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Review of  Los procesos metodológicos de la enseñanza-aprendizaje de lenguas mediante tareas

Reviewer: Elizabeth Maria Kissling
Book Title: Los procesos metodológicos de la enseñanza-aprendizaje de lenguas mediante tareas
Book Author: Kerwin Anthony Livingstone
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.3289

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AUTHOR: Kerwin Anthony Livingstone
TITLE: Los procesos metodológicos de la enseñanza-aprendizaje de lenguas
mediante tareas (The Methodological Processes of Task-based Teaching and Learning)
SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Second Language Teaching 13
YEAR: 2010

Elizabeth M. Kissling, Department of Linguistics, Georgetown University,
Washington, DC, USA


This volume outlines the principle methodological procedures used in task-based
(TB) language courses. TB courses are organized around 'tasks,' where 'task' is
generally defined as an activity having a precise objective, requiring learners
to use language, and maintaining primary focus on meaning rather than form (see
Ellis, 2003, pp. 1-5 for a review of researchers' differing definitions of
'task'). The volume will be of use to teachers who have committed to a
task-based language teaching (TBLT) approach, have designed their curriculum
accordingly, and are now ready to focus on the procedures they will follow to
implement each task. Another volume in the series, by the same author, deals
with the larger issue of curricular design in TBLT.

The first, and main, section of the volume deals with lesson design, which is
divided into three phases: pre-task, during-task, and post-task. The discussion
of the pre-task phase outlines activities that prepare students for the task and
motivate them to participate fully in it. Such activities include completing
either similar or unrelated tasks, observing a model, and planning
strategically. The discussion of the during-task phase describes the advantages
and disadvantages of imposing a time limit for task completion, allowing
students to have input in front of them while completing the task, and including
a surprise element in the task. This section also outlines procedures for
dealing with the discourse that will arise during the task and contrasts
procedures commonly followed in a 'traditional' (teacher-centered, focused on
forms) classroom with those of TB courses, in which language is viewed as a tool
for communication, not just an object of study. The discussion of the post-task
phase provides several options for post-task work, including repetition of the
same task, reflection on the task, and focus on form. Several options for focus
on form are outlined, including teacher observation of the errors students
produce during a task in order to draw their attention to the errors afterward,
as well as inclusion of grammatical awareness tasks or conscious-raising
activities such as transcription.

The second half of the volume discusses various participant structures that
serve as frames within which to develop a TBLT lesson. Participant structures
are means of allocating student involvement in activities and organizing the
interaction that emerges during activities (Philips, 1983). Participant
structures range from completely individual work to relatively social work,
including student-teacher, student-student, pairs, small groups, and whole class
participation. The author notes that the choice of participant structure will be
task-specific and that there are a variety of advantages and disadvantages to
each participant structure in terms of opportunities for language learning. The
advantages of the social work carried out in TB classrooms are discussed in
terms of collaborative dialogue and cooperative learning, and a list of
practical issues teachers should consider to facilitate effective cooperative
learning is provided. These issues include students' orientation toward the
task, individuals' responsibilities during the task, composition of the student
group, distribution of information necessary for the task among the students,
and the physical arrangement of students.

Though all the sections in this volume are quite brief, the author highlights
some very important issues in more extended passages. A perspicuous comparison
of TBLT with a traditional focus-on-forms approach to language teaching serves
to highlight their differences at all levels of methodological processes and to
make salient the potential advantages of TBLT in terms of opportunities for
language learning (pp. 13-18). However, Livingstone cautions that it will be
difficult, if not impossible, to create the right kind of classroom discourse if
either the teachers' or the students' notions about language learning are
incompatible with the TBLT approach. He claims that students must begin to see
themselves as language users, not just language learners, and yet at the same
time avoid superficially completing tasks without awareness of the language they
produce, which would be tantamount to wasting language learning opportunities
during completion of the task. Livingstone also cautions that TB courses will
not always necessarily produce better results than traditional language courses,
but emphasizes that the success of the TBLT approach depends on methodological
decisions at all stages of lesson planning. He argues convincingly that
teachers' methods during the pre-task, during-task, and post-task phases will be
crucial to determining the learning outcomes of students.

The conclusion explains eight principles of TB teaching, taken from Ellis
(2003). It also provides three arguments as to why TBLT is an effective approach
for second and foreign language teaching, which are that TBLT instruction: 1) is
compatible with the cognitive processes involved in SLA; 2) emphasizes active
participation on the part of the learner; and 3) is meaning focused and
effective for developing linguistic and communicative competence.


