A criticism that I have heard of communicative language teaching [CLT] is that it does not apply well in East Asia (in my case, Korea). A couple of reasons for this are given or implied. I would like to address these criticisms here.
One type of reasoning that I think was underlying the criticism I heard from one teacher at a previous workplace is that it is foreign to the educational culture here. The middle school, high school, and college culture emphasize passive student learning from lectures, deductive transmission of knowledge from teachers to students, and non-interactive learning. However, to imply that East Asian students cannot learn and benefit from inductive and interactive learning methods due to cultural constraints is wrong. In fact, it seems to insult the intelligence of East Asian students, who are cognitively no different than we are, just because of cultural constraints. I have seen my students embrace interactive learning in my university classrooms. They have found it to be a refreshing change from their previous classroom experiences, and they have adjusted quickly and learned well. Some have commented on how much they appreciated the approach – either in final course evaluations, or unsolicited comments in the classroom.
The second argument is a more sound and valid one, which I heard from a conference talk by a well known applied linguist. At the recent KATE conference (Korean Assoc. of Teachers of English), Eli Hinkel noted that a problem of CLT in Korea is the EFL context (English as a foreign language – a totally foreign language in the environment / country and not used naturally outside the classroom). This would, I assume the argument would go, work against teachers’ attempts to have students learn communicative English in the classroom, when there are few opportunities for meaningful communicative use of English outside the classroom. One way of answering that is to adjust the goals and expectations of language teaching, even in CLT, to the EFL context, which I will talk about in a future blog post.
Korean students today will sometimes use English in certain contexts – when they deal with non-Koreans in Korea, at work, or when travelling or studying abroad. Most of all, they will have to deal with real English at the university in Korea. In Korea and other East Asian countries, there is an increasing trend toward English-medium instruction [EMI] in college classrooms, that is, regular courses taught in English. At Korea University, for example, about 45% of undergraduate courses in various majors are taught in English. This is also a trend at other Korean universities, and in other nations. For Koreans, in their academic or professional lives, they will have to deal with English as the global language of their professions. So in CLT/TBLT classrooms, the tasks and activities could be more tailored to the actual situations where they will use English in their lives – e.g., classroom situations, and various professional contexts. These could include college and graduate school class lectures and activities, business meetings, business travel situations, team projects, and others.
In my next post (in c. one week or so), I will talk about realistic goals for CLT instruction in an EFL environment like in East Asia.