Community language learning

Community language learning (CLL) was primarily designed for monolingual conversation classes where the teacher-counsellor would be able to speak the learners' L1.

Community language learning - methodology article

The intention was that it would integrate translation so that the students would disassociate language learning with risk taking. It's a method that is based on English for communication and is extremely learner-focused. Although each course is unique and student-dictated, there are certain criteria that should be applied to all CLL classrooms, namely a focus on fluency in the early stages, an undercurrent of accuracy throughout the course and learner empowerment as the main focus.

  • How it works in the classroom
    • Stage 1- Reflection
    • Stage 2 - Recorded conversation
    • Stage 3 - Discussion
    • Stage 4 - Transcription
    • Stage 5 - Language analysis
    • Length of stages
  • For and against CLL
  • Working with monolingual or multilingual classes
  • Working with large classes
  • Conclusion


How it works in the classroom
In a typical CLL lesson I have five stages:  

Stage 1- Reflection
I start with students sitting in a circle around a tape recorder to create a community atmosphere.

  • The students think in silence about what they'd like to talk about, while I remain outside the circle.
  • To avoid a lack of ideas students can brainstorm their ideas on the board before recording.


Stage 2 - Recorded conversation
Once they have chosen a subject the students tell me in their L1 what they'd like to say and I discreetly come up behind them and translate the language chunks into English.

  • With higher levels if the students feel comfortable enough they can say some of it directly in English and I give the full English sentence. When they feel ready to speak the students take the microphone and record their sentence.
  • It's best if you can use a microphone as the sound quality is better and it's easier to pick up and put down.
  • Here they're working on pace and fluency. They immediately stop recording and then wait until another student wants to respond. This continues until a whole conversation has been recorded.


Stage 3 - Discussion
Next the students discuss how they think the conversation went. They can discuss how they felt about talking to a microphone and whether they felt more comfortable speaking aloud than they might do normally.

  • This part is not recorded.


Stage 4 - Transcription
Next they listen to the tape and transcribe their conversation. I only intervene when they ask for help.

  • The first few times you try this with a class they might try and rely on you a lot but aim to distance yourself from the whole process in terms of leading and push them to do it themselves.


Stage 5 - Language analysis
I sometimes get students to analyse the language the same lesson or sometimes in the next lesson. This involves looking at the form of tenses and vocabulary used and why certain ones were chosen, but it will depend on the language produced by the students.

  • In this way they are totally involved in the analysis process. The language is completely personalised and with higher levels they can themselves decide what parts of their conversation they would like to analyse, whether it be tenses, lexis or discourse.
  • With lower levels you can guide the analysis by choosing the most common problems you noted in the recording stages or by using the final transcription.

Length of stages
The timing will depend entirely on the class, how quickly they respond to CLL, how long you or they decide to spend on the language analysis stage and how long their recorded conversation is. Be careful however that the conversation isn't too long as this will in turn make the transcription very long

For and against CLL


  • Learners appreciate the autonomy CLL offers them and thrive on analysing their own conversations.
  • CLL works especially well with lower levels who are struggling to produce spoken English.
  • The class often becomes a real community, not just when using CLL but all of the time. Students become much more aware of their peers, their strengths and weaknesses and want to work as a team.


  • In the beginning some learners find it difficult to speak on tape while others might find that the conversation lacks spontaneity.
  • We as teachers can find it strange to give our students so much freedom and tend to intervene too much.
  • In your efforts to let your students become independent learners you can neglect their need for guidance.


Working with monolingual or multilingual classes
I have used CLL with both monolingual and multilingual classes and found that it works well with both. With the multilingual low-level classes I, as the teacher-counsellor, reformulated their English in the same way you might do with higher levels. However, the first few attempts at CLL work better with a monolingual class as the instructions can be given in L1. It's important that the learners understand their and your new roles in the language learning process.

Working with large classes
For the first lesson it's important to record the conversation as a whole class even though this can limit student-speaking time. It's more practical in terms of giving instructions before you start and for moving from one student to another when they need you to translate or reformulate what they want to say. The next time you use CLL however, you could split the class into two groups. This gives them more speaking time.


  • Make sure the groups are far enough away from each other for the recording stage but not so far that you can't move freely from one group to another.
  • A further alternative is that they swap tapes for the transcription stage. The language is obviously less personalised but their listening skills are being challenged in a different way and they still feel part of a whole class community.

Although CLL is primarily meant as a 'whole' approach to teaching I have found it equally useful for an occasional lesson, especially with teenagers. It enables me to refocus on the learner while my students immediately react positively to working in a community. They take exceptionally well to peer-correction and by working together they overcome their fear of speaking. I have also found quieter students able to offer corrections to their peers and gladly contribute to the recording stage of the lesson. It's a teaching method which encompasses all four skills while simultaneously revealing learners' styles which are more or less analytical in their approach to language learning. All of which raises our awareness as a teacher and that of our students.

Once you have tried CLL with your class, it's a good idea to evaluate the method. Here are some possible questions you could ask.

Download evaluation task.pdf  

Further Reading
Charles A. Curran is the name most associated with CLL. He was a priest and psychologist who derived his ideas from 'Counselling Learning', a humanistic concept introduced by Carl Rogers in the 1950s. CLL has been categorised alongside The Silent Way and Suggestopedia because of its humanistic tendencies.

Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching by J Richards and T Rodgers CUP 2002
CLL: A Way Forward? by Rod Bolitho taken from ELT documents 113 - Humanistic Approaches: An Empirical View The British Council (1982)
Communicating Naturally in a Second Language by Wilga M. Rivers CUP 1986
Introducing Innovations into your Teaching by Denise Ozdeniz taken from Challenge and Change in Language Teaching Ed. Jane Willis and Dave Willis Macmillan Heineman 1998
Language Teaching Methodology by David Nunan Prentice Hall 1998
Reformulation and Reconstruction: Tasks that Promote 'Noticing' by Scott Thornbury taken from ELT documents 51/4 October 1997
Working with Teaching Methods by Earl W. Stevick ITP Co. 1998

Jo Bertrand, Teacher, Materials writer, British Council Paris



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