Task Based Learning for Japanese

Task Based LearningLanguage learning is a continually evolving science. It started off as rote memorization, then moved to grammar exercises, then drills. Every step of the way it treated language as ‘stuff’ you should just cram into your head.

But, language is a little bit different than that right? It’s organic, it’s actually really dynamic; it moves and evolves over hundreds of years.   It is, in fact, a living thing. So, why treat it as some dead thing on a paper?

What is better, seeing a picture of an animal, or seeing it alive in the zoo? There are not enough words that can convey the experience of seeing and being with a live animal. And what if you could interact with it? You can pet a tiger, but you can’t pet a picture of one.

So, with a language, why should we study it as if it is dead or extinct? Why not go out and explore the language and experiment with it?

Enter Task Based Learning

Task Based Learning or TBL is a method of learning a language where the teacher gives the students a specific task for them to complete. Typically, the teacher will give her students an example of the task that they need to finish and then lets them attack the task as they best see fit.

It is a more realistic way of teaching a language that is becoming more and more popular. Hopefully soon, it will replace that boring slush you had to get through in high school. Because it let’s you actually have freedom in learning the language.

It’s much like lab for chemistry or biology. It’s where you actually get to do ‘stuff’ instead of just read about ‘stuff’.

How does TBL apply to self learners?

I know a lot of you are self-learners like me. If you are, you probably don’t go to class and might not even have a tutor. In a situation like that, it can be a little difficult to chart your progress or to even feel like you are learning anything.

So, why not give yourself some tasks? I guess you don’t have to call them tasks, you could call them quests, missions, or mini-goals. The concept is essentially the same no matter what you choose to call them.

To set a task for yourself, think about a real world activity that you would like to accomplish. Do you want to go shopping? How about be able to explain something to a doctor in Japanese? Or, maybe you want to be able to have a simple chat with someone on Twitter. Or, even easier, writing some simple comments for a YouTube video you like.

After you have found a task to do, find some way to judge how well you did on the task. For example, if you are in Japan going out and actually doing the task or if you aren’t connecting with someone on Skype and asking them to pretend to be somebody.

The important thing is to be as realistic as you can be, in order for it to be worth your while (learn vocabulary and grammar that you will use later). It’s probably best to not pretend you are being abducted by aliens or something like that (although that might be kind of funny).

Once you’ve set a task, study the necessary phrases and sentences needed to accomplish it and jump headlong into it. What’s the worst that can happen? Some people might be a little embarrassed to ask their friends to pretend to be somebody, but I’ve found that as long as your friend is pretty open minded they will be willing to help you. All you have to do is ask.

Action Steps

How about you? What tasks, missions, quests do you want to accomplish?

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Bob July 17, 2011, 12:07 pm

    I like this idea a lot. As a detail oriented person and perfectionist, I often get lost in the ambiguity of language and language learning. Breaking it down into a project like I would developing a computer system, may suit me better.

    Of course, it is about having fun. See progress is also fun.

    • Mac July 17, 2011, 12:36 pm

      Yeah, there are a lot of ways to chart your progress and accomplish your goals. Something that I just recently found and I’m trying out is lifetick.com that actually allows you to break down goals into individual tasks. Of course it comes complete with graphs and pretty pictures too. Really a slick web app.

      Let me know if this works for you.

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