Chances and Obstacles of Task Base Language Learning and Cooperative Learning in EFL Classrooms. How can the Language Use of these Students be increased?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2018

17 Pages, Grade: 1,7

Aileen Illing (Author)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Research and theories regarding second and foreign language acquisition

3. Communicative competence and strategies

4. The methodology of TBLL: a shift towards communicative language teaching
4.1 What is a task?
4.2 The shifted role of the teachers

5. The concept of group work as an example for cooperative learning in the communicative language teaching
5.1 Chances and obstacles of group work
5.2 The division of students into suitable groups

6. Role plays: a concrete example of communicative group work in EFL classrooms

7. Conclusion


1. Introduction

In recent years, the ability to fluently communicate with someone else while using the target language has become the main goal in most classrooms where English is learned as a foreign language (EFL). Taking this into consideration, the competence to use the target language in authentic situations is nowadays considered as a very important one. This is a rapid change in the foreign language teaching since traditionally the focus was rather on grammar rules1 and the structure of the language. Classically the process of language acquisition was based on reinforcement and the formation of habits which increased the Teacher Talking Time (TTT) since the teacher was the one who transmitted the information. Nowadays, through the shift towards Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) which appeared in the 1990`s and the approach of Task Base Language Learning (TBLL) which was developed out of CLT the importance of using the target language in order to acquire it is emphasized (Surkamp/ Viebock, 2018, p. 2-3).

Although this opinion is very popular some teachers are not able to increase the Student Talking Time (STT) in their EFL classrooms. Therefore, this paper focuses on the question how the approach of TBLL and the concept of cooperative learning can help the teachers to increase the STT in secondary EFL classrooms and scaffold the acquisition of communicative competence of their students. In order to do so, this paper first of all explains some important theories regarding second and foreign language acquisition and points out what is meant by the term of communicative competence. After that, this paper offers an overview about the characteristics of TBLL and why this methodology can be used in order to give the students more chances to use the target language in EFL classrooms. The following part of this paper will discuss the chances and obstacles of group work as one possible method of cooperative learning which can foster oral participation. It will also explain what teachers should consider in order to use this approach efficiently. Before the results are summed up at the end of this paper a concrete teaching sequence is suggested. This teaching sequence is a possibility to design group work activities in class in a manner that encourages communicative language teaching.

Due to the limited scope of this essay, the concepts of TBLL and cooperative learning cannot be discussed in every detail. This paper only focuses on the aspects of these approaches which are essential in order to ensure communicative language teaching in secondary EFL classrooms. This paper only focuses on EFL and as already indicated above refers to secondary language education in the Oberstufe or generally for students on a more advanced level.

2. Research and theories regarding second and foreign language acquisition

Since the 1940s researchers developed theories in order to explain how the process of second and foreign language acquisition proceeds. During that time, the theory of behaviourism was very popular. This theory has stated that a language is acquired through the formation of habits and the repetitive imitation of patterns. Based on this idea the language teaching was mainly input-orientated and teachers tried to function as a language model, believing that students are able to mirror this kind of language use (Surkamp/ Viebrock, 2018, p. 75). Later on in 1982 Krashen has developed his so called monitor model which also focuses rather on the input, in order to explain second and foreign language acquisition. In his five hypotheses he claims that language learning primarily depends on the comprehensible and appropriate input somebody gets. The hypotheses focus mainly on correct grammar use and faultless production of words and sentences. Although a natural and appropriate environment was also emphasized in these hypotheses, Krashen did not stress the role of the output or of the learners itself (Surkamp/ Viebrock, 2018, p. 76). Swain was one of the first theoreticians who emphasized the role of the comprehensible output in her output hypothesis in 1985. In this hypothesis she claimed that students need to get opportunities to use the target language in order to acquire it (Surkamp/ Viebrock, 2018, p. 77). In 1996 Long tried to combine these two hypothesis in order to develop a theory which focuses on the input, as well as on the output. In his interaction hypothesis he claims that both components are essential for a successful language acquisition. Apart from that, this hypothesis stresses the importance of interacting with others using the target language (Surkamp/ Viebrock, 2018, p. 77).

