Competency-Based Language Teaching

To understand what competency-based language teaching is, we have to remember that  most English classes and textbooks tend to focus on the four skills, which are crucial to language learning and teaching.

However, teaching English through competencies is taking teaching beyond the already established parameters. 

Teaching English through competencies means preparing students for concrete skills that will be used in real-life situations.

To dig deeper in this matter we have to  examine its characteristics, differences compared to traditional approaches to teaching, challenges and benefits of competency-based language teaching.

Competency Based Language Teaching vs Traditional Questions

Let’s begin by saying that competency-based language teaching requires the use of the four main skills and the teaching of concrete skills that can be used in real-life circumstances.

This approach to teaching differs from traditional teaching approaches in many different ways because it is focused on helping students achieve something by the end of the unit or lesson so teachers and students have a clear north of what it is expected, traditional classes tend to cover many features of the language but there is no a concrete product as result or concrete application.

Let’s explore this a little bit more, you go through a series of classes and you are taught the verb to be, the simple present and present continuous  which is a solid way to start since such grammar points are used with such great level of frequency but at that point we are uncertain about what the learner will be able to do with the language. 

The same could be said about teaching pronunciation, as teacher moves from vowels to diphthongs and from diphthongs to consonants, he or she can see that students apply some of the things they have learned but they don’t find any particular situation to apply that knowledge beside the broad spectrum of what language learning is all about.

Competency Based Language Teaching Characteristics

Competency-based language teaching needs to have clear goals about what it is expected and most classes based on this approach tend to achieve results by the time the class has finished since the aims can be easily pointed out.  You wouldn’t expect teachers using this approach to drag themselves and their learners through several lessons to get students to make a reservation.

Another major characteristic of this approach is that broad topics can be subdivided in minor topics, for instance a class could be about how to welcome new guest in the hotel, another about how to make a check-in, one about how to make a complaint and let’s end this example with how to make a check-out. So as you can see a teacher will focus on a concrete skill and then he or she will complement that learning with subsequent lessons that support or take advantage of previous topics.

As it should be in most classes, the competencies move gradually from simple to complex and it is expected that learners master a skill before they attempt to master another therefore you won’t see a student successfully take a customer complaint if he or she can be able to  make a reservation since taking a customer complaints is way more difficult than making a reservation.

Problems to Implement Competency Based Teaching

Now that we know how competency-based language teaching distance itself  from traditional teaching, it is time to cover some of the major challenges that teachers face when implementing this teaching.

  • One of the major challenges is that  the curriculum designers are not fully aware about the student needs or how they have changed over the years since most institutions see curriculum design as a one-time effort, something that is evident as we see no major changes in syllabus in a 10 to 15 year span even in major institutions.
  • Another big problem that teachers face during the implementation of competency-based language teaching is that teachers lack resources to teach those classes since lots of classroom and material preparation is required. In a standard english classroom,  teachers can save time by using already created material or textbooks but when you teach english through competencies. You can adapt existing materials because it will be difficult to find something that targets the needs of your particular class and students.
  • Another major challenge teachers face when implementing competency-based language teaching is that you need to know the ins and outs of evaluation since this process implies that you need to be aware of  individualized goals and that tends to be a major source of problems when you are used to a traditional way of assessing learners which consist of written exams, quizzes and other forms of objective testing.
  • Another one of the problems is how to apply this type of teaching to learners with young ages since their interests don’t necessarily obey the world  we adults are immersed in. I am baffled by how boring it is for a 13 years old kid to study about safety at work when he or she is thinking about fun activities and probably he or she isn’t thinking about doing a job that requires that . As we continue to explore that example we can discuss about how safety rules vary from job to job and that makes this even more complicated 


Trying to implement this type of teaching in the classroom would bring so many benefits since students will be able to see what they can get from every lesson  and how they can incorporate that into their contexts.

I think that we could get better results as we implement this form of teaching and assessment. Some steps to overcome these challenges are proper teacher training where teachers can see the implementation in real classroom conditions with students selected randomly and not only one demo class since many observations are necessary to grasp the idea about how to implement this methodology.

On the other hand, proper communication with parents and students needs to be done so they know that this class is a bit different than classes in other subjects and than traditional english classes and lessons which are soon to be left behind and forgotten


Riyandari, Angelika. (2009). Challenges in Implementing Competency-based English Language Teaching at University Level. TEFLIN Journal: A publication on the teaching and learning of English; Vol 15, No 1 (2004). 15.

More English Teaching Resources

These are some English teaching resources that you might want to check out before you leave

  1. 10 Characteristics of Student-Centered Learning
  2. What are the Principles of Teaching and Learning?
  3. Reliability, Validity and Practicality
  4. 25 Debate Topics for the ESL Classroom
  5. Language Transfer: Positive or Negative?
  6. Full Guide to the Silent Period
Manuel Campos, English Professor

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English