Topic 14 – Methods and techniques aimed at the acquisition of communication skills. Specific methodological foundations for teaching English.

Topic 14 – Methods and techniques aimed at the acquisition of communication skills. Specific methodological foundations for teaching English.





1.2.1. Theory of language.

1.2.2.Theory of language learning.

1.3. Design.

1.3.1. Objectives.

1.3.2.The syllabus.

1.3.3.Teaching and learning activities.

1.3.4.The roles of the learner.

1.3.5.The roles of the teacher.

1.3.6.The roles of materials.

1.4. Procedure.

1.5. Conclusion.


2.1. Approach.

2.1.1. Theory of language.

2.1.2. Theory of language learning.

2.2. Design.

2.2.1. Objectives and syllabus.

2.2.2. Learning and teaching activities.

2.2.3. The roles of the learner and teacher.

2.2.4. The roles of materials.

2.3. Procedure.



In the long search for the best way of teaching a foreign language, a proliferation of new approaches and methods has been devised. Crertain methods are widely recognized because of their influential role in the history of ideas surrounding this subject, for example, the grammar-translation method, the natural method, the direct method or the audio-lingual method.

During the 1970, however, there was a strong reaction against methods that stressed the teaching of grammatical forms and paid little or no attention to the  way language is used in everyday situations. Aconcern developed to make foreing language teaching more communicative.

These methods differ in the way they address fundamental methodological issues such as:

– What should the goals of language teaching be?

– What is the basic nature of language?

– What are the principles for the selection of language content?

– What are the best principles of organization, sequencing and presentation?

– What should the role of the native language be?

– What processes do learners use in learning a language?

– What are the best teaching techniques?

The answer to these questions will enable us to understand the fundamental nature of methods in English language teaching. As the analysisof these specific methodological fundamentals is previous to the study of any particular approach, method or technique we will discuss first the essentials of English as a foreign language teaching. Next, we will thoroughly study communicative language teaching.


The change from one methold to another or from one set of classroom techniques and procedures havereflected responses to a varietiy of historical issues and  circumstances. As the study of methods and procedures assumed a central role within applied

linguistics from the 1940s on, variousattempts have been made to conceptualize the nature of methods.

1.1 Approch, method, and technique.

In describing methods, the difference between a philosophy of language teaching at the theoretical level, and a set of procedures and techniques for teaching in the classroom, is Central. The American linguist Edward Anthony proposed a clarifying scheme

in 1963. He identified three levels of conceptualizationand organization:

– Approach

– Method

– Technique

An approach is a set of correlative assumptions which the all with the nature of language and its teaching. Therefore, and approach is axiomaticand is formed by a theory of language and a theory of language learning.

A method is not axiomatic; it is procedural. A methodis a gloval plan for the presentation of language material. Thispresentation is based on a theory of language and language learning, and approach, and so a method cannot contradict itsapproach, but

it is possible to have more than one method within a certain approach.That is the reason for the plural in the title of this topic metodos y tecnicas ; there are many possible methods within the communicative approach.

Techniques are implementational, what really occurs in the classroom. They are consistent with a method and therefore with and approach as well.


Approach—————————– Theory of language

—————————– Theory of language learning

Method——————————— Theory into practice:

Skills to be taught

Contents to be taught

Order of presentation

Technique—————————– Classroom procedures

Richard s and Rodgers (1986) have revised and extented the original model.

They see

approach and method treated at the level of design, that level in which

objectives, syllabus,

and content are determined, and in which the roles or teachers, learners and

materials are.

specified.Anthony’slevel of technique is referred to as procedure. They

see, therefore, that

a method is theoretically related to and approach, organizationally

determined by a desing,

and is practically realized in a procedure.


Approach——————————— Theory of language

Theory of language learning


The syllabus

Teaching and learning activities

The roles of the learner

The roles of the teacher

The roles of the materials

Procedures—————————Classroom techniques

1.2. Approach

Approach refers to theories about the nature of language and language  learning that serve as the source of practiques and principles in language teaching.

1.2.1. Theory of language

Three different theories of language and language proficiency underline  current approaches and methods in language teaching:

– Structural view

– Functional view

– Interactional view

The structural view is the view that language is a system of structurally related elements for the coding of meaning. The tarjet of language learning is seen to be the mastery of the units of the system ( phonological, grammatical and lexical ). The  audio-lingual method, Total Physical Response, or the Silent Way embody this particular view of language.

The funcional view is the view that language is a vehicle for the expression of functional meaning. We will see later how the communicative movement in language teaching embodies this view of language .

The third view is the interactional view. It sees language as a vehicle for the realization of interpersonal relations and for performance of social transactions between individuals.

Community Language Learning seems to have embodied this point of view lately.

1.2.2. Theory of language learning.

A learning theory underlying an approach must take account of the psycholinguistic and cognitive processes involved in language learning, and the optimal conditions for these processes to be activated. Learning theories may emphasize one or both aspects.

Process-oriented theories build on learning processes, such as habit formation, induction, inferencing, hypothesis testing, and generalization. Condition-oriented theories emphasize the nature of the environment, both human and physical, in which language

learning takes place. For example, Krashen´s Monitor Model is an example of a learning theory on which a method has been built (the natural method). At the level of process, he distinguishes between acquisitions and learnin. He also addresses the conditions necessary  for the process of adquisition to take place: the input must be comprehensible, roughly – tuned, relevant, in sufficient quantity, and experience in low – anxiety contexts.

These principles may or may not lead to a method. We may divise our own  teaching Procedures following a particular approach, and then change this procedures on the basis Of the performance of our pupils. Theory does not dictate a particular set

of teaching procedures. What links approach with procedure is what Richards and Rodgers call design.

1.3. Design.

Design is the level of method analysis where we consider the objectives, the syllabus, the types of learning tasks, the roles of learners and teachers, and the roles of instructional materials

1.3.1. Objectives.

At the level of design we must deal with the specification of the general  and specific Objectives of the method. Some methods may focus on oral skills. Some methods may focus On communication skills. Other may place a greater emphasis on accurate

grammar or Pronunciation.

We may distinguish between these methods whose objectives are expressed in linguistic Terms (product-oriented) and those which define their objectives in terms of learning Behaviours (process-oriented). However, some methods that claim to be

process-oriented Show a great concern with accurate grammar and pronunciation.

1.3.2. The syllabus.

As we have to usethe target language in order to teach it, we must make decisions about.

The selection oflanguage items we are going to use. These languages items are to be.

Selected not only in linguistic grounds but also according to subject-matter, i.e.. we must make decisions about what to talk about and how to talk about it. In traditional, grammar-based courses, contents were selected according tothe difficulty of the items. In communicative courses the sequence of the elements is normally based on our pupils communicative needs.

Process-oriented methods (e.g., Counselling Learning) normally have no language syllabus, as considerations of language content are secondary. Learners select content for themselves by choosing topics they want to talk about.

1.3.3. Learning and teaching activities.

The objectives of a method are attained through the interaction of teachers,  learners and material in the classroom. The activity types that a method advocates may serve to differentiate methods. The Silent Way, for example, uses problem-solving activities which involve the use of coloured rods. Communicative language teaching advocates the use of tasks that involve an information gap, as this is considered to be one of the elements of real-life communication.

Differences in activity types may result in different arrangements and groupings of learners drills, for instance, require different groupings than problem-solving activities. Even if we use the same activity, differences at the level of approach may determine

different goals for it in two different methods. For example, interactive games are often use in audiolingual coursesfor motivation and to provide a change of pace from drill; in communicative language teaching they are used to practice particular types of interactive exchanges which are useful in real communication.

Different assumptions in objectives, syllabuses, and activities result in different roles to learners, teachers and instructional materials.

1.3.4. The roles of the learner.

Design is greatly influenced by how learners are regarded. The learner´s contribution to the learning process, i.e., his passivity or activity and in which degree, marks the types of activities they will carry out, the groupings, the degree to which they will influence the learning of others, and their view as processors, performers, initiators or problem solvers.

Audiolingualism, for example, saw learners as stimulus-response-reinforcement mechanisms whose learning was a result of repetitive practice. Newer methodologies exhibit more concern for variation among learners´roles. The teacher must create the conditions for learning to take place. Learner-centred learning tries to teach languages in a environment of quasi-independence form the teacher.

1.3.5. The roles of the teacher.

New methodologies have resulted in a proliferation of teacher roles, such as informant, conductor, diagnoser, corrector, consultant, model… All these roles are  related to essential methodological issues:

– the types of functions the teacher is expected to fulfil

– the degree of control the teacher has over how learning takes place

– the degree of control the teacher has about the content of the course

– the interactional patterns that develop between teachers and learner

We must be aware of the roles we can play in the classroom, as only when we are sure of our role and our pupils´concominant one will we depart from the security of traditional coursebook-oriented teaching.

