What is task-based language learning?

elt task-based language learning Sep 22, 2021

By Dr Jeremy Koay

A limited view

A common misunderstanding of task-based language learning is that it does not provide adequate grammar coverage (Ellis, 2009). However, this is not the case. In fact, some advocates of task-based approach suggest that some teaching of grammar should be included in the pre-task phase, which I will discuss in the next section.

A holistic view

The task-based language teaching and learning approach is based on the hypothesis that people learn more quickly if the context of their learning is relevant and useful (Van den Branden, 2016). A task in this approach refers to “a goal-oriented activity that people undertake and that involves the meaningful use of language” (Van den Branden, 2016, p. 240). Ellis (2009) stresses that a task should include some sort of gap, such as expressing opinions.

A task-based classroom activity typically consists of three stages: pre-task activities, the actual task performance and post-task activities.

At the pre-task phase, teachers introduce the topic and vocabulary that learners might need to complete a particular task. During the actual task performance phase, learners complete the task individually or in groups. During this phase, support from teachers and peers is crucial. Teachers should also provide feedback and monitor learners’ progress. Finally, during the post-task phase, learners can summarise and reflect on what they have learned and teachers can provide follow-up activities that allow for vocabulary practice.

Theory and practice

In the task-based approach, it is important for teachers and curriculum designers to identify a list of tasks that are relevant to learners’ needs.

Teachers can design focused or unfocused tasks (Ellis, 2009). Focused tasks aim at specific language features. For example, teachers can introduce typical grammatical structures for giving advice, such as Would you like to consider x?, If I were you, I would try X, and I think X is a good idea. Unfocused tasks are designed to provide learners with opportunities to use language to communicate more generally. Activities may include negotiations between learners in the process of completing a task.

An activity that reflects this approach is to have learners organise a road trip. This activity includes brainstorming potential destinations (pre-task), comparing them and planning the logistical aspects of the trip (actual task), and evaluating the trip (post-task).


Ellis, R. (2009). Task-based language teaching: Sorting out the misunderstandings. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 19(3), 221-246.

Van den Branden, K. (2016). Task-based language teaching. In G. Hall (Ed), The Routledge handbook of English language teaching (pp. 238-251). New York: Routledge.

Dr Jeremy Koay is a New Zealand-based independent researcher and an education consultant at EduMaxi. He obtained his PhD in Applied Linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington in 2015. His research interests include Discourse Analysis, Genre Analysis and TESOL.

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