The communicative approach to teaching listening

Nowadays, the aim of language learning is formation of communicative and crosscultural competence. When we mention communicative competence in terms of teaching a foreign language we mean the ability and availability of learners to appropriately use a foreign language in various communicative situations [2, 49]. Moreover, transition to new international system of language proficiency, which defines six levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2), requires some changes in language teaching and appearance of new approaches.

Today, the word “communication” very often occurs in the methods of foreign language teaching [1, 56]. It means conversation with the help of a language. That is why it is suggested about the Communicative Approach as the principle of foreign language teaching. Any teaching, which has practical learning aims, is communication-oriented, because it teaches communication with the help of a language.

So, what is approach and method? An approach is a set of correlative assumptions about the nature of a language and language learning, but does not involve procedure or provide any details about how such assumptions should be translated into the classroom setting [1, 3].

A method is a plan for presenting language material to be learned and should be based upon a selected approach. In order for an approach to become a method, it is necessary to design an instructional system and consider the objectives of teaching/learning, design tasks to be performed, determine roles of students and teachers.

Historically, different approaches or methods of teaching languages existed: Audiolingual, Textual-translation, Grammartranslation, Silent Way, Suggestopedia, Comprehension Based, Communicative Approach. Some of them are widely-used but others have fallen into relative obscurity.

Let us pay attention to one particular approach – the Communicative Approach. Within the last quarter of the century, the Communicative Approach has been put forth around the world as “new”, or “innovative,” way to teach English as a second or foreign language [7, 13].

The Communicative Approach originated because of discontent of educators and linguists with the audio-lingual and grammartranslation methods, which did not allow students to learn how to communicate in a target language. They had difficulties in communication, in choosing appropriate social language and expressions; in short, they could not communicate in the target language. The development of the Communicative Approach dates back to 1970s; classroom conversations where students were engaged in real communication with one another in a target language became very popular. In the course of time, the Communicative Approach has been adapted to multiple levels of language proficiency: elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper-intermediate, and advanced levels.

Communicative language teaching is based on the assumption that language is communication. Dell Hymes, a sociolinguist, stated that the goal of language teaching is “communicative competence” which depends on the cooperation of all the participants involved [5, 213]. It became clear that communication required that students perform certain functions as well, such as promising, inviting, and declining invitations within a social context.

Candlin C. used the term “communicative competence” to characterize the ability of classroom language learners to interact with other speakers, to make meaning, as different from their ability to repeat dialogues or perform on tests of grammatical knowledge [4, 16].

Communicative language teaching has the following characteristics: activities that involve real communication, activities in which language is used to carry out meaningful task, language that is meaningful to the learner [4:196]. It should be noted that instructional materials are essential and influential. In the Communicative Approach authentic materials are used. Today many textbooks are designed to support communicative language teaching. There is a variety of games, roleplays, simulations and task-based activities to support the Communicative Approach. The objectives in communicative language teaching are general and can be applied to any teaching situation.

The Communicative Approach to language teaching implies integration of listening and speaking. Particular attention is given to the situation, or context, where a specific skill is to be used. Thus, the focus is on communication, not only on teaching listening or on speaking.

The Communicative Approach appears indispensable while choosing language material. It implies the ability of chosen units to maintain and organize communication. The Communicative Approach requires including standard expressions and clichés into the process of language learning. Selection of clichés is necessary for teaching natural communication in the foreign language.

In the Communicative Approach, activities are aimed at involving the learner in authentic meaningful use of English. There is an unlimited supply of activities and exercises, which are compatible with communicative language teaching. As long as the activities, exercises allow learners to:

  • reach the communicative objectives;
  • engage learners in communication;
  • require the use of communicative processes.

Classroom goals are focused on all the components of communicative competence and not restricted to grammatical or linguistic competence. Language techniques are designed to engage learners in the pragmatic, authentic, functional use of language for meaningful purposes. Fluency and accuracy are seen as complementary principles underlying communicative techniques.

Learners regularly work in groups or pairs to transfer meaning in situations in which one person has information that the other lack. Students often engage in role-play or dramatization to adjust their use of the target language to different social contexts.

