Methodology: community language learning
CLL is one of the so-called ‘designer’ methods which arose in the flurry of methodological experimentation in the 1970’s (along with The Silent Way, Suggestopoedia, TPR etc.), which form part of the Humanistic Approach to language learning. The key features of all these innovative methodologies are that they all in some way flouted the current language teaching orthodoxy, that they all had a guru who was regarded by devotees of the method with something approaching religious awe, and they all developed from outside language teaching, they were all fairly rigidly-prescriptive, and they all emphasised the learners’ responsibility for their own learning.
In the case of CLL, the founder figure was Charles Curran, an American Jesuit priest, whose work in Counselling Learning (an approach to learning in general, based on Rogerian counselling ideas and practices) was then applied to language learning.
One of the key ideas is that it is the students who determine what is to be learned, so that the role of the teacher is that of a facilitator and support. In the basic form of CLL, students (8 to 12 maximum) sit in a circle. There is a small portable tape recorder inside the circle. The teacher (who is termed the ‘Knower’ ) stands outside the circle. When a student has decided on something they want to say in the foreign language, they call the Knower over and whisper what they want to say, in their mother tongue. The teacher, also in a whisper, then offers the equivalent utterance in English (or the target language). The student attempts to repeat the utterance, with encouragement and shaping from the Knower, with the rest of the group eavesdropping. When the Knower is satisfied, the utterance is recorded by the student. Another student then repeats the process, till there is a kind of dialogue recorded. The Knower then replays the recording, and transcribes it on the board. This is followed by analysis, and questions from students. In a subsequent session, the Knower may suggest activities springing from the dialogue. Gradually, the students spin a web of language.
Space does not permit me to describe in detail the psychological system on which CLL is based, but essentially, the learner is supposed to move from a stage of total dependence on the Knower at the beginning to a stage of independent autonomy at the end, passing through 5 developmental stages along the way. It is the Knower’s job to provide the supportive and secure environment for learners, and to encourage a whole-person approach to the learning.
There are clearly some major problems with CLL. It can only be done with small numbers of students. The students have to share a single mother tongue. The teacher (Knower) has to be highly proficient in the target language and in the language of the students. The teacher also has to have enormous reserves of energy – both physical and psychic. (I have used CLL to teach French and Italian in the beginner stages, and I can assure you I was like a wrung-out rag after each session!) Arguably, too, it is unwise to undertake CLL as a teacher without some counselling training.
It has also been pointed out that this is a methodology exclusively suitable for adult learners, not for children. Also, that most descriptions of it in action focus on the early stages of learning the new language. What do teachers do after that? As for many methods, it gets more difficult to distinguish between one method and another the more advanced the learner becomes.
Perhaps the enduring value of CLL has been its emphasis on whole-person learning; the role of a supportive, non-judgmental teacher; the passing of responsibility for learning to the learners (where it belongs); and the abolition of a pre-planned syllabus.
I am sure that these few remarks will not satisfy your curiosity. If you want to read more about CLL, the most easily-accessible reference is:
- Jack C.Richards and Theodore S. Rodgers. ( 2001), Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. (2nd edition) Cambridge University Press. pp 90-99.
(This book has an excellent bibliography should you wish to read further.)
You may also have a look at:
- Earl W. Stevick (1976) Memory, Meaning and Method: some psychological perspectives on Language Learning. Newbury House.
- Earl W. Stevick (1980) Teaching Languages: a Way and Ways. Newbury House.