I was able to see the limits of task-based learning and my use of it when teaching a language course at a Czech university many years ago. Electrical engineering undergrads were pushed through the requirements at around B1 level with the help of a textbook, then extremely popular, Techtalk. As most of the creations of OUP aimed at communicative approach, the book contained pairwork tasks with information gaps. One of them was a chart with data showing development of prices of oil in the 90s or some other useless stuff. Students were ‘expected’ by the book’s author, to engage in a lively discussion over the causes and consequences of the numbers in the graph and completing their part of the line based on the information provided by their partner. After a while of proud and satisfied walking around the classroom (‘I am a good teacher, students work, I just manage the thing’) I noticed what is REALLY going on. More than one group were simply doing the task as follows: 91? – 65($). 92? 78. 93? 60. Hold on, that is not university level English course! I failed again! I’ve been had! Task accomplished? Yes. English learned? No. I had very hard time explaining that this is not what I wanted. The students were after the task and language was on a back burner at that time, where it should not be.
Tasks, especially those defined by a textbook or curriculum without a direct use for the students, are not always a solution to motivation or engagement issues and M. Swan was right to see the problem with TBLL and we should see it too.