Interaction (noun) /ˌɪntərˈækʃən/: A situation where two or more people or things communicate with each other or react to each other.

Think about your day. How many times have you used language to interact with another human being? Family, postman, work colleagues, text messages, GP receptionist, social media, adverts, emails, teachers, shop assistant in supermarket, friends…the list goes on. Most of us spend the majority of our days interacting with other humans. And we do so without giving a thought for the language or non-verbal skills which are necessary to manage such situations.

Anyone who has visited another country or lived abroad for a period of time can attest to the constant struggle that communicating in a foreign language can present on an interaction-by-interaction basis. Even small tasks, such as locating the nearest toilets can be strenuous if you’re not a confident speaker of that language!

If we put ourselves in the shoes of many of our students- some of whom may have very low levels of English and yet are residing permanently in the UK- the idea of interaction in English is a very big barrier to cross. So great is that barrier, that many avoid interactions in the L2 as much as possible – resulting in very limited exposure to the society and culture around them. This prevents them from integrating into society, reaching their full potential, taking advantage of opportunities around them, and also prevents us from building meaningful relationships with them.

What can we do to help our students become confident to interact in English?

Second Language Acquisition research has a lot to say about the psychological impact that practising language through real ‘tasks’ has on students’ fluency and confidence. Research shows that in a nutshell, learning is more effective when learners are obliged to communicate with one another to solve a problem or achieve some non-linguistic outcome. This sort of interaction is a reflection of real life communication – not fabricated ‘practice’ sessions where there is no real need for speakers to communicate.

As teachers, therefore, we should aim to include such interactive tasks in our lessons.

As Christians, who want to ‘welcome the stranger’, we should be placing the highest value on relationship building. Jesus didn’t keep his distance from people- he was always surrounded by others- sharing his life with them and thus demonstrating God’s love for them through his daily interactions.

So how can we ensure that our lessons are filled with opportunities for students to interact with one another, to build relationships with their classmates and with us – their teachers and helpers? What sort of activities can we include in our lessons so that when our students leave the classroom they will be confident to go and use the language they have learned in ‘real life’ situations?

The teaching methodology referred to earlier is known as ‘Task Based Learning’ (TBL) or ‘Task Based Language Teaching’ (TBLT), and can be summarised as ‘creating opportunities for meaning-focused language use.’ In order to facilitate real communication with real outcomes, rather than merely ‘rehearsing’ language structures, TBL activities can be identified through their adherence to the following 6 criteria:

  • Will the activity engage learners’ interest?
  • Is there a primary focus on meaning?
  • Is there a goal or an outcome?
  • Is success judged in terms of outcome?
  • Is completion a priority?
  • Does the activity relate to real world activities?

As an illustration, compare the following two activities and decide which of the two meets the most criteria:

Activity A – describe the weather in another country and use the phrases taught in the previous activity.

Activity B – compare the weather in your country of origin with that of your partner and decide who has come from a warmer climate, and who experienced the most climate shock when they moved to the UK.

Well done if you identified Activity B as being more task-based. We can see that it meets all 6 criteria in the following ways:

  • It will engage learners’ interest more readily as it involves talking about their own experiences (which most people are more than happy to do)
  • The primary focus is on meaning as learners are working together to make a decision
  • It has a goal/outcome- to make a decision about whose country is the hottest
  • Success can be judged in terms of the pair having arrived at a conclusion
  • Learners must complete the task otherwise they won’t have an answer to give to the teacher
  • The activity relates to real world activities – people do talk about the weather in their everyday lives!

By contrast, Activity A meets very few of these criteria: it isn’t engaging as it doesn’t connect with the students’ own personal experiences, doesn’t have a concrete goal or outcome, thus involving no real meaning, has no measurable outcome (other than ‘well done, you talked for 5 minutes’) and although it does perhaps relate to real world activities, it isn’t close enough to home for humans who like to discuss their own experiences.

You can see how easy it is to very slightly adjust activities in order to meet these criteria, thus transforming them from a performance to a real world communicative task.

Try adapting the instructions for the following activity so that they meet the 6 criteria:

Read through the list of greetings and practise saying them to your partner.

Task-based language teaching, which focuses on real-life communication and encourages interaction between speakers isn’t difficult- it just involves adjusting the focus and perhaps instructions for an activity. If you have lessons planned for your classes this week, why not look through the activities and see if there is a way that you can change the instructions to make them more task-based? Not only will this result in greater levels of language acquisition, but your students will be more confident to go out into the real world and communicate in English.

If you are interested in learning more about Task Based Language Teaching, check out the following articles or do a Google search on the subject: