LINGUIST List 32.1542

Tue May 04 2021

Review: Applied Linguistics: Lambert, Oliver (2020)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 24-Nov-2020
From: Laura Dubcovsky <>
Subject: Using Tasks in Second Language Teaching
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Craig Lambert
EDITOR: Rhonda Oliver
TITLE: Using Tasks in Second Language Teaching
SUBTITLE: Practice in Diverse Contexts
SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2020

REVIEWER: Laura Dubcovsky, University of California, Davis


The book compiles position papers, as well as empirical and research-based studies that address major concerns about task-based language teaching (TBLT). In the first chapter, “Introduction: Tasks in contexts,” the editors Lambert and Oliver present the overall goals and content and describe the layout of the book, divided into three sections. Part 1 devotes six chapters to address different, “Issues in Using Tasks.” Lambert explains, “Frameworks for using tasks in second language instruction” in Chapter 2. He develops three main frameworks, detailing the respective rationale and exemplifying each of them through tasks implemented at the university level in different countries. The “Presentation, Practice, and Produce” (PPP) framework is especially useful for developing vocabulary and new structures among East-Asian students, as shown in a popular detective story task. The “Pre-Task, Task, and Post-Task” (PTP) framework is supported by an effective six-staged lesson plan (warm-up, share your own ideas, try it, learn new ways to do it, try it again, and revision and personal investment), used by Japanese students. Finally, the “Simplify, Stabilize, Automatize, Restructure, Complexity” (SSARC) framework facilitates students’ writing of summaries in the target language. Far from choosing a perfect model, Lambert concludes that every framework may help to teach specific language aspects, and therefore encourages teachers to select the appropriate model, according to learners’ needs and educational circumstances.

In Chapter 3, “Low proficiency learners and task-based language teaching,” Newton and Bui expand the range of highly proficient learners, typically chosen for task-oriented instruction in foreign languages and include students with lower proficiency levels. They also consider different ages and remote places, moving away from centralized English-speaking societies. The authors follow the. “Level Descriptors in the Common European Framework of References” (Table 3.1, p. 34), as well as, “Illustrative contexts and characteristics of LPLs (language proficiency levels)” of Figure 3.1 (p. 35) to support the variety of ages, settings, and purposes. To maximize learning opportunities, Newton and Bui provide teachers with a series of recommendations, such as (1) increase the amount of comprehensible input that prompts each of the task cycles, (2) stimulate student collaboration to co-construct meaning, (3) form mixed pairs of high and low proficient students, (4) intervene more explicitly, and (5) accept students’ first languages during the task performance. The chapter underscores the task’s value of encapsulating form and meaning, and promoting authentic conversations and purposeful interactions among students.

Kelly examines task-based oriented textbooks of English used in Japan in Chapter 4. Positioning as an instructor and textbook author, he describes, “Some principles for interactive task design: Observations from an EFL materials writer.” The author emphasizes the relevant role of the text designer to create interesting, engaging, and self-motivating tasks. He points out that tasks should follow a sequence of difficulty that challenges students, while meeting their cognitive, emotional, and social needs. Aligned with a communicative approach, Kelly encourages genuine and multidirectional participation, which may promote opportunities for implementing pragmatic strategies of clarification, rectification and repetition, as well as refined distinctions between expressions of apologies (“sorry”/”excuse me”) and subtleties among modal verbs (“should,” “must,” “can,” etc.). Finally, the author refers to the relevant role played by foreign language teachers in the design and implementation of the task-based approach.

