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The Role of Metalinguistic Awareness in the Effective Teaching of Foreign Languages

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Anthony David Roberts

Attempts to explain children’s ability to focus on language as medium rather than message have varied dramatically over the years. Studies in the field of metacognition have shown that this has a bearing on children’s growing metalinguistic awareness. Conversely, children’s ability to reflect upon and control their own use of language has been seen to have a bearing on the emergence of general metacognitive processes. However, significant differences have emerged not only in the interpretation of the research findings but also in the attempt to reconcile such findings with those of traditional anecdotal sources and to create more explanatory theoretical models.
Starting with a critical review of the various theoretical approaches in the area of metacognition, this book explores in detail a socio-cultural approach, examining the origin, function and cognitive status of metalinguistic awareness. By elaborating and refining the analysis of writers such as Vygotsky in the light of new developments in relevant fields, the author also seeks to outline a model which can be applied to the pedagogic process. The book will be of interest to students and scholars of children’s language development, applied linguistics and cognitive psychology, as well as to teachers of foreign languages at all levels.

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Chapter 3Towards a model of metalinguistic awareness 109

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Chapter 3 Towards a model of metalinguistic awareness 1.0. Towards a model of metalinguistic awareness: theoretical considerations The socio-cultural hypothesis, as indicated, appears more f lexible than its alternatives in explaining dif ferences in the onset and distribution of meta- linguistic skills among children. While it may be more useful in explaining the origins and function of such skills, however, it remains under-developed in certain important respects. As Gombert (1992: 175) points out, apart from the work of Bialystock (1985a, 1985b) and Karmilof f-Smith (1979, 1986), which seeks to situate the development of metalinguistic awareness as a function of intralingual referencing in extended discourse, the number of comprehensive models remains ‘low’.1 Considerable attention, it is true, has been paid in recent years to the role played by metalinguistic awareness in discrete areas of language development – particularly that played by met- aphonological processing in literacy skill development – but little attempt has been made to situate such studies within a longer-term developmental model which seeks to explain the interaction between metalinguistic aware- ness and the extension of the child’s linguistic repertoire.2 Vygotsky’s work of fers an invaluable framework for elaborating such a model, but needs to be enriched by taking into account more recent theoretical and empirical findings in a range of relevant fields, particularly that of metapragmatics. The integration of data from such sources might usefully seek to: explain the relationship between metalinguistic awareness and skill • development in relation to functional dif ferentiation in language acquisition/learning; 110 Chapter 3 establish a...

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