The notion of communicative competence, and its practical equivalent, communicative language teaching (CLT) have obviously had a great impact on how applied linguists think of teaching EFL today. The importance and significance of this particular approach of language teaching has never been questioned, yet, the opinions of whether it had good or bad effect on EFL teaching are rather controversial. In this paper it will be agued that CLT is one of the best teaching methods to be used for foreign language teaching.
Communicative language teaching aims at the development and improvement of knowledge and skills that will help the speaker to make his/her communication successful and effective. No wonder that the establishment of the basic principles of CLT was a reaction against the previous prevailing language teaching method, which was based on linguistic competence. Chomsky's notion of Universal Grammar stated that language use is biologically encoded in the mind; it is an inherited competence. But one shall wonder at this point: 'What is the use of mere linguistic competence without one not being able to use it in everyday communication?' For the pedagogic procedure that followed this theory put great emphasis on formal and grammatical correctness and accuracy, instead on the most basic purpose of communication: to exchange information; to convey messages and to maintain social relationships. When language learning was an exclusively academic privilege and obsession in the past it was enough to concentrate only on structural correctness. But in the 21st century world, language teaching is no longer a luxury but a simple need. As Savignon points out "with the emergence of English as a global language, and with technological innovation and a growing need for learner autonomy challenging language teaching programs worldwide" the improvement and flourishing of a new, more effective method is inescapable (2007, p. 208).
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One of the greatest advantages of the CLT approach is its stress on effectiveness. When it is considered how native speakers of English think about the aims of language use it becomes obvious that the principal goal of communication is not the achievement of grammatical correctness but the successful conveyance of information. CLT was an attempt to abandon the outdated methods that were based exclusively on grammatical competence. By broadening the horizon with other kinds of competence the traditional, grammar-based methodology was substituted with more progressive and effective ways of teaching. From theory CLT created practice: it uses and teaches language as it is used in real, everyday life. In this context, language ceases to be a scientific, abstract entity; something to be crammed. Instead, students are provided with a picture of language as a real, lived experience. It is certainly wrong to suggest that grammatical correctness is not important at all. But it must be accepted that it is only a small part of communication. CLT aims at the development of the other 3 competences as well: sociolinguistic, discourse and strategic competence (Canale & Swain, 2003).
For this reason the use of CLT in the EFL classroom is a means by which students' attitude towards language learning and their way of learning can also be positively influenced. Due to the constant concentration on grammatical correctness students are often stressed out at class. They often do not dare to speak because they are afraid of making grammatical mistakes. Inaccurate use of grammar generates a sense of failure in them. CLT reduces this stress factor by encouraging students to use not only their linguistic but also their different communicative competences. CLT creates a less stressful classroom atmosphere by different means: it puts "greater emphasis on fluency and appropriateness in the use of the target language than structural correctness; minimal focus on form with corresponding low emphasis on error correction and explicit instruction on language rules or grammar." (Mangubhai et al., 2004, p. 292) CLT focuses on success rather than failure and urges students to rely on their creativity and performance skills when speaking, namely on their strategic competence. In short, this approach "puts the focus on the learner". (Savignon cited in Mangubhai, 2004, p. 292).
However, some applied linguists argue that the four basic components of communicative competence as outlined by Hymes (as cited in Cook, 2003) are rather vague theoretical notions that can barely be put into practice. They usually highlight the fact that the notions of appropriateness and attestedness are highly dependent on socio-cultural norms. And in a sense they are right. But one must not forget that language itself is the organic part of culture. Therefore, learning a language, in a strict sense, means learning a culture as well. CLT aims to develop in students a sense of what is wrong and what is right in English, and not only in a grammatical sense. The notion of appropriateness in practice means that students are not only using language in a linguistic sense but also in a social and cultural context. Again, they are taught how to use language as it is used in real life.
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To sum up what has been said so far, CLT is one of the best methods to be used within the framework of EFL classroom for several reasons. It encourages students to rely on their discourse and strategic competence, and therefore reduces the stress factor of grammatical correctness. CLT also highlights the importance of sociocultural skills. Students get a realistic picture of language and are provided with the criteria of what is considered to be proper in a given culture. This way, learning English language becomes a parallel process of learning English culture as well. Living in a 'globalised' world, it is vital both for teachers and students to adopt and maintain such effective language teaching approaches as CLT.