Review from ETp 98:
"I believe that nowadays the vast majority of schools and teachers would certainly prefer to follow the communicative approach – rather than, for example, the grammar translation method or even a pure version of audio-lingualism. And the reasons are obvious: with rare exceptions, most people who decide to learn another language expect to be able to communicate with others, so adopting such methodology makes more sense.
However, as a teacher trainer, I can confidently say that the idea that explicit grammar rules must be avoided at all costs, that drilling is a thing of the past and that formulaic language is a crime against communicative language teaching is still, unfortunately, very much out there. Since there is no single authority on what the communicative approach really is and what the principles really are, many professionals, with the best of intentions, end up creating their own variants of the approach. These are not always based on sound theory and therefore, at times, risk jeopardising learning. It seems to me that there are quite a few misconceptions about communicative language teaching that need to be clarified and that a revitalisation of the approach is also in order.
The Principled Communicative Approach, a slim volume which is part of Helbling’s Resourceful Teacher series, might have done just that. Based on current psycholinguistic research and on the idea that modern language teaching should follow broadly communicative principles, the theory behind the book is that:
- teaching should be meaning-focused, learner-centred and personally significant to the students;
- explicit input helps language automatisation;
- controlled practice activities are vital to help students internalise L2 structures;
- there should be a clear focus on form/structure;
- teaching formulaic language is essential;
- students should be exposed to large amounts of L2;
- students should be given plenty of opportunities to practise the language in an interactive way.
The book is divided into seven chapters, each with a brief explanation of one of the aforementioned principles followed by an average of ten classroom activities that, as the authors put it, ‘embody the seven principles’. What I particularly like about these activities is that they are very practical and many of them require little or no preparation. This is extremely useful because we teachers already have a lot on our plates, so having a book like this in the staffroom is a real time-saver.
It’s worth mentioning that the activities cater for a variety of learners, that is, visual, kinesthetic, musical and the like. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that many of the good old exercises we used to use in the past (and which seem to have been forgotten in recent years, mainly because all the emphasis is now on technology and computer-based activities) have been brought back to life.
Having said that, though, in order to keep up with the 21st century, the book also suggests a number of useful websites and links that can be used in class. Although the activities in the book were designed for students at A1 to B2 level on the CEFR scale, some of them could easily be adapted and used with more advanced students. Finally, at the back of the book there is also an extremely helpful Teacher’s Quick-Reference Guide, showing the lesson time, the level and the focus of each of the 75 activities. Again, a real help for busy teachers.
The Principled Communicative Approach, in my opinion, does what it promises: giving a fresh take on communicative language teaching with a blend of sound theory and practice. I would definitely recommend this book, not only to language teachers but also to teacher trainers."
William Chaves Gomes