К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2007
Автор: Новицкая Ю.В.
This paper is devoted to
traditional and communicative language learning. “Communicative”
is a word which has dominated discussions of teaching methodology for many
years. Although in a monolingual English language classroom, “real
communication” in English is impossible, in “communicative methodology”
teachers try to be “more communicative”. That is to say, even though it may be
impossible to achieve “real communication”, we should attempt to get closer to
“real communication” in our classrooms. At that, a lot depends on a textbook
the teacher chooses for a class. The book may determine the way the language is
taught, the choice of exercises for patterns drill, and, to some extent, the
Who needs a textbook?
There exist different opinions
concerning classroom textbooks. Some teachers say they don’t need them at all.
They think they know their students and their interests and needs better. And
so they prepare their own materials and handouts.
Of course, every teacher feels
the need for some individuality and freedom. We have our own personalities, and
wee all know that every class is different. Thus, the same lesson almost always
has to be taught differently to different classes. Even so, it is very difficult
for a teacher to teach systematically without textbooks.
In addition to that, most
students invariably want a textbook. They find that a folder full of classroom
handouts fails to satisfy their needs the way the textbooks can. The textbooks
offer a systematic revision of what the students have done and a guide to what
they are going to do.
All professional teachers
think that a perfect textbook does not exist.
What kinds of books are used
There are two categories of
textbooks: traditional and communicative. The traditional textbooks try to get
students to learn the language as a system. Once they have learned the system,
it is hoped that they are then equipped to use the language for their own
purposes in any way they think fit. Traditional books have all or most of these
- They tend to emphasize the
forms, or patterns, of language (the grammar) more than the communicative
functions of the language.
- They tend to focus on
reading and writing activities, rather than listening and speaking activities.
- They often make use of a
great deal of the first language.
- They emphasize the
importance of accuracy.
- They tend to focus rather
narrowly on the syllabus and examinations.
- They are often attractive to
some teachers, because they seem easy to use, and are highly
The traditional textbooks have
the great advantage that, generally speaking, a teacher can use them without
much difficulty. The main problem with traditional textbooks is the following:
students work with them, sometimes for years, and often conscientiously.
However, despite this, in the end of their studies they are still incapable of
using the language: they may know its grammar, but they cannot communicate in
Communicative textbooks try to
solve this problem by creating opportunities for the students to use the
language in the classroom. These days the word communicative has become a buzz
word: almost every book claims to be communicative. What exactly does this
mean? Communicative books vary a great deal, but very broadly they have the
- They emphasize the
communicative function of the language.
- They try to reflect
students’ needs and interests.
- They emphasize skills in
using the language, not just the forms of the language, and therefore, they are
- They usually have a good
balance among the four language skills, but may emphasize listening and
speaking more than traditional textbooks do.
- Both content and methods
reflect the authentic language of everyday life.
- They encourage work in
groups and pairs, and therefore make heavier demands on teacher’s
- They emphasize fluency, not
Communicative books usually
contain exercises of communicative type. In its purest form, a communicative
activity is an activity in which there is a desire to communicate, a
communicative purpose, a focus on language content not language forms, a
variety of language used, no teacher intervention and no control or simplification
of the material.
Let's examine each
characteristic in turn.
1. A desire to communicate. In a communicative activity
there must be a reason to communicate. When someone asks a question, the person
must wish to get some information or some other form of result. There must be
either an “information gap” or an “opinion gap” or some other reason to
Just asking questions about the contents of
the text does not stimulate students’ desire to communicate. This is a good
exercise to check upon students’ understanding of the text, but not more. The
texts and the questions should be designed so that they provoked students’
thinking and urged them to speak.
2. A communicative purpose. Ordinarily, communication has
a purpose: to convey information. Activities in the language classroom simulate
communication outside the classroom when they are structured with such a
purpose. When we ask students to describe their bedroom furniture to their
partners, we are creating an artificial “communicative purpose” and making the
activity more artificial by asking them to do it in English.
We also create artificial
“information gaps” by giving different information to pairs of students so that
they can have a reason to exchange information.
In these classroom activities,
students use the language to fill an information gap by getting answers or
expanding a partial understanding. For example, students work in pairs, and
each is given half of a map, grid, or list needed to complete a task. The pair
then talk to each other until they both have all the information.
3. A focus on language content not
language forms. In real
life, we do not ask about our friend's family in order to practice “have got”
forms. We ask the question because we are interested in the information. That
is to say, we are interested in the language content and not in the language
In order to learn a language,
instead of merely learning about it, students need as much as possible to hear
and read the language as native speakers use it. Instructors can make this
happen in two ways.
