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The Need for a Systematic Approach to Achieve True Communicative Competence

The primary and foremost goal when learning foreign languages is to acquire communicative competence, which means having the ability to use a language effectively and accurately in various contexts. Communicative competence encompasses proficiency in all language skills, including speaking, writing, reading, and listening, along with socio-cultural skills that allow individuals to express themselves and understand foreign messages appropriately in different communication situations.


To achieve this competence, one must develop the ability to think in the foreign language, as spontaneous speech and comprehension rely on this skill. This type of thinking evolves in accordance with the language's rules, and these rules, when interconnected systematically, should be a significant component of the learning process. Ferdinand de Saussure's assertion supports this idea, stating that the content or thoughts expressed in speech are structured in accordance with the language's inherent structure.


As highlighted by the founder of the native neuropsychological school, A.R. Luria, it is crucial to link speech activity with the comprehensive command of all language components, including phonemic, lexical, and logical-grammatical elements. When it comes to developing foreign communicative competence, the challenges that often arise are not primarily due to a lack of communicative potential (often attributed to language barriers), but rather stem from an inadequate, incomplete, and flawed understanding of the foreign language's coding system. Therefore, foreign communicative competence is essentially rooted in language competence – the mastery of the inherent linguistic knowledge system of a foreign language.


The lack of a systematic approach in foreign language learning, the absence of cohesion and continuity among the different components of the presented material, the fragmented nature of the linguistic elements being taught, the accumulation of non-automatable vocabulary, and an excessive focus on rote memorization of meaningless texts, among other factors, inevitably lead to a "stalling" effect during the initial stages of foreign language acquisition. Consequently, there is a decline in motivation for further study. One commonly observed reason for this issue among foreign language learners is their inability to use the language accurately and effectively in various communicative contexts. This can be attributed, in part, to an overreliance on the communicative approach, which has been widely adopted from developed to developing countries.


The fundamental characteristic of the communicative approach lies in its emphasis on using language for social interactions, specifically, for communication. This emphasis results in the inclusion of various "communication functions" in the curriculum, such as the ability to seek information, convey apologies, make requests, express preferences, and so forth. In this approach, the significance of conveying meaning in a foreign language expression takes precedence over its linguistic form, which often leads to a less structured approach to grammar. In many instances, this "less structured" approach even implies a lack of systematicity, requiring learners to employ the language system somewhat haphazardly or without a clear pattern.


In reality, the outcomes of education following this approach tend to closely mirror its essence: instead of attaining a comprehensive communicative competence that allows for the free expression of ideas in a foreign language, students often exhibit numerous errors and struggle to articulate themselves effectively in the target language. Consequently, achieving communicative competence, which appears to be the core objective of the communicative approach to learning foreign languages, frequently remains an unaccomplished goal. The widespread adoption of the communicative approach in English language instruction worldwide over the past few decades has sparked considerable discontent among educators and learners alike.


For example, data found in the research of American and British scholars like J. Richards, A. Penicuk, A. Holliday, and P. Sullivan point out that adopting the communicative approach for learning English gives rise to numerous challenges and falls short of producing favorable outcomes. One of the reasons frequently cited for this lack of success is the disconnect between the materials provided and the mindset of English learners. It's evident that the communicative approach often disregards the distinct variations in mindset and cultural traditions evident in the specific pair of languages—the native language and the one under study. This omission hinders the comparison of two language systems, the drawing of cultural-historical parallels, the utilization of linguistic transfers, and, ultimately, the adaptation of cognitive processes to the realities of the language being learned.


For instance, the successful acquisition of English by individuals from diverse linguistic backgrounds, such as Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Brazilians, or Russians, necessitates a tailored methodology catering directly to the native languages of each group. In the substantial components of any instructional program, including the materials derived from them, the foreign language should be presented while considering the psychological and linguistic idiosyncrasies associated with how individuals from each specific nation, whether it's China, Portugal, Russia, or others, perceive and process language. Failing to do so, as acknowledged by American scholars, can inflict psychological and emotional distress upon language learners.


Nonetheless, it's important to note that the communicative approach to foreign language learning, as experts emphasize in various countries, including the United States, is not considered a fully-fledged and all-encompassing methodology. The originator of the communicative approach, in its broader context, was the American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst R. Langs, who didn't specifically focus on the study of foreign languages. The application of communicative methods to foreign language learning was initially introduced by American educators and linguists during the 1970s and 1980s.


