A close examination of Task-based language teaching in the Chinese context评述任务型教学法在中国的运用 中国外语教育中心 文秋芳 Email: Wenqiufang@teach.bfsu.edu.cn
Topics to be addressed today • General Views about Task-based language teaching (TBLT) in China 中国英语教学界对任务型教学法的普遍看法 • My personal view and explanations 我个人的看法及理由 • Suggestions about the adaptation of TBLT in the Chinese context 对任务型教学法在中国运用的建议
General views about TBLT in China • Innovative, effective • TBLT recommended as an effective teaching approach for primary and secondary schools in “English Course Guidelines” issued by Ministry of Education in 2001
General views about TBLT in China • Yue Shouguo, 2002, An introduction to task-based language teaching Approach, Foreign Language Teaching and Research, 5: 364-367. (任务语言教学法: 概要、理据及运用） • Huang, Yuanzheng, 2003, Teaching and learning the new English course, Fuzhou: Fujian Education Press. (新课程英语教和学）
Question Is Task-based language teaching importable to China?
Sampson (1985) • No teaching method can be value-free and hence no teaching method can be universally applicable. • Exporting language teaching methods from Canada to Chinain Foreign Language Teaching and Research, 1: 44-51.
My personal views • Innovative but not necessarily effective in China particularly for primary and secondary school students • Adaptable for bettering ELT in China but not importable without any modifications
Task-based language teaching (What) • Treat tasks as teaching units and design a whole course around the tasks (Ellis, 2003)
Prabhu’s view (cited by Ellis, 2003) It was necessary to abandon the pre-selection of linguistic terms in any form and instead specify the content of teaching in terms of holistic units of communication, i.e. tasks. In this way, he claimed, it would be possible to teach ‘through communication’ rather than ‘for communication’.
What is a task? • Skehan (1996) A task is ‘an activity in which: meaning is primary; there is some sort of relationship to the real world; task completion has some priority; and the assessment of task performance is in terms of task outcome’.
What is a task? • Nunan (1989) A communicative task is ‘a piece of classroom work which involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing, or interacting in the target language while their attention is principally focused on meaning rather than on form. The task should also have a sense of completeness, being able to stand alone as a communicative act in its own right
Examples of tasks • Borrowing a library book • Making an airline reservation • Writing a cheque • Opening a bank account • Post a letter in the post-office
Six criterial features of a task (Ellis, 2003: 9-10) • A task is a workplan. • A task involves a primary focus on meaning. • A task involves real-world processes of language use. • A task can involve any of the four language skills. • A task engages cognitive processes. • A task has clearly defined communicative outcome.
Advantages of using tasks • Authentic • Motivating • Challenging Using language Active participation Cognitive development
Why not effective in China, particularly for beginners and low-intermediates? • Theoretically unjustifiable • Pedagogically infeasible
Theoretically unjustifiable • The functions of a language • Educational perspective • Goals of learning English • Formal/informal education • Critical pedagogical perspective • Psycholinguistic perspective
Overemphasis on referential/transactional functions • • • • Core business talk Work-related talk Social talk Phatic communion Holmes’ continuum (2000, cited by David, 2003: p.72)
The goals of learning a foreign language • For performing communicative tasks • For widening students’ horizons and sharpening them awareness of cultural differences
‘Educational reforms’ in the Cultural revolution • Teaching in middle school • Physics (hand-tractor, motor, diesel engine and water pump) (三机一泵） • Botany (rice, wheat and cotton) • Teaching in university • Open-door schooling • Project-based and typical product-based teaching
Problems in this kind of ‘reform’ • By nature, this kind of ‘reform’ relegated whole-person-development education to specific or vocational skills’ training. • Fragmentary and unsystematic knowledge • Unsustainable improvement
TBLT not conducive to sustained improvement • Tasks: too specific without generalizability • Unsystematic linguistic knowledge
Formal/informal education • Formal education should be more efficient than self-directed informal learning • swimming, painting, driving • Formal education should empower students
Larsen-Freeman (2003) • The point of education is to accelerate the language acquisition process, not be satisfied with or try to emulate what learners can do on their own. • Grasping a language system can empower students.
The critical pedagogy • A critical pedagogy requires that any particular approach to language teaching be analyzed to uncover its underlying socio-political messages. (Ellis, 2003: 331) • What is the norm for EFL learners to follow in task-based teaching? Native speakers. • What is the role of the learner’s mother tongue? Avoiding the use of L1.
Vivian Cook (1999) • The language used by successful L2 users should be a model for L2 learners. • Treat L2 users in their own right but not deficient native speakers, failed natives. • Comparing the characteristics of native speakers and of L2 users is like comparing tomatoes and apples, useful only at a gross level.
