Comparing task-based language teaching and traditional instruction for young learners: Methodological issues and solutions

 

Natsuko Shintani

Kansai University (Japan)

This paper focuses on the methodological issues of implementing task-based language teaching (TBLT) for young language learners. It will also compare the effectiveness of TBLT and traditional PPP instruction. I will first review previous ‘comparative method studies’ and identify a number of design issues with such studies. I will focus on classroom-based studies that have compared TBLT and more traditional approaches to language teaching such as presentation-practice-production (PPP), pointing out the importance of examining process features as well as learning outcomes.

In my own study of beginner-level learners (Shintani, 2016), TBLT was operationalized as a set of input-based tasks that required learners to listen to descriptions and directions and respond non-verbally to demonstrate their understanding. PPP was operationalized as a set of production-based activities similar to those employed in course books for young EFL learners. The study examined whether any incidental grammar acquisition of two grammatical features (plural -s and copula be) could take place in the two types of instruction. Incidental grammar acquisition involves learners “picking up” a grammatical feature while their primary focus is on some other aspect of language—either message content or another language feature that is taught directly. To operationalize incidental learning, the two features were not directly taught, but opportunities for learning them occurred in classroom interactions. The results suggested that the children in the TBLT classroom demonstrated acquisition of plural -s but not of copula be. Neither structure was acquired by the children in the PPP classroom. Analysis of interactions demonstrated that there was a functional need to attend to plural -s (but not copula be) only in the TBLT classroom. The study illustrates the importance of establishing that the process features match the external descriptions of the approaches under investigation.

The paper concludes with some suggestions for conducting comparative method studies involving young learners.  

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