Chapter 25 - Task-based language learning  pp. 173-179

Task-based language learning

By Dave Willis and Jane Willis

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Most approaches to language teaching can be described as ‘form-based’. Such approaches analyse the language into an inventory of forms which can then be presented to the learner and practised as a series of discrete items. There is an assumption that there is a direct relationship between ‘input’ and ‘intake’, that what is presented can be mastered directly and will, as a result of that mastery, become a part of the learner's usable repertoire. But second language acquisition (SLA) research (see Chapter 12) shows quite clearly that there is no such direct relationship between input and intake. If language learning did work in this way, we would reasonably expect learners to acquire language as a series of successive structures and so to build up the language system in an orderly progression, moving from mastery of one sentence form to mastery of the next and so on, until the language was acquired in all its complexity. But this does not happen. Since the work of Corder (1967), Selinker (1972) and other interlanguage theorists, it has been clear that we cannot predict how input will affect the learner's language development. There is clear evidence that intake does not equal input. Effective learning is constrained by natural developmental processes. What is consciously learned is not necessarily incorporated into spontaneous language production.

In contrast to form-based approaches, task-based learning (TBL) involves the specification not of a sequence of language items, but of a sequence of communicative tasks to be carried out in the target language.