“It is Hot in Here!”: The Challenging Task of Implementing Communicative Approach in ELT Curriculum in Indonesia



The exciting development in the language teaching has brought us Communicative Approach which has successfully led us to a ‘new-toy effect’. Communicative Approach helps us replacing the boring exercise types with exciting classroom activities. The goal is clear, of course, which is to help students to be able to communicate using the target language. The emergence of Communicative Approach has also widely affected the English language teaching and learning in Indonesia where English itself is still used as a foreign language. Students are only given four to six hours of learning English in the classroom setting. Other than that, only few of them would use it outside the classroom. If the students are only given such limited time, can Indonesian curriculum really use Communicative Approach? Will Communicative Approach bring us the hope to teach our students the Communicative Competence? This essay investigates problems underlying the implementation of Communicative Approach in English language teaching and learning in Indonesian curriculum.

What is Communicative Approach?

The failure of previous methods to help English language learners become communicatively competent has brought us Communicative Approach. Communicative approach was a result of reaction to traditional language teaching approaches which were considered fell out of fashion.

Celce-Murcia (2001, p.8) identifies Communicative Approach with the following issues:

The goal is to make the learner able to communicate in the target language. The content of language course will include semantic notions and social functions, not just linguistic structure.  Classroom materials and activities are often authentic to reflect real-life situations and demands. The teacher should be able to use the target language fluently and appropriately.

The attention of CA was on the knowledge and skills to use grammar and other components of the language to use it appropriately for communicative purposes such as making suggestions, asking for directions, etc. According to Littlewood (1981, p.7), one outcome of the Communicative Approach is that there are two kinds of meaning that teachers are now very much aware of: conceptual or referential meaning and communicative function. The sentence “the tea is cold” refers to a state of affairs due to conceptual or referential. On the other hand, communicative function suggests that it might be a request to refill the cup or even a complaint. Communicative approach is organized on the communicative functions such as apologizing, inviting, complaining, and stresses the related grammatical forms and lexis which could be used to express the functions appropriately.

As mentioned by Harliani and Amalo, Richards and Rodgers (1992:71) proposes the four dimensions of communicative competence which include grammatical competence (the domain of grammatical and lexical capacity), sociolinguistic competence (understanding when and where the communication takes place), discourse (how message elements are connected and interpreted and how meaning is represented related with the whole discourse), and strategic competence (coping strategies that communicators employ to initiate, terminate, maintain, repair, and redirect communication). According to Richards (2006), communicative competence includes the following aspects of language knowledge:

“knowing how to use language for a range of different purposes and functions, knowing how to vary our use of language according to the setting and the participants (e.g. knowing when to use formal and informal speech or when to use language appropriately for written as opposed to spoken communication), knowing how to produce and understand different types of texts (e.g. narratives, reports, interviews, conversations), knowing how to maintain communication despite having limitations in one’s language knowledge (e.g. through using different kinds of communication strategies).”

(Richards, 2006)

English Language Teaching Condition in Indonesia

Learning a foreign language in Indonesia, learners receive very little exposure of English language outside the classroom. According to Ellis (1996), EFL is a part of the school curriculum which therefore becomes dependent on the teacher’s proficiency, teaching materials, resources, etc. Since it depends on the national curriculum goals, it may or may not test the communicative competence.

Musthafa (2001) indicates several problems of English language teaching in Indonesia which becomes the reasons of why it is so difficult to implement Communicative Approach here. First, teachers’ failure in showing confidence when using the language. Second, the time constraint to design the meaningful exercises for thirty to forty students in one classroom. Indonesian teachers are challenged to manage the crowded classroom and curriculum so that the effort to provide communicative exercises on one-to-one basis could be stressful. Classroom management is the main concern for teachers who have to handle such amount of students. Third, learners must face the nationally-administered test (Ujian Nasional) which are form-focused and in the form of multiple choice. The other problems include the absence of good and authentic material, teachers’ tendency to rely on grammar-based worksheets, and the absence of visible social uses of the language outside the classroom.

Dardjowidjojo found closely similar major constraints: class size, English teachers’ poor mastery of the TL, teachers’ low income which makes their focus divided into other places, unfamiliarity of the English teachers towards the new curriculum, and cultural barrier for teachers to assume the new role of facilitators.

Due to the time constraint, in senior high school, ELT only has 4 to 6 hours per week. Within a year, it should accomplish teaching 10 to 12 basic competences to the students. It can be said that there is no enough time to provide meaningful activities to the students who can be easily administered and evaluated. Although the goal mentioned in the standard competence in the syllabus is to make students able to communicate using English in novice up to intermediate level, the materials mostly indicate form-focused rather than focus on meaning.

Problems of Applying Communicative Approach in ELT Curriculum in Indonesia

If the implementation of Communicative Approach in ELT Curriculum in Indonesia has been succesful since its emergence in the 1994 curriculum, perhaps I would find learners who immediately open a window or turn on the AC when I say ‘it’s hot in here!’. On the contrary, there are many learners out there who reply: ‘yes, it is’, ‘i agree with you’, and many others. Whether we like it or not, we have to admit that inserting Communicative Approach in ELT curriculum still remains as unreachable goal.

