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In Search of Processes of Language Use in Foreign Language Didactics

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Maria Dakowska

The author addresses key questions of foreign language teaching: How does foreign language learning take place? What is the mechanism of foreign language use and learning? What are the sources of our understanding of these processes? What significance does our understanding have for foreign language teaching? The main argument is that, in order to deal with the complexity of language learning and meet the current demands for foreign language competency, we must employ the framework of an empirical, relatively autonomous discipline of Foreign Language Didactics, constituted as a «normal» science which strives to understand foreign language learning as its subject-matter. This constructivist psycholinguistic conception targets language learning processes in the real world, i.e. as language use in the context of verbal communication, i.e. comprehension and production in speech and writing. The processes are represented as taking place in the learner’s cognitive system for information processing in communicative interaction, a universal human phenomenon. This perspective leads to systematic options and strategies for the practical teaching of foreign languages with focus on English as a world language.
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Chapter 2. Targeting the relevant aspect of language: focus on language use

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The multitude of approaches in linguistics and other language sciences testifies to the fact that the notion of ‘language’ has no rival in its potential for affording diverse perspectives and intricate interpretations which refer to aspects of language in use as well as its formal properties. This sentiment is aptly expressed by Cook and Seidlhofer (1995: 4, later quoted in Atkinson 2011: 1):

Language is viewed in various theories as a genetic inheritance, a mathematical system, a social fact, the expression of individual identity, the expression of cultural identity, the outcome of dialogic interaction, a social semiotic, the intuitions of native speakers, the sum of attested data, a collection of memorized chunks, a rule-governed discrete combinatory system, or electrical activation in a distributed network. But to do justice to language, we do not have to express allegiance to one or some of these competing – and aspiringly hegemonic – views. We do not have to choose. Language can be all of these things at once.

Language may, indeed, be regarded from different perspectives, represented at various levels of generality and along various dimensions, for example time (synchronic/diachronic linguistics), space (i.e. language families, regional dialects) phylogenetic/ontogenetic/life-span dimensions, languages for general/specialized purposes, norm/pathology, monolingual/multilingual speakers, and language system/language use, as well as neurolinguistic, psycholinguistic, sociolinguistic and cultural dimensions. To complicate the matters further, we have a host of linguistic traditions and schools of thought, which select their special angle, be it taxonomic, structural, stratificational, generative, universal, or cognitive, not to...

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