Academic journal article Babel

Out with the Old and in with the New? the Benefits and Challenges of Task-Based Language Teaching from One Teacher's Perspective

Academic journal article Babel

Out with the Old and in with the New? the Benefits and Challenges of Task-Based Language Teaching from One Teacher's Perspective

Article excerpt


Task-based language teaching (TBLT) is a learner-centred and experiential pedagogical approach to foreign language (FL) teaching based on students' interactive engagement with communicative language-use tasks. TBLT is a relatively new phenomenon and stands in contrast to more established teacher-fronted approaches. There can be challenges to its successful implementation. Erlam (2015) presented findings of a study that investigated the extent to which a year-long professional development program in New Zealand that had a focus on TBLT enabled teachers (n = 48) to incorporate aspects of TBLT into their practices. This article offers a complementary perspective to Erlam's broad-brush picture. It presents an in-depth account of one French teacher, Frank, working in a secondary school in New Zealand, and his understandings about TBLT. The findings suggest that teacher education initiatives that highlight the benefits of TBLT can make a positive difference to beliefs and practices. The article concludes, however, that 'in with the new' does not necessarily have to mean 'out with the old'.


task-based language teaching, teacher education, communicative competence


Among contemporary realisations of different pedagogical emphases for instructed second language acquisition (SLA) is so-called task-based language teaching (TBLT). TBLT's emphasis on students' interactive engagement in tasks contrasts with more established teacher-led pedagogical models to the extent that TBLT has been placed into the category of innovation, with attendant challenges to its successful implementation (East, 2012).

The successful implementation of TBLT is challenged by Van den Branden's (2009) argument that '[t]eachers teach in the way they themselves were taught, and show strong resistance toward radically modifying the teaching behaviour that they are so familiar with' (p. 666). Writing in Babel, Volume 50, Erlam (2015) presented an account of how a number of teachers who took part in a professional learning and development (PLD) opportunity with a strong TBLT emphasis were able modify several behaviours in line with TBLT's precepts.

However, the innovative nature of TBLT led Erlam (2015) to describe teachers' adoption of the approach as 'new tricks'. Erlam's title is designed to counter the adage that you cannot teach 'new tricks' to 'old dogs'. In fact, Erlam presented evidence to suggest that this can be done successfully. Old dogs (in this case, teachers who, although not old themselves, may have been educated in more established or traditional ways that are not fully in accord with a task-based approach) can indeed learn new tricks.

The purpose of this article is to offer a complementary perspective to Erlam's (2015) findings. Whereas Erlam provided a broad-brush picture gleaned from interview data collected from 48 primary and secondary school teachers over a three-year period, this paper describes the case of one secondary school teacher. It draws on data collected at two different times in this teacher's professional life: the first at the end of 2012 when he was about to graduate from an initial teacher education (ITE) program that had a dedicated focus on TBLT, and the second at the end of 2015 when he was about to complete three years of work in the classroom. This three-year period included, among other PLD opportunities, participation in the program Erlam described. The data in this paper provide further challenges to the 'old dogs/new tricks' adage, but also counter another saying--whether 'out with the old' must always mean 'in with the new'.

TBLT as innovation

For those professionally involved in the effective teaching and learning of languages in schools (foreign languages or FL), there is widespread consensus that a primary goal of the teaching programs must be to enable learners to communicate effectively in the FL (Pachter, Evans, Redondo, & Fisher, 2014). …

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