Given the extreme brevity of this volume (37 pages of text in all), it provides
surprisingly broad coverage of the practical methodological choices that
teachers must make when conducting a TBLT course, while supporting claims with
relevant second language acquisition (SLA) research when possible. References to
SLA literature are summarized and do not require a background in SLA to be
comprehended easily. The writing style throughout this volume is clear, simple,
and direct. The wealth of headings and subheadings may make for a convenient
desk reference in which teachers can find what they need quickly. However, this
heading system also makes it difficult to read the volume as one fluid, coherent

The present volume is intended as a practical guide that will inform TBLT
teachers' methodological choices. Readers who do use this volume as a practical
guide, however, will likely desire more concrete examples and extended
explanations. For instance, Livingstone asserts that a pre-task activity should
be a task in and of itself rather than a mere demonstration of the task to be
completed (p. 9), but provides no concrete examples to illustrate the
distinction. He cautions that pre-teaching vocabulary can threaten the integrity
of the task if students begin to treat the task as a way to practice
pre-selected vocabulary, yet he provides no concrete solutions for avoiding such
a scenario. Readers who are very familiar with SLA research might find
Livingstone's treatment of the research at times perfunctory and overly
simplistic. For instance, after citing just two studies investigating the effect
of time limits (Lee, 2000; Yuan & Ellis, 2003), Livingstone concludes that
imposing a time limit facilitates accuracy, whereas imposing no time limit
facilitates fluency (pp. 10-11). Here, he fails to mention the trade-offs
between accuracy, fluency, and complexity of learner language, the complex
interplay of learner proficiency, task complexity and task type, or the fact
that time limits imposed on pre-task planning versus actual task performance
affect performance differently, among other concerns. In fact, the bibliography
contains 43 citations to highly relevant research in the area of TBLT, but only
three date past 2007, and those three are authored by Livingstone himself. At
times, the author notes gaps in the literature, such as the dearth of empirical
evidence comparing the effectiveness of various post-task focus-on- form
techniques. However, there are some conspicuously absent references, such as
Ellis (2005), Nunan (2004), Van den Branden (2006), Van den Branden, Bygate, and
Norris (2009), and Willis and Willis (2009).

The conclusion is cursory, simply outlining three qualities that justify a TBLT
approach. One quality not mentioned is the real-world applicability of the
approach, which often selects pedagogical tasks based on their relevance in
real-world scenarios. Certainly, many more qualities of TBLT could be enumerated
here as well, and the list would perhaps be best located within the introductory
pages rather than in the conclusion, which readers expect to synthesize and
extend the preceding discussion.

Though this volume has limitations, many owing to its brevity, it makes a
significant contribution to the TBLT literature in that it provides a succinct
and clear outline of the many methodological considerations that teachers face
when implementing a TBLT approach in their language courses. It is the first
Spanish-language volume of its kind. Teachers may find it to be a good companion
to more comprehensive volumes such as Willis and Willis (2009), providing an
introduction to TBLT methods and a convenient reference to review again and
again as they design lesson plans for their TB courses.


Ellis, Rod. 2003. Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Ellis, Rod. 2005. Planning and task performance in a second language. Amsterdam:
John Benjamins.

Nunan, David. 2004. Task-based Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Philips, Susan. 1983. The invisible culture: Communication in classroom and
community on the Warm Spring Indian reservation. Long grove, IL: Waveland Press Inc.

Van den Branden, Kris. 2006. Task-based Language Education: From theory to
practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van den Branden, Kris, Bygate, Martin, & Norris, John M. 2009. Task-based
language teaching: a reader. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Willis, Dave, & Willis, Jane. 2009. Doing Task-Based Teaching. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Yuan, Fangyuan, & Ellis, Rod. 2003. ''The effects of pre-task planning and
on-line planning in fluency, complexity, and accuracy in L2 oral production.''
Applied Linguistics. 24, 1, 1-27.

Elizabeth Kissling is a PhD student in applied linguistics at Georgetown University. She specializes in Second Language Acquisition, working most closely with populations of Spanish, English, and Arabic learners. Her current lines of research include best practices of L2 teaching, Spanish phonetics and phonology, interaction in study abroad, and the interplay of L1, L2, and memory. She also holds an MA in Hispanic Literature and has taught and coordinated college Spanish courses for 5 years.