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Principles and activities of communicative methodology in learning the english language

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009

Автор: Жаксыбаева Ж. Ж.

Pedagogy has a lot of methodologies such as grammar-translation, auditing, etc. but today it is said and proved that the most effective one is a communicative methodology [5]. It provides the students ability to use the language they learn in order to communicate.

There are five principles of communicative methodology:

1. Know what you are doing. Every lesson should end with the learner being able to see clearly that he can do something which he could not do at the beginning – and that the “something” is communicatively useful;

2. The whole is more than the sum of the parts. A crucial feature of communicative method is that it operates with stretches of language above the sentence level, and operates with real language in real situations;

3. The processes are as important as the forms. The aim is to replicate as far as possible the processes of communication. Two of these processes are as follows:

1) Information gap: the purpose of communication in real life is to bridge this gap. The concept of information gap seems to be one of the most fundamental in the whole area of communicative teaching;

2) Choice: another crucial characteristic of communication is that the participants have choice, both in terms of what they will say and, more particularly, how they will say it. Deciding on these under the severe time pressure which language use involves is one of the main problems which foreign users of a language face.

4. To learn it, do it. Although the teacher can help, advise and teach, only the learners can learn: they must become involved in the activities and learn by doing;

5. Mistakes are not always a mistake. With the aim of developing the communicative ability of the students, it may be necessary to be flexible enough to treat different things as “mistakes” at different stages in the learning process, not every error should be corrected.

The purposes of communicative activities and their contribution to language learning are as following:

1). these purposes provide “whole task practice”, i.e. the total skill;

2) they improve motivation;

3) they allow natural learning;

4) they can create a context which supports learning.

The activities can be divided into those that use language to share information and those that process information. The activities are usually learner-directed and often involve pair and small group work.

McDonough [4] proposes five principles for a communicative exercise typology which are based on problem-solving and task-orientation. He illustrates these with several examples:

1. Information transfer (reading information to extract data in order to fill in a form)

2. Information gap (information is known by only one student in a pair and it can be conveyed by different exercises to the other student);

3. Jigsaw (an example of cooperative learning in which each member of a small group has a piece of information needed to complete a group task);

4. Task dependency (the principle by which a second task can only be done if the first task has been successfully completed);

5. Correction for content (the principles argues that a some stage the student’s language production should be judged on its communicative efficacy in relation to a specific task).

For example, the Language for Special Purpose (LSP) course must set the student various tasks, and that these tasks must reflect the structural characteristics of the learner’s special purpose and must be as integrated as possible and not divided into minute, discrete elements. But within the contest of EAP this could mean, for example, a set of lectures or series of seminars. Acceptance of this approach entails the adoption of four essential principles:

1) reality control: control of t he difficulty of the task demanded of the LSP student is exercised by means of the procedures of simplification appropriate to the field of activity constituting his or her special purpose;

2) nontriviality: the learning tasks required of the student must be perceived by the student as meaningfully generated by his or her special purpose;

3) authenticity: the language that the student acquires through following the LSP course must be the language naturally generated by his or her special purpose;

4) tolerance of error: errors of content and of formal adequacy are to be judged as an acceptable only to the extent that they entail errors of communicative adequacy [4].

These four methodological principles may be added to Hutchinson’s [2] nine fundamental principles of learning which can provide a reasoned basis for the interpretation of ESP language needs into an effective ESP methodology:

1. Learning is development.

2. Learning is thinking process (i.e. cognitive).

3. Learning is an active process.

4. Learning involves making decisions.

5. Learning a language is not just a matter of linguistic knowledge.

6. Second language learners are already communicatively competent.

7. Learning is an emotional experience (i.e. affective).

8. Learning is not systematic.

9. Learning needs should be considered at every stage of the learning process.

Hutchinson enlarges on each of the nine principle and, for teachers, his seventh principle of learning (an emotional experience) is of particular interest: the good teacher will try to minimize the negative effects of the learner’s emotional reactions to learning and will instead try to boost the positive emotions. This might involve:

- using pair and group work to minimize the stress of speaking in front of the whole class;

- structuring tasks so as to enable learners to show what they do know rather than what they do not;

- giving learners time to think and work out answers;

- putting more emphasis on the process of getting the answer rather than the product of the right answer;

- making interest, fun and variety primary considerations in the design of tasks and activities, not just an added bonus.