From their perspective, this approach aligns best with the "need for practical use of foreign languages." Hence, the communicative approach to learning foreign languages isn't a singular method; rather, it comprises a collection of techniques designed to achieve positive outcomes in acquiring foreign communicative competence. Advocates of the communicative approach openly acknowledge that there isn't a single methodology or a fixed set of methods within communicative language teaching. Regarding the techniques employed in this approach, many of them, including student interaction (such as dialogues and group work), the utilization of authentic educational materials, extracurricular language practice, and more, had already been in use during the "pre-communicative" period.


The real question here is: How can someone effectively communicate in a foreign language without possessing a robust set of language skills? How can one express their thoughts in a foreign code when their thinking hasn't adapted to it, and their memory holds only fragments of language expressions? According to French linguist G. Guillaume, attempting to speak without truly internalizing the language is akin to the "anguish of an animal." In the view of the Russian neurophysiologist A.R. Luria and those who follow his ideas, it's similar to subjecting a patient with a lesion in Broca's speech area (aphasia) to torment.


Another aspect under discussion concerning the communicative approach is the role of the teacher in the educational process. On one hand, there's a call for breaking down hierarchical barriers between teachers and students, which is undoubtedly a positive development (as building trustful, friendly relationships among individuals always is).



Nonetheless, from another perspective, American experts themselves recognize that teachers implementing the communicative approach frequently encounter challenges in choosing appropriate instructional methods. Consequently, there's a viewpoint suggesting that teachers adopting the communicative approach might find themselves switching between various teaching techniques or expanding their teaching strategies beyond the confines of this approach.


In either scenario, as recognized by experts worldwide, teachers often feel like they are at the mercy of the communicative approach. Nevertheless, according to a dedicated proponent of the communicative approach, D. Larsen-Freeman, to avoid this sense of helplessness, teachers must acquire the skills to enhance the teaching process independently. Consequently, the accountability for the results of education through the communicative approach shifts from the approach itself to the teachers who might encounter challenges in putting it into practice.


A significant hurdle encountered by foreign language instructors who employ the communicative approach is the discrepancy between the suggested discussion topics and the language proficiency levels and communicative skills of the learners. Frequently, this situation leaves educators in a predicament, as they find themselves repeatedly covering the same fundamental subjects. Shifting to more substantial discussion topics demands a greater degree of automation of language abilities, a feat accomplished through a structured approach, in contrast to the haphazard one employed in communicative language instruction.


Given that proponents of communicative teaching methods advise against prioritizing pronunciation and grammar during instruction, instead encouraging learners to speak naturally, educators have raised several pertinent questions, particularly applicable to English language teachers implementing the communicative approach in diverse countries worldwide:


1. What is the appropriate duration for a teacher to withhold correction of students' errors during the instructional period?

2. How long should a teacher permit students to communicate using "imprecise or flawed English"?

3. Which categories of errors should be prioritized for correction within the communicative approach?

4. What criteria should be employed to evaluate students in the communicative approach: should it be based on the number of errors or their engagement in speaking activities?



As evident, these questions are akin to an appeal for help in a desolate landscape. Ineffectual foreign language communication resulting from the employment of the communicative approach compels dedicated educators to seek resolutions independently. This endeavor demands substantial exertion to break free from spontaneously acquired speech patterns and essentially reconstruct them. When a teacher lacks the resolve and inclination to methodically structure the teaching approach, turning it into an authentic process of comprehending the language system while concurrently cultivating accurate foreign language expression, learners often find themselves trapped in a condition described by P.Ya. Galperin as a "standstill" at rudimentary language competence levels.

Hence, it can be deduced that the communicative approach, characterized by a collection of methods that restrict language acquisition in its comprehensive context, fosters language proficiency at a level that not only falls short of widely acknowledged academic standards but also, as pointed out by certain American scholars, does not align with the demands of 21st-century society. For instance, P. Varshauer underscores that "in the 21st century, educated individuals will need English not primarily for day-to-day communication but for professional negotiations, international cooperation, accessing transnational information resources, interpreting global economic data, and understanding global political developments."


This implies that it is time to replace the communicative approach with a different, scientifically validated method that can facilitate effective learning and yield the high-quality outcomes required for proficient use of a foreign language in various domains. A systematically based, scientifically supported approach to foreign language education can serve as such an alternative, enabling the development of a well-rounded language proficiency and communicative competence.


