Defining Task-based language teaching


Part 1 of my reading log for EDPROFST 360 

Course Director and Lecturer: Dr. Constanza Tolosa

Write answers to the following questions after you have read the reading you have chosen.

  1. According to the author, what is a task-based approach to language teaching?
  2. In what ways does the author claim that task-based language teaching is superior to more traditional ways of language learning? What are the benefits of this approach to language teaching for language learning?
  3. Write a personal response to the author’s claims where you give your reaction to the ideas presented.
  4. Suggest ways in which the content of what you have read could be applied in your language classroom.

Reading Chosen

Ellis, R. (2009). Task-based language teaching: Sorting out the misunderstandings. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 19 (3), 221-246.

Defining Task Based language teaching (TBLT)

Task Based language teaching (TBLT) is an approach to teaching a second/foreign language that seeks to engage learners in interactionally authentic language using the target language by having them perform a series of tasks. TBLT aims to both enable learners (1) to acquire new linguistic knowledge and (2) to proceduralize their existing knowledge.  Teachers need to understand that TBLT involves input-providing as well as out-put prompting tasks and that it is possible to build up proficiency initially through a series of simple input-based tasks.


Central to TBLT is that word task, and teachers must have a clear understanding about task by providing opportunities for communication. There is is no single ‘task-based teaching’ approach. Task can be focused or unfocused and can be identified by the following four key precepts of Task.

First the primary focus for TBLT should be on ‘meaning’ by which is meant that learners should be mainly concerned with processing the semantic and pragmatic meaning of utterances.

Then there should be some kind of ‘gap’ with a need to convey information and to express an opinion or to infer meaning.

Next learners should largely rely on their own resources whether it is linguistic and or non-linguistic in order to complete the activity.

After that there should be a defined outcome other than the use of language because the language serves as the means for achieving the outcome, not as an end in its own right.

These key precepts of tasks central to TBLT is superior to more traditional ways of language learning because TBLT is capable of providing much greater exposure to the target language than traditional language teaching. Task allows the students to communicate for a real purpose to achieve success criteria. The tasks need to be trialled to ensure that they result in appropriate L2 use and revised in the light of experience. Therefore in practice attention is drawn to as the name suggests, the Task.

Advantages of TBLT

Task-based learning is advantageous to the student because it is more student-centered, allows for more meaningful communication, often provides for practical extra-linguistic skill building and are likely to be familiar to the students such as visiting the doctor.

  1. Task-based language teaching offers the opportunity for ‘natural’ learning inside the classroom.
  2. TBLT emphasizes meaning over form but can also cater for learning form.
  3. TBLT is intrinsically motivating therefore students are more likely to be engaged, which may further motivate them in their language learning.
  4. TBLT is compatible with a learner-centred educational philosophy but also allows for teacher input and direction by allowing the learner to pick out the language to use for the task.
  5. TBLT caters to the development of communicative fluency while not neglecting accuracy.
  6. TBLT depends on the purpose of the activity and can be used alongside a more traditional approach.
  7. TBLT develops communicative abilities.

The role of the teacher for TBLT

Teachers need to be clear in their understanding of what a task is and to be aware of the purpose and rationale for performing tasks. Developing task materials allows teachers to tailor the task to the proficiency levels of their students.

Applying the principles of TBLT In my current practice of teaching Mandarin.

In my current practice of teaching Mandarin I am already using several principles of TBLT. However I had not unpacked it to the depth that I am currently doing. I am a new learner of Mandarin and I use songs and simple children’s poems when focussing on form. My current class has a large proportion of Mandarin speakers and I use them to help with extensive L2 input. Initially they supported me with form and L2 input with the other children. I am already taking into account the individual differences of my learners by grouping the students according to ability. From other readings would like to trial grouping mixed ability children so that more experienced speakers can help emergent speakers.

Where to next

I will develop language teaching activities with a primary focus on meaning as I have been focusing only on form. I will aim to provide more opportunities for group and paired activities that enable my learners to pick out the language for the task.

When I highlight the 10 principles I can see that I have taken formulaic expressions to mean my learning of the expressions but have omitted my students learning them too. In order to understand what a task is and understand what is required of the learner to understand communicative messages I have begun the process of providing tasks and activities to focus on output. I have identified that I need to examine free use of language as well as controlled production because activities have shown that such tasks are effective both for practising managing and facilitating students’ performance of tasks in TBLT.  For my new task I have made decisions around both design and methodology. I have sequenced the tasks using the three phases of pre task phase, task phase and post task phase. For the pre task phase my learners sing the Mandarin colour song that has already been taught. We recap on the colours by holding up a colour block as the colours are called out. For the task phase I have developed a resource using the images from the simple PM reader called Sally’s leaves.  I have added a question and answer component to the story using formulaic phrases of  asking the question, ‘Where is the red leaf?’ Then responding with, ‘Here is the red leaf.’ My learners will group in threes to discuss and practice the patterns that they can see and hear. For the final two slides, I will leave out the formulaic expressions but will leave in the colours of the leaves. For the post task phase I have created another resource that has the coloured leaves with the words. Included are the two formulaic phrases. My learners will work in pairs to practice asking and answering the questions. The task I have created for learning has an element of natural language use.


One thought on “Defining Task-based language teaching

  1. Hi Sonya,
    Thanks for sharing this. Some great reflection. Love how you are thinking about the stages of tasks for the little ones at primary as much of the readings are about tasks for older learners. We just had a PD conference for the MLA’s and had Rod Ellis present. Lots and lots of questions! The more we talk about it and reflect the better.
    Keep up the good work.


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