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The Effectiveness of Task-based Language Teaching to ESP Bachelor Students at Two Universities in Bulgaria and Romania

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Abstract

This paper aims at analyzing and comparing the approach of Task-based language teaching (TBLT) to bachelor students taking classes of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) at two universities in Bulgaria and Romania. The outcomes of the research show that both Bulgarian and Romanian students express their favorable preferences towards using this approach. This is a case study implemented on a local level in two neighboring countries in the region of Southeastern Europe.
Glocal Education in Practice: Teaching, Researching, and Citizenship
BCES Conference Books, 2019, Volume 17. Sofia: Bulgarian Comparative Education Society
ISSN 1314-4693 (print), ISSN 2534-8426 (online), ISBN 978-619-7326-07-9 (print), ISBN 978-619-7326-08-6 (online)
© 2019 Bulgarian Comparative Education Society (BCES)
38
Mindora Otilia Simion & Teodora Genova
The Effectiveness of Task-based Language Teaching to ESP
Bachelor Students at Two Universities in Bulgaria and
Romania
Abstract
This paper aims at analyzing and comparing the approach of Task-based language teaching
(TBLT) to bachelor students taking classes of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) at two
universities in Bulgaria and Romania. The outcomes of the research show that both Bulgarian
and Romanian students express their favorable preferences towards using this approach. This
is a case study implemented on a local level in two neighboring countries in the region of
Southeastern Europe.
Keywords: communicative competence, tasks, Task-based language teaching (TBLT)
approach, English for Specific Purposes (ESP), Bulgaria, Romania
Introduction
Undeniably English is the main language of technology, media, business,
international marketing, and advertising, and as such, has become a global language
(Bogachenko, 2016). This trend has led to an increased demand for fluency growth
in English which has become crucial for job opportunities and professional
realization. The hegemony of English as a first foreign language in Bulgaria and
Romania has been really strong since the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and by far
reinforced after the accession of both countries to the European Union (EU) in 2007.
In 18 education systems, English is a compulsory language (including Bulgaria and
Romania) that all students must learn at one point during their compulsory education
(Baïdak et al., 2017, p. 9).
In line with these EU recommendations, the authors of this study have chosen to
analyze and compare the effectiveness of the Task-based language teaching
(TBLT) approach in teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP) to bachelor
students of their university majors of Information Technologies and Tourism in
Bulgaria and Economic Sciences in Romania as a logical and most appropriate
teaching method adequate for the contemporary university settings, learners’ English
language needs, and their professional realization on the job market.
Task-based language teaching (TBLT) approach
Many researchers and teachers alike are committed to improving the quality of
teaching English and among the various theories, methods and approaches of
teaching and learning that have emerged TBLT deriving from the communicative
language teaching approach has become rather popular in the last two decades in
spite of certain controversies.
Mindora Otilia Simion & Teodora Genova
BCES Conference Books, 2019, Volume 17 | Part 1: Comparative and International Education & History of Education
39
The TBLT approach is regarded as an appropriate means of teaching ESP in this
study, because it places emphasis on the meaning rather than the language form and
task-based activities offer students an opportunity to develop cognitive processes.
The present study takes as a prerequisite the definition of a “task” as explained
by Willis (1996) in his Framework for Task-based Learning: tasks are activities
where the target language is used by the learner for a communicative purpose (goal)
to achieve an outcome (p. 23).
According to Nunan (2004), tasks may be divided into target tasks (real world
ones) and pedagogical tasks. Target tasks are similar to those activities that learners
have to do outside the classroom. Pedagogical tasks are those that have been
designed to be suitable for the classroom setting. David Nunan’s definition of a
pedagogical task, expressed in his Task-based Language Teaching (2004), is quite
comprehensive. According to him, it is a “piece of classroom work that involves
learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target
language while their attention is focused on mobilizing their grammatical knowledge
in order to express meaning, and in which their intention is to convey meaning
rather than to manipulate form” (p. 72). In order to express different communicative
meanings, students do have to resort to grammar, so meaning and form are
obviously interrelated.
TBLT emphasizes the fact that learning should be an active and interactive
process; it should not be based on mere transmission of knowledge from teacher to
learners and it should encourage the students to learn collaboratively in small
groups.
Researchers commonly agree that language learning should be based on
communicative interaction, the task involving language used in the real-world and
conferring authenticity to classroom communication. Based on an experiential
“learning by doing philosophy”, TBLT bridges the gap between class and real life,
changing the roles of the teachers from instructors to guides or assistants and placing
the students at the core of the learning process. As participants share their
knowledge, experience and opinions, they can use the language effectively, be
exposed to new input and constantly improve their language skills. As a learner-
centred approach TBLT draws knowledge from the learner, considers his needs and
uses tasks according to these aspects. It is a permanent negotiation between the
teacher as facilitator and learner in their collaborative relationship.
