This paper presents the task-based learning which aims to increase the ability of learners to communicate effectively and in the process to become more accurate. The paper first gives background information of the approach and outlines the general principles and characteristics of it. It then discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the approach by considering its efficacy for teaching and learning.
Task-based language teaching is an approach seeking to provide learners with a natural context for language use. As learners work to complete a task, they have abundant opportunity to interact. Such interaction is thought to facilitate language acquisition as learners have to work to understand each other and to express their own meaning (Larsen-Freeman 2000:114). As Candlin and Murphy (1987:1) note, “The central purpose we are concerned with is language learning, and tasks present this in the form of a problem solving negotiation between knowledge that the learner holds and new language.”
In order to be able to fully comprehend task-based learning, it is better to clarify what is meant by “tasks” in advance.
1. DEFINITION OF “TASK”
In some books, the word “task” has been used as a label for various activities including grammar exercises, practice activities and role plays. These are not tasks in the sense the word is used in task-based learning (TBL). In TBL, tasks are always activities where the target language is used by the learner for a communicative purpose (goal) in order to achieve an outcome in which the emphasis is on exchanging meanings not producing specific language forms. Examples include compiling a list of reasons, features, or things that need doing under particular circumstances; comparing two pictures and/or texts to find the differences; and solving a problem or designing a brochure, oral presentations, sharing and comparing experiences, doing a puzzle, playing a game etc. One job of the course designer and the teacher is to select topics and tasks that will motivate learners, engage their attention, present a suitable degree of intellectual and linguistic challenge and promote their language development as efficiently as possible (Willis 1996:23).
2. BACKGROUND OF TASK-BASED LEARNING
Task-based learning is not a new method. Rather, it simply puts task at the center of one’s methodological focus. It views the learning process as a set of communicative tasks that are directly linked to the curricular goals they serve (Brown 1994). Among the first teachers to recognize this were teachers of Business Communication. Letter writing books from fifty years ago already have chapters entitled “Enquires”, “Orders”, “Complaints” and so on. This approach was applied to general language teaching in David Wilkins’ Notional Syllabuses in 1976 which influenced the description of the Council of Europe’s Threshold Level (Dawson 2001). Two early applications of a task-based learning within a communicative framework for language teaching were the Malaysian Communicational Syllabus(1975) and the Bangalore Project (Beretta and Davies 1985; Prabhu 1987; Beretta1990) both of which were relatively short-lived. Because of its links to Communicative Language Teaching methodology and support from second language acquisition theorists, task-based learning has gained considerable attention within applied linguistics (Richards and Rodgers 2001).
3. THE RATIONALE OF TASK- BASED LEARNING
The underlying philosophy of task-based learning will be analyzed in this section:
3.1. Theory of Language
Several assumptions about the nature of language can be said to underlie current approaches to task-based learning. These are:
v Language is primarily a means of making meaning: Task-based learning emphasizes the central role of meaning in language use. Skehan notes that in task-based learning, “meaning is primary…the assessment of the task is in terms of outcome” and that task-based learning is not “concerned with language display” (Skehan 1998:98).
v Multiple models of language inform task-based learning: Advocates of task-based learning draw on structural, functional, and interactional models of language. This seems to be a matter of convenience. Therefore, task-based learning is not linked to a single model of language but rather draws on all three models of language theory.
v Lexical units are central in language use and language learning: Vocabulary is here used to include the consideration of lexical phrases, sentence stems, prefabricated routines and collocations, and not only words as significant units of lexical analysis and language pedagogy. Many task-based proposals incorporate this perspective.
v “Conversation” is the central focus of language and the keystone of language acquisition: Speaking and trying to communicate with others is considered the basis for second language acquisition in task-based learning; hence, the majority of tasks that are proposed within TBL involve consideration (Richards and Rodgers 2001).
3.2. Theory of Learning
Task-based learning shares the general assumptions about the nature of language learning underlying Communicative Language Teaching. Some learning principles play a central role in task-based learning. These are:
v Tasks provide both the input and the output processing necessary for language acquisition: Drawing on Second Language Acquisition research on negotiation and interaction, TBL proposes that the task is the pivot point for stimulation of input-output practice, negotiation of meaning, and transactionally focused conversation.
v Task activity and achievement are motivational: Tasks are also said to improve learner motivation and therefore promote learning. This is because they require the learners to use authentic language, they have well-defined dimensions and closure, they typically include physical activity, they involve partnership and collaboration, they may call on the learner’s past experience, and they tolerate and encourage a variety of communication.
v Learning difficulty can be negotiated and fine-tuned for particular pedagogical purposes: Specific tasks can be designed to facilitate the use and learning of particular aspects of language as they provide a vehicle for the presentation of appropriate target language samples. They can also be used “channel” learners toward particular aspects of language (Richards and Rodgers 2001).
