Academic journal article International Journal of Education

The Task-Based Syllabus: Promoting L2 Acquisition and Learner Empowerment in an EFL Classroom

Academic journal article International Journal of Education

The Task-Based Syllabus: Promoting L2 Acquisition and Learner Empowerment in an EFL Classroom

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to illustrate how the Task-Based Syllabus (TBS) can be used to promote L2 acquisition and learner empowerment in an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) context. The paper begins by reviewing definitions of the Task-Based Syllabus as well as the term "task" in relation to the syllabus. It then examines influential theories, which have helped shape the Task-Based Syllabus before identifying its strengths and weaknesses in the classroom. The author then identifies ideal teaching situations for implementing a Task-Based Syllabus in order to encourage L2 acquisition and facilitate learner motivation and empowerment by promoting language learning strategy awareness.

Keywords: Task-based syllabus (TBS), task-based learning (TBL), second language acquisition (SLA), learner empowerment

1. Introduction

Though significant developments have been made in our understanding of L2 learning and acquisition, language teaching is still an area of much frustration for both teachers and learners alike. Educators are often left to wonder, "Why don't learners learn what teachers teach?" (Allwrite 1984, cited in Nunan 1999:11) while learners often associate their experience of language learning with relative failure (Skehan 1996b: 18), unable to effectively communicate using the L2 they have studied (Willis 1996b: 5).

In response to this, SLA researchers have proposed a task-based syllabus as a viable solution to many of the problems found in the arena of language learning and teaching. By using task as a unit of analysis, the task-based syllabus (TBS) proposes a more holistic approach to L2 learning and acquisition (Willis 1996a: 52), in which meaning is primary and assessment is outcome-based (Skehan 1996a: 38).

The purpose of this paper is to first provide a definition of the task-based syllabus and the task. The author will then consider the development of TBS and show how it has been influenced by certain theories of language and learning before identifying its strengths and weaknesses. The writer will then proceed to argue that despite these weaknesses, TBS still remains the most promising syllabus for L2 acquisition and learner empowerment in the classroom.

2. The Task-Based Syllabus: Definitions

Before proceeding, it is important for the purposes of this paper to first define the task-based syllabus (TBS) and the task before identifying the theories of language and learning that have influenced it.

2.1 Definition of Task-Based Syllabus

TBS can be classified as an analytic, process-based procedural syllabus that is primarily Type B in nature in which what is learned is subordinate to how it is learned (White 1988: 46, Long & Crookes 1992: 29). It represents a departure from the traditional Type A, synthetic or product oriented syllabus common to many language-learning contexts (Long & Crookes 1992; Skehan 1996a). Unlike these syllabus types, which use linguistic elements (such as word, structure, notion or function) as the unit of design, TBS opts instead to use "some conception of task" (Long & Crookes 1992: 27) as the unit around which the course is organized. These units, according to Littlewood, "provide a link between outside-classroom reality [target tasks] and inside-classroom pedagogy [pedagogical tasks]" (2004: 324). With task as its point of departure, TBS focuses not on "particular words or grammar rules the learner will need to acquire, but rather...the purposes for which people are learning a language, i.e. the tasks that learners will need to be able to perform" (Van den Branden 2006: 3).

2.2 Task

The "conception of task", as stated by Long (see 2.1), varies throughout the SLA literature. However, as Richards and Rodgers points out, "there is a commonsensical understanding that a task is an activity that is carried out using language" (2001: 224). For example, as per Willis, a task is "a goal-oriented activity in which learners use language to achieve a real outcome" (1996a: 53). …

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