Competency-Based Language Teaching

Competency-based language teaching (CBLT)is a language teaching focused aspect of competency-based education. In brief, competency-based education is focused on having students master specific skills that are related to real world task. CBLT takes this approach and applies it to the learning of language.

This post will focus on the assumptions, curriculum of CBLT, and the criticism of this approach.

Assumptions

CBLT takes an interactional approach to language learning. Language is viewed as a way to achieve social and personal goals. Language is also viewed as a concept that can be broken down into component parts. For example, breaking words down into phonemes. Lastly, there is also an emphasis on the development of skills such as decoding.

The student’s role is to monitor their mastery of the target competencies and to be able to transfer the skills they develop to a different context. The teacher serves in the role of a needs analyst, materials developer, and coach of the student.

Curriculum

Objectives in CBLT are usually highly specific. Examples include the following

  • Follow verbal instructions to complete a task
  • Request supplies orally
  • Read directions to complete a task

The highly detailed nature often makes it clear to both the student and the teacher how things are progressing. Instructional activities focus on the exchange of information among all parties as well as authentic assessments.

The procedures used in CBLT often consists of the following format.

  1. Warm up
  2. Introduction
  3. Presentation of new information
  4. Check for understanding
  5. Guided practice
  6. Unguided practice
  7. Evaluation

Most of these steps should be self-explanatory. The overall point is to start with what they know, move to what is unknown, and practice the unknown until it becomes familiar.

Criticism of CBLT

CBLT has been accused of being overly behavioral. The minute objectives can almost be seen as a form of “dog training.” People are able to execute a behavior but they do not know why they are doing it. In other words, CBLT is lacking in the development of higher cognitive activity.

On a deeper level, CBLT has been accused of making passive students in a way consistent with Friere’s concept of “banking” education. This reasoning flows from the idea that the competencies prescribe for the student are based on the values of the dominant group.

This makes some sense as competencies in many fields of education are based on the demands of business.  Students are being trained not necessarily to push boundaries but to fit into a status quo.

Conclusion

CBLT serves the purpose of itemizing the behavior a person should have in order to use a language. The benefits of this approach are the clarity in the expectations. However, for some the minute nature of the expectations limits the development of a person. Regardless of the pros and cons, CBLT is one model of approaching language teaching.

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