This overview shows that classically the theories stressed the importance of the comprehensible input. Based on this the teachers tried to enforce mimicry in the language teaching. While this type of teaching had been popular with it students did not have many opportunities to use the target language actively and spontaneously. This changed through the theories which focused on the comprehensible oral output of students. Based on these theories various concepts were developed which should combine theoretical results and didactic efforts in class. Some of these concepts were TBLL and cooperative learning which will be introduced in this paper.

3. Communicative competence and strategies

As pointed out in the chapter before, in the middle of the 1980`s the theories of language acquisition began to emphasize the importance of comprehensible oral output of students. This development led to a language teaching which is more output-orientated and which fosters the communicative competence. The next chapter will point out what is meant by communicative competence and why it is important that students acquire this competence.

Hymes developed a definition of communicative competence which goes beyond the concept of Chomsky. Whereas Chomsky understood communicative competence as the ability to form an utterance based on the grammatical and syntactical knowledge, Hymes understood it rather as a `competence to communicate`. This means he defined this competence as the ability to use language in communicative situations which requires various sub-skills like pragmatic knowledge and awareness of communicative strategies, just like paraphrasing, avoidance or clarifications (Bagaric, 2007, p. 95). Later on many other theoreticians like Swain developed further ideas in order to define communicative competence but the main tendency was to understand this competence as a set of skills which allow a person to combine all aspects of language, in order to ensure a successful communication (Bagaric, 2007, p. 96).

This means that a person is communicative competent when he or she is able to form a message and is able to share meaning, using verbal and non-verbal symbols in various communicative contexts. The intention of a conservation is normally to transmit or get information and for a successful act of communication a person must be able to interpret, negotiate or clarify meaning (Lee/ VanPatten, 2003, p. 51). Following this idea, it is important that the students also acquire social and pragmatic competences and bring awareness about appropriate language use depending on the communicative context. (Surkamp/Viebrock, 2018, p. 110). Research shows that learners are able to develop certain communication strategies in order to prevent communication breakdowns and problems of understanding which shows that communicative strategies are an important part of successful conversations. Rod Ellis argues that students will become able to negotiate meaning and modify their output through practicing communicative situations (Ellis, 2003, p. 70-71).

In the last years various studies were published which examined the communication competences of students, learning English as a foreign language in Germany. One of these studies was the one called `DESI` (Deutsch-Englisch-Schülerleistung International) which was done in 2003/2004. This study showed that only 1/3 of the German students who got to the `Hauptschule` are able to communicate on the lowest level in the English language based on the European directives (Klieme, 2006, p. 2). Due to the fact that the teacher has to manage the class and has to give instructions, the students only have a few chances to participate orally and to use the target language in communicative situations in class. In addition to that, the students are only confronted with the target language in school. This in fact means that they usually cannot profit from an English speaking environment. Therefore, the time in which the students are confronted with the English language and have the chance to use it themselves needs to be extended and used efficiently. Because of this, it is still necessary to find methods and concepts which can be used in EFL classrooms in order to give the students possibilities to use the target language and to improve their communicative competence. Therefore, this paper introduces two approaches which can be useful for that in the next chapter.

4. The methodology of TBLL: a shift towards communicative language teaching

The concept of TBLL builds on the idea that the use of the target language in authentic and natural conversations is very important, in order to acquire a foreign language. Following this approach, students should be enabled to interact and communicate with each other in communicative situations while using the English language (Ellis, 2003, p. 69). This means that they should have the opportunity to experiment and experience the nature of the English language by using it, so that they can discover the system of the language. The main goal of the approach is to foster the communication skills of the students in order to ensure understanding. Generally speaking the focus in terms of language use is rather on fluency than on accuracy (Knight/ Esfandiari, 2013, p. 21).

