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Review of  Task-Based Instruction in Foreign Language Education

Reviewer: Seyyed-Abdolhamid Mirhosseini
Book Title: Task-Based Instruction in Foreign Language Education
Book Author: Betty Lou Leaver Jane R. Willis
Publisher: Georgetown University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
Chinese, Mandarin
Issue Number: 16.1664

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Date: Tue, 24 May 2005 06:38:53 -0700 (PDT)
From: Seyyed Abdolhamid Mirhosseini
Subject: Task-Based Instruction in Foreign Language Education

AUTHORS: Leaver, Betty Lou; Willis, Jane R.
TITLE: Task-Based Instruction in Foreign Language Education
SUBTITLE: Practices and Programs
PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press
YEAR: 2004

Seyyed Abdolhamid Mirhosseini, Iranian Ministry of Education


The book is comprised of thirteen chapters in four parts preceded by a
brief preface. Chapter one provides a general overview of the
theoretical issues surrounding the notion of task and the other twelve
chapters are papers describing aspects of task-based instruction in
various foreign language teaching contexts. Besides the main
chapters, five other sections are presented at the end of the book: a
glossary of key terms, an appendix of multiscale proficiency
descriptors, bibliography, information about contributors, and index.


PART I: An Overview of Task-Based Instruction: from Theories to

CHAPTER ONE: Perspectives on task-based instruction:
Understanding our practices, acknowledging different practitioners
(Jane R. Willis)
In this introductory chapter Willis overviews issue of task-based
instruction as represented in the literature on foreign language
teaching methodology. The historical trend of methodology from
traditional approaches to communicative language teaching is briefly
reviewed and after a look at basic theoretical views underlying task-
based approaches, the author discusses various definitions of task in
the literature and different interpretations of task in practice. Four
dichotomous elements are described as major parameters in designing
different types of tasks: open/closed, one way/two way,
focused/unfocused, and real world/pedagogic. The author then, mainly
referring to Ellis (2003), presents a framework for describing tasks and
goes on to discuss aspects of task-based syllabus design in detail.
Testing in task-based instruction is also touched upon and pre-task,
task, and post-task options are discussed before the concluding
remarks in which illustrating a range of foreign language teaching
contexts and helping readers reflect on their own practices are stated
as the main aim of the book. Three appendices accompany the

PART II: TBI in Classroom Instruction

CHAPTER TWO: Task-based instruction in U.S. government Slavic
language programs (Betty Lou Leaver & Marsha A. Kaplan)
This chapter focuses on US foreign language programs that
implemented task-based instruction, specifically reporting a basic
Czech course, an advanced Russian course, and a Ukrainian course.
In all these programs a task was defined as an activity ''that results in a
product with a measurable result'' (p.47). The programs are
elaborated on in terms of the type of tasks they involved, the materials,
the length of the courses, and some other methodological details.
Evaluation procedures are also reported under the subtitle
of ''Testing''. Challenges and outcomes of the US government task-
based programs are also represented. The challenges referred to
include significant time investment, unpredictability, faculty
development, student expectations, and paucity of materials. Major
outcomes of the programs mentioned by the authors, include
motivation, non-boring practice, curricular flexibility, promotion of
learning how to learn, natural error correction, risk taking, higher
proficiency results, student satisfaction, better program evaluation
results, and what the authors call ''intrinsic rewards'' (p. 64). In two
appendices at the end of the chapter, a sample task of the Czech
program and excerpts of comments by students involved in the Czech
course are presented.

CHAPTER THREE: Using media-based tasks in teaching Spanish
(Alicia Mora van Altena)
An advanced Spanish course at Yale University is presented in this
chapter. The materials were about contemporary media and journalism
and the tasks were aimed at teaching linguistic and paralinguistic skills
to students who were content specialists. Therefore the course was a
combination of Task-based instruction and Content-based instruction.
The author elaborates on the rationale for the combined program and
goes on to describe different aspects of program development and
implementation, including the selection of textually, contextually, and
technically appropriate materials, faculty preparation, assignments, the
nature of the tasks, grammar and vocabulary handling, and grading.
Language improvement and student satisfaction are mentioned as two
major advantages of the combined Task-based Content-based
program. The tasks are reported to have increased
students' ''awareness of the connotative and the denotative language''
(p. 77) and to have satisfied the students as their positive feedback
indicates. A sample Task-based lesson and a sample final paper are
appendixed to the paper.

