Essay On Community Language Learning

Methodology: community language learning

By Alan Maley

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced

An explanation and advice on how to use the Community Language Learning method.

I´m currently taking a specialization in English teaching and need to know about the Community Language Learning method. I have not been able to find any info. about it. Would you be so kind as to help me find it? I'd appreciate this very much.


Community Language Learning (CLL) is one of the ‘designer’ methods of language acquisition that arose in the 1970’s (along with The Silent Way, Suggestopoedia and TPR) and forms part of the Humanistic Approach to language learning. The key features of these methodologies is that they flout orthodox language teaching, they have a guru (regarded by devotees of the method with something approaching religious awe), and they all developed from outside language teaching. Additionally they are all rigidly-prescriptive and emphasise the learners’ responsibility for their own learning.

The founder figure of CLL was Charles Curran, an American Jesuit priest, whose work in Counselling Learning (a general learning approach based on Rogerian counselling ideas and practices) was applied to language learning.

The key idea is that the students determine what is to be learned, so the teacher is a facilitator and provides support. In the basic form of CLL, a maximum of 12 students 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 they want to say something 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 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 until 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 exhausted 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, 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.

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.)
  • 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.

Back to ask the expertsMethodology in Ask the experts

Community language learning (CLL) is a language-teaching method[1] in which students work together to develop what aspects of a language they would like to learn. It is based on the Counselling-approach in which the teacher acts as a counsellor and a paraphraser, while the learner is seen as a client and collaborator.

The CLL emphasizes the sense of community in the learning group, encourages interaction as a vehicle of learning, and considers as a priority the students' feelings and the recognition of struggles in language acquisition.

There is no syllabus or textbook to follow, and it is the students themselves who determine the content of the lesson by means of meaningful conversations in which they discuss real messages. Notably, it incorporates translation, transcription, and recording techniques.


The CLL approach was developed by Charles Arthur Curran, a Jesuit priest,[2] professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago, and counseling specialist.[3] This method refers to two roles: that of the know-er (teacher) and student (learner). Also the method draws on the counseling metaphor and refers to these respective roles as a counselor and a client. According to Curran, a counselor helps a client understand his or her own problems better by 'capturing the essence of the clients concern ...[and] relating [the client's] affect to cognition...'; in effect, understanding the client and responding in a detached yet considerate manner.

To restate, the counselor blends what the client feels and what he is learning in order to make the experience a meaningful one. Often, this supportive role requires greater energy expenditure than an 'average' teacher.[4]


Natural approach[edit]

The foreign language learner's tasks, according to CLL are (1) to apprehend the sound system of the language (2) assign fundamental meanings to individual lexical units and (3) construct a basic grammar.

In these three steps, the CLL resembles the natural approach to language teaching in which a learner is not expected to speak until he has achieved some basic level of comprehension.[5]

There are 5 stages of development in this method.

  1. “Birth” stage: feeling of security and belonging are established.
  2. As the learners' ability improve, they achieve a measure of independence from the parent.
  3. Learners can speak independently.
  4. The learners are secure enough to take criticism and being corrected.
  5. The child becomes an adult and becomes the know-er.

Online communities[edit]

These types of communities have recently arisen with the explosion of educational resources for language learning on the Web. A new wave of Community Learning Languages have come into place with the internet growth and the boom of social networking technologies. These online CLLs are social network services such as English, baby! and LiveMocha that take advantage of the Web 2.0 concept of information sharing and collaboration tools, for which users can help other users to learn languages by direct communication or mutual correction of proposed exercises.


When learning a different language while in a multilingual community, there are certain barriers that one definitely will encounter. The reason for these barriers is that in language learning while in a multicultural community, native and nonnative groups will think, act, and write in different ways based on each of their own cultural norms. Research shows that students in multicultural environments communicate less with those not familiar with their culture. Long-term problems include that the foreign speakers will have their own terms of expression combined into the language native to the area, which often makes for awkward sentences to a native speaker. Native students tend to develop an exclusive attitude toward the nonnative speaker because they feel threatened when they do not understand the foreign language. Short-term problems include the fact that native students will usually lack in-depth knowledge of the nonnative cultures, which makes them more likely to be unwilling to communicate with the foreign speakers. Because these foreign students grew up and were educated in a totally different cultural environment, their ideologies, identities and logic that form in the early age cause different ways of expressing ideas both in written and spoken form. They will have to modify and redefine their original identities when they enter a multicultural environment (Shen, 459). This is no easy task. Consequentially, a low level of social involvement and enculturation will occur for both native and nonnative speakers in the community.

See also[edit]


  1. ^Richards, Jack C. (1986:113) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching
  2. ^American Journal of Psychotherapy (1955). COTF BIO. p. 123.
  3. ^Richards, Jack C. (1986:113) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching
  4. ^Richards, Jack C (1986:138)
  5. ^Krashen, S.D., and Terrel, T.D. (1983). The Natural Approach: Language acquisition in the Classroom.

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