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Task-based learning typically involves aninformation gap: students may have to share knowledge to communicateeffectively, or look for language rules themselves before re-applying them.It's an approach favoured by Huw Jarvis, a senior lecturer in the School of Humanities,Languages and Social Science at the University of Salford. He says:"We know that people learn better when they struggle to communicate - sothat needs to be at the core of the kind of delivery and the methodology."
"The primary purpose of language iscommunication - grammar is important, but there's a bigger picture. Language isno longer seen as being learnt through mechanical exercises, it's developedthrough students interacting and engaging."
But there could be a danger in focusing tooheavily on task-based methods of language teaching, according to RichardHudson, emeritus professor of linguistics at University College London. Heexplains: "There was a strong reaction against grammar-translation.Instead, there was the idea that you could make languages available to lessacademic children by focusing on communication.
"But what happened is that they got rid ofthe grammar and the translation. It was a classic case of throwing out the babywith the bath water. It's not fair on children to leave them to work out therules of language themselves.
"What we're moving towards now is teachingwhich still has the aim of producing fluent language speakers, and still has alot of emphasis on realistic situations, but with a lot more emphasis on makingchildren aware of how the language actually works."
So could a conjunction of different ideas withinlanguage pedagogy be the secret to learning and teaching? Michael Erard studiedhyperpolyglots (multi-lingual speakers) in his book Babel No More and says theyused a variety of methods. He explains: "They use a mix, with a focus onaccomplishing tasks, whether it's communicative tasks or translation tasks.
"What unites them is that they've learnedhow to learn, and each one has learned how he or she learns best. There is nouniform method or single secret that any one of us can duplicate."
Luca Lampariello, a hyperpolyglot and languageconsultant who speaks twelve languages, says: "The best method is themethod you like.
"Languages cannot be taught, they can onlybe learnt. The best way is to tell students right away that they areresponsible for their own learning process, and the teacher is just a guide whohas to motivate them."
Another hyperpolyglot, Richard Simcott, 36, isone of the most multi-lingual people in the UK: he has studied more than 30languages and can converse in around 20 of them. "My interest in languagesstarted at a very young age," he says. "I would tend to find a bookfor a language that works for me and then I would try to find additionalmaterials that interest me, like TV, DVDs, music and websites."
"Many students fail to see the relevance,so we would certainly need to inject that into the classrooms now. I would loveto see more schemes set up where the language classes in various countriescould link up to bring the reality of speaking a language home to kids."
But although Brits have long been famed forbeing lazy when it comes to learning foreign languages, the problem may partlylie in the number of hours of language education children are given. "Weonly give about half the amount of time to language teaching that they do incontinental countries," says Prof Hudson.
A report by the European Commission in 2011listed the UKjoint-bottom in major rankings showing the number of languages learnt in eachcountry. National curriculum reforms set to be introduced next year - whichwill see foreign languages taught from the age of seven - may help, but figuresshow the UKhas a long way to catch up with other European countries.
On average, pupils across Europestart learning languages between the ages of six and nine, but for many itstarts even younger. In Belgium,learning starts in pre-primary education at the age of just three, and iscompulsory until 18. And for children in Spain,Italy and Norway,language classes begin at six. Meanwhile, in Luxembourg, students on someeducation pathways have to learn up to four languages in secondary education.
Chistelle Bernard says that while methods oflanguage teaching in continental Europe areoften still grammar-based, it's the realisation that languages will be usefulin later life that helps motivate students.
But for all the innovation of language pedagogy,foreign language teaching in the UK may ultimately be hindered bystudents' lack of understanding of their mother tongue. Alex Rawlings says:"In a lot of European countries they spend more time studying the grammarand structure of their own language - and they do that from a very young age.So by the time they come to learn foreign languages they are aware of the termsand how they're used."
Prof Hudson agrees: "The move towardscommunicative, task-based syllabuses in foreign languages was driven by thefact that teachers couldn't talk about grammar because it had stopped beingtaught in English lessons. The two subjects are so tightlyinterconnected."