Communicative Approach

"Communicative Approach" has been quite popular in Taiwan recently. "Communicative Approach" sounds perfect in theory, but it will have some problems after being put into practice. From the literal meaning, we can know that the main emphasis of "Communicative Approach" is "communication." So the main task of teachers is to teach students how to communicate in English efficiently. Under this precondition, "communication" is divided into several kinds of "functions," such as asking directions, ordering dishes at restaurants, buying airline tickets or chatting on the Internet. Each one is regarded as a function. When introducing one function, teachers give students some key words, sentences or phrases and design some activities for students to practice what they learn. The purpose is to train students to ask directions, order dishes at restaurants in English by themselves.

However, there is a big problem here. "Communicative Approach" is conditioned to ESL (English as a Second Language). There is a condition of this approach: there should be an environment of ESL. That is, students have to use English to order dishes at restaurants so that they can get enough practice. However, the environment in Taiwan is different, and it is an environment of EFL (English as a Foreign Language). Nobody orders dishes in English. If we do not take this difference into consideration and still imitate the western style to teach students to order dishes in English at the local classrooms, students will lose many opportunities of practicing repeatedly.

The way to solve this problem is to rearrange the orders of language functions according to the local environment. For example, how can you do when a foreigner ask you directions? How to chat with foreigners at pubs? How to ask your superior for a raise of salary in a foreign company? In other words, teachers should teach students the functions that they can use immediately after learning in native environment. Besides, teachers can also make good use of classroom environment to provide students with communicative learning activities. For instance, teachers can use "paired practice", "group work", "problem-solving and information-gap activities", "role-playing and dramatization". "playing games" "singing songs" and so on. There are so many activities for teachers to choose from. If those activities can be really exercised in classrooms, students surely will like learning English.

Another problem is how to correct students' mistakes in pronunciation, grammar and so on. Many students are too concerned about their mistakes in pronunciation and grammar when speaking English. In order to break this mental barrier of many students and encourage them to speak English, many teachers encourage students to put grammar and pronunciation aside first and speak English. Then teachers would gradually correct students' mistakes. This kind of encouragement is also one of the basic points of "Communicative Approach." The spirit of encouragement sounds ideal, but it may result in some problems. The toughest one is how and when to correct students' mistakes. How long can teachers allow students to speak incorrect English? What mistakes should be corrected? When to correct students' pronunciation and grammar? How to solve all these problems depends upon teachers' judgments and choices. To sum up, a well-trained and experienced teacher plays an important role in "Communicative Approach." When students play activities like "paired practice", "group work" or "role-playing", a good teacher knows how and when to move around, provide immediate help and collect students' mistakes to discuss late after the activities are over.

Moreover, another problem of "Communicative Approach" is that teachers may have difficulty in evaluating students' performance. Usually at schools, students' grades mainly come from the results of written tests. However, as long as "Communicative Approach" is put into practice, students' performance of listening, speaking, reading and writing should all be taken into consideration. Otherwise, the evaluation of students' performance will not be that fair. However, we all know that it is not quite easy for teachers to evaluate students' performance of speaking and listening. There is a method to solve this problem. Before students enter schools, they can first take the placement test or diagnosis test that include listening comprehension, pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, speaking, reading and writing. The results of the tests can be used as students' "English Diagnosis Record." After finishing each semester, students can take a post-test. The former and latter tests will be compared with each other. Teachers can see whether students' mistakes have been corrected or not and whether students' communicative ability has been improved. Then according to the comparison, teachers can make an objective evaluation.

Not only is convenient for evaluation, "English Diagnosis Record" have another benefits. Teachers can swift "English Diagnosis Record" into "English Learning Card." It can be used to record what mistakes and problems students have and how they are overcome during the process of learning English. The "English Learning Card" can be an important supportive data for portfolio evaluation. By making good use of these data, teachers can catch the improvement of students' learning English.

"Communicative Approach" is aimed at training students' listening and speaking, so it relatively ignores the training of reading and writing. The ability of writing and reading is quite important for an intellectual to enter universities, study abroad, read plenty of original books, hoop up into the international webs looking for information, write papers or dissertations in English, etc. All these cannot be acquired merely from "Communicative Approach." Therefore, "extensive reading" can compensate for the fault of "Communicative Approach" and the two can work side by side. Let's take vocabulary for example. According to the spirit of extensive reading, teachers provide students with reading materials that they are interested in. The vocabulary of the reading materials should be arranged according to the frequency and difficulty. Teachers can ask students not to check the dictionary for every new word, and encourage them to comprehend from the context. The main principle of extensive reading is speed, quantity and consistency. It is unnecessary for students to understand every word. So is the same with "Communicative Approach." If you order dishes at restaurants in America, you may hear something you do not understand. But you do not check the dictionary. As long as you understand the main idea of what you hear, the communicative function is achieved. So is the same with extensive reading. What teachers should do is find reading materials suitable for students and encourage them to read consistently.