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A Divergence within Communicative Language Teaching

It was argued in the previous section that the communicative approach to language teaching did not so much arise from theoretical, scientific ideas on communicative competence, but rather from independent attempts to address social needs in the field of language education by those who subsequently made liberal use also of that theoretical notion to justify and refine their language teaching practice. If that argument is accepted, we have still addressed only one side of the question regarding the limits of applied linguistics in this approach to teaching language. In addition, we must note that the influence of the ideal of science, i.e. of science being a guiding light to all kinds of (other) practical activity, stretches wider than the origins of the communicative approach: it also concerns the way in which communicative language teaching is designed and subsequently realized and executed in teaching practice.

Though the communicative approach to language teaching at first may have lacked theoretical, scientific justification, the technical-scientific analyses associated with it that soon came to inform needs analyses and syllabus and course design constitute attempts to give it scientific support and refinement, at least in linguistic terms. This applies specifically to what has been called here the mainstream of the approach, and distinguishes this direction from other realizations of communicative methodology that came to be articulated in language teaching designs.

There is, however, another direction within the broadly labeled “communicative approach” that runs directly counter to the mainstream, and that has been mentioned in passing above. This direction encompasses the use of methods and techniques which strongly emphasize the emotional aspects of the teaching and learning situation. Hence the labeling of these as ‘P’ methods (for psychological) in contrast to the ‘L’ (linguistic) emphasis of mainstream communicative teaching.

The emphasis on the emotional aspects of language teaching and learning, and specifically on the lowering of the affective barriers to learning a new language through the employment of appropriate teaching techniques, can be found in a number of methods and techniques in the field of second and foreign language teaching. It is part and parcel of, for example, the so-called humanistic methods of language teaching, such as The Silent Way, Suggestopedia, Counseling-Learning and Community Language Learning (for a survey, see Stevick 1980; also Larsen- Freeman 1986). In these, the focus is on the ‘whole’ learner, and on the personality of the student in its fullest sense. It is also apparent in the emphasis in some designs on play and drama techniques in language teaching.

I shall describe each of these in turn, before returning to a discussion below of the divergence between this kind of communicative teaching and the mainstream of the approach. It can be remarked at this stage, however, that, for reasons that will become apparent in the subsequent discussion, the divergence between mainstream communicative teaching and the ‘humanistic’ methods is best illustrated when one asks each whether this kind of teaching is possible without a (technical-scientific) prediction of the language needs of students. Mainstream communicative teaching answers this question in the negative, for it has come to rely on such analyses to determine, in a technical-scientific manner, the linguistic content of language courses. Humanistic teaching, on the other hand, seeks only to achieve the goal of authentic communication in the classroom, without attempting to justify the actual language content of the course in a scientific or quasi-scientific way.

 
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