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The Principles of Modern English Language Teaching (i)


So, what is the most modern system of teaching language? What are its principles? Let me explain.


The most modern methodology of teaching English is loosely known as Communicative English Teaching, which is usually just called ‘CLT’. To repeat, it is a loose term, and sometimes is divided into ‘hard’ CLT, and ‘soft’ CLT. Hard CLT is more extreme; soft CLT allows more flexibility. Most teachers who have studied TEFL would probably call themselves proponents of soft CLT.


Whatever the case, there are five principles. I will discuss these principles now, while at the same time comparing them to the ‘old’ grammar-translation method from long ago. In this post, let us look at the first principle.


CLT Principle One: Communication


In CLT, there is an emphasis on fluency over accuracy. It was realised that translation and memorisation were artificial and unnatural, and that a language is actually a tool for communicating a real message. This reflects real-life use of language. When people speak to each other, they don’t care about the grammar of the other person; they just care about the message, and whether it is clear.


What these means in the classroom is there will be an emphasis on increasing student-talking-time (STT), and reducing teacher-talking-time (TTT). There will be pair work and group work, and very little of the ‘traditional’ lecturing.


Another point is the teacher doesn’t sit down and talk directly to all the students, because that would mean most of the class is NOT talking, or practising the language. So, when a teacher advertises, “You only talk to the teacher!”, that teacher is showing that they are not trained in modern CLT. This is an important point - in fact, it is one of the 'signs of a fake teacher' which I will give much later in this series of posts.


In grammar-translation, true communication in English doesn’t happen. You just memorise and rehearse. You stare at books, and sit still listening to a teacher lecturing you in Chinese. You are still, passive, and don’t do much at all.


Now, check that you know the meaning of the underlined vocabulary (also repeated below).


  • flexibility (n)
  • proponent (n)
  • principle (n)
  • emphasis (n)
  • fluency (n)
  • to rehearse (v)


The next post will explain the CLT Principle Two.


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