1.3.6. The roles of materials.

The role of materials will reflect decisions concerning the primary goals of the materials (topresent content, to practice content, to facilitate communication,…) the form of the materials (textbooks, audiovisuals, supplementary readers,…) the relation of materials to other sources of input (whether they are the principal source or not), and the abilities of the teacher (degree of training and competence).

Therefore, the role of materials will be different in different methodologies. For example, within a communicative approach materials will focus on the communicative abilities of interpretation, expression, and negotiation. On the other hand, an individualized  instructional system may include as the main role of the materials to allow the learners to progress at their own rates of learning. These roles do not need to be seen as antithetical, in fact, both roles must be played by our materials according to our curriculum.

The third and last level of conceptualization is the level of technique (Anthony:1963) or procedure (Richards and Rodgers:1986).

1.4. Procedure.

Procedure consists of the techniques, practices, and behaviours that operate in the real teaching situation according to a particular method. We are concerned with the use of teaching activities to present, practice and produce language, and with the

procedures and techniques used in giving feedback to our pupils (evaluation techniques). We also takeaccount of the resources in terms of time, space, and equipment used by the teacher and the interactional patterns observed during the lessons.

1.6. Conclusion.

We have described the specific methodological fundamentels of English Language Teaching with reference to approach, design and procedure. It is clear that methodological development does not always proceed neatly from approach, through design, to


However, national curricula, which draw on the expertise of interdisciplinary working committees, usually do. Spanish Foreign Languages curriculum departs from a constructivist theory of learning and a view of language as communication towards generally

outlined procedures to allow for individualization through a design level in which the syllabus, activities, learner roles, teacher roles, and role of the instructional materials are defined not very strictly to allow for adjustments in particular teaching situations.

One of the basic ingredients of our curriculum is its adaptability. This adaptability, however, is limited by a communicative framework as the main aim of teaching English in our educational system is to achieve communicative competence. We are now

going to study the essentials of communicative language teaching.

2.Communicative language teaching.

Communicative language teaching draws on Chomsky´s criticism to structural theories of language, which are incapable of accounting for the creativity and uniqueness of individual sentences, as well as British applied linguist criticism of current approaches to language teaching, which inadequately addressed the functional and communicative potential of language.

Another impetus for different approaches came from changing educational realities in Europe. The Council of Europe took a great interest in education. As a result, a group of experts was set up in 1971 to investigate the possibility of developing language courses on a unit-credit system. One of the members of this committee, Wilkins, proposed a functional or communicative definition of language that could serve as a basis for developing communicative syllabuses. They were based on two types of meanings : notions  (such as time,sequence, quantity…) and categories of communicative function (suchas requests, denials, offers, complaints…).

This work was rapidly followed by an almost universal acceptance of the theoretical principles of the Communicative Approach, and its rapid application in textbook, curriculum development centres and governments. Because of this, the Communicative

Approach to language teaching is the most extended foreign language teaching system. Its aims are to make communicative competence the goal of language teaching and develop procedures for the teaching of the four skills. Next we analyze it in detail, following Richards and Rodgers division into approach, design and procedure.

2.1. Approach.

2.1.1. Theory of language.

The communicative approach in language teaching starts from at theory of language as communication. The main goal is to acquire what Hymes defined as communicative competence. Chomsky ( 1957 ) defined language as a set of sentences, each finite in length and constructed out of a finite set of elements. An ablespeaker has a subconcious knowledge of the grammar rules of his language which allows him to make sentences in that language. However, Dell Hymes thought that Chomsky had missed out some very important information: the rules of use. When anative speaker spekas he does not only  utter gramatically correct forms, he alsoknows where and when to use this  sentences and to whom. Hynes, then, said, that competence by itself is not enough to explain a native speaker’s knowledge, and he replaced it with his own concept of comunicative competence.

Hymes distinguished four aspects of this competence: systematic potential, appropriacy, occurrence and feasibility.

Systematic potential means that the native speaker possesses a system that has a potential for creatinga lot of language. This is similar to Chomsky’s competence.

Appropriacy means that the native speaker knows what language is appropiate in a given situation. His choice is based on the following variables, among others:  setting, participants, purpose, channel, topic…

Occurrence means that the native speaker knows how often something is said in the language and act accordingly.

Feasibility means that the native speaker knows whether something is possible in the language. Even if there is no grammatical rule to ban 20-adjective pre-head  cosntruction we know that these constructions are not possible in the language.

These four categories have been adapted for teaching purposes. Thus, Royal Decree 1006/ 1991, of 14 June ( BOE 25 June), which establishes the teaching requirements for Primary Education nationwide sees communicative competence as comprising

five subcompetences:

– Grammar competence: the ability to put into practice the linguistic units according to the rules of use established in the linguistic system.