Vivian Cook (1999) Apart from the never-dying but usually decried grammar-translation method, virtually all language teaching methods since the Reform Movement of the 1880s, whether the audiolingual and audiovisual methods, the communicative method, or the Silent Way, have insisted that teaching techniques should not rely on the L1. (p. 201)
Psycholinguistic perspective • Limited attentional resources • Automaticity • Frequency effects
A dangerous moment • Student A Have you ever been in a situation where you tell your life was in danger? Describe the situation to your partner. Tell him/her what happened. Give an account of how you felt when you were in danger and afterward. • Student B Listen to your partner tell you about a dangerous moment in his/her life. Draw a picture to show what happened to your partner. Show him/her your picture when you have finished it.
Pedagogically infeasible • Difficult to cover the whole language system • Lack teachers who are sufficiently proficient in English to engage easily and comfortably in face-to-face interaction. • Reducing students’ confidence
Rod Ellis’ view (2003) • It should be noted that the rationale for task-based syllabuses is largely theoretical in nature, there being little empirical evidence to demonstrate that they are superior to linguistic syllabuses (p. 210)
Ellis’ framework (2003, p. 206) Tasks Task types Themes/topics Sequencing criteria Language Forms Functions Task-based syllabus Unfocused tasks Focused tasks Teaching materials—task workplans
Two options (Ellis, 2003) • Option One: unfocused tasks • Specify the tasks to be included • Determine their thematic content • Sequence the tasks • Option Two: focused tasks • Specify the tasks while considering the forms and functions of language • Introduce a focus on form into a meaning-centered curriculum
Option One: Neglect the linguistic content Linguistic content Pronunciation Notions Grammar Functions Vocabulary Discourse Tasks Unfocused-tasks ?
Option Two: Difficult to implement Linguistic content Pronunciation Notions Grammar Functions Vocabulary Discourse ? Tasks Focused-tasks
Lack English teachers with high L2 oral proficiency • First, task-based instruction is seen as impractical in foreign language contexts because of the limited class time available for teaching the L2. • Second, task-based teaching is seen as difficult to implement by non-native speaking teachers whose L2 oral proficiency is uncertain.
English teaching in China (Jan. 6, 2004, China’s Ministry of Education)
Without capitalizing on non-native teachers’ strengths • Medgyes (1994) points to several advantages of teachers being non-native speakers — they provide good models for their students, they know what learning strategies can be usefully taught, they can supply information about the English language, they can anticipate and prevent difficulties, they are good at showing empathy, and, most obviously, they can exploit the use of the students’ L1. Task-based teaching, however, may not be the most obvious vehicle for maximizing these strengths.
Reducing students’ confidence • Without adequate practice of the needed structures, students were reluctant to speak in a so-called meaning-driven communication. • One highly possible explanation is that they lack adequate practice in doing so. (Larsen-Freeman, 2003, p. 100)
Adaptable but not importable • Rod Ellis’ view (2003) • Task-based language teaching • Task-supported language teaching
Ellis’ suggestion • It suggests that… a clear distinction needs to be made between asking teachers to adopt a task-based course and asking them to experiment with individual tasks alongside their existing practices. The former is challenging and one would predict that the innovation would run into problems. The latter is relatively unthreatening as it requires only modification to the way teachers teach, rather than a radical change. It is likely to succeed. (p.323)
Task-supported language teaching • Teaching based on a linguistic content, whether this is specified in structural terms as a list of grammatical features or in notional/functional terms • Using tasks in the last stage in a methodological sequence consisting of present-practice-production (Ellis, 2003)
Suggestions • Modify what has been done in presentation, practice and production • Presentation: input, interaction • Practice: from grammar to grammaring • Production: tasks
Why ELT in China is ineffective? Factors accounting for ineffectiveness • Teaching methods • Students’ efforts • Unrealistic goals • Wen Jin (1998: 156) The major factor accounting for low efficiency in ELT is great discrepancy between English and Chinese which requires a lot of efforts and time on the part of the learner.
Problem for education in general • Prepare students for future life • Solid theoretical foundation • Learn what has been needed in the society • The theory-practice continuum Theory Practice
Systematic training to foster abilities rather than specific skills • Learning through doing
Accelerating natural learning is, after all, the purpose of formal education. And helping our students learn faster than they would on their own way may well call for explicit teaching and learning to complement the implicit learning that they naturally do (Larsen-Freeman, 2003, p.25).
References Block, D. 2003. The social turn in second language acquisition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Ellis, R. 2003. Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University. Larsen-Freeman, D. 2003. Teaching language: From grammar to grammaring. Boston: Heninle. Sampson, G. P. (1985). Exporting language teaching methods from Canada to China. Foreign Languages Teaching and Research 61: 44-51. Savignon, S. J. 2002. Communicative competence: Theory and classroom practice. Boston: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Skehan, P. 1998. A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford University.
Yue, S. G. 2002. Task-based language teaching approach: An Introduction, rationale and application. Language Teaching and Research, 5: 364-367.