Task-based language teaching (TBLT) is an approach based on doing tasks without traditional preliminary explanation and language practice. The idea of TBLT was greatly popularized by Narahari Umanath Prabhu, an Indian-American mathematician, who worked at school in South India. The students, he worked with, were learning the language focusing on certain language structures, not on the form. He did not give his students any language structures, like in conventional teaching methods. His students were fully concentrated on tasks they had to perform or a problem which was necessary to solve.
This technique presupposes that the language works NOT as an exercise, but an instrument of achieving goals. In such a role, the language is a source of communication in real interaction. This approach reflects the natural process of language acquisition. First, we want to say something, then we try to say it and, finally, we say it and try to make our language better. In TBLT the teacher’s goal is to create an opportunity to use the language in speaking, which we can achieve getting away from language forms and structures.
Benefits and drawbacks of TBLT
The TBLT technique, like any other ones, obviously has its benefits:
- students are deeply involved in the exercise, which is closely connected with their motivation;
- students feel totally free to use any language forms and structures to perform the task;
- situations are very close to real communication;
- students can apply all their knowledge from different areas in their speech;
- students are exposed to the use of authentic materials. Tasks are taken from real-life situations, not from the tasks, deliberately created for some special courses.
As long as the TBLT technique has its advantages, it also has its drawbacks. The major disadvantage is that TBLT is suitable for students with higher levels of the language (Intermediate and higher). And the other disadvantage is that teachers do not know when and how to assess the results.
Stages of a TBLT lesson
All approaches in English Language Teaching (ELT) presuppose that we have to follow the stages that allow students to master the necessary material, developing their level of the language. This technique is not an exception. Teachers must go through the following stages:
- Pre-task (introduction to the topic and exercise);
- Task (task, planning, report);
- Language focus (analysis, practice).
In the pre-task stage, the teacher and students explore the topic and the teacher can highlight useful vocabulary for students to understand the task instructions. In the course of the task stage, students do the task in pairs or groups, while the teacher monitors the activity from the distance. After that, students discuss (plan) how to present the information to the whole class and then they report on what they have discussed. In the language focus stage students discuss specific features of the task, which the teacher provides and controls.
All tasks in the context of the TBLT are considered as a type of activity, in which students use the language as a communicative goal to achieve certain results. Students are concentrated on the meaning, but not on the form. In addition, doing such tasks presupposes students being involved in the exercise. They need to apply all their knowledge and skills to perform this exercise.
Examples of TBLT approach
To fully understand the TBLT approach, it is necessary to give example exercises. They are such tasks as:
- information gap activities involve the transfer of information from one person to another, from one form to another or from one place to another. This type of activity lets students request, clarify or negotiate information.
- reasoning gap activities — asking students to use reason and logic to decide what information to transfer and how to solve the issue.
- opinion gap activities — asking students to express their opinion, share their feelings about a situation, taking part in debates, discussions. Such types of activities presuppose no right or wrong answers.
Here is an example of an exercise. The lesson is about networking and its opportunities. The task is the following: one of the characters had a networking conversation with a stranger at a conference. Students have to listen to the conversation and evaluate how effective and correct the networking process was. They analyse and can suggest their own ideas on how to improve the conversation if there are any mistakes.
All my students from Pre-Intermediate to Upper-Intermediate claim that they are absolutely in love with such an approach, which boosts their speaking skills and motivation. They are fully involved in our discussions, ready to speak about anything and they do not notice how time goes by. At the end of the lessons, they all tell me how interesting and exciting our lessons are and they are even surprised when our lessons are over. Time goes too fast, while negotiating. These words are one of the most rewarding things that a teacher can imagine. It means that students are interested, involved and motivated next time.
Feel free to follow the task based language teaching technique and your students will be highly motivated!