CHAPTER FOUR: Introducing TBI for teaching English in Brazil:
Learning how to leap the hurdles (Juarez Lopes)
Chapter four describes a Task-based program aimed at teaching
English in a private school in Brazil with different learners including
adolescents, young university students, or adults who needed English
for professional purposes. The program substituted an ineffective
presentation-practice-production program. A particular task-based
course book was selected as the basic material for implementing
tasks. Two types of tasks are referred to by the author as popular
tasks dealt with in this course: tasks that the students could relate to
their own lives, and those involving an element of competition or
challenge. The problem of anxiety, vocabulary learning, acceptance of
long-term progress, lack of focus on grammar are discussed as
problems encountered in the process of replacing the old program with
task-based instruction and how they were dealt with are described.
Evaluating the program and concluding the chapter, the author refers
to more effective learning of English, changes in students' view of
learning and move towards independence, student satisfaction, and
more teacher confidence as advantages of implementing the task-
based program. Occasional focus on grammatical accuracy and
training teachers before using Task-based instruction in the classroom
are recommended. Three appendices exemplifying course activities
appear at the end of the chapter.

CHAPTER FIVE: Learning Arabic: From language functions to tasks in
a diglossic context (Mahdi Alosh)
The program described in this chapter is the Arabic language program
at Ohio State University. The author, first, briefly reviews different
varieties of the Arabic language and how this variation influences
teaching Arabic as a foreign language. The learners, either Muslim
students from countries all over the world or Muslim Americans, are
reported to enroll in Arabic classes with the purpose of reading
religious texts. Arabic language courses at Ohio State University are
described in terms of procedures, materials, teachers, and
assessment and characteristics of a communicative-functional task-
based approach as the basis of these courses are elaborated.
Communicative tasks used in the program are introduced and their
components including context, objective, content, student role, teacher
role, procedure, and reporting are discussed. Communicative tasks
that relied on information transfer principle, information gap principle,
and functional principle, were applied in form of oral, reading, writing,
and integrative tasks at different levels of proficiency and with different
levels of linguistic complexity. Concluding the chapter, the author
states that using communicative tasks helped the learners develop
communicative abilities and knowledge about the language.
Throughout the chapter figures and sample tasks are used to better
illustrate the program.

CHAPTER SIX: Designing an outcomes-based TBI Japanese language
(Yoshiko Saito-Abbott)
The Japanese language program discussed in this chapter depicts an
attempt for implementing Task-based instruction in what the author
calls an outcomes-based curriculum that focuses on ''how well learners
can perform'' (p. 123). Learners involved in this program at California
State University, Monterey Bay were of various groups including a
large number of Hispanic and Chicano students. According to
outcomes-based education policy, prior to designing the language
course syllabus specific outcomes were set: students' ability to
communicate with native speakers of the language, students' ability to
appreciate culture, and their ability to compare their own culture with
another culture. Communicative competency, cultural appropriateness,
and depth of understanding were set as criteria and standards for the
language requirement regarding the three specific outcomes. The
author explains why task-based instruction was brought into an
outcomes-based system and illustrates how the theme-based and
content-based tasks were designed and implemented in such a
program. After a look at the challenges facing task-based instruction in
this particular course, its benefits are reported, including: greater
motivation and confidence, higher rate of achieving outcomes, and
emergence of a collaborative and supportive learning environment.

CHAPTER SEVEN: Task-based instruction for teaching Spanish to
professionals (Clemencia Macias)
The program presented in this chapter is a beginning level ''language
for specific purposes'' course of Spanish. Task-based instruction and
content-cased syllabus were used in this program to teach Spanish to
professionals. The tasks and activities employed in the program at
Hartnell College, Salinas, California, and the procedure of developing
them are described by the author. Three main issues in implementing
task-based instruction in this program are discussed in detail: the role
of teacher as facilitator, how grammar was dealt with, and error
correction procedures. A similar program implemented at the American
Global Studies Institute is also briefly reported by the author. Four
major advantages of task-based instruction of Spanish to
professionals are mentioned in the chapter: deeper learning,
immediate applicability, self-determination of success, and student
satisfaction. The author concludes the chapter after a couple of
paragraphs about the materials used in the program.

