidence by growing their language skills without fear of judgment or ridicule. And if students don’t feel judged in class, then there is a much higher chance that they will speak.
There are two approaches To mistakes:
A- No correction.
In this case, it is best to focus on what was done right and encourage students to do more work in similar situations so as not to make mistakes again. In this way, you will be avoiding putting them under pressure or making them feel bad for having made mistakes.
B- Correction, but only if the mistake is consistently repeated.
Here, correction is done to ensure that learners have a better grasp of the reason the mistake is made to avoid making it again in future tasks. It also helps students understand what was wrong with their answer or piece of work so it does not happen again.
It is recommended that students keep a record, and any notebook will do. They just have to divide the sheet into three columns, one writing down the sentence where the mistake is made. In column two, they should write the corrected sentence, and in column three any observation that might prevent repeating the same wrong syntax.
This approach works well because it avoids putting pressure on students and making them feel bad about taking part in the lesson.
It also helps them focus on the task at hand, and not on their mistakes.
Remember that when using this approach, it is important to give students time to make mistakes so they can learn from them. The communicative approach is all about communication and helping students use the target language for real-world interactions.
Students’ correction of mistakes
The last way used in CLT classes involves allowing learners to correct each other. In this type of activity, the teacher will divide students into pairs or small groups and they will carry out a task together related to what has been taught previously in class. They must speak as much as possible using their target language while carrying out their activities. If there is time, in the end, one student from each group explains how they completed the task. This is a great way for students to get used to giving and receiving feedback in a safe environment, as well as getting practice in their target language.
These are just some of the ways that corrections can be handled when using communicative methods in the classroom. As you can see, it’s not all about speaking up and correcting mistakes whenever they happen. Sometimes, it’s about pausing an activity and giving students time to think before continuing what they were doing.
Communicative teaching is about using the target language for communication, so learners must be comfortable in their learning environment, don’t feel pressured or put down because of mistakes they make.
There are many ways to approach corrections depending on how much time you have, what the focus of the task is, and how comfortable you feel when making mistakes.
If you want to learn with the communicative approach, please enquire here.