Chapter 5 advocates for, “Using technology-meditated tasks in second language instruction to connect speakers internationally.” González-Lloret values the potential of integrating on-line resources into a task-oriented pedagogy. She claims that the combination of technology and tasks results in a more efficient foreign language instruction, as they highly stimulate linguistic, pragmatic, and digital competences. The proposed technology-mediated task-based language teaching (TMTBLT) brings about several benefits, from real to virtual collaborations, and from multiple communicative opportunities to the intercultural expansion among speakers from various latitudes. The author illustrates technological-mediated tasks in telecollaborative projects, games and simulations, which implement oral, written and hybrid modalities, by means of different electronic devices (computers, lap tops, cell phones, etc.) and on-line resources (chats, wikis, blogs, videos, etc.). However, she notices that technology is not always feasible, and teachers need to adapt their designs to less favorable contexts. The chapter also includes comprehensive TMTBLT rubrics, to assess not only students’ language knowledge, but also cultural, pragmatic and technological competencies (Shetzer and Warschauer, 2000), as shown in her, “Example of a rubric to assess technology-mediated task: making a hotel reservation” (Figure 5.1, p.76).

In chapter 6 Norris elaborates on, “Using tasks within neoliberal educational environments” within the Australian educational system. She notices the pressure of the hegemonic curriculum over teachers willing to introduce changes, implementing more dynamic and meaningful types of instruction. The author analyzes the dichotomy between current prescribed policies and intended more flexible practices, in the light of educational programs, agents, and assessments. Among TBLT programmatic advantages, Norris enumerates real uses of language, communicative outcomes, incorporation of multimodal technology, and cultural interconnectedness The author also recognizes agency’s benefits both for the students, who increase their participation in the learning process, and the teachers, who assume full responsibility in the task-design and implementation, while they influence the direction of the assessments and accountability.

Chapter 7 addresses, “Teacher-preparation for task-based language teaching.” Ellis focuses on East Asian instructors and their common challenges when teaching through tasks, such as large-sized classrooms, structured syllabi, and emphasis on discrete elements of language. To counter the negative elements, Ellis lists relevant, “Factors influencing the success of teacher preparation programs for TBLT,” and categorizes them by content, methodology, and teachers’ uptake in the classroom (Table 7.1, p. 107). He also pinpoints supporting criteria and, “General principles of effective teacher education for TBLT,” including coherence, strong core curriculum, and school-university partnership (Table 7.2, p. 109). Above all, the author claims for a flexible model that seeks a compromise between traditional and rote-based methodologies and meaningful and participatory instruction. He exemplifies with his own proposal, “Contents of introduction to task-based teaching” (Table 7.3, p.112), which aims to meet not only desirable tasks’ goals and principles but also students’ needs, while it takes into consideration structural and conceptual constraints.

Part 2, “Approaches to Using Tasks,” encompasses five chapters situated in different countries and pursuing different language purposes. In chapter 8 Kobayashi Hillman and Long discuss, “A task-based needs analysis for US foreign service officers (FSOs): The challenge of the Japanese celebration speech.” The authors develop the communicative needs of the FSOs in two stages. First, they gather information from multiple sources (online questionnaires, surveys, and written introspection) and identify appropriate tasks following the needs analysis, and then they produce prototypical models. Kobayashi Hillman and Long present a, “Description of sub-tasks” (Table 8.1, pp.133-4), in which they enumerate twenty-four targeted tasks across six different speech events. Based on discourse analysis, the authors illustrate the, “Overall flow of a celebration speech” (Figure 8.1, p. 136), highlighting major linguistic features of nouns, verb phrases, and collocations (Table 8.2, p. 139). Finally, they emphasize the need for comprehensive measures of assessment that can capture the task performance, not only the overall students’ language proficiency, but also the specific uses of students’ job-related language.

Chapter 9 focuses on, “Developing authentic tasks for the workplace using needs analysis (NA): A case study of Australian Aboriginal vocational students.” Oliver explains how a well-designed TBLT program can also reach less privileged students. Following NA, the author highlights five major themes: vocational terms, safety, workplace duties, socializing at work, and satisfying functional needs and wants. She offers practical strategies for minority language speakers, such as incorporating visual aids and abundant modelling and demonstration, as well as explicit teaching of content and pragmatic clues. On the one hand, Oliver notices how these students need to improve their linguistic knowledge, incorporating informal, technical, and academic registers. On the other hand, she underscores the importance of teaching nonmainstream students adequate non-linguistic (body language, gestures, facial expressions, gaze, etc.) and paralinguistic (sense of humor, social distance, etc.) cues in explicit manner, so that they can better adjust to the expected school norms. Moreover, the author sustains that a task-based approach addressing underserved populations needs to transcend school limits and facilitates students’ success in their community and workplace.

