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Out of the box: Let’s push the balance back towards CLT


Students’ needs have taken a back seat to those of the industry itself.

Most ELT professionals would locate their practice beneath the broad umbrella of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT).

And given the nature of English learning needs in the world today – for everyday life, work and study – an approach that prioritises meaning and communication seems appropriate to language learning.

However, if we consider how CLT has evolved since its inception in the 1970s, the actual communicative needs of learners appear to have been usurped by the need to serve the interests of other stakeholders in the industry entirely.

For a start, why is there such a global demand for English? Is it because people want to learn English, or because various circumstances (transnational migration, corporate globalisation, etc.) have created an environment where they have to learn English?

Sure, English opens doors to success, but the fact that these doors are closed to non-English-speakers raises complex issues.

We could explore these issues in the classroom and provide input to allow our learners to express their views in English – that would be CLT.

But, instead, we tend to rely on global coursebooks – which wilfully avoid topics that publishers regard as ‘problematic’ – as our main source of content.

Internationally recognised qualifications also feature heavily in ELT. Using these as outcomes also shifts the focus away from the language and skills that learners need to express the ideas they want to express, prioritising instead the language required to do well in the exam.

If we consider the profits generated by publishing companies, examining bodies and other for-profit organisations and how their practices impact on classroom practice, it is difficult to see learners as the main beneficiaries of English language teaching.

CLT has been co-opted and adapted to suit corporate interests. We need to think about how to push the balance back.

• ELT blogger Steve Brown has worked in ELT since 1993 and is currently curriculum and quality leader for languages at West College Scotland.