[LINGUISTICS] Communicative Approach: Is it only a matter of speaking?


There are a lot of approaches in the pedagogical field; some approaches may discuss the roles of teachers in teaching and other see the way of learners learn a language – each describe in more subcategorized definitions in social, linguistic, cognitive, socio-cultural, and many more fields to follow. These significant myriad approaches have overwhelmed a lot of practioners in deciding which would be the best approach of all. The answer has never been found and probably would never be at all. Despite from those uncertainty, such writings from Wilkins, Littlewood, Widdowson, Brumfit, Johnson, and others have profoundly form the latter base of what people nowadays know as Communicative Language Teaching or the perfected concept which is called Communicative Approach. This approach is considered to be most effective (compare to the 70’s rushed-in approaches) judging from the concept of real-life result language produce. According to Richards & Rodgers (2002), “the Communicative Approach in language teaching starts from a theory of languages as communication”. Of course from here, we could see that communication is the main goal of this approach. Although Communicative Approach based on the constituents and notions of speaking (regardless of the primarily concept of oral activity and production) this approach needs explicit trainings in other skills such as listening, reading and writing. As Littlewood (1981:1) said, “One of the most characteristic features of communicative language teaching is that it pays systematic attention to functional as well as structural aspects of language”. This essay will focus on defining that Communicative Approach is not just a matter of speaking but also, a matter of practicing listening, reading and writing skills as well.

Discussing about the concept of teaching, Bryne (1981) stated that the communicative approach can be integrated with other skills beside oral and “through listening and speaking activities to reading and writing may provide the teacher with a convenient pattern of work to be followed” (.p108). These steps are proposed as a classroom and also non-classroom activities. The classroom activities are mostly in form of the instructional materials such as text-based, task-based and realia (Richards & Rodgers, p.168). These three materials are using not only speaking but also reading, listening and writing as well. In text-based materials, textbooks are designed to direct and support the concept, the students will study about different information from dialogues, drilling, sentence patterning and even could be related with making a conversation – which is of course need an act of speaking  listening & writing  speaking. Meanwhile in task-based materials, a variety of games, role plays, simulations are implementing the students to activeness and interaction. Lastly, in Realia materials the students are given language-based realia such as signs, magazines, advertisements and newspapers, etc to support their communication activity, thus this material will make the students conduct act of reading  speaking and possibly writing.

What Richards and Rodgers proposed are pretty much the same as Littlewood in definition of teaching framework. Littlewood (1981) divided the methodological procedures as two types of teaching framework which are: (A) Pre-communicative activities, which involve structural and quasi-communicative activities; and (B) Communicative activities, which involve functional communication and social interaction activities (p.171). With these procedures, Littlewood proposed that Communicative Approach is not just dealing with speaking proficiency but also focusing on structural and also functional activities which relate with listening (for communication), reading (for information) and writing (for confirmation). The result of these practices will be conducted and can be shown in real life situation where a student is capable in fluent speaking with correct form. Communicative Approach is also focusing on form and meaning which means knowledge in how to convey and deliver information and also how to produce correct form of that information.

As a student and as a teacher, both roles need basic foundations in language learning and teaching fields. These basics are considered to be the four skills; listening, speaking, reading and writing. That is why we can see most of English lesson focuses more on these four skills at periodically or at the same time. In order to make a native-like pronunciation, a learner cannot just focus on the lesson of how to communicate (meaning) but also how to convey those messages in the correct grammar and structure (form). Of course as a Secondary Language Learner, from the native side it would be understandable and considerably fine to focus on the meaning rather than the form but, judging from the context of language learning, would it be perfect to study the form first and then the meaning? Communicative Approach focuses on those things because the basic skills are being taught at the same time (dependable on each personal syllabus).

Based on the evidences above, it is clear that Communicative Approach is not just a matter of speaking but also a matter of studying how to relate meaning and form, and by doing so; it is also defining the usage of defining the teaching framework in pre-communication and communication activities. These steps follow to the most basic of all, the four skills that actually can be integrated into the complete result of the Communicative Approach itself, these four skills; Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing will always be in a circle of methods for pedagogical concepts. For Communicative Approach, the ways are the same, only the application might be slightly different than any other approaches that are abundant until now. In the end, although the name of the approach relates which the word of oral activities, but a learner can be a good listener, reader and writer because this approach indeed focus on all of those four skills nevertheless.


Johnson, K., & Morrow, K. (Eds.). (1981). Communication in the Classroom. Great Britain: Longmann House.

Littlewood, W. (1981). Communication Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2002). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Alex Jhon