Motivation indicates the inseparability of the cognitive and affective sides of the learner’s as it is initiated by the learner first wanting to think about learning something. There are also a number of techniques that can be applied to lessons in order to put into practice Hutchinson’s nine fundamental principles. They are: gaps, variety, prediction, enjoyment, and atmosphere in the classroom, coherence, preparation, involvement, creativity and an integrated methodology, i.e. communicative methodology.

In discussing EAP exercise typology, Cowie [1] maintains that the main consideration must be that of authenticity. All EAP work is in essence a simulation of a real-life task. Serendipity is therefore one of the main virtues required: the ability to find an authentic text that will fit pedagogic needs. Mc. Donough has listed a number of terms that are used with regard to authenticity – “genuine”, “authentic”, “real”, “natural”, scripted”. Learners need to have positive perceptions about the materials they are using. Teachers can refer to the use of company reports, journals, magazines, TV programs and newspaper articles. Teachers can use a newspaper article on vegetarian diets which can be used as the basis for a number of discussion and writing activities. Thus authentic materials can serve as a bridge between the classroom and the outside world.

Hutchinson [4] stresses authenticity or realism in language teaching and, in addition to problem-solving and team-teaching, cites case studies as being an appropriate means of reproducing the “real world”, as they can contain a “realistic, complex, ill-defined problem that has many possible solutions, none of them ideal – a suitable activity for group work. Huckin stresses the value of case studies in providing an opportunity for students to form sound arguments and engage in persuasive communication; thus entails what he terms higher-order reasoning. The real benefit is that the student is placed in a situation where his linguistic needs exceed his linguistic resources. He is thus driven to seek help from the language teacher and which is perhaps even more important for the development of communicative competence, to develop stratagems that allow him o engage in communication despite linguistic shortcomings.

Role-play (students act the parts of different participants in a situation) is differentiated from simulations (students are themselves in a problem-solving situation). One important criterion here is the proportion of input (text, visuals, instructions, apparatus, etc.) to output (the learning that takes place) involved in a given activity. The best activity is one that involves a low input and a high output.

Many of the communicative activities referred to involve argumentation between students in pairs or small groups. Sometimes the activities highlight differences of opinion between students; some take on the character of games or competitions and spotlight individual students. If these activities are overplayed, the effect may be to disturb feelings of group unity. But there are also a lot of activities to help develop a positive group “atmosphere” in which the group can jell. The variety encompasses activities aimed at forming the group (“breaking the ice; thinking about language), maintaining the group (opinion and value-bridging, confidence-building), and ending the group experience (positive feelings, evaluating).

Several authors have discussed the need for varying degrees of individualized learning and learner autonomy. The main reason for advocating learner autonomy is that students on short EAP courses need to be able to continue their EAP learning without EAP teachers after they have moved on to their specialist studies. They will only be able to do this if they have been helped to do so while on the EAP course.

The means of developing learner autonomy or independent learning are discussed in detail by Dickinson [2]. He uses the blanket term self-instruction to cover a number of situations in which students work “without the direct control of a teacher”. As Dickenson points out the same label may be used by different writers to mean rather different things. For example, individualized instruction (methods and materials adapted for an individual), self-direction (the learner makes decisions but does not necessarily implement them), self-access materials and learning (appropriate materials for self-instruction), autonomy (the learner is totally responsible for decisions and their implementation). Linked with the above are self-access, centre, self-assessment and distance learning.

Within an EAP course there are practical ways in which independent learning can be encouraged and developed:

- negotiated elements in the syllabus;

- optional periods in the timetable (making choices);

- private study periods;

- one-to-one tutorials;

- personal projects;

- pair-work / small group tasks / assignments;

- banks of self-access materials with keys (e.g. grammar, reading, comprehension);

- self-monitoring in a language laboratory or on a computer;

- audio-tapes and video cassettes: lectures/seminars – choices, self-access.

