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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 5Metalinguistic awareness and language planning 197

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Chapter 5 Metalinguistic awareness and language planning 1.0. Metalinguistic awareness and education: shifting rationales As Brumfit et al. (1994) suggest, there has been a growing re-interest in recent years in the role played by metalinguistic awareness in children’s edu- cational development which has found its sharpest focus in the discussion surrounding National Curriculum reforms. Such a re-interest does not imply a consensus regarding the definition of the phenomenon – reformulated in the Kingman Committee report (1988) as ‘knowledge about language’ (KAL) – or the rationale for its inclusion in the curriculum which, as Brum- fit et al. (1994: 5) go on to say, has been ‘… marked by considerable contro- versy and disagreement …’. The most important source of this disagreement has undoubtedly been the relationship between analytical knowledge and language performance or, rather, the conditions under which such a relation- ship might emerge. While the Kingman Committee report argued, albeit hesitantly, in favour of the explicit study of language as a means of improving linguistic performance in certain identifiable areas, such an argument has been widely contested elsewhere in the literature.1 Carter (1990: 16), for example, in his inf luential introduction to the LINC Reader, claims that the relationship between knowledge about, and competence in, language remains a ‘… major unanswered and unexplained question’ and such a view is widespread among writers in the ‘personal growth’ tradition of English Mother Tongue (EMT) teaching who were initially antagonistic to the Kingman Committee report, such as Rosen (1988), Barnes (1988) or Rich- mond (1990).2...

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