Learning a language isn’t the same as learning another academic subject. This is because the medium of expression is what is being taught. It’s more like – though not exactly like – learning another skill. One colleague of mine, Phil Keegan, compared it to learning to play a guitar. Helping the learner understand some music theory is useful, but only goes some of the way. Showing recordings of great guitarists has its limits. It’s no good my telling – even showing – the learner how to play the instrument, unless I actually put the guitar in the hands of the learner.
You don’t get better at speaking a language except by speaking it. Task-Based Learning, the approach that interests me the most, is one way to translate this methodically into classroom practice – using the language to learn it, not the other way round.
This means that, if teachers take the communicative approach seriously, the focus of lessons should be students doing things with language.
On our CELTA courses, I show trainees how to make language practice meaningful, rather than just manipulating language forms. They learn to think of freer practice or fluency-based lesson stages as the centrepiece of lessons rather than something tagged on at the end. The best lessons can be truly immersive experiences; every stage can be used to engage students with material that is a stimulus for communication. That’s the rationale behind lead-ins, pair-work, and involving students as much as possible in reacting to texts and activities in feedback.
Often tasks are designed to have a communicative goal or outcome. Here’s the link to our Fluency First blog with fluency-based tasks for teaching online: