My Love Affair With the Communicative Approach to Learning a Language

This is my first guest post here at    I was approached with this post.  I love learning how others approach language acquisition.  I am very found of the Speak Your Language approach and what Olivia says here is definitely in line with that mentality.  So without further ado…

How do you approach a new language? How do you begin a journey which may very well be a torturous one? How do you make things easy (or easier at least) for you, the learner?

Those are questions that beset many language learners, and unfortunately, the answers are not always cut and dried. No matter what new language you are tackling, there are many different options available to make the experience easier, more effective, and more enjoyable for you.

I have had my fair share of language learning struggles, both as a teacher and a learner. Having been an English as a Second Language teacher for many years, I walked with my learners and witnessed their struggles. Naturally, I had to play an active role in helping them get past the issues.

From the other end, having engaged in Spanish and French language courses, I also found myself facing the very same struggles my learners did.

After all these years, one might think I am done with all that work. Contrarily, however, my experiences have only served to strengthen my desire to learn more languages if possible.

In the course of my language teaching and learning experiences, I have worked with so many approaches. I remain by what I said earlier: there is no cut and dried answer for everyone.

However, there is one approach that I have learned to love and appreciate, if only because I have seen how it makes the learning process all the more enjoyable and effective.

I am talking about the communicative approach.

What is the communicative approach?

This language learning method is also known as communicative language teaching, and it focuses on interaction between speakers of the language. In this approach, interaction is both the means and the goal of learning a language.

Activities used in the communicative approach

Real-life interaction being the means and goal of the communicative approach, it is easy to find activities that will fit the method. Depending on the learning set up, one can adjust the activities.

If you are learning a language in a guided setting, with a live teacher to point the way, it is his or her tasks to think of these activities. For example, you can have role-playing sessions, as well as a variety of parter-based activities.

Now if you are learning a language mainly on your own, you can also employ the communicative approach. For example, engage in a conversation with a person who speaks your target language.

Let’s say you are learning Thai. Head out to the nearest local bar and strike up a conversation with the bartender. In Thai.  It’s probably going to be awkward at first, but it gets easier as you go along.

Why I fell in love with the communicative approach

One of the main things about the communicative approach is the strong emphasis on functions; that is, specific communication tasks. For example, ordering food at a restaurant is a function. You can set these goals one, or even two, at a time for yourself.

What is great about functions is that you can choose which functions to prioritize, depending on your most pressing needs. If you are new to a country, you obviously need to be able to interact at the most basic levels. Introducing yourself, making small talk, asking for directions, making purchases – these are some of the basic functions that you
can prioritize.

As you progress, you can turn your attention to more complicated functions. Maybe you want to be able to negotiate/bargain in your target language. Or maybe you would like to be able to make small talk to ask someone out on a date.

In doing so, you are able to learn specific vocabulary and structures that you can immediately put to use. The goals are incremental, and being able to achieve those goals, no matter how small, can boost your confidence and make learning even more fun.

Can you now see why the communicative approach and I have this thing going? You might want to give it a try as well!

Olivia Moran is a freelance writer, English teacher, and lover of languages. She speaks English, Filipino, and a smattering of French and Spanish. Her medium-term goal is to learn an Asian language, and she is planning to learn Thai in Bangkok before the year ends.


1 Comment

Filed under How to learn, Thai

One response to “My Love Affair With the Communicative Approach to Learning a Language

  1. Pingback: Learning Thai | Professional Book Reviews

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