TASK BASED LANGUAGE TEACHING FOR YOUNG LEARNERS
The use of language in communication is vital. Language plays an important role in communication among people in the world. A language that spread widely as international language is English. For that reason, learning English is important for students, especially in Indonesia. The importance can be seen from the fact that most scientific books are written in English. English was studied in the classroom since early stages in Indonesia. In order to make the students be able to master the language, the teacher should conduct appropriate methods.
For many years researchers have developed many methods to produce the one which can gain the use of language as a means of communication especially in language teaching areas. Language teaching in twentieth century was characterized by frequent change and innovation and by the development sometimes competing language teaching ideologies. The year of teacher-centered has been changed by the development of Communicative method which focuses on student-centered approach. Communicative Language Teaching helps students to understand the language in context and to use it effectively in situations outside the classroom. One of the methods supporting the communicative approach is Task Based Language Teaching.
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.”
Based on the explanation above, there are some questions to be discussed:
1. What exactly Task Based Language Teaching?
2. What are the general principles and characteristic of task-based language teaching?
3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of that method?
B. MAIN DISCUSSION
Task-Based Language Teaching refers to an approach based on the use of tasks as the core unit of planning and instruction in language teaching. Although definitions of task vary in TBLT, there is a commonsensical understanding that a task is an activity or goal that is carried out using language. As stated by Skehan (1996b: 20):
Tasks…are activities which have meaning as their primary focus. Success in tasks is evaluated in terms of achievement of an outcome, and tasks generally bear some resemblance to real-life language use. So task based instruction takes a fairly strong view of communicative language teaching.
For Prabhu, a task is ‘an activity which requires learners to arrive at an outcome from given information through some process of thought, and which allows teachers to control and regulate that process” (Prabhu 1987: 17). While Crookes defined a tasks as “ a piece of work or an activity, usually with a specified objective, undertaken as part of an educational course, at work, or used to elicit data for research” (Crookes 1986: 1).
According to Jane Willis, a task is a goal-oriented activity with a clear purpose. Doing a communication task involves achieving an outcome, creating a final product that can be appreciated by others. Tasks can be used as the central component of a three-part framework: “pre-task”, “task cycle”, and “language focus.” These components have been carefully designed to create four optimum conditions for language acquisition, and thus provide rich learning opportunities to suit different types of learners (Willis, 1996). Learners get exposure at the pre-task stage, and an opportunity to recall things they know. The task cycle gives them speaking and writing exposure with opportunities for students to learn from each other. The task cycle also gives students opportunities to use whatever language they have, both in private (where mistakes, hesitations, and approximate renderings do not matter so long as the meaning is clear) and in public (where there is a built-in desire to strive for accuracy of form and meaning, so as not to lose face).
Based on the definition above, we can conclude that task is an activity which can be conducted in the language class to reach or to get an outcome through systematic process and allow teachers to control and regulate the process. The success of task based language teaching based on the process of achieving the target language and it can be seen in the form of outcome of the learners. Task based language teaching provides learners with 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. The selection of activities or tasks should be based on the students’ need in order to motivate students, engage their attention, improve intellectual and linguistic challenge and promote their language development.
Richard and Rogers (2001: ) said there are several assumptions about the nature of language underlie current approaches to TBLT. Firstly, Language is primarily a means of making meaning. The success of using task is in term of outcome, how far the students are able to use the target language to express their meaning. Secondly, multiple models of language inform TBI. Thirdly, lexical units are central in language use and language learning. In recent years, vocabulary has been considered to play a more central role in second language learning than was traditionally assumed. Vocabulary is here used to include the consideration of lexical phrases, sentence stems and not only words as significant units of linguistic lexical analysis and language pedagogy. Fourthly, “Conversation” is the central focus of language and the keystone of language acquisition. Speaking and trying to communicate with others through the spoken language drawing on the learner’s available linguistic and communicative resources is considered the basis for second language acquisition in TBI.
There are some principles assumptions about the nature of language learning in TBLT based on Richard and Rogers (2001: ). These are: First, tasks provide both the input and output processing necessary for language acquisition. Tasks are believed to help processes of negotiation, modification, rephrasing, and experimentation that are at the heart of second language learning. Second, 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 are varied in format and operation, 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 style. Third, learning difficulty can be negotiated and fine-tuned for particular pedagogical purposes. If the teachers design difficult tasks for students it will motivate the students to develop fluency, accuracy and awareness of language.
