I just stumbled across Steve’s Task Based Learning video from a month ago (Task-Based Language Learning - YouTube) and then did a little dive into the subject.
So first of all Steve mentions his usual personal mantra for alternative language learning techniques (It’s not for him, he prefers LingQ) and then basically doesn’t go into it much at all. I found some forum posts of his dating back 10 years on this and his mantra was repeated back then too about Task Based Learning (TBL) so he hasn’t seemed to have ever read into it much because he boils it down to it being something which would frustrate him and he doesn’t want to be forced to do tasks. The usual rant stuff I love about Steve but it seemed like there was nothing to it based on how he discounts it so quickly. But when I googled/youtubed TBL I was quite shocked by not only the plethora of material describing it but the sheer amount of 1+ hour long presentations people were giving at conferences or in interviews about it. I was quite surprised I had never heard of it before since there are so many people quite clearly passionate about it.
After looking into it after his video now I think his response to the method is quite odd since 1. LingQ and TBL are in no way mutually exclusive nor claim to be and 2. Steve’s polyglot origin story is heavily based on Task Based Learning (but on the job instead of a classroom because Task Based Language Teaching (TBLT) didn’t exist yet.) In fact, far and away the best video I found on this subject was a professor giving a presentation at the famous Foreign Service Institute (TBLT Speaker Series: Design, Implementation and Evaluation (Michael Long) - YouTube) detailing how this is a very practical approach for achieving output fluency which is highly backed up by research and how this is probably the best classroom method so far for government workers such as Diplomats (Like Steve) working in very specific task based roles who often complain that most of their standard learning in the classroom is pointless and most of what they learn ends up happening while performing TASKS in the foreign country they are working in. So lots of researchers have come to the conclusion that we should bring the tasks into the classroom.
With that said this learning/teaching method certainly isn’t limited to only learning how to speak in very specific situations in a second language. It can be used for all learners, and as the video also mentions, Task Based Learning is essentially the method used in immersion based school programs (ie. Do TONS of various tasks IN the language, not just talking ABOUT the language). So it could be a complex task of how to negotiate a multinational investment deal, as simple as how to play Monopoly in Spanish, or just practicing how to check out at a supermarket in an L2. It’s flexible, but focused. If you ever read/hear people talk about their experience in immersion schools or in immersion situations (such as working or volunteering abroad) people talk about being forced to do TASKS constantly and this is how they build up their fluency very fast. But it’s initially very tough because you’re essentially always needing to achieve tasks within a time limit. I don’t know about you guys but when it comes to output ability I’m not impressed anymore by people’s ability to speak for 5, 10, 30, 60 minutes conversationally because I’ve discovered I can do the same and I’m hardly an intermediate level and you can find people who can do this with very low vocabularies (just see the 3000 videos of “How I learned X Language in 30 days”). You can BS your way through a simple conversation. You can’t BS your way through a task which has very fixed and limited outcomes which need to be accomplished.
However I can certainly say what never ceases to amaze me is people (or myself from time to time) who can handle themselves doing task based things in second languages with a high level of command. Examples of tasks I’ve witnessed People doing in their L2: People doing visa interviews, visiting doctors/dentists, registering for marriage certificates, giving very specific taxi directions, complaining to and scolding dumb employees (who vastly underestimated the foreigner’s ability to be mad in an L2), flirting, speaking about/answering questions about their religion (ala Mormons all over the world), and also protesting. All of those examples are seared into my memory. I also listened to a story by Paul Nation where he was visiting Japan, he got on a train and he simply needed to ask a person if he was on the correct train. He chose a Japanese person who was reading an advanced English textbook about Economics unassisted by a dictionary or e-reader. When he approached and asked the lady to confirm the train, she froze and practically burst into tears because she couldn’t handle the simple question/task and someone else had to step in and answer the question for her. Later she did speak with Paul and she demonstrated could speak some English but she was solely an input based learner (taking advanced courses based in English in graduate school) but she could barely output at all to save her life (or at least a tourist’s life). That’s when it dawned on me as I was studying about TBL / TBLT that TASKS are essentially my “why” motivation for language output. Not general conversation. Conversation doesn’t have real consequences. I don’t feel nervous in conversations. There are no risks in conversation. There can often be no direction in conversation. I hardly remember anything of use learned from the conversation (vocabulary, sentence structure, etc). No wonder I don’t care about conversation classes and don’t schedule them very often.