4. A variety of language is
normal communication, we do not repeatedly use the same language forms. In
fact, we usually try to avoid repetition. In many classroom activities we often
try to create situations in which students will repeatedly use a limited number
of language patterns. This is also artificial.
Teachers should always try to
use the language as naturally as possible when they are talking to students.
Slowing down may seem to make the message more comprehensible, but it also
distorts the subtle shifts in pronunciation that occur in naturally paced
It is appropriate to speak at
a normal rate, use vocabulary and sentence structures with which students are
familiar and state the same idea in different ways to aid comprehension.
The teacher should also give
students authentic reading material from newspapers, magazines, and other print
sources, review them carefully to ensure that the reading level is appropriate,
introduce relevant vocabulary and grammatical structures in advance, provide
context by describing the content and typical formats for the type of material.
brochures, packaging, and street signs contain short statements that students
at lower levels can manage. The World Wide Web is a rich resource for authentic
materials. Reading authentic materials motivates students at all levels because
it gives them the sense that they really are able to use the language.
5. No teacher intervention. When you are talking to an
airline representative on the occasion of your lost baggage, your teacher is
not usually beside you to “help” or “correct” your English. Teacher
intervention in classroom communicative activities adds to the artificiality.
At all proficiency levels, learners produce language that is not exactly the
language used by native speakers. Some of the differences are grammatical,
while others involve vocabulary selection and mistakes in the selection of
language appropriate for different contexts.
responding to student communication, teachers need to be careful not to focus
on error correction to the detriment of communication and confidence building.
Teachers need to let students know when they are making errors so that they can
work on improving. Teachers also need to build students' confidence in their
ability to use the language by focusing on the content of their communication
rather than the grammatical form.
can use error correction to support language acquisition, and avoid using it in
ways that undermine students' desire to communicate in the language, by taking
cues from context.
When students are doing
structured output activities that focus on development of new language skills,
the teacher should use error correction to guide them. For example: Student:
I buy a new car yesterday. Teacher: You bought a new car yesterday. Remember, the past tense of buy is bought.
students are engaged in communicative activities, the teacher should correct
errors only if they interfere with comprehensibility. It is appropriate to
respond using correct forms, but without stressing them. For example: Student (greeting teacher): I
buy a new car yesterday! Teacher: You bought a new car? That's exciting! What
of being the dominating authority in the classroom, the teacher facilitates the
communicative process among all the learners and between the students and the
various tasks, giving guidance and advice when necessary. Furthermore, teachers
act as independent participants within the learning-teaching group. Any
unnecessary intervention on the teacher’s part may prevent learners from
becoming genuinely involved in the activities and thus hinder the development
of their communicative skills.
However, this does not mean that once a
teaching activity is in progress, the teacher should become a passive observer.
It is still the teacher’s obligation to develop the students’ potential through
external direction. Although the teacher may be nondirective in general, it is
still the teacher’s responsibility to recognize the distinctive qualities in
the students and to help the students develop those qualities.
6. No control or simplification of the
material. In the
classroom, we often use graded or simplified materials as prompts for
communicative activities. These will not be available in the real world.
is understandable that not all classroom teaching activities have to be
real-life. Some obviously non-communicative class activities have been found to
be really useful for language learning. For instance, many students find
exercises which require them to imitate sounds and structure of the language
very helpful. Such exercises are drills – they can be useful for learning, but
they are not themselves communicative.
exercises may also be useful: dictation, grammatical explanations, and accuracy
exercises such as blank-filling and sentence completion. Very often too, such
activities may be necessary because of examination styles: many examinations
test both the students’ ability to carry out various functions in the language,
and their knowledge of the language as a system.
Communicative exercises develop students’
communicative competence, while traditional exercises develop linguistic
competence. The relation between linguistic competence and communicative
competence also is important. At the foundation stage, linguistic competence is
the spontaneous, flexible, and correct manipulation of the language system.
Communicative competence involves principles of appropriateness and a readiness
on the part of the learner to use relevant strategies in coping with certain
language situations. Linguistic competence, then, is the basis of communicative
competence. Without linguistic competence, there is no communicative
competence. But communicative competence does not automatically result from
linguistic competence. Forms of classroom activities such as role-playing,
simulations, and real-life interactions should be used to provide as much
practice as possible for students to develop communicative competence while
practicing linguistic competence.
In contemporary English teaching, the
teacher’s function should become less dominant than before, but no less
important. For example, his/her role as an independent participant within the
learning-teaching group is closely related to the objective of his/her role as
communicative activator. These roles include a set of secondary roles for the
teacher: first, as an organizer of resources and as a resource; and second, as
a guide and manager of activities. A third role for the teacher is that of
researcher and learner, with much to contribute in terms of appropriate
knowledge, abilities, and actual and observed experience in the nature of
learning (Breen and Candlin 1980).