Bogachenko and Oliver investigate, “The potential use of tasks in post-soviet schools: Case studies from Ukraine.” Chapter 10 summarizes main educational changes that take place in Ukraine after its independence in 1991. It also describes several task-based programs that share common interests in students’ needs, connecting their personal lives to the learning experience, and valuing linguistic and non-linguistic outcomes. The authors weigh in TBLT’s potential and challenges, especially when English is taught as a foreign language in a transitional society. Ukrainian classrooms are still reflecting the tension between the imperatives of the old regime and the attempts for new and more refreshing curricula. Therefore, teachers inherit a traditional focus on correctness and accuracy, while proposing meaningful tasks and engaging participation. Above all, the author advocate for stronger preparation programs that may support teachers in planning, implementing, and selecting appropriate task-based materials. Additionally, teachers should reflect on new classroom management perspectives that consider the TBLT approach, which is by nature less structured and noisy, as it promotes productive noise conversation and movement, through group work and active participation.

Chapter 11 describes a, “Task design and implementation for beginning-level elementary school learners in South-Brazil: Challenges and possibilities.” Farias and Souza Ferraz D’Ely report on a project conducted in an English as a foreign class in 7th grade. The design is composed by three phases: (1) students’ needs analysis (NA), based on levels of language and personal interests; (2) students’ grammatical judgment and written narratives (pre-tests); (3) students’ final questionnaires, interviews, and post-tests. The authors highlight that the major challenges in implementing TBLT for middle school students are the appropriateness of tasks and the feasibility of the performance, given the age level. To overcome these difficulties, Farias and Souza Ferraz D’Ely propose a curriculum that balances unfocused-tasks, which lead to spontaneous games and conversations, with focused-tasks, directed to notice specific language forms within the task performance. Above all, they underscore the sustainable exposure to the second language, through comprehensible and productive input.

The last chapter of the second part addresses, “Teachers’ responses to an online course on task-based language teaching in Mexico.” Solares-Altamirano presents a digital class she created to compensate for the absence of TBLT preparation among Mexican teachers. The author organizes follows Ellis’ factors (cited in Chapter 7 of this book) and adapts the, “Problems in implementing task-based language teaching” (Table 12.1, p. 196) to structural, teacher-related, and student-related categories as observed in the Mexican context. Solares-Altamirano summarizes the, “Course implementation and data collection methods” (Table 12.3, p. 199) and highlights participants’ positive reactions toward the on-line implementation. For example, teachers were happy to use electronic folders that contain personal reflections, participate in on-line forums, engage in chat rooms’ discussions, share their work with colleagues, and learn from effective tutorials and screencast presentations. The author also acknowledges limitations of the online course, such as lack of tasks’ variation, few opportunities for oral and written practice, and little emphasis on comprehensible input.

The third part 3 of the book focuses on the, “Research on Using Tasks” throughout six chapters. The first three have a common interest in the foreign language writing of different educational settings. Sato examines, “Metacognitive instruction for collaborative interaction (MICI): The process and product of self-regulated learning in the Chilean EFL context.” Chapter 13 shows that students who receive explicit instruction on metacognitive strategies and guided collaborative techniques, clearly outperform learners that interact without further assistance. The MICI interventions benefit Chilean high school students who learn useful ways to appeal for help, request for clarification, and check for comprehension, as well as collaborative techniques that facilitate communication and group work. The efficient metacognitive and cooperative strategies have a long-lasting impact on tasks’ performance, students’ language awareness and peer appreciation.

