CLT in Theory and in Practice


posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

Three months ago I pointed out on this blog that communicative language teaching (CLT) is a ‘fuzzy’ concept which has been interpreted and translated into secondary school EFL syllabuses, textbooks, and everyday classroom practice in a variety of ways around the world since its inception in the 1970s (see: “A Cognitive Science View on Communicative Language Teaching”). In theory, advanced university students of English as a foreign language understand this in principle, as the following key-word summary which a class of mine came up with collectively illustrates (click on image to enlarge).

Unfortunately, this does not automatically mean that students of English as a foreign language can indeed implement CLT in actual classroom practice successfully (and many, but not all are well-aware of this). More classroom research is needed on how to enable students and novice teachers to translate the principles of CLT into practice in primary and secondary schools (including task-based and content-based instruction as well as CLIL; becoming aware of its potentials and problems). 

In Germany, however, arguing for a better mix of theory and practice, of knowing and doing in initial teacher education is problematic, because of the relatively low status of Fachdidaktik (i.e. domain-specific pedagogy and methodology) in general, and Fremdsprachendidaktik (i.e. research-based foreign language pedagogy and methodology) in particular, which is still seen by many decision-makers as a mere additum to, and not as a core element of initial teacher education in the twenty-first century.

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5 responses to “CLT in Theory and in Practice

  1. Guten Tag!

    I enjoyed reading your post about CLT. Soon I will be a foreign language teacher in secondary education, and I am very interested in contributing to reforming the way that we teach languages in the United States. I have been to Germany, and was very impressed with the level of competency in English that many Germans attain. Do you know why English instruction in Germany may be far better than that in neighboring countries such as France, Italy and Spain?

  2. Thank you very much for your comment!

    The large spectrum of languages spoken over here is part of Europe’s cultural heritage. It is one of the greatest treasures that we share. In all EU countries, learning additional languages and getting to know about different cultures is therefore given high priority. There is a diverse range of interculturally-oriented language programs which do not exclusively focus on English (as a lingua franca), but – for instance in Germany – on the various languages of the neighboring countries (France, The Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, etc.) as well. As far as I know, there is no empirical evidence at all showing that foreign/ second language education in Germany is more efficient and effective than in other EU countries – on the contrary. If you want to find out a bit more about current foreign language standards in the EU, please click on “The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages”; see sidebar)

  3. Hello
    I found your comments on quality measurement in foreign language education very interesting.
    I completely agree with you when you state that it is ‘essential to avoid simplistic equations between standardized tests/test scores and teacher/foreign language teaching quality ‘. Can the use of qualitative, apart from quantitative, research methods (e.g. in the form of lesson observations, questionnaires) avoid simplistic equations, for instance when comparing two educational contexts (e.g. language teaching in Germany vs. MFL teaching in French)? Can attainment not be plausibly linked to teaching methods or effectiveness of activities in the classroom, taking into account other variables (e.g. socolinguistic factors)?

  4. Thank you for your comment. I agree. As far as I can see, this is part of the emerging discussion of language-, culture-, and context-sensitive ‘opportunity-to-learn’-standards.

  5. Hello Jürgen,

    Wow! This is a very nice and useful site for EFL teachers. I’m one of them and I am currently working on what my subject of my “Diploma arbeit” of my master’s will be. It is a tough decision since my master is not exactly about teaching languages but teacher education, but I am trying to relate it to it. It also takes place in France and you know, most of the bibliography is Anglo-Saxon. It looks problematic…

    Anyway, I’m glad I came along your site and it gave me some ideas about my project.

    Have a good day and keep up with this lovely blog!

    PS: A German guy I met in Cali (my hometown in Colombia) told me “life is too short to learn German”…it was kind of discouraging since I’ve done 3 levels of it and was very optimistic about my progress ;) but I am afraid he is right when you are no longer a child or a young teenager…

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