Mike Long: Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching

When you start teaching English in Colombia in an entry-level position, you are usually given a coursebook and told how many units you are supposed to cover. I assume this is common in many parts of the world because it’s the most convenient way to teach languages. However, it doesn’t seem to be the most effective approach. It’s definitely a good idea to explore other options, so I would like to focus on a book written by Michael H. Long, a proponent of Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT).

Long’s work deserves a lot of attention, and I recommend that you listen to this interview with him on the SLB Podcast. I had written a draft of this blog post about his book Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching several months ago, and this paragraph originally included more positive information. Sadly, Professor Long passed away in February this year. You can read more about this brilliant scholar and his impact on teachers around the world on this website created in his memory.

Mike Long: Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching

The first part of the book deals with second language acquisition (SLA). I find this topic fascinating because the fine details of our language learning process are still shrouded in mystery. Long does a great job of describing the main SLA theories and their practical implications. Even though I had previously studied ideas of well-known academics like Krashen and Prahbu, I learnt something new about their work. Right from the beginning, you will notice that Long is very diligent when it comes to referring to books and studies. In fact, there are no fewer than 56 pages of references at the end of Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching!

Long argues against treating languages as objects, and he is definitely not a fan of the synthetic approach. Dividing a foreign language into small pieces and teaching them one at a time doesn’t necessarily lead to good results. My own experience as a Spanish learner and an English teacher certainly confirms that assumption. Why do so many Colombian students say “he have” when the present simple is dealt with in one of the first units of every coursebook for beginners? I don’t think that we learn languages by simply imitating what the teacher or the coursebook says. Half of my students keep saying I am agree, but I have never taught them that and it doesn’t appear in the coursebook either. It seems that explicit teaching of individual items doesn’t always work well in real life.  

Obviously, Long proposes TBLT as a more appropriate way of teaching languages. What I love about his book is the fact that it’s not just about language. Long talks about the role of education and TBLT’s philosophical principles, and emphasises the need to treat students as rational human beings. Learning by doing, emancipation and egalitarian teacher-student relationships are one of the principles mentioned, and I think it’s difficult to disagree with any of them. I definitely feel more comfortable when my students see me as a communication partner rather than a person of authority who is meant to lecture them about the wonders of English grammar.

The book provides you with concrete steps for implementing Task-Based Language Teaching in a classroom setting. Long suggests abandoning coursebooks, which may seem like a radical idea, but there are pretty good reasons for that. If you want your course to be truly personalised and relevant, you need to conduct a needs analysis and design the course for your group of students from scratch. In addition to syllabus design, the book deals with materials, methodological principles and evaluation. It also provides useful advice related to focus on form and giving negative feedback to students.

Everything in the book makes perfect sense to me and I have no doubt that TBLT is very effective. Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching should be read by those responsible for the way English is taught in their organisation. That said, as Long himself admits, his version of TBLT is unlikely to replace traditional coursebook-driven teaching. To be honest, I can’t imagine many Colombian institutions spending money on needs analyses, course design and training teachers in TBLT when they can simply adopt a structural syllabus provided by a coursebook. It just doesn’t seem to be a financially viable option.

I would love to get a chance to work on a TBLT project at some point in the future. In the meantime, I plan to keep going beyond the coursebook as much as possible because I believe that my students benefit from using English in a meaningful manner. Even if your course ends with a discrete-point test of grammar and lexis, it’s perfectly fine to deviate from an externally imposed syllabus from time to time. Designing tasks and materials that are more relevant for your learners is undoubtedly more demanding than just following your coursebook, but it will lead to a more satisfying experience for both you and your students.

Using social media as an English teacher

I try to avoid posting personal stuff on social media. In fact, I have never opened an Instagram account and plan to keep it that way. I’m not a complete Luddite and understand that it’s important to be active online when you are a blogger, so I decided to write this post about my experience with using social networks for professional purposes, particularly in relation to TEFL in Colombia.

Using social media as an English teacher

ENGLISH TEACHERS IN COLOMBIA is the biggest group for teachers here in Colombia. The problem is that there are so many new posts every day, and most of aren’t really relevant. You can find some interesting job offers posted in the group, though. Actually, I got my first teaching position in Colombia thanks to this Facebook group. It’s worth searching it for information about employers and see what has been written about them.

If you receive an offer from a private language institute, you should definitely use the search function in Blacklist of Colombian Language Institutes and hope that there aren’t any results. The group isn’t updated that often, but you can read about negative experiences with some employers. It’s always a good idea to do your research to avoid finding yourself in an unpleasant situation.

When it comes to content that isn’t related to Colombia, I really like the DELTA & DipTESOL – Candidates & Survivors group because it contains a lot of helpful information for teachers interested in obtaining advanced qualifications. I also joined TEFL Equity Advocates & Academy Group, which is dedicated to dealing with native speakerism.

My blog’s Facebook page is followed mainly by my friends. I haven’t really tried to attract strangers to it because I only post links to new posts there. I know that I could get more visitors to the blog by posting links to my articles to Facebook groups. However, that would require me to get involved in online discussions, which isn’t something that I have a lot of time for at the moment.

I opened my account in May 2020 after making the decision to create this blog. I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by Twitter, mainly thanks to the fact that it’s so easy to get involved in conversations. Posts about politics don’t interest me, so I try to follow only accounts that focus on content relevant to ELT. I use my account for promoting new posts on this blog and sharing links that might interest fellow teachers. There is a huge online community of English teachers on Twitter, so you have a chance to bounce your ideas off others, which I think is great.

This professional social network can definitely be useful in terms of getting in touch with teachers from all over the world. Most of my connections are involved in education, which means that I often encounter thought-provoking content. I use my profile only for activities relevant to my profession. While I enjoy using LinkedIn, there is something that annoys me about this network, and that is the fact that many people think it’s okay to spam my inbox with unsolicited offers. I think this bizarre practice deserves its own blog post, which I’m going to publish in a couple of weeks.

I found out about r/TEFL only a few months ago. I don’t have a Reddit account because I am worried it would lead to procrastination (see this video by Viva La Dirt League), but it isn’t necessary to be a registered user to read the content. However, most of the posts on r/TEFL seem to be from aspiring teachers asking repetitive questions about working in Asia, which doesn’t really interest me. However, if you use the search function, you can find some pretty useful posts on teaching practice and advanced certifications. Colombia doesn’t receive that much attention there, and even r/tefl_blacklist doesn’t include any entry from this country. There are other subs like r/linguistics and r/grammar, which some readers may find helpful.