Community Language Learning


This is a method that was developed by Charles Curran and is known as one of the ‘designer methods’ of the 1970’s.  It is cited as being a humanistic approach to language learning where, in line with Carl Rogers view, learners were to be considered not as a class, but as a group, Curran’s philosophy dictated that students were to be thought of as clients with  their needs being addressed by a counsellor in the form of the teacher.  The approach advocates a holistic view to language learning which takes place in a communicative situation where teachers are learners are involved in ‘an interaction in which both experience a sense of their own wholeness’ (Curran, 1972).  A group of ideas concerning the psychological requirements for successful learning are collected under the acronym SARD (Curran, 1976) which can be explained as follows:

  • S stands for Security – if learners feel secure they will be able to enter into a successful learning experience
  • A stands for Attention and Aggression. CLL recognises that a loss of attention shold be taken as an indication of the learner’s lack of involvement in learning.  Aggression applies to the way in which a child having learned something, seeks an opportunity to show strength by taking over and demonstrating what has been learned, using the new knowledge as a tool for self-assertion.
  • R stands for Retention and Reflection.  It the whole person is involved in the learning process, what is retained is internalised and becomes a part of the learner’s new persona. Reflection is a defined period of silence within the framework of the lesson for the student to ‘focus on the learning forces of the last hour to assess his present stage of development and to re-evaluate future goals’ (La Forge, 1983).
  • D stands for Discrimination. When learners have retained a body of material, they are ready to sort it out and see how one thing relates to another (La Forge, 1983).

Types of learning and teaching activities:

  • Translation – learners sit in a small circle. A learner whispers what he wants to say to the teacher, who then translates it into the target language.  The learner then repeats the sentence.
  • Group Work – Learners engage in various group tasks, discussion of a topic, preparing a conversation, preparing a story that will be presented to the teacher and the rest of the class.
  • Recording: Students record conversations in the target language.
  • Reflection and Observation: learners reflect and report on their experience of the class.  This usually consists of experssion of feelings, sense of one another, reactions to silence, concern for something to say etc.

Further to this, students typically sit in a circle with the teacher (counsellor) on the outside of the ring.  It could be said that the method goes too far in the direction of ‘affective factors’ at the expense of other considerations.  The method has other limitations too; the teacher must be fluent in both the target language and the L1 of the student.  The use of tape recording and transcription elements are very useful and any method that stresses the feelings and independent development of the learners themselves is one worth looking at and trying in the class.  Grammar is taught inductively, chunks of language are produced by the student and then taped and later listened to.  Students are encouraged to express not only how they feel about the language, but also how they feel about the learning process, to which the teacher expresses empathy and understanding.

Learner Role:

  • The learner is considered a member of a community with fellow students and the teacher.
  • Learning is viewed as a collaborative experience.
  • Learners are encouraged to provide meanings they wish to express, support fellow students and report inner feelings and frustrations as well as joy.  They also become counsellors to other learners within the group.

Teacher Role:

  • At the deepest level, the teacher’s function comes from the counselling functions as described in Rogerian psychological counselling.
  • In the early stages the teacher works in a supportive role, providing L2 translations and a model for imitation at the request of the ‘clients’.
  • As learning progresses the teacher is likened to a ‘nurturing parent’ and as the student grows in ability, the nature of the relationship changes so that the teacher’s position becomes somewhat dependent on the learner.  The knower derives a sense of self-worth through requests for the knower’s assistance.

Some notes taken from:  Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, Richards/Rodgers, Cambridge University Press