The effect of task-based language teaching on developing speaking skills among Saudi Arabian female EFL learners at university level

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Alsahli, Hanin Salman
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University College Cork
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In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the rate of women entering international workspaces has been increasing. However, due to the competitive nature of the job market, women are required to gain a high level of English proficiency. With this in mind, the current study takes a socio-cognitive theory to investigate the impact of task-based language teaching (TBLT) on the oral proficiency of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners at a Saudi Arabian female university. The aims of this study were threefold: a) to investigate the speaking challenges faced by female EFL learners at the university level, b) to explore the attitudes of one teacher and 16 Saudi EFL learners toward TBLT, and c) to examine the effect of TBLT on developing learners' oral language proficiency based on the complexity, accuracy, and fluency (CAF) measurement. Many previous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of TBLT over other teaching methods in a variety of teaching contexts. However, most of these studies have taken a sociocultural approach to their investigations. Thus, the current study offers new insights by investigating an understudied cohort of EFL learners from a socio-cognitive perspective. The study used a four-pronged design comprising a quasi-experimental teaching intervention, pre- and post-tests, a questionnaire, and semi-structured interviews. Under the quasi-experimental design, 32 learners were divided into an experimental and a control group, with 16 participants in each group. Both groups attended EFL classes for over a period of three months, but the experimental group followed the TBLT approach whereas the control group was taught according to the CLT approach, the conventional approach at the selected university. The learners of the experimental group completed a post-intervention questionnaire, two semi-structured interviews, and one pre- and one post-intervention speaking test, while the teacher of the experimental group only responded to one post-intervention semi-structured interview. Firstly, the pre-intervention interview was conducted to investigate learners’ speaking challenges. Then, a post-intervention questionnaire was followed by a semi-structured interview conducted with learners in the experimental group to further examine their attitudes toward TBLT in English speaking instruction. The second post-intervention interview set out to investigate the attitude of the experimental group teacher with respect to the TBLT approach in teaching speaking skills. Both interviews for the learners and the teacher were analysed using a thematic analysis through NVIVO software and SPSS was utilised to analyse a Likert scale questionnaire. Finally, pre- and post-speaking tests were administered to all of the participants in both groups (control and experimental) and were designed based on the TOEIC test. The data collected from the speaking tests were analysed using the CAF framework and subsequently computed through t-test to assess the differences between the two groups. The main findings of the research are that TBLT is more effective than the conventional teaching method in the EFL female Saudi Arabian university context. Regarding speaking challenges, the first interview revealed that some learners have several concerns when speaking (e.g. concerns about grammar or lack of vocabulary) despite demonstrating serious interest and awareness of speaking-development strategies. The results of the questionnaire and learners’ post-intervention interview revealed that learners have a positive attitude toward the use of TBLT, as they seem to believe it helps to increase motivational aspects, such as self-confidence, when interacting using the target language (TL). Likewise, the teacher also expressed a positive attitude toward TBLT, particularly because it encourages learners to use the TL in classrooms, which is in line with their learning goals. Meanwhile, the second post-intervention interview with the teacher also revealed a major concern surrounding the difficulty and time-consuming nature of the TBLT approach from the instructor’s standpoint. Finally, in terms of oral proficiency, the results of the pre- and post-test measurements showed that the experimental group experienced statistically significant improvements in several components of the CAF measurements (accuracy and fluency) compared to the control group. First, in terms of syntactic complexity, the experimental group showed significant reductions in the mean length of the C-unit and mean length of clauses, while the clauses per C-unit significantly increased. No significant changes appeared in lexical complexity, and the experimental group made significantly fewer errors and produced more errorless clauses post-intervention. Finally, regarding fluency, the number of silent pauses and repairs in the experimental group’s speech was reduced significantly, although the changes in filled pauses were not significant. Based on the above results, it has been concluded that the TBLT approach has a significant effect on developing EFL learners’ speaking skills, specifically, with regards to accuracy and fluency. Learners’ attitudes toward a particular pedagogical approach are essential in encouraging learners to participate in classrooms which should affect whether they develop the target language, such as speaking skills, or not. In this experimental study, the TBLT approach was shown to develop learners’ speaking skills. The study was, however, limited by the small sample size and brief duration. Therefore, it is recommended that the study be replicated with a larger sample over a longer intervention period. Furthermore, the effect of TBLT on learners at different proficiency levels is also worth exploring further.
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TBLT , Speaking
Alsahli, H. S. 2023. The effect of task-based language teaching on developing speaking skills among Saudi Arabian female EFL learners at university level. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.