Language Teaching (“CLT”) is designed to put the learners in the driver’s seat. In other words, it takes learners out of a passive role and into an active one in order to negotiate meaning
through communication (Celce-Murcia, 2001). However, O’Neill argues that
much of what seems appealing about CLT is not what it is touted to be. He finds
that many of the underlying principles of CLT are only trivially true (2000). Citing
to six propositions that he feels CLT are based upon, O’Neill, offers six counter-propositions that defend his position. Further, he suggests to educators that pluralist methodologies are more effective
trivial propositions of CLT, O’Neill states, are: that language teaching should focus on meaning rather than form; that
a communicative syllabus should replace a structural syllabus; that communication goals can be specified; learner-centered
teaching is superior to teacher-centered instruction; that CLT doesn’t care whether a learner is able to use language
accurately, but that “they learn to get their message across”; and that that classroom activities should be modeled
around real-world activities (2002).
O’Neill contends that in fact being able to “use underlying syntax and structure is one of the foundations of
communicative competence” and further states that “Without it, there is no pragmatic competence worth talking
about” (2000). He claims that syntactic form is what conveys meaning.
syllabus construction, O’Neill explains that using examples of specific speech acts is not a reasonable way to format
a language teaching class (2000). He states that speech acts must be taught in
such a way that students can use them flexibly to fit differing circumstances. Therefore,
a language syllabus must “have a structural as well as pragmatic component” (2000). He goes further by stating that structure may be in fact the best place to begin instruction (applying
it to specific uses secondarily).
O’Neill states that while CLT proponents suggest that clear-cut goals can be set, in fact it is not possible to “specify
communicative goals with any precision” (2000). He claims that there
is no way to know what the actual outcome of learning will be or to know how much learners will retain later.
the other propositions discussed above, O’Neill says that while group and pair work is a tenet of CLT, in fact teaching
to the entire class may be more efficient in some situations; that accuracy is in fact an important aspect of fluency; and
that creating “real-world” conditions in the classroom is not reasonable, because native speakers have had years
to understand the complexities of the language, which makes it possible for them to speak it casually in the real world, but
that non-native speakers need a classroom environment that provides structure, and sometimes even teacher-led instruction
to learn (2000). He suggests that “no single method or approach can work
for all teachers or for all students” and that because of differing learning styles pluralistic teaching methods should
be employed (O’Neill, 2000).
suggests using a narrative structure that generates memorable language during the lesson; stretches the expressive potential
of learners; makes the material more easily recalled; causes the learners to become interested in the format; presents a logical
relationship between parts of the lesson; and causes the learners to look forward to the next lesson. He claims that in so doing the learners will gain a better ability to make meaning from the language that
they are learning, through form and structure as much as through content (2000).
free-lance teacher whose ESL career began with teaching English at a Berlitz school in Germany has taught ESL/EFL. His educational background is uncertain to except to note that he studied German, Italian, and French prior
to teaching ESL (http://www.eslminiconf.net/april/oneill.html). Therefore, the authority of this
article is probably disputable. While he does rely upon cited references, and
nonetheless offers some interesting food for thought, more research on his ideas would be necessary in order to justify relying
that it is important to weigh the relevance and authority of everything that we read.
When we come across research that seems definite and clear, we often forget to question whether it has any practical
application (Ellis, 2001). While we would want to find research that relies upon
sound evidence and which has been tested from the hypothesis/theory level through to the laboratory level, and finally at
the classroom level, elements that cannot be discerned from reading this article, I think there is nothing wrong with looking
at alternative perspectives because those ideas could become the basis for further research (Ellis, 2001). O’Neill reminds me that so-called research-based curriculum trends such as CLT are not always as
they seem and should not always be accepted at face value.
Celce-Murcia text, CLT is construed as a learner-based, language learning method that focuses on “functional language
ability through learner participation in communicative events” (2001, p. 16).
I obviously give more credence to the thoughts presented in this text than in the article discussed above. This research is sound and based in authoritative research. It
is based in an apparently constructivist view-point that puts the learner at center, and which allows for meaning making using
techniques other than traditional didactic teaching methods. Constructivism is
a well tested idea and has been the basis for much research and application, CLT being only one (Ellis, 2001; National Research
Council, 2004; Celce-Murcia, 2001).
O’Neill’s ideas are interesting and, as stated above, remind educators to question everything, his article lacks
authority. I do appreciate the idea of using a pluralistic approach (employing
multiple methods rather than relying upon just one), and for that reason his article has value. It is important to remember that all students have different learning styles and that employing a single
method in our teaching may not address every learners needs. That has been a
well documented fact and one that is an apparent theme in O’Neill’s work (Celce-Murcia, 2001; O’Neill, 2000).
Celce-Murcia, M. (2001). Teaching
English as a Second or Foreign Language 3d.
Boston, MA: Heinle
Ellis, A. (2001). Research
on Educacational Innovations 3d. Larchmont,
NY: Eye on Education.
O’Neill, R. (2001).
Communicative Language Teaching: The Appeal and Poverty of Communicative Language
Teaching. Retrieved October 8, 2005 from www.btinternet.com/~ted.power/esl0404.html
National Research Council. (2004).
How People Learn: Brain, Mind,
Experience, and School. Washington, D.C.: National Academy