Task-Based Learning (TBL), also known as Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT), is an approach that has emerged as a modern and effective way to teach languages.
What is Task-Based Learning?
The TBL method focuses on providing learners with meaningful “tasks” that mirror real-life situations, enabling them to engage with language in a purposeful and authentic context. Mike Long describes tasks as “the real-world activities that people think of when planning, conducting, or recalling their day.” (Long 2014) The acquisition of language occurs through the performance of such “real-world” tasks. David Nunan distinguishes between two types of tasks, “target tasks, and pedagogical tasks: target tasks, as the name implies, refer to uses of language in the world beyond the classroom; pedagogical tasks are those that occur in the classroom.” (Nunan 2004) While pedagogical tasks often deal with specific features of language, isolating them for further study, a target task reflects authentic language use in real-life scenarios. This application of language skills in a practical context enables learners to develop both their linguistic abilities and their communicative competence simultaneously.
What is the difference between Task-Based Teaching and traditional teaching methods?
Task-Based Learning stands in stark contrast to traditional form-based methods which usually begin with specific target language structures that students are expected to produce by the end of the lesson. A typical traditional approach is Presentation-Practice-Production (PPP). In this method, the teacher typically introduces a grammar point or vocabulary item in context, presents the structure, or encourages learners to discover its usage, provides controlled practice, and also provides opportunities for language production. While PPP often emphasizes systematic presentation and practice of language rules, TBL shifts the focus from form-focused drills to task-focused communications that require a range of communication resources rather than specific abstracted language structures.
How does Learnship implement TBL?
Here at Learnship, TBL is at the very core of our language courses: our blended Sprint Business Skills, as well as our trainer-led solution, Elevate Business Skills. We center both programs around the execution of tasks rather than a strict focus on individual grammar or vocabulary elements. This is designed to drive the growth in communicative competence that our clients seek.
In these programs, our goal is for learners to complete their tasks effectively using the target language as a primary communication tool. We place more weight on conveying meaning rather than perfect precision in language forms. Learners have the freedom to use any language necessary to achieve their task, and in most cases, there is more than one single solution to a task.
The benefit of TBL in our Sprint and Elevate programs is that it lets learners put real-world communication ahead of dissecting language into its granular constituents. It thrusts learners into genuine communicative scenarios, creating opportunities to utilize their entire language toolset. This method encourages learners to reflect on their existing skill set and areas in need of improvement, fostering learner autonomy and heightening their awareness of personal language needs.
What are the main principles of TBL?
Task-Based Learning effectively promotes language acquisition by immersing learners in authentic language contexts. When engaged in authentic tasks, learners naturally encounter new vocabulary, grammar structures, and idiomatic expressions, enabling them to acquire language in context.
TBL is a learner-centered approach to language learning which focuses on the following areas:
Experiential learning: The learner’s personal experience is the main point of departure. The learner will experience the task as a learning-by-doing experience. This is also known as self-directed learning, which tends to increase the learners’ intrinsic motivation.
Task Authenticity: TBL tasks mirror real-life situations, encouraging learners to use language in contexts they might encounter outside the classroom. This makes the learning experience much more applicable to the learners’ professional needs.
Communication: TBL originates from Communicative Language Training (CLT), which prioritizes communication over linguistic accuracy. Learners are encouraged to express themselves with the language resources they already have at their disposal, promoting the development of fluency and confidence.
Collaboration: Many TBL tasks are designed for group or pair work. These collaborative tasks foster social learning, interaction, and negotiation of meaning, leading to a deeper understanding of language nuances.
Problem-Solving: Tasks often involve problem-solving activities that demand creative language use. This stimulates critical thinking and cognitive engagement.
Task Sequencing: Tasks are sequenced from simpler to more complex, allowing learners to gradually build language proficiency and confidence. This also allows trainers to successfully scaffold different task stages.
Fluency over accuracy: The emphasis on communication over perfection reduces learners’ fear of making mistakes, leading to increased fluency and willingness to experiment with language.
Feedback and Reflection: Regular feedback and self-assessment after task completion enable learners to identify areas for improvement and track their progress.
How does a Task-based lesson normally function?
