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A series of brief, clear introductions to the main areas of language study. Written for teachers and students of linguistics and language studies. This paper explores the main features and underlying principles of TBLT and describes three challenges related to its implementation in the state secondary education in the context of Argentina: the definition of tasks in policy guidelines, teacher and learner roles and practical issues. This article hopes to raise awareness of these issues with a view to tackling the problems and, ultimately, improve the implementation of this approach in the EFL classroom.
For many years, the field of English language teaching has seen the emergence of different theories, techniques, approaches and methods that promise perfect solutions. In recent years, Task-Based Language Teaching TBLT has greatly impacted the field, proposing an emphasis on meaningful communication through the completion of tasks. Despite the support it has received from different authors and researchers Prabhu, ; Skehan, ; Ellis, ; Nunan, ; Willis and Willis, , as this approach represents a strong departure from traditional views on language instruction, it has also been criticised for its overemphasis on meaning at the expense of form and the challenges it poses for implementation in classrooms Sheen, ; Swan, However, despite criticism, it continues to be widely supported and implemented.
Its impact in the field of research can be seen in the number of current studies carried out in the context of undergraduate education in countries in Asia mainly Hong Kong, China, Iran and Thailand , though some research has been done in the context of secondary and primary schools in different countries. In Argentina, TBLT has been officially proposed as the approach to teaching English to be used nationwide since the educational reform of However, actual classroom practice shows that its implementation is not as widespread.
In this paper, I will first present the underlying principles that support TBLT and, after briefly describing the context of English Language teaching in state secondary schools in Argentina, I will refer to some of the factors that may affect its implementation.
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The arguments presented will be supported by a review of some of the current studies on TBLT, as well as by my own views on the state of EFL in Argentina. TBLT is an approach that centres around the process of accomplishing meaningful communication through tasks and that is why it has been regarded as an approach within the Communicative Language Teaching method.
When defining the key element in this approach, i. There are different definitions of tasks proposed by different authors Richards, ; Crookes, ; Prabhu, ; Breen, ; Willis, ; Skehan, ; Ellis, ; Nunan, After exploring some of those definitions, Nunan provides his own:. What is interesting to note in this definition is that grammar is not completely neglected in TBLT but is placed in a secondary place, being subservient to the communication of meaning which is the ultimate aim of pedagogical tasks.
A critical point in following a TBLT approach is being able to distinguish between tasks and practice activities. Ellis explains, however, that practice exercises may meet criteria 2 and 3, but since they focus on form, their intrinsic aim is to produce a correct answer which clearly distinguishes them from meaningful tasks. One of the most commonly cited criticisms to this approach is the role grammar plays within this framework.
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This tension between meaning and form has led researchers to discriminate between a strong and a weak form of TBLT. This type of task design would concur with a weak version of TBLT which supports the idea that although tasks are a key element in language instruction, they are part of a larger pedagogic sequence, either preceded or followed by focused activities Skehan, Some other authors see the usefulness in implementing both types of tasks in the syllabus.
This issue has brought about the distinction between two ways of approaching TBLT syllabus design: task-supported and task-based language teaching. In this framework, tasks may be incorporated in the final part of a PPP sequence Presentation, Practice, Production , after the target language feature has been presented and practiced which means learners will be mindful of the linguistic feature needed for the task.
A task-based syllabus would take tasks, either focused or unfocused, as the building blocks of the programme Ellis, One thing either approach has in common is that, in one way or another, the incorporation of tasks into the design shows an attempt at emphasising the communicative nature of language. Since the education reform started with the National Law of Education of the education system in Argentina is organised in three three-year cycles of general basic education Educacion General Basica, EGB and a three-year cycle of specialised education Educacion Especializada.
As stated in this law, foreign languages are mandatory for nine years starting in grade four and continuing until the last year of secondary education. As a federal law, each province has the liberty to make certain decisions regarding how to implement it, for example, each province can choose which foreign language will be taught at each level; interestingly, all provinces have chosen English as the compulsory foreign language.
The inclusion of a foreign languages component in the national curriculum is grounded on their importance as a tool students need to communicate in a globalised world. This is why the guidelines for the implementation of the law promote a change from the grammar-oriented focus, typically followed at schools, to a communicative approach. Additionally, reference and supplementary materials for teachers issued by the National Ministry of Education favour the implementation of a task-based approach.
However, in the everyday practice in a state secondary school classroom, most teachers still tend to use a PPP sequence and deductive methods where tasks either play a minimal role or are not present in the sequence. Two questions arise from this situation: what are the reasons behind this mismatch between law and guidelines, and the actual practice in the classroom? Why is it difficult to implement a task-based syllabus in the state secondary school in Argentina?
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In the following sections, I will tackle these questions by making reference to research findings from studies in different contexts and my own experience. In this part, I will refer to three aspects that may explain why teachers find it difficult to implement TBLT in their classes. One of the reasons why it may be difficult to follow the guidelines set by the government is that the term task is not clearly defined in policy documents.
Although TBLT is advocated in official papers, to which every teacher has access, the underlying principles of this approach are not explicitly defined which may lead to make different interpretations. A task is composed of verbal input -as is the case with an oral or written text- or non verbal input, for example a picture sequence -or a combination of both— for instance an encyclopaedia — or an activity, which sets what the learners will do with respect to the input provided.
From this definition, it may seem that almost any combination of input-reaction sequence would constitute a task. Although the guideline includes an explanation of the difference among first, second and third generation tasks, a description of the task sequence and a proposal for planning a unit, some of the key features of TBLT are not even mentioned in the document.
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For example, one of the main steps before starting to design a task-based syllabus is to carry out a needs analysis as a means to collect data about the target tasks that should be incorporated in the programme. In general, this procedure is a more common point of departure for syllabus design in English for Specific Purposes ESP courses where learners have clearly defined objectives for learning the language than it is for a secondary school context where the range of different need will be as wide and varied as the number of students in a class.
In addition, there are some constraints that derive from the national curriculum, as is the case in Argentina, which means every school must meet certain objectives and cover a series of contents, usually expressed in terms of grammar structures or functions. Language Assessment Quarterly, 7 , 25— Nishino, T. Modelling teacher beliefs and practices in context: A multimethods approach.
The Modern Language Journal, 96 , — Nunan, D. The impact of English as a global language on educational policies and practices in the Asia-Pacific region. Prabhu, N. There is no best method — Why? Savignon, S. Communicative language teaching: Strategies and goals. Hinkel Ed. Shehadeh, A. Task-based language teaching in foreign language contexts: Research and implementation. Shintani, N. Using tasks with young beginner learners: The role of the teacher. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 8 , — Skehan, P.
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Task-based instruction. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 18 , — Thomas, M. Task-based language learning and teaching with technology. London: Continuum.
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Contemporary task-based language teaching in Asia. Watson Todd, R. Continuing change after the innovation. System, 34 , 1— Willis, J. A framework for task-based learning. London: Collins. Personalised recommendations. Cite entry How to cite? ENW EndNote.