Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) as a Brain-Compatible Approach

February 2022

Task-based Language Teaching (TBLT) might be the most brain-friendly way to teach your learners! In this issue, we count the ways that students’ learning benefit from the methodologies of TBLT. This issue is chock full of practical ideas for language teachers of all sorts!

Our cover: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
Cover photo by Leio McLaren on unsplash. Others from pixabay, pxhere, and Wikipedia

Watch before you read...

A Think Tank on TBLT is valuable for those of us in L2 contexts, because our students get so few other opportunities to communicate in the target language. So, we will start with a video lecture by the most prominent expert in the field, Rod Ellis, and throw in a short one that defines TBLT components. Then Jason Walters will tell us about his own experiences with TBLT and what is coming up in the rest of the issue.

The Think Tank articles work especially well together in a wonderful arc from basic concepts to brain connections. Paul Leeming and Justin Harris give us an amazingly understandable explanation of what TBLT is, followed by Heather Kretschmer zeroing in on the crux of TBLT, the task cycle. Both offer classroom examples. Then Think Tank veteran Amanda Gillis-Furutaka connects Dave and Jane Willis’ theories to brain sciences and Curtis Kelly goes deeper by analyzing how some recent discoveries in neuroscience show us why TBLT is more than an “alternative” approach; it is a necessary one.

To keep us from getting too serious, we recruited our long-time Think Tank muse, Marc Helgesen, to tell our favorite story of 202o in the PLUS section. It is a story about how one of his learners dove in, and out, and in again, to neuroscience.

Our Thoughts on TBLT

Coming Back Around to TBLT Jason Walters

In my early days working as a teacher in Japan—and mostly as an excuse to spend some time in the big city—I attended a seminar in Tokyo on something called “task-based language teaching” (TBLT). Relatively green in the classroom and possessing only a bachelor’s degree in English literature by way of language teaching qualifications, I found TBLT immediately attractive. It was the first alternative to the “presentation, practice, production” (PPP) model that, with my limited theoretical background, seemed intuitive. 

Think Tank Articles

TBLT. A Brief Introduction Paul Leeming & Justin Harris

In the last few decades, task-based language teaching (TBLT) has grown in popularity to become a very well-known teaching approach all over the world, and there are now international organizations, conferences, and journals focused exclusively on the approach (for example the International Association of Task-based Language Teaching, and John Benjamins’ new journal Task). Within Japan, the JALT TBL SIG was founded more than 10 years ago; it organizes the biennial TBLT in Asia conference series. It has also published a regular newsletter, Taking it to Task, since that time.

Cultivating Active Learning in the Task Cycle Heather Kretschmer

Learning a foreign language is like growing a garden. To develop foreign language skills, our learners can’t just lounge on a garden bench all day, lazily soaking up the sun. Rather, they have to take an active role in their learning, much like apprentice gardeners do to learn the tricks of their trade. This process requires time, effort, and brain power, in other words, active learning. One way we can foster active learning is through a task-based language teaching approach (TBLT).

Why is TBLT an Effective Approach to Teaching Languages? Some Explanations from Brain Science Amanda Gillis-Furutaka

TBLT and I go back a long way. I was very lucky to have studied for my MA in TESOL at Birmingham University (1990 – 1992) under the guidance of Dave Willis, with occasional guest lecturer appearances from his wife Jane Willis. When I started working in universities in Japan, I was assigned both language skills and content-based classes and had a great deal of freedom in what I taught and how I taught it. Although I would not characterize my various self-created syllabi over the years as specifically TBLT, I recognize that the philosophy of TBLT has always guided my approach to planning and teaching lessons. The tenets of TBLT make sense, and keep students engaged, but I never understood why until I started looking into how the brain learns. Two books I read recently have brought into sharp focus why TBLT is such a great way to teach, and I’d like to share some of the highlights with you.

The Neuroscience of Task-Based Language Teaching Curtis Kelly

The more I learn about task-based teaching, the more I realize that it is especially suited to the brain. But how? I could think of many reasons why Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) fits discoveries in neuroscience, but none that stood out as being specific to TBLT…until, that is…. a month ago. That’s when I found a particular theory that explains the power of TBLT perfectly: The Killer Theory.

Think Tank Plus

Rikako Rebuffed and Redirected Marc Helgesen

Meeting a couple hundred students every spring (all first-year women), I have a hard time remembering their names. But I remembered Rikako from day one. Her dynamic personality perhaps? More likely it was her bright green hair.  But more on her hair later. Today’s story is about something else.

Call for Contributions: Ideas and Articles Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

Don’t miss the new addition to our site! For teaching and learning…

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The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

        Curtis H. Kelly                 Skye Playsted                Heather McCulloch

    Jason Walters                  Rishma Hansil               Mohammad Khari




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