Roles of the teacher can be main and secondary. To main roles, we refer a facilitator, an independent participant. Secondary roles are the following: an organizer and a source of resources, a guide within the classroom activities, a researcher, and a counselor (in terms of the speaker’s intention, though the use of paraphrase, confirmation and feedback), errors and mistakes corrector. The teacher should be able to use the target language fluently and appropriately. Learners are often more motivated with this approach as they have an interest what is being communicated, as the lesson is based on topic or theme.

Pupils practice the target language a number of times, slowly building on accuracy. They interact with each other in pairs or groups. A teacher tries to maximize the percentage of talking time, rather than a teacher to student and vice versa. Unless the focus is on the accuracy stage of the lesson, learners are corrected at the end of an activity so that not to interrupt their thought process [6, 73].

The Communicative Approach is applied in teaching of four basic skills in a language: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Listening and speaking are interactive skills that affect each other. Speaking and writing are expressive language skills, while reading and listening are receptive language skills. From our point of view, listening is a very difficult type of activity for pupils of secondary school.

Firstly, this is because according to school program and state standard only two hours a week are devoted to English. Therefore, it is difficult for teachers to realize all types of activities in the classroom during the lesson. Most textbook listening programs emphasize product (right or wrong answer) over process (how to get meaning from the selection) and from the fact that listening activities are usually carried out as an add-on, away from the classroom. Moreover, we should take into account age-specific and individual listening peculiarities of pupils.

Listening is the absorption of the meanings of the words and sentences by the brain [8]. Listening leads to understanding of facts and ideas. It is considered one of the most important parts of verbal communication and is very important for communicative competence. It is impossible to learn a language and use it without listening acquirement. Moreover, of course, listening may correspond with a type of communication, which reflects person’s demands and nature of his activity.

Many linguists think that language environment is the main means of foreign language learning, all other means are supplementary. The lesson, when teacher speaks only in the target language using audiovisual and audio means, creates a prototype of foreign language environment and approach the learning process to conditions of target language communication.

There are some listening techniques for teachers to take into consideration. Teacher should remember that listening exercises should be success-oriented and build up students’ confidence in their listening ability. Brown H.D. advises to construct the listening activity around a contextualized task [3, 10]. Contextualized listening activities correspond to real-life tasks and give the listener an idea of the type of information to expect.

For different levels of language proficiency, we may use different tasks. The beginning level task would be locating places on a map or exchanging name and address information. At an intermediate level students could follow directions for assembling something or work in pairs to create a story to tell to the rest of the class. Each activity should be aimed at the improvement of one or more specific listening skills. The following factors can help teachers to define relative ease or difficulty of a listening text for a particular purpose and a particular group of students.

Organizing information: is the story line, narrative, or does instruction conforming to familiar expectations? Texts in which the events are presented in natural chronological order, which have an informative title, and which present the information following an obvious organization are easier to follow. Pupils’ familiarity with the topic: lack of background knowledge or misinterpretation due to cultural differences can create major comprehension difficulties.

Multiple individuals and objects in the text: for pupils it is easier to understand a text with a customer and a seller or a seller with two customers, and it is even easier if they are of the opposite sex. In other words, the more marked the differences, the easier the comprehension.

Redundancy in the text: for pupils of lower levels of proficiency short, simple messages are easier to process, but for pupils with higher proficiency benefit from the natural redundancy of the language. Visual support to the text: visual aids such as maps, diagrams, pictures, or images in a video help the listening input and provide clues to meaning.

In conclusion, we should mention that an increase in English pupils’ and teachers’ proficiency levels has been marked during the last decade around the world. It is certainly connected with development of communicative competence and new approaches to language teaching, particularly the Communicative Approach.



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  2. Пассов Е.И. Коммуникативный метод обучения иноязычному говорению.2-е изд. – М.: Просвещение, 1991.
  3. Brown H.D. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching.New-York, 2000
  4. Candlin C. The Communicative Teaching of English. London: Longman, 1981.
  5. Hymes D. On communicative competence. In J. Gumperz & D. Hymes (Eds.), Directions in sociolinguistics. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970
  6. Johnson K. and Morrow K. Communication in the Classroom. London: Longman, 1981.
  7. Marianne Celce-Murcia, Teaching English as a Second or Foreign language, 3d ed.Cambridge University Press, 2001
  8. Http://
Year: 2012
City: Oskemen
Category: Philology