Chapter 14 explores, “Collaborative L1 planning and L2 written task performance in an Iranian EFL context.” Ahmadian and Mansouri assert that allowing students use their first language (L1) during planning and brainstorming of ideas, for example, facilitates the accomplishment of pre-tasks in a familial and reassuring language, before students move into the written task produced in the second language (L2). Results indicate that spontaneous uses of L1 during the joint activity enhance the overall quality of the L2 writing, which shows incremental levels of complexity and accuracy. Moreover, as Iranian learners do not have many opportunities to hear or speak English outside of the classroom, they use their L1 to notice and make others aware of specific L2 constructions and expressions, comparing and translanguaging from Farsi to English. The implementation of L1 TBLT also develops positive attitudes toward the L2, increasing students’ engagement and collaboration, within a safe environment

Finally, “Collaborative writing tasks in an L3 classroom: Translanguaging, the quality of task outcomes and learners’ perceptions,” by Kim, Cho and Ren, describes Chinese students learning a beginning level of Korean in an American university. Chapter 15 emphasizes the fluid exchange among trilingual speakers, who shift between their native Chinese language (L1), the dominant English language (L2), and the incipient Korean language (L3). The authors claim that students’ sway among languages according to the specific activity (personal recount, persuasive discourse, etc.), task type (planning, production, assessment, etc.), modality (oral, written, hybrid, etc.), genre (narrative, opinion, description, etc.), and language function ( recount, summarize, argue, etc.). In line with the strong research on translanguaging, Kim, Cho and Ren also observe that multilingual speakers in a TBLT classroom move smoothly from one language into the other, transferring first language planning skills into the second language writing demands. Likewise, the authors also agree that foreign language teachers know their students and the specific educational setting very well, so they can decide when and how students can use their L1( Chinese) to improve their skills in the L3 (Korean).

The following two chapters examine the role of pair formation in TBLT classrooms, at different grade levels and in different countries. Chapter 16 focuses on university students and characterizes, “The role of task-based interaction in perceived language learning in a Japanese EFL classroom.” Aubrey follows couples of students with the same (intracultural) and different (intercultural) cultural backgrounds along language-related episodes (Swain, 2006). The author compares speakers’ numbers of turns, participants’ (leader/follower) roles, and language use within and between dyads. Direct observations, students’ self-reported learning charts, and post-task interventions show that the intercultural pairs produce even numbers of exchanges while switching leading positions within the pair. Moreover intercultural dyads produce a greater number of grammatical and lexical tokens, and higher levels of accuracy and fluency than intracultural dyads. Students from different cultures have more opportunities for reactive and preemptive responses, while employing complex L2 structures during collaborative tasks. Therefore, Aubrey highly recommends pairing culturally different students in the TBLT university classroom.

On the other hand, Imaz Agirre and García Mayo study pair formations at elementary school level. Chapter 17 explores, “The impact of agency in pair formation on the degree of participation in young learners’ collaborative dialogue” in Spain. The authors examine three distinctive dyads based on research-selected (RS), teacher-selected (TS) and the self-selected (SS). While RS couples exhibit more production than the other two formations, students share an equal number of turns within the dyad. In contrast, TS and SS pairs show uneven participation within the partners, as one of the students leads the conversation and exerts a dominant role over the other. Moreover, the RS pair conveys most of the collaborative dialogue in the target language, while the TS and the SS pairs move back to the first language, switching between languages more frequently. Despite the gains of RS dyads, the authors claim that the effective pair formation at the elementary school level also entails emotional factors; therefore, teachers should consider not only amounts of turns or individual dominance, but above all, students’ engagement, attitudes toward the foreign language, and satisfaction in working with others.

