Task-based instruction in foreign language education: Practices and programs

Task-based instruction in foreign language education: Practices and programs. Ed. by Betty Lou Leaver and Jane R. Willis. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2004. Pp. 344. ISBN 1589010280. $29.95.

Reviewed by Feng-hsi Liu, University of Arizona

This book is intended as a practical guide for language teachers who plan to incorporate task-based instruction (TBI) into their programs. The collection of papers presents case studies of how TBI is carried out in English and Asian and European languages in a variety of programs in the US and abroad, in the classroom and on the internet, and at different levels of language instruction. Many examples of learning tasks are introduced; detailed decision-making processes, challenges, and student feedback are also discussed. The reader therefore comes away with a rather concrete picture of what a TBI language program is like.

The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 (3–44) consists of just one article, by Jane R. Willis, one of the editors, who gives an overview of TBI and its emergence, characteristics, syllabus design, and methods.

Part 2 (45–177) is the core of the book, consisting of eight articles. Betty Lou Leaver, the other editor, and Marsha A. Kaplan (47–66) describe the Slavic language programs at the Defense Language Institute and the Foreign Service Institute, including in the discussion a basic course in Czech, an advanced course in Russian, and a distance-learning course in Ukrainian. Alicia Mora van Altena (67–82) talks about an advanced course in Spanish journalism that she designed at Yale University. The article by Juarez Lopes (83–95) portrays a success story, an English program in a private school in Brazil where the introduction of a TBI approach boosted student enrollment substantially. The basic Arabic language program at The Ohio State University, where a communicative-functional and task-mediated approach is used, is the topic of Mahdi Alosh’s contribution (96–121). Yoshiko Saito-Abbott (122–41) discusses the Japanese language program at California State University, Monterey Bay, which is an outcome-based institution. A beginning Spanish course for professionals at Hartnell College, a community college in Salinas, California, is described by Clemencia Macías (142–60). Finally, Wayne Richard Hager and Mary Ann Lyman-Hager (161–77) discuss an advanced French course for engineering students at Pennsylvania State University, which prepared students for industrial internships in France.

Part 3 (181–250) consists of three papers, all having to do with delivering TBI on the internet. Natalia Antokhin, Abdelfattah Boussalhi, Kuei-Lan Chen, Pamela Combacau, and Steve Koppany (181–203) report on a project called GLOSS, developed at the Defense Language Institute and National Foreign Language Center. It is an online program that incorporates a TBI approach, covering Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Russian, and Spanish. Vance Stevens (204–27) discusses an online community called Webheads, formed by students and teachers, where writing tasks and community building take place. Franziska Lys (228–50) describes an advanced writing course in German at Northwestern University, where students publish their work as a web project.

Part 4 (253–95) consists of two articles on assessment and teacher development. Cláudio Passos de Oliveira (253–79) reports on how task-based assessment is developed and implemented at an English-language teacher center in Brazil. Kathryn Cozonac (280–95) describes a teacher development program at the American Language Center in Moldova, conducted before the summer program. It has three components: teacher training, collaborative lesson planning, and class observation.

These case studies demonstrate that TBI can be used successfully in a wide range of circumstances. The collection is informative and full of details. It is a valuable resource for language teachers and language-program administrators.