Varieties of task developing by many experts can be good recourses for teachers to choose appropriate one which matches with their students need and competence. The task types can be based on the goal, traditional knowledge hierarchies and the interaction occurs in the task itself. Nunan (1989) suggest that a syllabus might specify two types of task: (1) Real-world task, which designed to practice tasks that important in a needs analysis and useful in the real life. (2) Pedagogical tasks, which have psycholinguistic basis in SLA theory and research but do not necessarily reflect real life tasks.
In the Bangalore Project, both tasks were used, as is seen from the following list:
Task type Example
1. Diagrams and information Naming parts of a diagram with numbers and letters of the alphabet as instructed.
2. Drawing Drawing geometrical figures/ formations from sets of verbal instructions
3. Clock faces Positioning hands on a clock to show a given time
4. Monthly calendar Calculating duration in days and weeks in the context of travel, leave, and so on
5. Maps Constructing a floor plan of a house from a description
6. School timetables Constructing timetables for teachers of particular subjects
7. Programs and itineraries Constructing itineraries from description of travel
8. Train timetables Selecting trains appropriate to given needs
9. Age and year of birth Working out year of birth from age
10. Money Deciding on quantities to be bought given the money available
Willis proposes six tasks types based on traditional knowledge hierarchies as follows; Listing, Ordering and sorting, Comparing, Problem solving, Sharing personal experience, Creative task. While Pica, Kagany, and Falodun (1993) classify tasks according to the type of interaction that occurs in tasks accomplishment and give the following classification:
1. Jigsaw tasks: These involve learners combining different pieces of interaction to form a whole.
2. Information-gap tasks: One students or group of students has one set of information and another students or group has a complementary set of information. They must negotiate and find out what the other party’s information is in order to complete an activity.
3. Problem-solving tasks: Students are given a problem and a set of information. They must arrive at a solution to the problem. There is generally a single resolution of the outcome.
4. Decision-making tasks: Students are given a problem for which there are a number of possible outcomes and they must choose one through negotiation and discussion.
5. Opinion exchange tasks: Learners engage in discussion and exchange of ideas. They do not need to reach agreement.
Task -based Learning offers an alternative for language teachers. In a task-based lesson the teacher doesn’t pre-determine what language will be studied, the lesson is based around the completion of a central task and the language studied is stages. Task based learning consist of three phases: pre task, task cycle and language focus.
Pre task phase introduces the class to the topic and the task, activating topic related words and phrases. Here, the teacher roles as instructor. The teacher introduces the topic and gives the students clear instructions on what they will have to do at the task stage and might help the students to recall some language that may be useful for the task. Then instruct the students to do the task and make sure that all the students understand task instruction. The pre-task stage can also include playing a recording of people doing the task. This gives the students a clear model of what will be expected of them. While the teacher doing this job, the students note down useful words and phrases from the pre-task activities and/or the recording. It may spend a few minutes preparing for the task individually.
The task cycle offers learners the chance to use whatever language they already know in order to carry out the task, and then to improve that language under teacher guidance, while planning their report of the task. Feedback from the teacher comes when they want it most, at the planning stage, and after the report. Exposure to language in use can be provided at the different points, depending on the task type of the task. The students complete a task in pairs or groups using the language resources that they have as the teacher monitors and offers encouragement.
Students prepare a short oral or written report to tell the class what happened during their task, how they did the task and what they decided or discovered. Then, they practice what they are going to say in their groups. Teachers must ensure that the purpose of the report is clear. Besides, the teacher is available for the students to ask for advice to clear up any language questions they may have. Clearly, the teacher acts as linguistic adviser and giving feedback; helping students to correct, rephrase or rehearse oral report and organize or draft written report.
Students then present their spoken reports to the class orally or read the written reports. The teacher chooses which group of students will present their reports and may give them some quick feedback on the content and form. At this stage the teacher acts as chairperson and may play a recording of others doing the same task for the students to compare.
The language focus phase allows a closer study of some of the specific features naturally occurring in the language used during the task cycle. By this point, the learners will have already worked with the language and processed it for meaning, so they are ready to focus on the specific language forms that carry the meaning.
The teacher then highlights relevant parts from the text of the recording for the students to analyze. They may ask students to notice interesting features within this text or bring other useful words, phrases and patterns to improve students’ attention. The teacher can also highlight the language that the students used during the report phase for analysis. Meanwhile the students examine and discuss specific features of the text or transcript of the recording.
Finally, the teacher conducts practice activities. It begins with selecting language areas to practice based upon the needs of the students and what emerged from the task and report phases. The students then do practice activities to increase their confidence and make a note of useful language. On the other hand, the students can practice other features occurring in the task text or report stage.
C. GENERAL PRINCIPLES AND CHARACTERISTICS OF TASK-BASED LEARNING
• Task-based learning is based on the use of tasks as the core unit of planning and instruction in language teaching.
• Tasks that involve real communication are essential for language learning.
• Learners learn language by interacting communicatively and purposefully while engaged in the activities and tasks.
• The focus is on process rather than product.
• Language that is meaningful to the learner supports the learning process.
• Activities and tasks of a task-based syllabus are sequenced according to difficulty.
• 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).
• 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).
D. THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF TBLT
Task-based Language Teaching has some clear advantages:
• TBLT is a student-centered approach. The students are free of language control. In all three stages they must use all their language resources rather than just practicing one pre-selected item. 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).
• A natural context is developed from the students’ experiences with the language that is personalized and relevant to them.
• The students will have a much more varied exposure to language with TBLT. They will be exposed to a whole range of lexical phrases, collocations and patterns as well as language forms.
• 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 course book.
• It is a strong communicative approach where students spend a lot of time communicating. Just watch how much time the students spend communicating during a task-based lesson.
• It is enjoyable and motivating. Motivation is provided mainly by the need to achieve the objectives of the task and to report back on it. Success in doing this can increase longer term motivation.
• Task-based learning is widely applicable as it is suitable for learners of all ages and backgrounds.
• Tasks provide a natural opportunity for revision and recycling and give teachers the opportunity to assess learners’ progress.
• 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.
• 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)
Beside those advantages, TBLT also has some disadvantages:
• The weaknesses of task-based learning lay not so much in the potential effectiveness of this type of instructional content but in problems of implementing the instruction.
• 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.
• Task-based learning requires resources beyond the textbooks and related materials usually found in language classrooms.
• Task-based instruction is not teacher-centred; 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).
• Some learners revert to mother tongue when things get difficult or if the group feels impatient.
• 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.
• 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. There is naturally more concern for use of lexis and lexical chunks than for grammar and grammatical accuracy (Willis 1996: 55).
• There is a risk for learners to achieve fluency at the expense of accuracy.
• 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).
• 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).
Task-Based Language Teaching is a method of learning a language by using task as a central unit of learning. The researchers of this method believe that language is primarily use to share meaning and language use to communicate with others. By doing the task given by teacher in the classroom, the students expected to be able to follow some stages to achieve the target language and finally, to use the language to communicate in a real world. Task-Based Language Teaching uses tasks to improve student’s motivation because tasks provide both the input and output processing necessary for language acquisition. Students are given opportunity to use whatever language they know and already learn in communicating their messages. It makes the students improve their confidence to speak because it rather focuses on meaning than form. Tasks are believed to help processes of negotiation, modification, rephrasing, and experimentation that are at the heart of second language learning. This method can be implemented in all level of education because it is enjoyable and motivating.
Ellis, R. 1997a. SLA Research and Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pauline Foster , Thames Valley University. Key Concepts in ELT. ELT Journal Volume 53/1 January 1999 © Oxford University Press.
Richard Frost, British Council, Turkey. Article published at 26th April, 2004. BBC British Council Teaching English – Methodology – A Task-based approach.
Richards, Jack C and Theodore S. Rodgers. 2001. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. United State of America: Cambridge University Press.
Skehan, P. 1996. A Framework for the Implementation of Task-Based Instruction. Applied Linguistic 17(1): 38-61.
Willis, Jane. 1998. A Framework for Task-Based Learning. Malaysia: Longman.