Chapter 18 addresses, “The accuracy of teacher predictions of student language use in tasks in a Japanese university.” Harris and Leeming explain that given the flexible nature of a task-based curriculum, it is hard to predict students’ language development. TBLT teachers and text authors struggle to design open and divergent activities that stimulate students’ production and creativity, without guidelines that reflect students’ learning progress. The authors remark that task types and genres may influence the levels of predictability. For example, a close task of spotting the difference between two pictures (descriptive genre) is easier to predict than an open narrative based on given pictures, which allows multiple resolutions, or an exchange of opinions about electronic appliances, because the discussion is open to multiple interpretations. Given the lax and unpredictable nature of TBLT, Harris and Leeming propose the creation of a bank of materials that may help teachers, especially those new to TBLT foreign classrooms, to choose among a considerable number of grammatical structures, lexical items, and possible students’ errors, as expected throughout the learning process.

Chapter 19 closes the book with a brief, “Conclusion: Future directions for research on tasks in second language instruction.” The editors Oliver and Lambert summarize the broad range of contexts, perspectives, age levels, and languages mentioned along the chapters, reiterating relevant matters around TBLT, such as the use of L1, the foreign language teacher’s role, distinctive purposes, and the power of technological resources embedded in the task.


“Using Tasks in second language teaching. Practice in diverse contexts” offers insightful considerations on theoretical and empirical aspects, highlighting research, pedagogical needs, and practical implications for the foreign language classroom. The book is particularly useful for teachers willing to embrace a task-based instruction, as chapters exemplify a variety of information, opinion, and reasoning tasks (Ellis, 2009), include spoken, written , and hybrid modalities, examine traditional and online genres, and combine old and new resources. The edited book contributes with a broader range of age and language proficiency levels than the typically expected in TBLT studies. The various educational settings show that the foreign language may take up central or peripheral roles, and learners may speak one, two or multiple languages, with broad range of competencies.

Readers will find intriguing studies about learners of different languages situated in distant sites, which may easily resonate with their own classrooms and students. Different authors echo the same demand for a stronger TBLT preparation and agree on well-defined guidelines for teachers and students, as well as considerable time for planning appropriate tasks and selecting adequate materials and resources. Many authors mention the need for developing a better understanding of the complex construct of task, which is sometimes reduced to a fun activity, and, more importantly, they offer a flexible perspective, by which TBLT frameworks have to adapt to the reality of the classroom, compromising task-oriented principles and methodologies to current physical, content, and legal constraints.


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

Shetzer, H., & Warschauer, M. (2000). An electronic literacy approach to network- based language teaching. In M. Warschauer & R. Kern (Eds.), Network- based language teaching: Concepts and practice (pp. 171-185). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swain, M. (2006). Languaging, agency and collaboration in advanced second language proficiency. In H. Byrnes (Ed.), Advanced language learning: The contribution of Halliday and Vygotsky (pp. 95-108). London: Continuum.


Laura Dubcovsky is a retired lecturer and supervisor from the Teacher Education Program in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis. With a Master’s in Education and a Ph. D in Spanish linguistics/with special emphasis on second language acquisition, her interests tap topics of language and bilingual education. She has taught a pre-service bilingual teachers’ course that addresses communicative and academic traits of Spanish, needed in a bilingual classroom for more than ten years. She is currently helping in- service bilingual teachers for professional development and in parent/teachers’ conferences. She also volunteers as translator at Davis Joint Unified School district, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, YoloArts, Davis Art Center, and STEAC, in Davis, California. She is a long-standing reviewer for the Linguistic listServe, the Southern California Professional Development Schools and the Journal of Latinos and Education. She published “Functions of the verb decir (‘to say’) in the incipient academic Spanish writing of bilingual children in Functions of Language, 15(2), 257-280 (2008) and the chapter, “Desde California. Acerca de la narración en ámbitos bilingües” in ¿Cómo aprendemos y cómo enseñamos la narración oral? (2015). Rosario, Homo Sapiens: 127- 133.

Page Updated: 04-May-2021