It’s only when I’m out and about that I find myself suddenly facing a crisis (usually a super basic task) that I’m completely unprepared for as it almost NEVER shows up in my reading/input.
My take away from discovering this about myself is not that I need to go sign up for TBL classes at some immersion school. Not at all, it’s a simple method that can be done completely alone actually for many tasks or just an alternative way to structure 1 on 1 classes that I can actually feel motivated for. You might be ready to tell me I can find these “tasks” for input in “Situational (Language)” Books but we all know those dialogues are trash in how accurate they are (the FSI lecture goes into this as well) and 99% of them aren’t actual tasks you deal with personally. I’ve been to a restaurant maybe 5 times in the past 5 years. That’s not the type of task I know I need to prepare for. In fact when people are telling me they are coming to Brazil and what Portuguese tips I have for them, I always tell them about all the words and phrases I’ve NEVER SEEN ANYWHERE (Media or Books) for DAILY and REQUIRED TASKS they WILL encounter without fail which made me so incredibly frustrated time and time again. So, for me now, my job as a learner is not to schedule random conversation lessons. I need to write down all the tasks I keep encountering at least once a month that I’m always struggling with and do my best to predict future tasks. These tasks could be as brief as 10 seconds and then I forget about them. But those 10 seconds are the most painful 10 seconds of my life because I’ll have been actively reading/listening for 3 hours that day and then I can’t handle a 10 second situation because I didn’t prepare for it. Thus, I must do my best to prepare for how to do it with a native beforehand and/or review with a native after the fact what happened and how to handle it better. In fact this is exactly what is done by the advanced Chinese youtuber Xiaomanyc (one of those Youtube guys that uses those clickbait titles “WHITE GUY SPEAKS PERFECT (Language)”. He mentioned he likes to go out into the streets with a native speaker and just find all sorts of situations/tasks and consult with them on how to do it. Also blogger/youtuber Mezzofanti Guild essentially did this with a home immersion experience via 40 Hours of iTalki lessons a week (Results Of My Arduous At-Home Language Immersion Experiment) and he made each day a very focused type of class task topic which he repeated with 5-6 different tutors per day to sharpen his skills in the task. Or lastly with youtuber Ikenna who experimented with becoming fluent in Spanish in 6 monthhs with a similar strategy as Mezzo and eventually found his classes were quite pointless until he set up the classes to be based on a prepared TASK and then he started to feel like he was getting somewhere (This is my Spanish after 150 days (finale) - YouTube). I can’t help but notice a trend here.
So in conclusion, Steve’s general approach of reading a lot about history and mini stories in his target language with books and podcasts and then dropping into a country for 2 weeks to activate his language has worked to his liking. But I think he did a disservice by basically ignoring Task Based Learning and not considering that this could be greatly beneficial to LingQ users. I quite enjoy using LingQ and it has helped acquire vocabulary for conversations and made my second language much more comprehensible. Both things that are very important for TBL which would be terribly difficult starting from zero whereas now I have a foundation built using LingQ. But I don’t think my foundation is complete yet. It feels like there is a missing piece. The general question/mystery that’s often asked on the forum “What’s life like after LingQ?”, “Why am I still struggling speaking but I have 50K known words?” is probably being asked a lot because people can understand a lot and have normal conversations and feel fine but then turn into the Japanese woman on the train when someone asks them a simple question they believe their LingQ stats tell them they should know. Steve is a great shining example of what can be done using LingQ but I think if we could watch Steve’s life like a movie, we would see his foundation for his language learning ability isn’t just LingQ or reading/inputting audio in general. It’s also from all the task based learning he did for his original languages working/living abroad. And knowing that might be the missing piece of a foundation for a lot of people’s language learning routine. It certainly has been for mine. Now I know my “why” for practicing output and I know exactly what direction to go with it.