Here we return to the idea of
importance of choosing a right book for classroom use. Considering all
mentioned above the teacher’s task is
- assessing the students’
aims, the learning styles, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and their
- deciding what methods and
materials are most appropriate, given the aims of the syllabus;
- deciding whether to use,
adapt, replace, omit or supplement the methods and materials used in the book.
Sometimes, of course, the
teachers have no choice. They have to use a book that someone else has chosen.
This is fine if the book is good. But when the teacher thinks it isn’t, then
sooner or later, he will have to answer the question: “What have you got
against it? Have you got any better ideas as to what book we should use?”
Of course, the perfect book
does not exist. But the best book available for the certain teacher and his
students certainly does. Such a book should satisfy three conditions:
- it should suit the needs,
interests and abilities of the students;
- it should suit the teacher.
(the best book in the world will not work in the classroom if the teacher has
good reasons for disliking it)
- the textbook must meet the
needs of official teaching syllabuses or examinations.
Before the teacher starts
using a book, it should be evaluated on some sensible, principled basis. This
process of evaluation is the first step towards deciding how a book should be
most profitably used in the classroom and how it should be adopted.
There are three stages in the
process of textbook evaluation: initial evaluation, detailed evaluation and
in-use evaluation. On initial evaluation the teacher needs to asses whether a
textbook is likely to be worth looking at more closely. At this stage the
teacher filters out obviously unsuitable materials. And at this stage it is
very important to avoid making judgments that are too hasty, particularly if
the textbook appears to be rather unusual in its format.
It is not easy to evaluate a
book in a short time. One of the ways to decide whether the textbook is worth
looking at more closely is to apply the “CATALYST” test (Communicative? Aims?
Teachability? Available Add-on? Level? Your impression? Student interest? Tried
and tested?). A textbook should act as a catalyst in the classroom: it should
facilitate change. The words in the mnemonic represent the key questions the
teachers should ask themselves:
- Communicative? Is the book communicative?
Will the students be able to use the language to communicate as a result of
using this book? May teachers think this question to be fundamental.
- Aims? Does it fit in with our aim
sand objectives? These may be laid down by the authorities, or devised by
- Teachable? Does the course seem
teachable? Does it seem reasonably easy to use, well-organized, easy to find
your way around?
- Available add-ons? Are there any useful
“add-ons” – additional materials such as teacher’s books, tapes, workbooks,
etc? if so, are they available?
- Level? Does the level seem all
- Your impression? What is your overall
impression of the course?
- Student interest? Are your students likely to
find the book interesting?
- Tried and tested? Has the course been tried and
tested in real classrooms? Where? By whom? What were the results? How do you
Once the CATALYST test was
applied and the teacher decided that the book will do, then it is time to
decide how well it will do, and whether it is more or less suitable than other
books that are available. It would be very appropriate to try the course out.
This is what many language schools do. After piloting a new course for a term
or two, they then decide whether to adopt it or not.
However, piloting new
materials is not always possible. Many teachers have to rely on their own
judgment in choosing new materials. At the stage of detailed evaluation the
teacher is to assess the book against more specific questions: is the book
culturally acceptable? Are there enough authentic materials, so that the
students can see that the book is relevant to real life? Does it achieve an
acceptable balance between knowledge about the language, and practice in using
Once the book was adopted, it
is necessary to reevaluate it constantly. No preliminary evaluation can give a
conclusive answer to the final test: does it work in the classroom?
Thus, the main points of the
article are the following:
- The results of teaching in
many cases are pre-determined by the book used for classroom teaching;
- Traditional textbooks help
to develop language competence within students, while communicative textbooks
contribute to students’ communicative competence;
- Communicative competence
(fluency) cannot be achieved without language competence (accuracy),
consequently both traditional and communicative types of exercises are
important for language learning;
- Communicative exercises
require from a teacher revision of his/her role in class;
- A textbook should catalyze
the communicative process in class, so it should meet certain requirements and
be evaluated prior, during and after being in use.
1. Byrd, P.,
1998, “Grammar in the foreign language classroom: Making principled choices”, Modules
for the Professional Preparation of Teaching Assistants in Foreign Languages, Grace
Stovall Burkart, ed.; Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
2. Grant, N.,
1987. Making the Most of Your Textbook. London; New York : Longman.
R., 1999, “Modern Vs. Traditional” English Teaching Forum Online, vol. 137,
no. 3, retrieved from http://exchanges.state.gov/ on January 20, 2007.
К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2007