– Discourse competence: the ability to use different types of discourse and organize them according to the comunicative situation and the speakers involved in it.

-Sociolinguistic competence: the ability to adequate the utterances to the specific context in accordance with the accepted usage of the determined linguistic community.

– Strategic competence: the ability to define, correct or in general, make adjustments in the course of the communicative.

– Sociocultural competence: this competence has to be understood as a certain awareness of the social and cultural context in which the foreign language is used.

Grammar competence refers to what Chomsky called linguistic competence and Hymes systematic potential.It os the domain of grammaticak and lexical capacity.

Discourse competence os the aspect of communicative competence whoch describes the ability to produce unified written or spoken discourse that shows coherence and cohesion and which conforms to the norms of different genres. Our pupils must be able to produce discourse in which successiveutterances are linked through rules of discourse or discourse competence.

Sociolinguistic competence refers to an understanding of the social context in which communication takes place, including role relationships, the shared  information of the participants,…

Sociolinguistic competence refers to an understanding of the social context in which describes the ability of speakers to use verbal and non- verbal  communication strategies to compemsate for breakdowns in cmminication or to improve the effectiveness of


Sociocultural competence refers to the learner’s lnowledge of the cultural aspects of  the target language speaking countries. All these elements are part of the language as language is not something abstract but a tool for effective communication.

2.1.2. Theory of language learning.

Different learning theories may be found in communicative language teaching.

All of them share the same principles. The communication principle establishes that activities that involve communication promote learning. The second element is the task principle, activities in which language is used for carrying out meaningful tasks promote learning. A third element is the meaningfulness principle, language that is meaningful to the learner supports The learning process. Learning activities,as we will see, are consequently  selected according to how well they engage the learner in meaningful and authentic language use.

2.2. Design.

2.2.1. Objectives and syllabus.

We have already studied the main objective of communicative language learning as it is central to its theory of language: to reach communicative competence.

Different syllabuses may fulfil this objective. Discussions of the nature of the syllabus have been central in this approach. The early notional-functional approach was soon criticised as it seem only a replacement of grammatical lists by notional-functional lists. After that many syllabuses have been designed, though some linguists even rejected the notion of syllabus, the most favoured of which is Brumfit´s model, which has a grammatical core around which notions, functions, and communicational activities are grouped. The range of the last is really unlimited, but we now try to define and classify them.

2.2.2. Learning and teaching activities.

Communicative activities must fulfil a series of conditions:

– enabling learners to attain the communicative objective of the curriculum

– engage learners in communication

– require the use of communication processes (information sharing, interaction…)

Most communicative techniques are based in the information gap principle. In an information gap activity, one of our pupils knows something that another pupils needs, to do the activity. By means of negotiation, interaction and information transfer techniques the gap is bridged.

Littlewood (1981) distinguishes between functional communication activities and social interaction activities. Functional communication activities include such tasks as learners comparing sets of pictures and noting similarities and differences; working

out a likely sequence of events in a set of pictures; discovering missing features in a map or drawing; following directions, etc. Social interaction activities include  conversation and discussion sessions, dialogues and role plays, simulations, debates,…

Harmer (1983) has defined a set of characteristics that communicative activities share:

– a desire to communicate

– a communicative purpose

– content not form

– variety of language

– no teacher intervention

– no materials control

He also divided communicative activities into oral and written. Oral communicative activities may be studied in seven areas:

– reaching a consensus – comunication games – problem solving

– interpersonal exchange – story construction – simulation and role play. In reaching a consensus activities our pupils must agree with each other after a certain amount of discussion. Consensus activities are very successful in promoting free an

spontaneous use of English, e.g. they have to decide what ten objects they will take with them if they have to go to a camping site near a mountain range.

In relaying instructions we give the necessary information for the performance of a task to a group of pupils. Without showing this information to a different group they have to enable this group to perform the same task, e.g.. a dance, a drawing, a model, a map…

Comunication gap games are based on the principle of the information gap.

Interpersonal exchange activities are very similar to information gap ones. The only  differece is that the difference is not in factual knowledge, but rather of opinion so they can be called “opinion gap” activities, e.g. your favorite food, film, book…

Story construction uses the principle of the information gap and adds the jigsaw principle.

We give our pupils partial information and then ask them, to use that information as part of a story they must complete by asking other pupils who have other items of  information.

