What is Task-Based Language Teaching?
Task-based language teaching (TBLT) is a type of instruction that relies on the use of authentic target language to do meaningful tasks. TBLT is also referred to as task-based instruction (TBI) and can be considered a branch of communicative language teaching (CLT). The notion of tasks is central to this type of instruction. The assessment of learning is mainly based on task outcome and not only on the accurate use of the target language. For this reason, TBLT is believed to be effective in learning target language fluency and developing student confidence.
The following are some of the most important theoretical premises of TBL according to Richards & Rodgers (2001, p. 227-229).
Theory of language
- Language is primarily a means of making meaning: TBLT considers meaning as a central focal point in language teaching. The approach is concerned with the outcome of tasks.
- Multiple models of language inform task-based instruction: Structural, functional and interactional models influence TBLT adherents.
- Lexical units are central in language use and language learning: TBLT considers vocabulary items to include not only individual words but also phrases, sentence frames, collocations and prefabricated routines.
- “Conversation” is the central focus of language and the keystone of language acquisition: Learners are required to produce and understand communicative messages. That is exchanging information is crucial to language acquisition.
Theory of learning
- Tasks provide both the input and output processing necessary for language acquisition: If Krashen stresses the importance of comprehensible input, TBLT advocates have argued that comprehensible output is also of equal importance.
- Task activity and achievement are motivational: Tasks appeal to learners’ learning styles and may involve physical activity, collaboration, and partnership.
- Learning difficulty can be negotiated and fine-tuned for a particular pedagogical purpose: Tasks may be designed in such a way that they meet learners’ level of proficiency. That is, providing the appropriate target input is crucial to facilitate language acquisition.
As it is evident from the above theoretical premises, the notion of task is central to TBLT.
What is a task?
Here is a definition by Prabhu:
“An activity which required learners to arrive at an outcome from given information through some process of thought and which allowed teachers to control and regulate that process was regarded as a task.” (Prabhu, 1987:24)
Examples of tasks include:
- Preparing a meal.
- Ordering food in a restaurant.
- Making an appointment with a doctor on the phone.
- Solving a problem.
- Designing a brochure.
- Making a list of the qualities of a good husband/wife.
Criteria for tasks in TBLT
Rod Ellis defines tasks in terms of four key criteria:
Tasks are language teaching activities where meaning is central. Tasks require learners to produce and understand communicative messages.
Tasks should involve gaps. There are three types of gaps:
- Information gap: one person has information that another person does not have.
- Opinion gap: learners have the same shared information but they use that information to try to convey their feeling about a particular situation.
- Reasoning gap: learners are asked to use reason and logic to decide what information to convey and what resolution to make for the problem at hand. Like information gap, the activity necessarily involves understanding and communicating information. Where the information and reasoning gaps differ is in the information conveyed. The latter is not identical with the one initially understood. It changes through reasoning.
3. Use of learners’ own resources
Learners have to use their own linguistic and nonlinguistic resources to complete the task. That is, they have to use whatever knowledge of the language they have in order to participate in the task. Learners may also use nonlinguistic resources such as gestures. This criterion is what makes TBLT unique. In traditional language teaching, the teacher provides the language resources and the students have to master these resources when they do a task. They are not asked to produce communicative messages using their own linguistic resources.
4. Communicative outcome
Tasks must involve some sort of nonlinguistic outcome such as drawing a route on a map or agreeing on a plan to solve the problem of pollution in the learners’ neighborhood.
At this stage, the topic is introduced through activities such as:
- Prior knowledge activation
- Visual Aids
- Vocabulary activities
Task activity (cycle)
The teacher gives clear instructions about the task.
- The learners do the task, in pairs or in groups, using their own linguistic and nonlinguistic resources.
- The teacher’s role at this stage is to monitor, support, and encourage the learners.
- The teacher does not have to intervene to correct accuracy mistakes.
- The emphasis is more on meaningful communication, fluency and confidence building than on accuracy.
- The learners draft or rehearse what they want to say or write.
- They report briefly to the whole class to compare findings.
This stage provides an opportunity for learners to compare their products with a similar product by a native/ fluent speaker.
- The learners listen to a recording by a native/fluent speaker.
- Comparison between the two versions constitutes a chance for learners to learn from their mistakes.
- Based on the analysis of the learners’ products, more work on specific language points may follow
Advantages of TBLT
The aim of TBLT is to help learners develop implicit knowledge of the language that will enable them to participate easily and naturally in communication. The learners get the form and use of the target language without being explicitly being taught. The role of the teacher is to design tasks by replicating and creating the conditions for language learning and for communication that exists outside the confines of the classroom. The aim is that the learners’ interlanguage will gain implicit language knowledge while doing tasks.
Much of our everyday learning is incidental. TBLT provides opportunities for unplanned learning. Completing a real-world task allows the acquisition to take place without any deliberate intention on the part of the learner or the teacher.
TBLT allows meaningful communication to occur during the accomplishment of tasks.
Disadvantages of TBLT
- Some teachers criticize TBLT for focusing mainly on fluency at the expense of accuracy.
- TBLT requires a high level of creativity and initiative on the part of the teacher.
- TBLT requires resources beyond the textbooks and related materials usually found in language classrooms.
- Evaluation of task-based instruction can be difficult. The nature of task-based learning does not allow it to be objectively measurable.
Littlewood, 2004. ‘The task–based approach: some questions and suggestions‘ in ELT Journal Volume 58/4:319-
Prabhu, N.S. (1987). Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Richards, J.C. & Rodgers, T.S 2001. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Further reading on Amazon:
Watch a video by Rod Ellis about Task-Based Languyage Teaching: