The communicative approach

As we all know the communicative approach is not new, its principles have been applied by language teachers for many years. Most recently, it was revived as a method when the goal of instruction became learning how to use a foreign language to communicate. Since the Grammar-Translation method is not very effective in preparing students to use the target language communicatively, the Communicative Approach became popular.

The Communicative approach has one very basic rule: No translation is allowed. It can be called as the Direct Method also. Therefore the Direct Method receives its name from the fact that meaning is to be connected directly with the target language, without going through the process of translating into the students’ native language. Here in following examples it will be clear how it can be successfully applied.

The teacher places a big map of the United States in the front of the classroom. She asks the students to open their books to a certain page number. The lesson is entitled “Looking at a map”. As the students are called on one by one, they read a sentence from the reading passage at the beginning of the lesson. The teacher points to the part of the map the sentence describes after each student has read his sentence. The passage begins:

We are looking at a map of the United States. Canada is the country to the north of the United States, and Mexico is the country to the south of the United States. Between Canada and the United States is the Rio Grande River. On the East coast is the Atlantic Ocean, and on the West Coast is the Pacific Ocean. In the East is a mountain range called the Appalachian Mountains. In the West are the Rocky Mountains.

After  the students finish reading the passage, they are asked if have any questions. A student asks what a mountain range is. The teacher turns to the blackboard and draws a series of inverted cones to illustrate a mountain range.

The student nods and says “I understand”. Another student asks what  “between” means. The teacher replies “You are sitting between Sulgun and Dovlet. Aynur is sitting between Tawus and Lachyn. Now do you understand the meaning of “between”? The student answers, “Yes, I understand”.

After all of the questions have been answered, the teacher asks some of her own.

“Class, are we looking at a map of Italy?”

The class replies in chorus, “No!”

The teacher reminds the class to answer in a full sentence.

“No, we aren’t looking at a map of Italy,” they respond.

The teacher asks, “Are we looking at a map of the United States?”

“Yes. We are looking at a map of the United States.

“Is Canada a state in the United States?”

“No. Canada isn’t a state. It is a country.”

“Are the Great Lakes in the North of the United States?”

“Yes. The Great Lakes are in the North.”

“Is the Mississippi a river or a lake?”

“The Mississippi is a river.”

“It’s a river. Where is it?”

“It’s in the middle of the United States.”

“What color is the Mississippi River on the map?”

“It’s blue.”

“Point to a mountain range in the West. What mountains are they?”

“They are the Rocky Mountains.”

Finally, the teacher invites the students to ask questions. Hands go up, and the teacher calls on students to pose questions one at a time, to which the class replies. After several questions have been posed, one student asks “Where are the Appalachian Mountains?” Before the class has a chance to respond, the teacher works with the student on the pronunciation of “Appalachian”. Then she includes the rest of the class in this practice as well, expecting that they will have the same problem with this long word. After insuring that the students’ pronunciation is correct, the teacher allows the class to answer the question.

Now let’s look at principles:

Students reading passage in the target language shoud be taught from the beginning of language instruction. However, the reading skill will be developed through practice with speaking. Language is primarily speech.

The teacher uses the target language to ask the students if they have a question.The students use the target language to ask their questions. The native language should not be used in the classroom.

The teacher answers the students’ questions by drawing on the blackboard or giving examples. The teacher should demonstrate, not explain or translate. It’s desirable that students make a direct association between the target language and meaning.

The teacher asks questions about the map in the target language, to which the students reply in a complete sentence in the target language. Students should learn to think in the target language as soon as possible. Vocabulary is acquired more naturally if students use it in full sentences, rather than memorizing word lists.

Students ask questions about the map. The purpose of language learning is communication, therefore students need to learn how to ask questions as well as answer them.

The teacher works with the students on the pronunciation of “Appalachian”. Pronunciation should be worked on right from the beginning of language instruction.

The teacher asks questions about the students; students ask each other questions. Lessons should contain some conversational activity-some opportunity for students to use language in real contexts. Students should be encouraged to speak as much as possible.

The Communicative Approach or Direct Method-teachers who use this intend that students learn how to communicate in the target language. In order to do this successfully, students should learn to think in the target language.


Saparova Dinara,

the  instructor of the TSPI

 named after Seyitnazar Seydi


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