A typical TBL lesson is designed to immerse students in a learning experience that mirrors real-life language usage. The lesson structure often follows a three-phase framework: pre-task, task cycle, and language focus. In the pre-task phase, the trainer introduces the topic and activates learners’ prior knowledge through open questions, discussions, videos, or short readings. This phase sets the context for the upcoming task and generates interest among the learners.
The heart of the lesson lies in the task-cycle phase. Here, learners are presented with a task that requires them to collaborate, communicate, and solve problems. This can be further divided into planning and presenting stages. Working in pairs or groups, learners engage in discussions, role-plays, or information-sharing activities that encourage genuine interaction. The trainer steps back during this phase, allowing learners to take the lead while observing language use, identifying areas for improvement, and noting down emergent language use.
Following the task cycle, the language focus phase comes into play. In this phase, the trainer provides targeted language feedback based on the observations made during the task cycle. This feedback is specific to the learners’ needs and includes corrections, explanations, and examples related to grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation. Unlike traditional methods where grammar is presented prior to practice, TBL integrates language instruction at a point when learners have encountered real challenges in using the language. This contextualized approach to language learning enhances its relevance and applicability.
The Learnship approach combines elements of form-focused instruction with a robust task-based approach. The learning experience starts with open questions which are designed to help students make sense of new information by relating it to what they already know. Each lesson builds on previous knowledge by introducing the target language, which is always presented in an authentic context. This is followed by scaffolded practice exercises that are designed to guide the student through their learning journey. This culminates in the task, the real-world application of language, and evaluative and analytic feedback from the trainer.
What is the role of the Trainer in the TBL classroom?
Throughout the lesson, the trainer assumes the role of a facilitator, guiding learners through the different phases and offering support as needed. The trainer’s interventions are primarily focused on enabling effective communication and addressing language gaps that arise during the task cycle. The classroom environment is one of collaboration, exploration, and discovery, where mistakes are viewed as opportunities for learning rather than failures.
Trainers select tasks that align with learners’ proficiency levels and learning objectives. During tasks, the trainers observe the learners, provide the necessary scaffolding and guidance, and encourage interaction. After tasks, they encourage learners to reflect on their performance and language usage, and they often encourage learners to repeat tasks and implement new and emergent language structures.
What types of tasks are used in TBL?
TBL employs a wide array of tasks to cater to diverse learning needs. These include:
Information Gap Tasks: Learners exchange information to complete a task, requiring communication and negotiation.
Opinion-Sharing Tasks: Learners express and defend their opinions on various topics, promoting critical thinking and argumentation.
Problem-Solving Tasks: Learners collaborate to solve real-world problems, utilizing language for decision-making and analysis.
Role-Play Tasks: Simulating real-life scenarios, learners take on different roles, enhancing their conversational skills.
Project-Based Tasks: Involving extended work, these tasks encourage research, planning, and presentation skills.
In Learnship’s Sprint Business Skills program, we provide a range of tasks that are highly relevant to the modern workplace. In addition to case studies and role-plays, tasks include problem-solving tasks where learners discuss and decide on options, bringing critical thinking and decision-making skills into the mix.
What are the Benefits of TBL for language learners?
Task-Based Learning offers numerous benefits:
Real-World Relevance: Learners engage with language in contexts they might encounter in daily life, fostering practical language skills.
Intrinsic Motivation: Authentic tasks and self-directed learning enhance intrinsic motivation which leads to better learning outcomes.
Natural Language Development: Regular exposure to authentic language promotes natural acquisition and fluency development.
Enhanced Communication Skills: Learners focus on meaningful communication rather than perfect grammar, improving their fluency.
Collaborative Learning: Group tasks encourage collaboration, teamwork, and negotiation, refining interpersonal skills.
Cognitive Engagement: Problem-solving tasks stimulate critical thinking, expanding learners’ cognitive abilities.
Discover these benefits with Learnship’s Task-Based Learning solutions: Sprint Business Skills and Elevate Business Skills. Benefit from real-world relevance, natural language development, and enhanced communication skills through meaningful tasks. Collaborate with peers to refine interpersonal abilities, improve fluency, and boost cognitive engagement.
Nunan, David, Task based Language Teaching, Cambridge Language Teaching Library (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
Long, Mike, Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014)