The end of CLT:

a context approach to language teaching

Stephen Bax

Purpose of the article:

  • To argue that CLT, although it has been useful, and been an improvement over past methodologies, needs to be replaced (CLT is now having a negative effect)
  • To show how CLT has always neglected the context in which it takes place
  • To introduce and persuade the reader that a "Context Approach" should be adopted in CLT's place

Brief CLT Background:

  • CLT (Communicative Langauge Teaching) has been popular in the language teaching world for a number of years now
  • Popular because it improved on the shortcomings with the other approaches and methods
  • Emphasis on communication is widely accepted in principle by professionals everywhere

The Time Traveler

"In the manner of H.G. Well's Time Traveller, I stumbled on a school that had remained oblivious to developments in language teaching, where teachers looked at me strangely when I questioned their obsession with Grammar-Translation and suggested that speaking was the most important skill involved in learning a language."

Stephen Bax disagreed with the excerpt above because he says it displays an "unfortunate attitude" because of the judgements the young teacher made.  The young teacher did not consider:

  • Cultural context
  • Learning context
  • Students needs & wishes

Why does the young teacher make these claims? Because he is a native speaker and he is "armed" with CLT

* Discussion Questions:

  • What were your impressions after reading this short excerpt?
  • What your reaction similar to Stephen Bax's reactions?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the reaction of either the young teacher who wrote the excerpt above or with Stephen Bax?
  • Do you think it is important to consider the factors Bax mentions? Why or Why not?

The CLT Attitude

  • Common assumptions: CLT is "modern," CLT is the "only way to learn language properly," Any country without CLT is "backward"
  • Bax claims is type of attitude can be found just about everywhere in the profession
  • Bax also claims this is view is not an "accident" but rather a direct result of a "mistaken emphasis in the profession which needs to be remedied"
  • It is an unconcious set of beliefs
  • Key aspects of the "CLT Attitude":
  • Assume & Insist that CLT is the whole & complete solution to language learning
  • Assume that no other method could be any good
  • Ignore people's own views of who they are and what they want
  • Neglect and ignore all aspects of the local context as being irrelevant


Example 1: Czech Republic

Example 2: A famous ELT author

Example 3: Holland

Example 4: Taiwan

* Discussion Questions:

  • Do you think this "CLT Attitude" exists? If so, is it widespread or is it less common than Bax implies?
  • Do you think this "naive" attitude can be remedied? If so, how can it be remedied? Does it need to be remedied?
  • What were your reactions to the examples Bax includes in his article? Did any stick out to you?
  • What are the impacts of the CLT attitude on teaching? On the learners?

Bax's Response

  • CLT Attitude is counterproductive for everyone involved, especially students
  • The root of the problem is CLT itself
  • The solution is to demote CLT


  • CLT in many ways resembles a method in that it focuses on "the way we should teach" rather than focusing on "the way we should learn"
  • CLT ignores the context of teaching and learning
  • CLT emphasizes what a teacher must do (generate communication)
  • Gives the impression that "the communicative approach is the way to do it, no matter where you are, no matter the context" and that the solution is found in the "method" rather than any other aspect

Main Problem with CLT

"By its very emphasis on communication, and implicitly on methodology, it relegates and sidelines the context in which we teach, and therefore gives out the impression that CLT will work anywhere - that the methodology is king, and the magic solution is for all our pupils"

* Discussion Questions:

  • What is your reaction to this quote? Do you agree with it? Do you disagree? Why?
  • Do you think this is truly the main problem with CLT?
  • Do you think this is an accurate portrayal of what is happening in the CLT world?

CLT Approach vs. Context Approach

A Different Planet

"Many aspects of context - such as students' attitudes, cultural expectations, and so on - are clearly at least as important as teaching method.  Any training course should therefore make it a priority to teach not only methodology but also a heightened awareness of contextual factors, and an ability to deal with them - in fact, to put consideration of the context first and only then consider the teaching appraoch."

* Discussion Questions:

  • Do you agree or disagree with the quote above? Do you think those are important priorities in language teaching and in teaching in general?
  • Do you feel like the aspects focused on in Dominic's short training are comparable to the "training" you are going through here at ISU?
  • Do you feel like your classes are teaching you how to analyze and reflect on "the culture, the classroom, and the pupils' needs," so called key components of good teaching?
  • Do you feel that you are being drilled with methods and being left to work out the context on your own? Or vice versa? Or a good amount of each?

Approaches to Language Teaching

  • Methodologically-driven - gives priority to methodological matters
  • Includes Direct Method & CLT
  • Language-driven - gives priority to one or more aspects of language
  • Includes the Lexical Approach & Grammar-Translation
  • In both instances context is secondary

The "Real" Paradigm Shift

  • Demotion of CLT & its priorities
  • Promotion of context
  • CLT will still play an important role, but only after context has been taken into consideration

Why another approach?

  • Without explicit focus on context, it will never be at the forefront
  • Teachers tend to only act when "empowered, educated, and encouraged"

Context Approach

  • First priority is learning context
  • First step is to identify key aspects of the learning context before deciding what and how to teach in any given class
  • Next the teacher will identify a suitable approach and language focus
  • This will all take place within a communicative framework (CLT)

* Discussion Questions:

  • What do you think of this idea that context should be the top priority in the language teaching world?  Do you think this will be an effective approach to teaching language? Teaching in general?
  • Do you think it is possible for this "Context Approach" to become a more important priority than CLT, being that right now it seems to be less of a priority within the majority of other approaches and methods? Do you think it should be a priority? Why or why not?
  • How do you think the Context Approach relates to the article and 2 chapters we read for Friday? Do you think this article aligns with the thoughts presented in the other article and chapters?

All information on this page was taken and adapted from "The end of CLT: a context approach to language teaching" by Stephen Bax.