Movements towards independent learning require awareness-raising and learner training. EAP courses needs to be the development of the learner’s underlying study competence, building up the cognitive and affective capacity of the learner to study. The successful students typically:

- have a high degree of self-awareness;

- are good at critical questioning;

- tend to have an “adult” approach to relations with their teacher;

- think clearly and logically;

- are self-confident;

- impose their own framework on study data;

- have a positive attitude to their studies;

- are willing and able to teach themselves;

- are intelligent.

And good language learner’s characteristic features are:

- understanding the organization and function of language;

- evaluating progress;

- realizing that hard work is involved;

- involving themselves actively in the target language;

- willing to experiment and practice;

- organizing time and materials effectively.

The raising of students’ self-awareness of their learning styles and various methods of learning can be incorporated more systematically into a course under the heading of “learner-training”. The purpose is to help the students to consider factors which may affect their language learning, and to enable them to become more effective and independent learners of English. The means employed are usually self-questioning, and activities involving discussion and sharing experiences with other students.

Gibbs devised some exercises to help students to learn [2]. Basically, these are exercises designed to encourage students to discuss among themselves, comparing their experiences and thinking about their reasons for doing what they do. The purpose is to increase both self-awareness and self-confidence. Gibb’s approach is exemplified by an exercise on taking notes.


Taking notes

Working alone

This first stage involves students taking notes from some source – a lecture, book, film or audio-cassette. This can simply involve the students’ last lecture before coming to exercise, a special note-taking activity at the start of the exercise. The more recently the notes have been taken, the more vividly and completely will students be able to reconstruct how and why they were written.

Working in pairs (10 min.)

“In pairs each of you in turn have a look at the other’s notes and try to understand why they are written in the form they are. Which things are included, and which are left, and why? What will they be used for? Ask the other person whatever questions you need in order to understand their notes. Spend about five minutes on each set of notes. At the next stage you will be asked o explain and justify your neighbor’s notes to another pair.”

Working in fours (20 min.)

“In fours, I’d like each of you in turn to try to explain your neighbor’s notes to the other pair. Why the others are notes different from your own? Do the others use their notes in the same way as you do? Find out! You are not allowed to describe your own notes unless your neighbor is unable to.”

Working in fours (15 min.)

“Still in fours, can you see from your four sets of notes what makes them either “good” and useful notes or “poor” and useless notes? Can you form a list of those characteristics you have identified which you think are useful and those you think you should avoid? Elect a chairman to write down these characteristics so you have a list ready to report at the plenary. You have about 15 minutes.”

Working in plenary (15 min.)

“I’d like each group in turn o read out one item from its list. If what is read out is clear to the other groups and not contentious, then I’ll write it up on the board under one of the two headings: “Good points about these notes” or “Bad points about these notes”. If the points are unclear or contentious, I want others to clarify or object to them. I won’t write anything up unless we can agree on it, and we are clear what it means.”

Awareness and confidence raising is a positive development in EAP. The raising of students’ self-awareness of their learning styles and various methods of learning can be incorporated more systematically into a course under the heading of “learner training”. In this way students can see that there is not just one way of learning or achieving something, and that some ways may be more effective than others. These exercises help the students to understand where and why they are successful and not successful and then they discuss it in class and share their practice with others. A teacher and group mates can give some advice and recommendations to study better, what to do to be more successful. These exercises have become learner training. Its big advantage is that it can help students to be more responsible for their own learning, so that when a short EAP course finishes, they can continue their learning process independently and with more self-confidence, and to improve their own learning in other fields.


1. Cowie, A.P. and J.B. Heaton. English for Academic Purposes. British Association for Applied Linguistics, 1977.

2. Jordan, R.R. English for Academic Purposes: a guide and resource book for teachers/ R.R. Jordan. UK: University Press, Cambridge, 2003.

3. McDonough, J. ESP in Perspective: A Practical Guide. London: Collins ELT, 1984.

4. McDonough, J. Materials and Methods in ELT: A teacher’s guide/ J. McDonough and Christopher Shaw. – 2nd ed.: UK by MPG Books, Bodmin, Cornwall, 2003.

5. Nunan, D. Language Teaching Methodology. Hemel Hempstead: Phoenix

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009

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