Communicative Language Learning - The Quest For Fluency

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Communicative Language Learning - The Quest For Fluency

One of the most amazing abilities our minds have developed since we first crawled out of the sea millions of years ago is our capacity for communication.

The modern expression of this ability is the use of language to express ourselves and connect with other people.

Language has developed over the years to improve our ability to convert thoughts into words that can accurately get our ideas across to others.

It’s so important that it forms the basis for the structure of our thoughts and how we interpret the world around us, from how we understand light and colour to the forms and functionality of physical objects in the world… and that’s without delving into the world of philosophy and imagination!

As humanity’s awareness of the rest of the world has increased with the advent of technology, we have sought to interact with them to learn more about different places and new and exciting cultural ideals.

That meant that we had to learn the languages of these new places.

And it wasn’t enough to simply 'get by' in the new language. You had to be able to understand and question complex concepts.

The necessity for becoming fluent drove researchers, linguists and teachers to try and develop more effective ways of learning.

Very old methods (over 100 years) included the ‘Grammar Translation Method’ which consisted of exercises based on specific techniques for translation that developed the deductive brain, and the ‘Direct Method’ that focused more on oral skills and inductive learning with native speakers, but was considered too intense for school children.

[note: the direct method was actually very successful when the school could afford to hire native speakers, but due to the financial constraints of public schools, this method was phased out for more cost effective methods]

Over the years, many more methods came to light. Nearly all of them with the same goal: 

'How can we achieve the required level of fluency in the shortest possible time?'

The main methodologies that emerged between 1930 and 1070 were:

  • Structural
  • Reading 
  • Audio lingual
  • Situational

It wasn’t until the early 70’s that the Communicative Approach was developed in response to the failure of those traditional methods to grow the ability in learners to actually communicate with natives of the target language.

Standardised schooling was too caught up in formal assessments and grading to devote any time to the development of fluency in their students! Due to no one agreeing on which method was best, you’ll find that nowadays language classes in school are made up of a combination of all six previously mentioned methods.

The communicative approach sees language learning as 'a system for communication' rather than a subject to be learned about analytically (that’s what linguistics classes are for!).

One of the key aspects of this method is the relationship between the speaker and the listener. Through “authentic activities and meaningful exchanges in replication of real life situations”¹ it seeks to improve our ability to share thoughts and feelings through the “interactive processes of communication”.

This direct interactive approach influenced a large part of the UNUmondo Method and has seen great success since its inception. Find out how it works here.