What is TBL?

There is no universally adopted definition of Task-based learning (TBL or, depending on its proponent’s sensibilities, TBLT, TBLL, or TBI). In its broadest sense, TBL refers to an approach to teaching and learning which views the completion of meaningful tasks through authentic communication as an effective way to improve language proficiency.

These two adjectives, ‘authentic’ and ‘meaningful’ have entered the academic discourse of EFL instruction to the extent that they can sometimes appear to mean whatever the writer wishes them to. However it is important to remember the crucial methodological difference between authentic and meaningful approaches such as TBL and those adopted in many junior and high schools in Japan and many Asian EFL contexts.

At the heart of TBL is the task. The task can take any number of forms, from simple purposeful discussions (for example: “Find out about your partner’s dreams for the future”) to more complex negotiation and logical reasoning activities. Typically, a task is followed by a focus on problematic forms/vocabulary identified by the teacher during the task. Thus TBL turns PPP (Presentation, Practice, Production) methodology on its head by reflecting on, and attending to, the mechanics of the language after a meaningful language interaction has taken place. The thinking behind this is that the focus can be on forms that have come to attention during the task and that therefore undoubtedly require attention, instead of being pre-determined by teacher intuition, or that of textbook writers.

It is generally accepted that the idea of task-based methodology arose from the work of N.S. Prabhu in India. The work of Jane and David Willis, who were first inspired by the concept of TBL in Singapore in the mid-1980s, has played a significant role in popularizing the approach through numerous books and articles. An excellent practical starter to find out more about TBL is the Willis’ book, Doing Task-based Teaching. Another good start is Rod Ellis’ Task-Based Language Teaching and Learning. However the approach we would recommend more than any other would, naturally be to join the TBL SIG.