CHAPTER EIGHT: Bridging the gap between the sciences and
humanities: French for engineers and other technical professions
(Wayne Richard Hager & Mary Ann Lyman-Hager)
This final chapter of the second part of the book focuses on an
advanced course of French for American Engineering students
spending their internship in France. The course, as part of a
partnership program between Pennsylvania State University and
University of Artois in France, was aimed at meeting the immediate
needs of engineering students arriving in France with little knowledge
of French. The curriculum was a Task-based and student-centered
experiential one integrating knowledge of engineering and French
language and culture. The author describes different aspects of the
needs assessment and the diagnosis process that led to tasks with
three general topics: issues of daily life, issues of culture, and issues
of workplace. Institutional and discipline-related challenges
encountered by the program are then discussed. Concluding the
chapter, the author asserts that task-based learning experiences are
vital for ''the kind of knowledge needed in a truly global economy'' (p.
173). Three appendices accompany the chapter.

PART III: Internet Tasks and Programs

CHAPTER NINE: Task-based instruction in online learning (Natalia
Antokhin, Abdelfattah Boussalhi, Kuei-Lan Chen, Pamela Combacau,
& Steve Koppany)
In this starting chapter of part III, the application of tasks in developing
units of instructional materials for teaching foreign languages is dealt
with. The chapter reports the process of developing such units (called
learning objects) for teaching different levels of Arabic, Chinese,
Korean, Russian, and Spanish at the Defense Language Institute. In
designing online learning objects defined as independent instructional
units ''designed to address specific student needs'' (p. 182), program
developers are reported to have paid particular attention to diagnostic
assessment of abilities and needs, interaction levels, and technology
requirements. The rationale for implementing tasks in online learning
objects is stated to be ''the same as for incorporating task-based
activities in the classroom'' (p. 185). The author elaborates on different
aspects of selecting reading texts that were then applied in a
sequence of activities: a prereading task, three enabling tasks, and a
wrap up activity. Issues of coping with grammar and vocabulary are
also discussed in the chapter and, as an example, task-based
activities in an Arabic online course are briefly presented. Handling a
dispersed classroom, the problem interaction without a classroom,
strategic development, writing systems, and evaluation are mentioned
as challenges to such online programs before the concluding remarks
and the five appendices.

CHAPTER TEN: Webhead communities: Writing tasks interleaved with
synchronous online communication and web page development
(Vance Stevens)
Another instance of virtual classroom implementing writing tasks is
described in this chapter. The author reports activities of groups of
learners and teachers involved in online writing practices. The writing
tasks were aimed at purposeful interaction and technology was a
vehicle of implementing pedagogical principles not the driving force.
The author's initiative for conducting an online writing and grammar
course is reported to have been the starting point of this community of
online writers called Webheads. The group interactions involved
various topics including projects on which teachers interacted and
themes and tasks of interest to learners. Cost, ease of use,
multicasting capability, and cross platform adaptability were the criteria
in selecting the tools for computer mediated communication. Email
groups, web pages, and synchronous chat were the major modalities
of interaction and implementation of tasks. After a brief discussion on
evaluation and in the conclusion section the author mentions lowering
affective obstacles and promoting a sense of community as the main
message from the project and recommends that the model be applied
in other situations. In an appendix some technology related issues are
dealt with.

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Using web technology to promote writing,
analytical thinking, and creative expression in German (Franziska
Using technology in developing web projects as part of an advanced
course of writing German is reported in this chapter. After a look at
writing in language courses in general and in German courses at
Northwestern University where this course was offered, the author
describes the goals of the course and the task-based structure of the
course. The students were asked to choose topics as the basis of the
specific tasks they would be involved in. They also had to design a
web page based on skills they were taught in technology sessions.
Tasks were assigned in a rigorous writing program including writing,
revising, and learning from fellow learners. Aspects of necessary
technological tools and skills were also incorporated in to the
program. ''Evaluating and grading such a project can be challenging
for instructors and daunting for students'' (p. 242) but informal during-
project evaluation and final evaluation in the areas of content,
organization, topic, vocabulary, and grammar is reported to have been
conducted. In the final sections of the chapter the author discusses the
project in terms of task-based instruction and presents a generally
positive evaluation of the course, recommending it for improving
student writing and at the same time motivating them to be more self
directed. The midterm evaluation of the course is appendixed to the