Based on the reality of language classroom in Indonesia which is found by the experts above and my experience as language teacher, some challenging problems of why it remains complicated to implement this approach include:

  1. Lack of L2 SettingI believe that the use of English as foreign language has taken the role of causes of why it is so challenging to apply the CA. For other countries whose English is the second language, the situation must be totally different. Here, we are facing students who might only use their English in the classroom and go home with no left knowledge of it. If the learners are not given the urgency to develop the communicative skills, soon as they leave the school, they will be added in the list of ‘structurally competent, but communicatively incompetent. However, it is not their mistake because developing communicative skills can only be done if the learners are motivated and given the opportunity to express their identity and relate with the people (Littlewood, 1981:93).
  2. Teachers’ failures to adapt with the new roles. In CA, teacher acts as ‘facilitator for learning’ which needs him to be a general overseer to coordinate the learning activities in order to make sure the students are moving towards the greater communicative ability, a classroom manager to group the activities into ‘lessons’, an instructor to introduce new language and control how learners will use it, a consultant or adviser to monitor learners’ strengths and weaknesses, and a ‘co-communicator’ to stimulate new language by participating in the same activity with the learners (Littlewood, 1981:p.92 – 93).On the other hand, Indonesian’s teachers are already adjusted to act as the only instructor in the classroom. They are in charge of delivering the new language, controlling the learners, and correcting them immediately if they make mistakes. This might cause language anxiety, which is very easy to happen in a L2 classroom, and will cause the learners to be unable to achieve the goal.
  3. Learners’ characteristicsHow often do you find learners who aware of their stage of learning, actively involved in the activities, and independently develop their communicative skills by using the TL outside the classroom? Indonesian learners tend to be avoid challenging the authority of their parents and elders. Unlike children in American families, they are not encouraged to make decisions for themselves, develop their own opinions, and solve their problems (Sidharta, 2006). Once the teacher steps into the class, the students remain silent and wait until the teacher tells them what to do at certain point. I often find the situations where I have to encourage them to answer my questions and provide positive feedback, yet, in the next meetings, the learners show the same behaviors which I prefer to say as ‘silent learners’.
  4. Old way, new approachI have seen some terms in the text-books referring to the use of Communicative Approach in our curriculum, such as ‘functional skills’ or ‘communicative skills’. These terms refer to certain spaces in the text books where the learners are drilled with the new language and asked to use it in the similar situations. However, it is not impossible also to find English teachers who teach the communicative skills by asking the students to translate certain expressions or just write them down. To make the new approach effectively operate, we need to consider in making the teachers move on with the same new idea as well.


Communicative Approach is a good method which can help English language learners survive in the real-world tasks. However, there are constraints that still remain unsolved to effectively implement this approach in the English Language Teaching in Indonesia. In this case, I am not being pessimistic regarding the implementation of this approach in the curriculum. To conclude, having communicatively competent English language learners here is not an impossible task. However, there are remaining works for stakeholders in Indonesia to solve several problems so that teachers and practitioners could apply the approach well. As quoted from Sidharta (2006), Ellis (1996) argues that communicative approach needs to be both culturally attuned and accepted so that it can be suitable for Asian conditions. As English teacher, I strongly believe that, just like any other approaches, Communicative Approach brings the new hope and positive goal for our language development.


Asofie, A. Dardiri. How Communicative is Communicative Approach. Yogyakarta: UTY

Celce-Murcia, Marianne. (ed). 2001. Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language. Boston (MA): Heinle & Heinle

Ellis, Greg. (1996). How Culturally Appropriate is the Communicative Approach?. ELT Journal, 50(3):213-218

Li, Defeng. “It’s Always More Difficult Than You Plan and Imagine”: Teachers’ Perceived Difficulties in Introducing the Communicative Approach in South Korea. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong

Littlewood, William. (1981). Communicative Language Teaching: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press

Musthafa, Bachrudin. (2001). Communicative Language Teaching in Indonesia: Issues of Theoretical Assumptions and Challenges in the Classroom Practice. TEFLIN Journal, Vol 12, No.2 (2001)

Richards, Jack C. (2006). Communicative Language Teaching Today. Cambridge University Press

Sidharta, Aileen. (2006). Does Communicative Approach Stand a Chance? – A Critical Look at Its Social and Cultural Appropriateness in the Indonesian Teaching Situation. English Department School of Education Atma Jaya Catholic University.

Sukanto, Katharine F. (2003). Kumpulan Esai Soenjono Dardjowidjojo. Rampai Bahasa Pendidikan dan Budaya. Jakarta: Yayasan Obor


Pasal 72 UU No. 19 Tahun 2002 bahwa barangsiapa yang melakukan tindakan plagiarisme alias penjiplakan karya cipta seseorang tanpa seizin sang pencipta atau tidak menyantumkan sumber asli dari karya yang dijiplak, akan dikenakan denda dengan biaya paling sedikit Rp 1.000.000.- (satu juta rupiah) sampai Rp 1.500.000.000,- (satu miliar lima ratus rupiah) atau dipenjara dengan hukuman paling minimal satu bulan dan paling berat dengan kurungan 5 tahun penjara.

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