4. COMPONENTS OF THE TASK-BASED LEARNING FRAMEWORK
This section will illustrate the basic procedures of the three phases in task-based learning:
Introduction to topic and task: Teacher explores the topic with the class, highlights useful words and phrases, helps students understand task instructions and prepare.
Task: Students do the task, in pairs or small groups. Teacher monitors from a distance.
Planning: Students prepare to report to the whole class( orally or in writing) how they did the task, what they decided or discovered.
Report: Some groups present their reports to the class, or exchange written reports and compare results.
Analysis: Students examine and discuss specific features of the text or transcript of the recording.
Practice: Teacher conducts practice or new words, phrases and patterns occurring in the data, either during or after the analysis (Willis 1996: 38).
5. SIX TYPES OF TASK
The classification will help to generate a variety of tasks on whatever topic is selected. Simple tasks may consist of one type only, such as listing; more complex tasks may incorporate two or more types, such as, listing then comparing lists. Problem solving may include listing, comparing and ranking. Six types of task, which will be outlined, are also classified as “closed” and “open” tasks. “Closed” tasks are ones that are highly structured and have very specific goals, for example, Work in pairs to find seven differences between these two pictures. The information is restricted. There is only one possible outcome. Most comparing tasks are like this. “Open” tasks are ones that are more loosely structured with a less specific goal, for example, comparing memories of childhood journeys, or exchanging anecdotes on a theme. Open tasks are considered more creative. Other types of tasks come midway between “closed” and “open” (Please see appendices for examples of task types). Six types of task are:
Processes à Brainstorming, fact-finding.
ORDERING AND SORTING:
Processes à Sequencing, ranking, categorizing, classifying.
Processes à Matching, finding similarities, finding differences.
Processes à Analysing real or hypothetical situations, reasoning, and decision making.
SHARING PERSONAL EXPERIENCES:
Processes à Narrating, describing, exploring and explaining attitudes, opinions, reactions.
Processes à Brainstorming, fact-finding, ordering and sorting, comparing, problem solving and many others (Willis 1996).
6. TEACHER AND LEARNER ROLES IN TASK-BASED LEARNING
6.1. Teacher Roles:
v Selector and sequencer of tasks: A central role of the teacher is in selecting, adapting, and/or creating themselves and then forming these in keeping with learner needs, interests, and language skill level.
v Preparing learners for tasks: Some sort of pretask preparation or cuing is important for learners. Such activities might include topic introduction, clarifying task instructions, helping students learn or recall useful words and phrases to facilitate task accomplishment, and providing partial demonstration of task procedure.
v Consciousness-raising: The teacher employs a variety of form-focusing techniques, including attention-focusing pretask activities, text exploration, guided exposure to parallel tasks, and use of highlighted material.
6.2. Learner Roles:
v Group Participant: Many tasks will be done in pairs or small groups. For students more accustomed to whole-class and/or individual work, this may require some adaptation.
v Monitor: In TBL, tasks are employed as a means of facilitating learning. Class activities have to be designed so that students have the opportunity to notice how language is used in communication. Learners themselves need to “attend” not only to the message in task work, but also to the form in which such messages typically come packed.
v Risk-taker and innovator: Many tasks will require learners to create and interpret messages for which they lack full linguistic resources and prior experience. In fact, this is said to be the point of such tasks. The skills of guessing from linguistic and contextual clues, asking for clarification, and consulting with other learners may need to be developed (Richards and Rodgers 2001).
7. GENERAL PRINCIPLES AND CHARACTERISTICS OF TASK-BASED LEARNING
v Task-based learning is based on the use of tasks as the core unit of planning and instruction in language teaching.
v Tasks that involve real communication are essential for language learning.
v Learners learn language by interacting communicatively and purposefully while engaged in the activities and tasks.
v The focus is on process rather than product.
v Language that is meaningful to the learner supports the learning process.
v Activities and tasks of a task-based syllabus are sequenced according to difficulty.
v The difficulty of a task depends on a range of factors including the previous experience of the learner, the complexity of the task, the language required to undertake the task, and the degree of support available (Richards and Rodgers 2001).
v Errors are not necessarily the result of bad learning, but are part of the natural process of interlanguage forms gradually moving towards target forms (Ellis 1994).
8. ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF TASK-BASED LEARNING
Some important advantages of task-based learning are:
v Task-based learning is widely applicable as it is suitable for learners of all ages and backgrounds.
v During the task the learners are allowed to use whatever language they want, freeing them to focus entirely on the meaning of their message. This makes it closer to real-life communicative situation, which is a way of bringing the real world into classroom (Krahne 1987).
v A natural context is developed from the students’ experiences with the language that is personalized and relevant to them.
v Because learners are striving to express what they want to say, they are more motivated to absorb the language needed-either new language that they ask you for, or language that they have already met, but not acquired properly so far.
v The language explored arises from the students’ needs. This need dictates what will be covered in the lesson rather than a decision made by the teacher or the coursebook
v The students will have a much more varied exposure to language with task-based learning (TBL). They will be exposed to a whole range of lexical phrases, collocations and patterns as well as language forms.
v Tasks provide a natural opportunity for revision and recycling and give teachers the opportunity to assess learners’ progress.
v TBL provides clear objectives in terms of what participants will gain from the tasks. That is, each task has a clearly defined set of objectives, stating what the participants will be able to do at the end of the task.
v Tasks contribute to progress by encouraging students to plan and be more ambitious in the language they use, rather than just saying the first thing that comes into their heads.
v TBL provides cooperative support. Classroom work is to be carried out on a cooperative basis involving a lot of participants’ initiation right from the start. This should enable a supportive, non-threatening environment for participants to invest personally in the learning effort (Frost).
Some disadvantages of task-based learning are:
v The weaknesses of task-based learning lie not so much in the potential effectiveness of this type of instructional content but in problems of implementing the instruction.
v Task-based learning requires a high level of creativity and initiative on the part of the teacher. If the teachers are limited to more traditional roles or do not have time and resources to implement task-based teaching; this type of teaching may be impossible.
v Task-based learning requires resources beyond the textbooks and related materials usually found in language classrooms.
v Because task-based learning is not what many students expect and want from a language class, they may, at least initially, resist or object to this type of instruction.
v Task-based instruction is not teacher-centered; instead, it requires individual and group responsibility and commitment on the part of students. If students are notably lacking in these qualities, task-based instruction may indeed be difficult to implement (Krahne 1987).
v Some learners revert to mother tongue when things get difficult or if the group feels impatient.
v Some individuals develop excellent communication strategies, e.g. miming and using gestures, but get by using just odd words and phrases and let others supply the more challenging language they need. This may make those individuals fossilize before advancing very far in the syntax of the target language.
v Some learners tend to get caught up in trying to find the right word, and do not worry over much about how it fits into the discourse.
v There is naturally more concern for use of lexis and lexical chunks than for grammar and grammatical accuracy (Willis 1996: 55).
v There is a risk for learners to achieve fluency at the expense of accuracy.
v Pressure of time will force learners to make use of language that can be readily accessed rather than to attempt to create language in real time. There may be a minimal concern with accuracy and no incentive for learners to extend their existing language system(Skehan 1996).
v Evaluation of task-based learning can be difficult. The nature of task-based learning prevents it from being measurable by some of the more restricted and traditional tests (Krahne 1987).
9. APPLICATIONS AND EVALUATION
Few would question the pedagogical value of employing tasks as a vehicle for promoting communication and authentic language use in second language classrooms, and depending on one’s definition of a task, tasks have long been part of the mainstream of language teaching techniques for teachers of many different methodologies. Task-based learning, however, offers a different rationale for the use of tasks as well as different criteria for the design and use of tasks. It is the dependence on tasks as the primary source of pedagogical input in teaching and the absence of a systematic grammatical or other type of syllabus that characterizes current versions of task-based learning, and that distinguishes it from the use of tasks in other approaches. This may lead to some problems of implementing the instruction. Problems can easily arise with teachers, the instructional setting, or the students. When the conditions of Turkey are considered, it is apparent that there may be some difficulties to apply TBL due to the fact that most classes are crowded and both teachers and learners are used to traditional way of teaching and learning. Many aspects of task-based learning have yet to be justified but still this type of instruction holds great promise for the teaching of languages in second language settings for both adults and children. Further work will help to define its potential contribution to the overall field of language teaching.
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