4.1 What is a task?

The central aspect of this approach is the `task` which distinguishes this methodology from others. The following part should explain what is meant by a `task` in the task based language teaching. An important idea behind this approach is to promote to teach the students the target language in a way in which it helps them to use the language in everyday activities (Maley, 1987, p. 6-7). Based on that idea one of the goals of modern language teaching is to combine the language learning and the lives and worlds of the students so that the process of language learning becomes relevant to them. Linked to that Long argues: “In other words, by task is meant the hundred and one things people do in everyday life, at work, at play and in between (Ellis, 2003, p. 4) .” First of all, this definition shows that a `task` in terms of TBLL does not necessarily refer to a learning situation but rather to situations occurring in daily life. The tasks as Long defines them are called real-world or target tasks which do not necessarily foster the production of language (Ellis, 2003, p. 2). Most of the students strive to learn a language in order to deal with everyday-situations like asking for directions or order dinner in foreign countries. Very often their main goal is to be able to communicate with people around the world (Surkamp/ Viebrock, 2018, p. 196). The tasks of the approach of TBLL should be linked more closely to the real-world and to the claims and needs of the students.. Tasks carried out in the classroom are called pedagogical tasks and the main idea is that they should still be connected to the real-world although they are carried out in an initiated environment. Therefore, the pedagogical tasks can be seen as a classroom activity which should encourage the students to produce and understand utterances (Richards/ Renandya, 2002, p. 97). Apart from that, these pedagogical tasks should enable them to use the language in authentic and real-world situations. TBLL is an action-orientated approach which means that the language should be used in order to accomplish a meaningful task (Müller Hartmann/ von Ditfurth, 2011, p. 22-23). In contrast to that activities which rather put the focus on the grammatical knowledge are called exercises.

4.2 The shifted role of the teachers

Furthermore, the role of the teacher has changed significantly through the shift towards communicative language learning. One of the key elements of TBLL is learner-centeredness which means that the students should get involved in their own process of learning and should become an active designer of it (Long, 2015, p.13). This should be achieved through the fact that students should discover rules and structures based on personal experiences. The main goal is to teach the foreign language in a way that considers the needs and abilities of the individual learners. In fact, this approach perceives students as individuals and allows them to become autonomous learners (Surkamp/ Viebrock, 2018, p. 199).

In contrast to that, the teacher should act as a guide by the side rather than a dominant knowledge transmitter as traditionally. Consequently, the challenge for the teacher is that he or she must provide possibilities for students to practice the language and to communicate in authentic situations (Surkamp/ Viebrock, 2018, p. 46-47). Due to the methodology of TBLL, the teachers should supply authentic materials and contexts which are exciting for the students and relevant to their lives in order to encourage them to produce comprehensible output. Authentic material in this context means material which is not produced for an initiated learning process in a class (Long, 2015, p. 249). This includes for example newspaper articles, advertisements or brochures which were made in order to inform, entertain or address native speakers. These materials are authentic because they were developed for real world purposes and not for artificial ones which can help the students to identify themselves with these materials.

5. The concept of group work as an example for cooperative learning in the communicative language teaching

As already indicated above, one of the main principles of the communicative language teaching is to foster fluency and to give the students the chance to use the target language in an authentic and natural context. The concept of group work can therefore be a useful framework for the development of activities which allow students to use the language in communicative situations (Surkamp/ Viebrock, 2018, p. 28). Group work was often seen as a tool to manage and organize larger classes (Brumfit, 1984, p. 76). Contrary to that Long argues that group work should be even more than that because of the need to work in small groups in order to enable students to use the target language in communicative and natural situations. He argues that this is not possible during frontal teaching since traditional lessons will not allow any kind of natural language usage (Brumfit, 1984, p.76). This has primarily to do with the fact that the language use is corrected by the teacher and they often have very high expectations regarding the accuracy of the usage of the target language. Apart from that, the students are only allowed to speak when they are asked to do so which means that the process of speaking is initiated and controlled by the teacher. Another problem of frontal teaching is that each student does not have much time or many possibilities to use the target language as only one student can talk after another. This shows that there is a huge difference between natural communication and frontal teaching and cooperative teaching is therefore a good alternative to give students the possibility to use the target language. Through group work activities the rate of input decreases while the degree of output increases.


1 The grammatical competence focuses primarily on the ability to build a sentence in the target language while forming the components of the sentence correctly. Although there is no doubt that the grammatical competence plays an important role in the process of language acquisition, modern research found out that the usage of the target language is also very important in order to learn a language.

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Chances and Obstacles of Task Base Language Learning and Cooperative Learning in EFL Classrooms. How can the Language Use of these Students be increased?
University of Duisburg-Essen
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Communicative language teaching, cooperative learning methods
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Aileen Illing (Author), 2018, Chances and Obstacles of Task Base Language Learning and Cooperative Learning in EFL Classrooms. How can the Language Use of these Students be increased?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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