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


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 8Conclusion: Towards a metatheory of SLT 337


Chapter 8 Conclusion: Towards a metatheory of SLT 1.0. KAL and cross-curricular language strategies In seeking to define ‘metalinguistic awareness’, Gombert (1992: 2) notes that it involves a cognitive ef fort ‘… which goes far beyond the boundaries of a strictly linguistic activity’. Such a comment is useful in highlighting the crucial mediating role that such processing plays in the socio-cognitive development of the child. It is, as already indicated, the latter’s ability to disembed and ref lect upon his own semiotic practice that allows him to appropriate a range of new practices and it is these practices which, in turn, serve to shape and refine his powers of ref lective thinking. Wells’ metaphor of education as a ‘semiotic apprenticeship’ is valuable precisely for high- lighting the symbiotic relationship between (metalinguistic) ref lection and (linguistic) performance in the language learning process. Clearly, specialist language teachers – EMT, ESL and FL – play a central role in helping the child to extend his repertoire of ‘secondary’ skills through attention to syllabus content and pedagogic practice. It is important to note, however, that insofar as these skills operate across the curriculum – that is, are crucial in allowing the child to access genre-specific knowledge across a range of disciplines – all teachers play a contributory role in this process. It is not for nothing that the Bullock Report (1975: 337–338) was to define all teachers as ‘language teachers’ and argue that ‘… among the modules that go to make up the professional training element there should be...

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