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What is Task-Based Language Teaching?

When you think about the word task, there are different concepts you may agree with. For instance, buying your favorite soda, cleaning your room, completing your college application, paying for food at a local cafeteria, and even studying for a test are all concepts of tasks. Therefore, a task is any activity we perform every day where there is interaction, real communication, and survival language use. Examples of real world tasks are: A party that requires you to introduce yourself for socializing purposes, a doctor who asks you to describe your symptoms in order to give you a prescription, a street vendor who convinces you to buy a product. In summary, a task is not only to communicate, but it also has a goal such as making new friends, getting the right medication or selling your product if you are the street vendor mentioned before.

When these tasks are transformed from the real world to the classroom, they are called pedagogical tasks. There are two main definitions I want to include in this paper.

Rod Ellis offers the following definition:

A task is a workplan that requires learners to process language pragmatically in order to achieve an outcome that can be evaluated in terms of whether the correct or appropriate propositional content has been conveyed. To this end, it requires them to give primary attention to meaning and to make use of their linguistic resources, although the design of the task may predispose them to choose particular forms. A task is intended to result in language use that bears a resemblance, direct or indirect, to the way language is used in the real world. Like other language activities, a task can engage productive or receptive, and oral or written skills and also various cognitive processes.

David Nunan defines a pedagogical task in the following way:

A pedagogical task is a piece of classroom work that involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target language while their attention is focused on mobilizing their grammatical knowledge in order to express meaning, and in which the intention is to convey meaning rather than to manipulate form. The task should also have a sense of completeness, being able to stand alone as a communicative act in its own right with a beginning, a middle and an end.

My own definition is that a pedagogical task is any classroom activity which asks you to rehearse real world tasks. In consequence, a task must let you integrate all language skills, and it must contain micro and macro language functions that help you negotiate meaning. While language exercises and communicative activities provide practice with controlled linguistic elements, in pedagogical tasks there is an outcome that involves making the right choices to get a product. These tasks are also composed of elements that help you create language. In addition, they must promote the use of rehearsal tasks and activation tasks (rehearsal rationale, activation rationale).

Rehearsal Tasks and Activation Tasks

Rehearsal Tasks, as the name suggests, help you practice something you are going to need to do outside the classroom. These tasks are not identical to the actual process of performing a real world task or target task, but they are adapted to classroom conditions for teaching purposes. It is important to mention that such tasks allow you to recycle language. In addition, they are designed to use different language exponents (Grammar). Example:

Write your resumé and exchange it with a partner. Study the positions available advertisements in the newspaper and find three that would be suitable for your partner. Then compare your choices and decide on the best option.

Activation Tasks are not connected to real world tasks. They simply promote or activate all language skills. In performing this type of tasks, learners create and manipulate language that is not available in textbooks. Here is a good example of activation tasks:

Work with three other students. You are on a ship that is sinking. You have to swim to a nearby island. You have a waterproof container, but can only carry 20 kilos of items in it. Decide which of the following items you will take. (Remember, you can´t take more than 20 kilos with you.)

  • Axe (8 kilos)

  • Cans of food (500 grams each)

  • Bottles of water (1.5 kilos each)

  • Short-wave radio (12 kilos)

  • Firelighting kits (500 grams each)

  • Notebook computer (3.5 kilos)

  • Box of novels and magazines (3 kilos)

  • Packets of sugar, flour, powdered milk, coffee, tea (each packet weights 500 grams)

  • Medical Kit (2 kilos)

  • Portable CD player and CDs (4 kilos)

  • Rope (6 kilos)

  • Water proof sheets of fabric (3 kilos each)

In summary, the goal of Task Based Language Teaching is to attempt to create natural language acquisition conditions. Proponents of TBLT think that language exercises are unnecessary to learn languages, and that languages are best taught when they are used to convey meaning and transmit messages. Therefore, we should create tasks containing functions, context, and integrated language skills to activate grammar.

We would like to thank professor Lisandro Rivera Palomares, for his valuable collaboration.

Lisandro Rivera Palomares

Fuentes de Consulta

  • NUNAN, David. (2004). Task-Based Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press

Material Externo

  • Task-Based Language Teaching: teachers’ solutions to problems encountered (Aston University) Review the following article if you want to know more about task-based language teaching.
  • (One stop English) Still looking for more ideas and strategies? Check out this web page.