There are other numerous advantages to elaborating this approach in class, too:
by devising communicative tasks, TBLT increases learners’ real language use; it is a
learner-centered approach; while learning students cooperate, they can interact
during their common effort of performing a task; if they see they can communicate
effectively, their motivation to learn is increased; authentic texts are used in the
learning process; the selection is based on students’ needs and, last but not least,
students have the opportunity to focus on the learning process itself, not only
language.
Context
Country profiles: Bulgaria and Romania
The Effectiveness of Task-based Language Teaching to ESP Bachelor Students at Two Universities
Glocal Education in Practice: Teaching, Researching, and Citizenship
40
Bulgaria and Romania are border countries divided by the river Danube to the
northern part of Bulgaria and to the southern part of Romania. Both are situated in
the region of Southeastern Europe. Bulgaria’s population is 7,057,504 (July 2018
est.) and Romania’s population is three times bigger 21,457,116 (July 2018 est.).
In the first country Bulgarian is the official language (76.8%), Turkish (8.2%),
Romani (3.8%), other (0.7%), unspecified (10.5%) (2011 est.) (The World
Factbook, 2018a). In the second country Romanian is the official language (85.4%),
Hungarian (6.3%), Romani (1.2%), other (1%), unspecified (6.1%) (2011 est.) (The
World Factbook, 2018b).
The percentage of people speaking at least one foreign language in Bulgaria is
49.5% (NSI, 2017). In Romania the percentage of people who can converse in a
foreign language is 48%, English being the foreign language that most Romanians
speak (31%), followed by French (17%). University graduates in Romania represent
15.1% of the country’s active population, according to the Social Monitor of the
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Romania Foundation (2017).
The status of teaching ESP at universities in Bulgaria
There are not general requirements for choosing to teach ESP instead of
teaching General English at Bulgarian and Romanian universities. It is up to the
teacher to choose which mode of teaching they can imply in their day-to-day
teaching practice.
ESP is predominantly taught in many universities in Bulgaria preparing students
for the applied, technical and business sciences, for example at The University of
Forestry; Todor Kableshkov University of Transport; University of National and
World Economy; University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy; Varna
University of Management, N. Y. Vaptsarov Naval Academy in Varna; University
of Library Studies and Information Technologies, etc.
Most often ESP courses are developed for intermediate or advanced learners,
specific use of vocabulary, grammar and functions always depending on previously
acquired competence, which we deem, should be assessed at least at B1/B2 level
according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
(CEFR) to allow a successful curriculum design (Ruzhekova-Rogozherova, 2015, p.
42).
The status of teaching ESP at universities in Romania
In Romanian academic institutions it is compulsory to study at least one foreign
language, mainly English and predominantly ESP. The syllabus for ESP taught in
Romanian universities is drawn according to the professional needs of their students
and to the requirements of the labour market. University of Bucharest, The Babes-
Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iasi, West
University of Timisoara are just a few of the public institutions of higher education
with a long and distinguished tradition in teaching foreign languages. The students
are expected to have at least an intermediate level B1 according to the CEFR and
those majoring in economics and business are studying mainly business language
and vocabulary.
Mindora Otilia Simion & Teodora Genova
BCES Conference Books, 2019, Volume 17 | Part 1: Comparative and International Education & History of Education
41
In both countries teachers have undergone their formal higher education in
English Philology or Applied Linguistics and are expected to have an interest,
although sometimes slight, in the specific area of studies of their students.
Objectives of the study
To analyze the effectiveness of TBLT approach to ESP bachelor students at
two universities in Bulgaria and Romania;
To compare the effectiveness of TBLT approach to ESP bachelor students at
two universities in Bulgaria and Romania;
To improve the use of TBLT approach to ESP bachelor students at the home
universities in Bulgaria and Romania by using the comparative data from the
research.
Research methodology
This paper aims at examining the attitude of bachelor students at tertiary level of
education towards task-based language teaching and its effectiveness for learners.
The authors of the study who have kept contact electronically via e-mails have
obtained data from 52 students at the Faculty of Economics of the “Constantin
Brancusi” University, Targu Jiu, Romania in the third year of studies and the equal
number of bachelor students at the Department of Comprehensive Studies of the
University of Library Studies and Information Technologies, Sofia, Bulgaria who
are studying English during the first and second semester of their first and second
year of studies at B1-B2 level of language knowledge according to the CEFR. The
data resulted from a questionnaire including 25 closed-ended questions under 5
subcategories (I Methodology; II Tasks; III Communicative competence; IV
Student-centeredness; V Personal improvement) regarding the effectiveness of
TBLT and its impact upon the students’ performance. Students answer individually
choosing from options Yes, No, or I don't know.