In a systematic approach to learning a foreign language, the focus shifts towards understanding and managing the intricate psychophysiological processes that occur during language acquisition. This method also involves reshaping thought processes to align with the grammatical patterns and semantic relationships of the foreign language system. Considering these processes, the selection of language system components for sequential instruction should serve two primary purposes. First, it should enable learners to comprehend the coordination between language subsystems, structures, and elements. Second, it should account for their interplay in actual speech. The resulting psychophysiological mechanisms, developed in this manner, exhibit durability and can be consistently applied when circumstances align with them.



This is why attaining the complete capacity to think and communicate effectively in a foreign language, known as communicative competence, remains a dynamic skill that endures throughout one's life. It can also be swiftly reactivated, even after long periods of not using the language.


The systematic approach to foreign language learning possesses heuristic and skill-building potential, enabling the creation of innovative teaching methods. These methods are designed to facilitate deliberate, harmonious language acquisition, rooted in one's native tongue, and fostering well-rounded development in all four language skill areas.


The systematic approach, or to be more precise, the systemic method for learning foreign languages, can be viewed as a particular application of dialectical methodology. The dialectical concept of systematic nature involves combining structural and functional principles. It is the distinct functional objectives of elements that guarantee the development of reliable skills in their application. In the systematic approach, the desired functionality of the learning material is attained by integrating two key elements: the methodical plan for systemic design and the principles of organizational enhancement. These principles enable the identification of the most efficient solutions and steps at every stage of the learning process.


The systematic approach embodies a sense of completeness and coherence, which aids in framing the issues pertaining to the content of foreign language learning and the formulation of an effective learning strategy. As aptly pointed out by V.N. Sagatovsky, a proponent of the overarching concept of the systematic approach, this method is tailored for individuals who are driven by the desire for successful functioning and purposeful development, not those who are indifferent to the outcome. It's crucial to highlight that the results achieved through the systematic approach go beyond mere summation. When applied to foreign language learning, it reveals that the outcome encompasses not only a interconnected grasp of the language system (linguistic competence) and the well-rounded development of all language skills (communicative competence), which are intrinsically linked to the acquisition of non-linguistic aspects of the language (sociocultural competence), but it also involves the expansion and enrichment of the individual consciousness of learners. This serves as a superior measure of quality, transcending mere summation.


When one undertakes the deliberate study of a foreign language, the task of constructing it as a personalized system isn't an excessively intricate endeavor. The overarching language system can be organized, making it amenable to scrutiny and amalgamation. Within this language system, one can identify smaller subsystems that lend themselves well to categorization. These encompass systems like the singular and plural structure, the gender classification, the declension arrangement, the tense-aspect organization, and so forth.

The utilization of methodical principles for organizational optimization within a systematic approach results in the arrangement of language materials in a manner that significantly reduces the time needed to acquire usage skills compared to other learning methods. This efficiency stems from the fact that comprehending disjointed and unsystematized facts takes several times longer than mastering them systematically. As Émile Benveniste astutely pointed out, "Language is structured in such a way that it allows each speaker, when they designate themselves as 'I,' to ascribe to themselves the entire language." Therefore, learning a foreign language involves systematically grasping a network of interconnected systems in which language units derive their meaning from their relationships with one another.


The systematic approach is applicable not only to grammar, which is regarded as the repository of a language's fundamental structures, but also to two other aspects of language: phonetics and lexicology. Vocabulary exhibits its systematic nature through semantic relationships such as identity, opposition, as well as the likenesses and distinctions between words, encompassing synonyms, antonyms, thematic associations, and more. On the other hand, phonetics comprises a finite system of sounds that form the obligatory norm for speech. Following Ferdinand de Saussure's definition, speech embodies the language system, underscoring that the more extensive the set of systematic language tools at a learner's disposal, the more versatile and expressive their ability to clothe thoughts in linguistic form becomes. Language offers abundant possibilities for combinations, both in terms of grammar and vocabulary. Proficiency gained through the systematic approach allows learners to shift their focus between various levels of the language system, enabling learning with feedback in mind. This facilitates the assessment of the outcomes of linguistic actions and, based on these assessments, the ability to make informed decisions for future actions.


The language skills and competencies gained through systematic language learning take on a universal quality, transcending the specific contexts in which they were initially acquired. These abilities are viewed as tools for effectively conveying thoughts. This fundamental difference sets the systematic approach apart from other methods that rely on passive imitation and mechanical learning of foreign languages, which often result in quick but fleeting retention. In contrast, the systematic approach fosters enduring analytical and synthetic comprehension, along with a grasp of cause-and-effect relationships, ultimately leading to a robust and high-caliber command of the language.

