Why CLT is the dominant TESOL path

Man running on well-trodden beach path

So you’ve finished the CELTA: congratulations! You now know a few dozen ways of putting students in groups and getting them talking, but do you know why this is so important?

The CELTA and courses like it train new TESOL practitioners in the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach. Framed by some as a newer methodology, it’s actually been around for decades, long ago replacing less interactive methods such as Audiolingualism and Grammar-Translation.

CLT has been hailed as more engaging than its predecessors, but all of that talking isn’t just for fun. Second-language acquisition (SLA) research shows that this interactive teaching approach is actually a powerful catalyst for language development.

A proper SLA primer will fill you in on the many complex details, but here’s the quick and dirty. At the heart of SLA are some crucial core operations. To learn any language, learners must:

  • Encounter comprehensible input–understandable components of the target language that the learner is exposed to through texts, speech, signs, etc. (Krashen, 1982).
  • Notice features of language–syntax patterns, etc–in the input they’re exposed to (Schmidt, 1990).
  • Produce output in the form of speech and/or writing and get feedback (like a facial expression or correction) that helps them notice the gap between what they intended and what their interlocutor understood (Swain, 1995).

Tying this all together is the heart of CLT: interaction between language learners. When students negotiate for meaning–rephrasing their utterances to try to understand each other–they produce output, notice language AND through this process render input comprehensible (Long, 1996). This helps students develop the communicative competence to use English effectively–one of the chief goals of the CLT approach.

Go deeper:

There’s much more to know about SLA. Here are some good places to start:

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Discussed in this post:

Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.

Schmidt, R. (1990). The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 11, 129-158.

Swain, M. and Lapkin, S. (1995). “Problems in Output and the Cognitive Processes They Generate: A Step Towards Second Language Learning.” Applied Linguistics, 16:371-391