Findings
Romania
I Methodology:
Most of the participants in the study declare that they enjoy modern methods of
teaching English based on communication instead of traditional ones focusing on
reading, grammar or translation. The participants consider that TBLT help them to
improve their speaking skills and it is thought to be entertaining.
II Tasks:
Seventy per cent of them prefer authentic texts from magazines, newspapers,
course books and do not agree to the idea of having specialized texts translated into
English. Even a greater number of them prefer performing tasks which are a
reflection of real-life use of the language in their specific area of studies. Task
activities are considered to be a good way to improve English vocabulary in the
students’ specific area of studies by 84% and 85% of them think that they support
and develop their language needs and professional interests.
III Communicative competence:
The Effectiveness of Task-based Language Teaching to ESP Bachelor Students at Two Universities
Glocal Education in Practice: Teaching, Researching, and Citizenship
42
Most of the participants like engaging in communicative tasks (96%) and,
surprisingly, they acknowledge its importance in communication (98%). However,
instead of completing purely grammar exercises, they prefer to speak more and
appreciate a teacher who encourages them to do so (88%). The participants admit
that fluency is more important for them than accuracy (70%) and express their
opinion.
IV Student-centeredness:
Equal numbers show that TBLT help students to express their own ideas about
the topic of the lesson without being interrupted by the teacher (75%) but they do
not like to complete a task without any input or guidance from him or her (76%).
The students like pair work and group work during their English classes and 84% of
them feel comfortable when talking to their colleagues in English even if not all of
them had been exposed to this method before and their perception was possibly
affected by their previous experiences of learning English. However, we have
noticed that those students who are more proficient tend to monopolize the group or
pair work activities.
V Personal improvement:
On the other hand, TBLT is thought to contribute to the students’ personal
improvement since 77% consider that it helped them to develop personally; 85%
think that it helped them to cooperate with others; it increased their motivation to
learn English (94%) and advanced their critical thinking (84%), contributing to their
professional realization in their specific area of studies (86%).
Bulgaria
I Methodology:
More than half of the students (67%) prefer the traditional methods of teaching
focusing on reading, grammar or translation whereas the preference for the modern
methods of teaching based on communication comprises 77%. The communicative
method of teaching through oral or written tasks is appreciated by 75% who
consider that it encourages learning. The participants consider that TBLT assists
them to improve their speaking skills (86%) and it is thought to be entertaining by
61%.
II Tasks:
Thirty-three per cent of the students are inclined to use specialized texts
translated into English compared to 38% who prefer authentic ones and the rest
(29%) have no definite idea. A much greater number (85%) prefer tasks which are a
reflection of real-life use of the language in their specific area of studies. The same
tendency applies to their English vocabulary improvement and language needs and
professional interests (80%).
III Communicative competence:
More than half of the students like being engaged in communicative tasks (62%)
and prefer a teacher who encourages them to speak more (65%), although they think
that grammar is important to communicate effectively (62%). However, less than a
half of them admit that accuracy is more important (46%) and 56% feel that TBLT
helps to express their personal opinion.
IV Student-centeredness:
Mindora Otilia Simion & Teodora Genova
BCES Conference Books, 2019, Volume 17 | Part 1: Comparative and International Education & History of Education
43
Only 52% feel confident to express their own opinion and struggle to complete a
task without any guidance from the teacher (50%). Positively, they like pair and
group work (80%), and not so convincingly answering the teacher’s questions (50%)
as well as talking to colleagues in English (54%).
V Personal improvement:
Answers show that students are not really certain whether TBLT approach can
contribute to their personal development, cooperation with others, motivation
increase to learn English, and professional realization in their specific area of studies
because the results are between 34 and 38% in contrast with the lowest level of
critical thinking improvement of only 24%.
Discussion
Unlike the Romanian students who opt for the modern methods of teaching
English based on communication quite convincingly and appreciate it through oral
or written tasks, their Bulgarian counterparts seem to still have a stronger preference
for traditional methods, although they also express their positive attitude towards the
modern communicative ones and find encouragement in completing such tasks.
While both groups of students in Bulgaria and Romania suggest that TBLT approach
improves their speaking skills, Romanian participants enjoy it more to the fullest.
Bulgarian students are slightly confused about the importance of using authentic
texts unlike the Romanian participants; however, both groups prefer performing
tasks which are a reflection of real-life use of the language in their specific area of
studies. Both Bulgarian and Romanian students consider task activities to be a good
way to improve English vocabulary in the students’ specific area of studies and
think that they support and develop their language needs and professional interests.
