Making Multiliteracies Real: Comparing Multiliteracies Pedagogy & Communicative Language Teaching

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Your Questions Answered

Graphic of a visual representation of multiliteracies pedagogy.

  • How does Multiliteracies Pedagogy compare to Communicative Language Teaching?
  • How are these approaches similar? How do they differ?
  • How are they applied to K-16 language education in the United States?

Origins and Purpose

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)

1970s: Developed to address the need to communicate appropriately in real-world contexts. Grounded in social, functional, and cognitive orientations to language.

1980s-1990s: CLT grows and adapts based on new understandings of language teaching and learning. Strong and weak versions develop, as do offshoots such as Task-Based Language Teaching.

Multiliteracies Pedagogy (ML)

1990s: Developed in response to new views of literacy, texts, and communication, and increased cultural and linguistic diversity. Grounded in sociocultural principles and critical pedagogy.

2000s & beyond: ML grows and adapts based on new understandings of literacy practices and technology-enhanced communication. Applied to multiple disciplines, including K-16 language education.

Foundational Concepts

The aim of CLT is to develop students' communicative competence, whereas the aim of ML is to develop students' foreign language literacies. Related concepts help realize these aims.



Communicative Competence

  • ability to use language for a variety of purposes
  • requires knowledge of language, social norms, ways to connect ideas, and strategies

Foreign Language Literacies

  • ability to interpret and create texts of various genres and modalities (e.g., interviews, literature, infographics, films) that represent diverse societies


  • communication to exchange information and practice language forms
  • often transactional and self-referential


  • communication about textual & cultural content
  • problem solving with others to uncover a text's forms and meanings


  • literal understandings and factual details
  • often surface level


  • understanding texts as cultural products
  • reading, listening or viewing "between the lines"

Form - Function Mappings

  • language used to carry out real-world tasks (give directions, narrate, purchase tickets)

Form - Meaning Connections

  • connecting language forms and conventions to the meaning they convey in texts

Focus on Meaning

Both approaches place meaningful communication at the center of instruction in different ways


  • Communicating appropriately with others
  • Functional, transactional language use
  • Texts used to practice language forms and functions


  • Interpretation and creation of written, oral, and visual discourses
  • Connecting language patterns to textual meaning
  • Texts at the center of the curriculum


Teaching Principles

Both approaches enact a focus on meaning through different curricular and instructional priorities.


  • Curriculum: language functions and related forms; cultural information
  • Instruction: presentation of input, practice of language forms, production of output; activities to develop interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational communication about cultural information using specific language functions


  • Curriculum: texts and their language forms, conventions, and cultural content; how meaning is constructed
  • Instruction: experiencing known and new information, conceptualizing form-meaning connections, analyzing ideas, applying knowledge; interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational communication about cultural content through texts



  • Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2015). The things you do to know: An introduction to the pedagogy of multiliteracies. In B. Cope & M. Kalantzis (Eds.). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Learning by design (pp. 1-36). Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2014). Approaches and methods in language teaching (3rd ed.). Cambridge University Press.

This work was developed by the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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