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It should be noted that many instructors perceive the communicative language teaching approach positively as applied to the EFL environment. Nevertheless, research suggests that there are quite a few obstacles to its effective application in the classroom (Ahmed & Rao, 2013; Al Rabadi, 2012; Huang, 2016; Orafi, 2013; Wu & Alrabah, 2014). Therefore, there is a gap in the existing body of knowledge regarding the theoretical foundation of this approach and its application to practice. The purpose of this chapter is to provide insights into the difficulties, which teachers face, that hinder the successful use of CLT.
Notably, the majority of activities in the EFL classroom are aimed at evaluating students’ ability to memorize and use grammar and its concepts correctly. For that reason, both learners and instructors are bounded by the need to meet certain standards while such an approach contradicts the communicative teaching orientation (Ghanbari & Ketabi, 2011; Orafi 2013; Wu & Alrabah, 2014). In their research in Iran, Wu and Alrabah (2014) have noted that teaching and learning English is complicated by various factors. In particular, the complexity lies in the fact that students need to take multiple tests that assess their ability to use linguistic forms correctly rather than their actual capability to use the foreign language to communicate their thoughts and messages. Also, Orafi (2013) mentioned that, in many cases, the emphasis is made on the use of grammar while other skills such as speaking or listening turn out to be neglected. Such an approach contradicts the CLT methodology that aims to equip students with communicative skills.
Apart from that, the problem lies in the fact that teachers lack sufficient training to be able to employ the CLT approach in their classrooms. Overall, instructors need to possess specific abilities and know useful techniques to introduce a certain teaching method. Carless (1999) has pointed out that “teachers need to acquire the skill and knowledge to implement something particularly if it is slightly different to their existing methods” (p. 27). However, frequently enough, teachers are not trained to accommodate their instructional methods so that they reflect the functional use of a foreign language. This instance has been discussed as one of the greatest problems of the contemporary EFL classroom by multiple researchers (Al Rabadi, 2012; Anto, Coenders, & Voogt, 2012; Abate, 2014). One of the studies investigated the way CLT was used in Jordanian educational institutions (Al Rabadi, 2012). It turned out that professors did not possess sufficient training, and this affected their practices strongly. In particular, they did not make effective use of such CLT approaches as group work and error corrections. The research by Anto et al. (2012) revealed similar results as applied to Ethiopian universities. The investigators suggested that teachers should be provided with an opportunity to improve their CLT application through in-service professional development.
CLT is a methodology which implies that students should gradually engage in the four activities (which are reading, writing, speaking, and listening). This should proceed through constant interaction with the teacher and the peers (Wyatt, 2009). Nevertheless, many instructors are not satisfied with the amount of time allotted to teaching communicative skills (Abdel Latif, 2012; Al Asmari, 2015). The research by Abdel Latif (2012) intended to investigate the way a textbook used in the CLT environment would equip students with skills allowing them “to use English for social purposes” (p. 79). Even though the book was structured to establish a communicative educational environment, the activities and tasks in it were taught in a non-CLT manner. Importantly, the instructors were limited in time and did not have an opportunity to teach students how to use the English language functionally.
Linguistic proficiency is another factor that negatively affects the efficiency of communicative language teaching. In this methodology, learners need to construct meaning when cooperating with the teacher and their peers. Nevertheless, low language proficiency does not allow them to adapt to the learner-centered CLT environment (Ahmad & Rao, 2013; Huang, 2016). Interestingly, Ahmad and Rao (2013) researched the students of Pakistan, and its results supported the claim made. In particular, insufficient language proficiency hindered the successful application of CLT in the classroom. Moreover, this instance became a demotivating factor as applied to Pakistani learners. Notably, the students stressed that they had to concentrate on the proficiency exam rather than on studying English for communicative purposes. The same pattern was noted in the research by Huang (2016), who was observing students in Taiwan. The results evidenced the fact that the main barriers to CLT implementation were poor language proficiency that hindered their interaction with peers and low motivation levels.
Another significant finding made by Huang (2016) was linked with teachers’ language proficiency. It turned out that many instructors were concerned whether their linguistic abilities were sufficient for teaching communicative skills. If a teacher did not possess a good command of English, they could not introduce the principles of CLT in their classroom effectively. For instance, the study by Farooq (2015) revealed that the perceptions of Saudi instructors in terms of their linguistic competency affected the proficiency of students directly. Based on this understanding, it may be assumed that the implementation of CLT cannot proceed successfully if the teacher is not proficient in English.
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Abdel Latif, M. M. M. (2012). Teaching a standard-based communicative English textbook series to secondary school students in Egypt: Investigating teachers’ practices and beliefs. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 11(3), 78-97.
Ahmad, S., & Rao, C. (2013). Applying communicative approach in teaching English as a foreign language: A case study of Pakistan. Porta Linguarum: Revista Internacional de Didáctica de las Lenguas Extranjeras, 20, 187-203.
Al Asmari, A. A. (2015). Communicative language teaching in EFL university context: Challenges for teachers. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 6(5), 976-984.
Al Rabadi, R. Y. (2012). Jordanian University communicative language teaching dangling between theory and practice. Studies in Literature and Language, 5(1), 37-44.
Anto, A. G., Coenders, F. G. M., & Voogt, J. (2012). Assessing the current implementation of communicative language for English language teachers in Ethopian Universities. Staff and Educational Development International, 16(1), 51-69.
Carless, D. R. (1999). Large scale curriculum changes in Hong Kong. In C. Kennedy, D. P. Doyle, & C. Goh (Eds.), Exploring change in English language teaching (pp. 19-37). Hong Kong, China: Macmillan Heinemann.
Farooq, M. U. (2015). Creating a communicative language teaching environment for improving students’ communicative competence at EFL/EAP university Level. International Education Studies, 8(4), 179-191.
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Ghanbari, B., & Ketabi, S. (2011). Practicing a change in an Iranian EFL curriculum: From ivory tower to reality. Iranian EFL Journal, 7(6), 9-13.
Huang, S. H. (2016). Communicative language teaching: Practical difficulties in the rural EFL classrooms in Taiwan. Journal of Education and Practice, 7(24), 186-202.
Orafi, S. M. S. (2013). Effective factors in the implementation of ELT curriculum innovations. Scientific Research Journal, 1(5), 14-21.
Wu, S. H., & Alrabah, S. (2014). Tapping the potential of skill integration as a conduit for communicative language teaching. English Language Teaching, 7(11), 119-129.
Wyatt, M. (2009). Practical knowledge growth in communicative language teaching. The Electronic Journal for English as a Second Language, 13(2), 1-28.