Romanian students appreciate to a greater extent a teacher who encourages them to
speak more instead of completing purely grammar exercises. Moreover, Romanian
participants are more confident in expressing their own ideas about the topic under
discussion during classes compared to the Bulgarian ones, but the latter are striving
for more independence in task completion. Both groups like pair and group work
during their English classes, although Bulgarian students don’t like sharing ideas
with colleagues unlike their Romanian counterparts.
Quite contrary to the Romanian learners who think that the TBLT approach
would contribute to their personal development, motivation for learning a foreign
language and critical thinking, the Bulgarian participants are rather reserved towards
these methods’ positive effect on these characteristics.
Limitations
One limitation of the study refers to the small number of participants and further
studies may be done on larger groups in the future, in order to demonstrate the
feasibility of the TBLT approach from the students’ perspective. Another limitation
may be the subjective character of the students’ responses which may affect the
quality of the study itself. It would be interesting to develop further studies both on
larger numbers of students and on ESP teachers from Romania and Bulgaria to give
their perspectives and attitudes towards using TBLT at tertiary level.
The Effectiveness of Task-based Language Teaching to ESP Bachelor Students at Two Universities
Glocal Education in Practice: Teaching, Researching, and Citizenship
44
Conclusion
The questionnaire, designed for our students, was created in accordance with the
objective of the study and the information contained in the theoretical framework
and included closed-ended questions about TBLT methodology and its efficiency in
teaching English. The data in the questionnaire were analyzed in figures,
percentages, interpretation and discussion. Based on the findings resulting from
research, we drew the conclusions and recommendations.
The findings in this study provide information that can be applied to other
students at tertiary level about their perceptions regarding TBLT in English classes,
revealing the following implications.
Even if the traditional methods used by some of the students’ previous teachers
may have affected their perception of language teaching, the participants in this
study seem to enjoy the modern ones more. TBLT is based on the principle of
engaging students in communication. It is obvious, then, that task-based methods
can help learners to better interact with one another and the teacher and to build up
confidence in using English.
The purpose of this study is to examine the effectiveness of TBLT in English
classes. The information collected clearly indicated that the students had an overall
positive attitude towards TBLT, considering that it increased their motivation for
learning English and that they can improve their language proficiency by being
exposed to such methods.
References
Baïdak, N., Balcon, M.-P. & Motiejunaite, A. (2017): Eurydice Brief Key Data on Teaching
Languages at School in Europe 2017 Edition. Education, Audiovisual and Culture
Executive Agency. Brussels: Eurydice.
Bogachenko, T. (2016): Contextualizing Educational Innovation: Task-Based Language
Teaching and Post-Soviet Schools in Ukraine. Doctoral Thesis. School of Education,
Faculty of Humanities, Curtin University.
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Romania Foundation (2017): Social Monitor.
https://monitorsocial.ro/indicator/absolventi-invatamant-superior/
Nunan, D. (2004): Task-Based Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ruzhekova-Rogozherova, B. (2015): Enhancing Language Awareness in ESP Business
Courses through English Perfect Teaching in Contrast with Bulgarian Equivalents.
Research on English Perfect Equivalents in Bulgarian. The Journal of Teaching English
for Specific and Academic Purposes, 3(1), 41-68.
Willis, J. (1996): Framework for Task-based Learning. Harlow: Longman.
World Factbook (2018a): Bulgaria. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-
factbook/geos/bu.html
World Factbook (2018b): Romania. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-
factbook/geos/ro.html
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Minodora Otilia Simion, Constantin Brancusi University of Targu Jiu, Romania
Dr. Teodora Genova, University of Library Studies and Information Technologies, Bulgaria
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Eurydice Brief Key Data on Teaching Languages at School in Europe -2017 Edition. Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency
  • N Baïdak
  • M.-P Balcon
  • A Motiejunaite
Baïdak, N., Balcon, M.-P. & Motiejunaite, A. (2017): Eurydice Brief Key Data on Teaching Languages at School in Europe -2017 Edition. Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency. Brussels: Eurydice.
Contextualizing Educational Innovation: Task-Based Language Teaching and Post-Soviet Schools in Ukraine
  • T Bogachenko
Bogachenko, T. (2016): Contextualizing Educational Innovation: Task-Based Language Teaching and Post-Soviet Schools in Ukraine. Doctoral Thesis. School of Education, Faculty of Humanities, Curtin University. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Romania Foundation (2017): Social Monitor. https://monitorsocial.ro/indicator/absolventi-invatamant-superior/
Minodora Otilia Simion
  • Assoc
  • Prof
  • Dr
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Minodora Otilia Simion, Constantin Brancusi University of Targu Jiu, Romania
University of Library Studies and Information Technologies
  • Teodora Dr
  • Genova
Dr. Teodora Genova, University of Library Studies and Information Technologies, Bulgaria