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Communicative Tasks for Language Learning


Oral interpersonal communication tasks engage students for the purpose of exchanging information and ideas, meeting one’s needs, and expressing and supporting opinions through speaking and listening or signing with others. The scope of these tasks will vary according to the level of students’ skills as activities may alternate between performance and proficiency-based tasks.

  • In interpersonal communication, the learner both creates and conveys meaning through verbal and nonverbal communication while understanding and being understood by others.
  • Well-structured interpersonal communication tasks engage learners cognitively and encourage linguistic risk-taking.
  • Performance-based tasks may elicit a response from students at a higher level of proficiency than proficiency-based tasks due to the nature of rehearsed questions and responses as opposed to unique and personal, organically-produced language. 


Oral communication is at the heart of language learning. It is the vehicle through which learners build relationships and develop intercultural competence. Through oral interpersonal communication tasks, learners engage with language in a low-stakes environment in preparation for real-life interactions. These tasks increase learners’ ability to interact socially in any language. Oral interpersonal communication tasks engage learners in rigorous, authentic and meaningful scenarios that allow students to connect their personal experiences to those of the target culture.


As part of the backward design process, the teacher begins by identifying proficiency goals and/or the intended learning outcomes. Oral communication tasks are then created at the students’ current proficiency levels and are designed specifically to promote growth over time toward the next proficiency level. The teacher should design a variety of tasks including pair, small group and whole class tasks that simulate authentic interactions and incorporate elements of language and culture.  These tasks:

  • rely on natural language functions, such as requesting information or expressing preferences
  • emphasize meaning-making and focus less on accuracy
  • are rooted in the intended proficiency outcomes of the learners
  • align with learners’ desires to communicate in social and professional contexts
  • address gestures and other nonverbal nuances of language that combine with oral communication to convey meaning
  • occur throughout as well as at the end of any thematic unit 
  • are used for more open-ended assessment that is evaluated holistically through the lens of proficiency based on comprehension (what the learner understands) and comprehensibility (how well the learner is understood).

Oral interpersonal communication tasks promote personalized learning as the teacher relates tasks directly to the students’ interests as well as current and prior experiences to make language learning more meaningful and authentic.

Find Out More:

Abbott, M., & Swanson, P. (2016). Building Your Core - Effective Practices for Language Learners and Educators [Presentation]. Retrieved from

Glisan, E. (2016). Core Practices for Effective Language Learning [Webinars]. Retrieved from

Shrum, J. L., & Glisan, E. W. (2015). Teacher’s handbook, contextualized language instruction (5th ed.). Boston, USA: Heinle, Cengage Learning.

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