PART IV: Assessment and Teacher Development

CHAPTER TWELVE: Implementing task-based assessment in a TEFL
environment (Claudio Passos de Oliveira)
This chapter dealing with issues of task-based assessment, focuses
on attempts aimed at changing assessment procedures to parallel task
oriented instruction at an English language teaching center in Brazil.
The chapter presents an account of traditional English teaching that
was based on a presentation-practice-production view and also an
overview of task-based instruction. The author describes the current
teaching practice of the institute that is a combination of the traditional
practices and task-based instruction and goes on to describe the
traditional testing methods that -- involving end of the term structure,
vocabulary, and reading exams -- did not match the new trends of
teaching. The new assessment procedure was developed with the
purpose of paying more attention to language production skills and
also moving towards a process-based assessment system. The
assessment criteria focused on six elements: participation, daily oral
grade, compositions, structure test, reading and writing test, and oral
test. The tests based on these criteria are reported to have been in
line with fundamental characteristics of language tasks and thus
reflecting attributes of task based assessment system. In two
appendices analytic rating scales used in the task-based assessment
system in this particular project and sample test items are

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: It's all in the team: Approaches to teacher
development in a content-based, task-based EFL program (Kathryn
This final chapter of the book looks at the issue of faculty development
for task-based instruction. It describes the Junior Faculty Development
Program of the American Council for International Education, adhering
to content-based and task-based instruction. After a brief overview of
the general design and objectives of the program, the author of the
chapter elaborates on the process of the teacher development
program involving three major parts: First, training seminars in which
topics such as history of methodologies, content- and task-based
methodology, and syllabus design were covered. In the second part
participating teacher trainees collaborated on lesson planning. The
third part of the program was devoted to classroom observation
conducted by the program director. The director visited class sessions
of the instructors participating in the teacher development program.
Before conclusion a case study is presented to illustrate the
significance of teachers' background. Concluding the chapter, the
author refers to positive results of the faculty development program.


The book draws on a wide range of foreign language teaching
contexts at different levels and with a variety of languages. It,
therefore, seems to serve the general purpose of illustrating various
teaching contexts and providing readers with abundant practical hints
and ideas, but it hardly goes beyond that. A number of flaws are
evident throughout the book: First, the book does not help much with
understanding theoretical views underlying tasks-based instruction.
The introductory chapter, presenting a review of the historical
development of language teaching methodology leading to task-based
instruction, could be much more comprehensive, ignoring for the
moment the author's excessive drawing upon Rod Ellis's (2003) book.
Moreover, the authors seem to be undecided between applying the
discourse of recent communicative approaches and traditional
terminology. This ambivalence is evident in talking about
communicative task-based views as recent issues in language
education and at the same time relying on outdated terminology such
as ''input'' and ''output'' (p.10), ''affective filter'' (pp. 51, 63,
224), ''methods'' (p.69), and even ''task-based method'' (p. 83).

Second, this theoretically loose context leads to the point that task
turns to be understood as almost anything. Consequently the
application of the term 'task' in this overly open sense would not signify
any theoretical basis and therefore any practical procedure. The last
point is that, not unexpectedly, socially based critical trends in
language education (Norton & Toohey, 2004; Reagan & Osborn,
2002) did not at all find the opportunity to appear in the practices
reported in this book. Task-based Instruction in Foreign Language
Education: Practices and Programs is, therefore, recommended to
readers looking for practical hints and an illustration of ''a range of
foreign language teaching contexts'' (p. 40) but not more.


Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford
University Press.

Norton, B & Toohey, K. (2004). Critical Pedagogies and Language
Learning. Cambridge University Press.

Reagan, T. G. & Osborn, T. A. (2002). The Foreign Language
Educator in Society: Toward a Critical Pedagogy. Lawrence Erlbaum

Seyyed Abdolhamid Mirhosseini received his MA in Teaching English
as a Foreign Language form the University of Tehran, Iran. His areas
of interest include Critical language education, Critical discourse
analysis, and Qualitative research methodology.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1589010280
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 344
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