Practical tools, activities, and resources
to guide instruction


Focus on Communicative Language

Students in a classroomA common characteristic of adult ESL instruction across the United States is a focus on communicative language, which integrates meaning (what we want to say) and form (how we say it), with a primary focus on meaning. Communicative language instruction is not focused on students’ knowledge about language but on their ability to perform and communicate using the language.

Adults have countless daily opportunities for listening and speaking in English through their interactions as workers, family members, community members, and classroom learners. Some listening does not require a response, such as listening to movies and broadcast media and listening on the phone. Most listening, however, requires that the listener respond, such as in discussions at the workplace, social conversations with neighbors and colleagues, telephone conversations, and conversations with the many service providers encountered regularly—doctors, social workers, police officers, store clerks, and school staff.

In each context, learners have a purpose for listening and a communication task. Learners may listen to obtain facts, to understand the main idea, or to distinguish facts from opinions or express their own points of view. They may need to distinguish question words and respond appropriately, follow or give instructions or advice, or relate what they hear to the visual materials they are looking at.

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