Task-based language learning (TBLL), also known as task-based language teaching (TBLT) or task-based instruction (TBI) focuses on the use of authentic language and on asking students to do meaningful tasks using the target language. Such tasks can include visiting a doctor, conducting an interview, or calling customer service for help. Assessment is primarily based on task outcome (in other words the appropriate completion of tasks) rather than on accuracy of language forms. This makes TBLL especially popular for developing target language fluency and student confidence.
TBLL was popularized by N. Prabhu while working in Bangalore, India. Prabhu noticed that his students could learn language just as easily with a non-linguistic problem as when they were concentrating on linguistic questions.
According to Jane Willis, TBLL consists of the pre-task, the task cycle, and the language focus.
The core of the lesson is, as the name suggests, the task. All parts of the language used are deemphasized during the activity itself, in order to get students to focus on the task. Although there may be several effective frameworks for creating a task-based learning lesson, here is a rather comprehensive one suggested by Jane Willis.
In the pre-task, the teacher will present what will be expected of the students in the task phase. Additionally, the teacher may prime the students with key vocabulary or grammatical constructs, although, in “pure” task-based learning lessons, these will be presented as suggestions and the students would be encouraged to use what they are comfortable with in order to complete the task. The instructor may also present a model of the task by either doing it themselves or by presenting picture, audio, or video demonstrating the task.
During the task phase, the students perform the task, typically in small groups, although this is dependent on the type of activity. And unless the teacher plays a particular role in the task, then the teacher’s role is typically limited to one of an observer or counselor—thus the reason for it being a more student-centered methodology.
Having completed the task, the students prepare either a written or oral report to present to the class. The instructor takes questions and otherwise simply monitors the students.
The students then present this information to the rest of the class. Here the teacher may provide written or oral feedback, as appropriate, and the students observing may do the same.
Here the focus returns to the teacher who reviews what happened in the task, in regards to language. It may include language forms that the students were using, problems that students had, and perhaps forms that need to be covered more or were not used enough.
The practice stage may be used to cover material mentioned by the teacher in the analysis stage. It is an opportunity for the teacher to emphasize key language.
Task-based learning is advantageous to the student because it is more student-centered, allows for more meaningful communication, and often provides for practical extra-linguistic skill building. Although the teacher may present language in the pre-task, the students are ultimately free to use what grammar constructs and vocabulary they want. This allows them to use all the language they know and are learning, rather than just the ‘target language’ of the lesson. Furthermore, as the tasks are likely to be familiar to the students (eg: visiting the doctor), students are more likely to be engaged, which may further motivate them in their language learning.
There have been criticisms that task-based learning is not appropriate as the foundation of a class for beginning students. The major disadvantage for beginning students is that the focus of task-based language learning is on output, when beginning language learners often go through a silent period requiring massive amounts of comprehensible input. Others claim that students are only exposed to certain forms of language, and are being neglected of others, such as discussion or debate. Teachers may want to keep these in mind when designing a task-based learning lesson plan.
Related approaches to language teaching
Dogme language teaching shares a philosophy with TBL, although differs in approach. Dogme is a communicative approach to language teaching and encourages teaching without published textbooks and instead focusing on conversational communication among the learners and the teacher.
- ^ Frost, Richard. “A Task-based Approach.” British Council Teaching English. http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/methodology/task_based.shtml 4/12/2006
- ^ Harmer, Jeremy. The Practice of English Language Teaching. 3rd Edition. pg. 79-80. Essex: Pearson Education Ltd., 2001
- ^ Meddings, L and Thornbury, S (2009) Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Peaslake: Delta.