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That is an important question because the answer is that actually we communicate all the time in several ways in order to express our ideas. We have different ways to communicate according to facts as age, culture, education, etc.
For example, when we are babies we just cry but even when we don't speak we are expressing something. Eventually, when we learn to communicate using our target language we do it naturally because we are involved in a context that uses this language so we get used to speak it in a short time not by learning grammatical rules but, as Nunan expresses we learn a language "as a dynamic resource for the creation of meaning... we need to distinguish between knowing various grammatical rules and being able to use the rules effectively and appropriately when communicating". (1989)
When we want to learn a new language different from the target one there are many methods or approaches that we can use, all of them for the same purpose: Communicate.
The communicative teaching approach arises from the dissatisfaction of many educators that are not happy with the audio-lingual method because grammar is hard to learn and students get bored in class because they don't find the real utility of the new language.
Since the students were learning how to build a perfect sentence they didn't have the chance to practice real communication. This method focuses more on the aim of communicate and less in the perfect way to speak because the students have to find one way or another to express what they want to say.
This approach uses activities that simulate real life situations and encourages the student to practice the new language speaking it and finding the way to give meaning to their words without the necessity of a perfect grammar. In these activities the students can work in pairs or groups where they can find feedback from their classmates so they feel less afraid because they find themselves in a friendly context. These activities are more interesting for the students because they can use their own ideas and they don't have to translate or repeat words to learn, so they keep motivated. They can choose the way to express their ideas based on the person who is listening to them and also on the context that they are working in.
Also this method is good for the teacher because there is more flexibility to make activities that seem more like a game giving students a relaxed and fun environment where they can find answers from their mates. Also, the assessment of the students is based in qualify the ability to communicate in a right way.
A communicative classroom is very noisy because the students have to be involved in activities where they can speak and listen to their classmates. Also, they can work stand up and they can be moving so the class is not boring. Thus, they gain self-confidence and they feel comfortable speaking the new language. The students have the responsibility of their own learning and the teacher acts more like a guide and an observer.
The communicative method is based on several principles. One of the most used list of principles is David Nunan's (1991) which describes that:
- It puts emphasis in the communication in the foreign language across the interaction.
- It introduces real texts in the situation of learning.
- It offers opportunities to the pupils to think about the learning process and not only about the language.
- It gives importance to the students' personal experiences as elements that they contribute to the learning of the classroom.
- It tries to relate the language learned in the classroom with activities realized out of it.
Thus, the students are learning like in the real life from their experiences and also from the experiences and feedback from their classmates. Besides, they are learning to use the language in simulations of daily situations, so they are getting skills to performance in a social and cultural real context using a normal language not a perfect one like the one used in books. The students also learn to have coherence when they are speaking to make their sentences understandable and meaningful. In this kind of classroom the students work in pairs or groups so they can be able to improve their interaction whit other people simulating a real situation having an interaction that allows them to negotiate an discuss doubts. Is important the continuous use of the target language, here is where the teacher acts as a monitor supervising that the students don't speak in their native language in order to have a real practice during the activities. The students doesn't have to behave in a specific way, when a mistake happens the students are not punished, instead of that the teacher raters to reward the fluency and good pronunciation. Besides, in some activities the students are free to choose what to say and they also can choose the easiest way to say it. Thus the student can develop strategies to learn and evaluate by themselves.
Another important point is that the students have the chance to express their feelings and emotions so they feel comfortable in class because they feel they are making an important contribution for the learning process.
This method uses an attempt to recreate the real communication but is not exactly the same. It's important that the students use what they learn in classroom when they are out of it.
In other methods the main aim of learning is translate words and sentences and learn a perfect grammar that sometimes is kind of useless in real life, is better to learn how to think in the new language so the students don't have to translate before speak, losing time and fluency. At the end, the meaning is what matters the most. In other words what is important is the content of the sentence, not the way to say it.
The main technique in this method is to make activities that promote communication between partners.
It's important to have a desire of communication making questions and giving answers to promote dialogue having a reason or a topic to talk about. The teacher can set the topic or give the students freedom to choose it, thus the students have a communicative purpose. Sometimes activities in the communicative classroom can seem artificial because students are just imagining situations and also because the teacher is mostly of the time next to them which not occurs in real situations. To avoid this disadvantage, the teacher can try to use more real material like magazines, books, games, etc.
I think that this method can be used in a learner-centered classroom where the most important person is the student and all the activities are focused to improve the performance of the learner getting close to real life situations.
In my personal experience as student I have had the chance to experiment communicative activities and I really like them because little by little I'm less afraid to speak and to make mistakes because if I'm wrong usually I have feedback from my classmates or from my teacher.
Also this method makes me feel more interested in the new language, English in this case because I like to use it not only in the classroom but in my real life.
I would like to use this method in my classes to make them more fun and interesting and also to create a friendly environment with my students.
Wikipedia (2009) Metodo Comunicativo [Website] Available from:
<http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%A9todo_comunicativo >[December 2009]
Nunan,David. (1991). Designing tasks for the communicative classroom. Cambridge Language Teaching Library [Online Book] Available from:
<http://books.google.com.mx/books?id=NSlMZp9XkHoC&dq=david+nunan%2Bcommunicative+teaching&lr=&source=gbs_navlinks_s> [December 2009]
Harmer, Jeremy (1991) The practice of English Language Teaching. Longman.Longman Publishing New York.
Hedge, Tricia (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. Oxford University Press Library [Online Book] Available from:
<http://books.google.com.mx/books?id=VG8NuoGgKJYC&dq=hedge+tricia&lr= > [December 2009]