Simulation1and role play2 involve the pretence of a real-life situation in the classroom. In simulations our pupils are in the situation as themselves while in a role play we ask them to play a role following a role card. E.g. police officer…

Hamer distinguishes six main types of written communicative activities:

1 The idea in simulations is to create a pretence of real life in the  classroom. Thedifference simulations have with role plays is simply that in the former, the students are asked to dramatize the situations with no guide about their characteres (they, thus, play as themselves), while in the second their behaviours are guied by means of the role card provided. It seems clear, then that role plais are a specific kind of simulation.

2 A role play is an activity for which the context an the roles of the  students are Determinated by teacher, but in which students have freedom to produce the language Thei feel appropiate to that context and assigned roles – relaying instructions -exchanging letters -writing games – fluency writing – story construction – writing reports and advertisement In relaying instructions one group of pupils has information for the performance of a task, and they have to get another group to perform the same task by giving them written instructions. We may use this activity giving directions, writing messages which requiere an answer,…

Exchanging letters is a type of activity in which one of our pupils write a letter to each other and then recieve a reply. They may be playing a role, such as writing to agony column, to make the letter more interesting. It is important to teach/learn the special lay-out of English letters.

Writing games may be used to produce written language in a motivating way, e.g. our pupils can write descriptions of famous people or places. Then, they have to read it aloud.

The first pupil to identify the described person or place wins.

In fluency writing we get our pupils to write as much as possible in a definite period of time. Research has suggested that if this is done quite frequently, our pupils will be able not only to write greater quantities, but the quality will improve as well. For example we can give them a series of pictures, sequence them and tell a story with a time limit.

In story construction we give individual pupils partial information which they must pool together with other pupils to write a narrative.

Finally, in writing reports and advertisements we may use some activities based on our pupils´fields of interest. For example we can prepare a smoking questionnaire. Our pupils will devise a questionnaire and then write a report based on the results they obtain.

2.2.3. The roles of the learner and teacher.

Communicative language teaching emphasis on communication, rather than the mastery of language forms, leads to different roles for learners and teachers form those found in traditional teaching. Successful communication is an accomplishment jointly achieved an so  the main role of the learner is that of negotiator. By means of cognitive and social interaction, i.e. with himself, his classmates, the teacher, and the materials, he must be able to communicate.

The teacher must assume several roles in communicative language teaching, such as needs analyst, counsellor, group process manager, informant,… But all these roles serve two main functions. First of all, the teacher must facilitate the communication process in the classroom. Secondly, he must be a participant within the learning-teaching group.

2.2.4. The roles of materials.

Communicative language teaching sees materials as a way of influencing the quality of classroom interaction, The primary role of materials is therefore to promote communicative language use. We can distinguish three types of materials: text-based; task-based and realia.

Text-based materials are sometimes no more than structurally organized texts whih some interspersed communicative activities. However, there are communicative texts, which are very different from traditional organized texts. For example, they may consist of cues to initiate communication, or be based in information gap pair work, …

Task-based materials consist of games, role-plays, simulations,… sometimes the information is complementary – the information gap again – and parterns must fit their parts of the jigsaw into a composite whole.

Finally, realia may include theuse of magazines, newspapers, maps, pictures, objects…

2.3. Procedure.

Because of the wide range of communicative activities and techniques that we can use, it is not possible to describe a typical classroom procedure. We can say, however,that traditional procedures are not rejected and that they may be used in the first stages of language learning, such as presentation and controlled practice, while communicative activities are mainly used in the free production stage. Therefore we can establish a sequence of activities as follows;




Practice quasi-communicativePre-communicative

Production Functional communication communicative

Production social interactioncommunicative

As a conclusion, we can say that communicative language teaching uses a wide range of techniques and activities, which involve different roles for teachers, learners and material as well as different syllabuses, to reach its main aim: the attainment of communicative competence.


Brumfit, C, and Johnson, K, The communicative approach to language teaching. OUP. Oxford, 1981.

Crystal, D. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of language. CUP. Cambridge, 1987.

Harmer, J. The Practice of English Language Teaching. Longman. London, 1983.

Howatt, A.P.R. A History of English Language Teaching. OUP. Oxford, 1983.

Johnson, K. Communicative Syllabus Design and Methodology. OUP. Oxford, 1982.

Littlewood, W. Communicative Language Teaching. CUP. Cambridge, 1981.

Mathews, A. At the Chalkface. Nelson. Hong Kong, 1991.

Pygmalion, Equipo. La Enseñanza del Inglés. Narcea. Madrid, 1987.

Richards, J.C., Platt, J. And Platt, H. Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics, Longman. London, 1992.

Steinberg, D.D. Psycholinguistics. Longman. London, 1982.