The systematic approach to foreign language learning follows a specific order in presenting interconnected elements. This sequence is designed to identify their functions and how they can be best utilized in communication, thereby defining their communicative significance. This approach offers the chance to unveil simplicity within the complexity of language, fosters an appreciation of the interconnectedness of linguistic aspects in speech, and streamlines the processes of crafting spoken language. Moreover, systematically chosen materials play a crucial role in generalization and in building a progressive "skills ladder."


Developing practical language skills, rooted in a deep understanding of the language system, is achieved by engaging in a variety of interconnected exercises. These exercises enable learners to actively apply what they've learned. Through systematic and deliberate practice of language components via these exercises, specific elements gradually become automatic, paving the way for the fluent and effortless use of foreign language tools in everyday conversation, ultimately ensuring the capacity for effective communication.


Empirical evidence demonstrates that achieving proficiency in a foreign language through systematic study is notably more time-efficient than alternative methods. This aligns with the insights of the renowned Russian psychophysiologist N.A. Bernstein, who highlighted that established automatized skills can significantly expedite the acquisition of new skills when practice is transferred from one skill to another.


Training is more effective when a specific grammatical or lexical element is exposed to a greater variety of connections and interactions with previously learned language components. This aligns with the principle, noted by I.M. Sechenov, that information is recorded in memory through a broader range of associations and perspectives.


Through the development of automatism in the systematic approach, a phenomenon called "automatic running" arises in the speech of language learners. This entails the sequential and precise application of language tools to convey thoughts. Over time, this phenomenon extends in duration, resembling the mastery of one's native language. Additionally, the increasing ability to combine words and grammatical structures in speech reflects the stability of this automatism and the gradual emergence of language intuition in one's spoken expression.



Another significant methodological approach within the systematic method involves the utilization of orienting actions during material presentation. Psychologists suggest that this aligns with an individual's inherent need for spatial orientation. In the context of learning foreign languages, each of which involves complex interactions in various directions, orienting activities are clearly seen in the gradual understanding and acquisition of means to express spatial-temporal, causal, and other relationships. This particular approach, along with other methodological techniques of the systematic method, was employed by the author in the creation of "Practical Course in German" and "Practical Course in English." For instance, temporal factors serve as initial orienting markers, consistently establishing the parameters for the use of tense structures in each case, albeit in different ways.


Observations indicate that using orientations as a method to categorize material results in a high-quality and efficient acquisition of the language's structural elements, enabling their accurate use in speech. According to the renowned Russian psychologist B.V. Belyaev, a view he expressed in the 1960s, theoretical grammar should not consume more than 15% of class time. However, when adopting the systematic approach, thanks to the effective organization of material, the time dedicated to introducing students to theoretical content doesn't exceed 5% of class time. In this method, grammatical material is presented, as previously mentioned, through action-oriented approaches, and its understanding and automatic memorization take place through active engagement in a substantial number of exercises (as opposed to the limited two or three, which are regrettably offered in many communicative-oriented textbooks).


Moreover, within the systematic approach, a structured progression in introducing language components has been established, based on the criterion of advancing language proficiency. In this context, each new aspect of the presented theoretical content can be seen as a potential catalyst for enhancing speech capabilities and, consequently, communicative competence. This implies that language elements are not studied solely for theoretical knowledge but primarily to progressively apply them in spoken communication for expressing thoughts. Hence, it's crucial that nothing remains purely theoretical from the material being taught, and everything is actively incorporated into practice to cultivate practical skills in the spontaneous use of this material in verbal interactions.



The sequence of material organization, as exemplified in the practical section of the book "A Systematic Approach to Learning English," results in deliberate and noticeable improvements in the acquisition of communicative skills. Simultaneously, the systematic introduction of vocabulary, structured according to parts of speech, serves as an early guide – specifically, a guide for syntactical analysis during sentence construction. Proficiency in word combinations within sentences facilitates speech production right from the start, empowering learners to construct sentences independently.


The systematic approach can be employed in every phase of learning, considering the assessment of how components relate to each other and function within speech activities, and making suitable adaptations (if needed) to the unorganized aspects of the system. In this context, the systematic approach demands significantly less time for skill development compared to other learning methods, as comprehending fragmented, disorganized information consumes far more time than systematic mastery. Consequently, this approach leads to a more dynamic and creatively expressed speech experience in foreign language activities.


Translated from Коммуникативная Ценность Системного Подхода к Изучению Иностранных Языков. Accessed September 26. https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/kommunikativnaya-tsennost-sistemnogo-podhoda-k-izucheniyu-inostrannyh-yazykov/viewer.



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