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In Search of Processes of Language Use in Foreign Language Didactics


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 3. Focus on the learner’s cognitive equipment: the mechanism of human information processing (HIP)


It is justified to look for relevant knowledge about human cognitive functioning, including language use and learning, in the field of cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. As Eysenck (2006: 3) stated, the subject matter of cognitive psychology consists ‘of the main internal psychological processes involved in making sense of the environment and deciding what actions might be appropriate. These processes include attention, perception, learning, memory, language, problem solving, reasoning and thinking.’ Since they inevitably take place in the human mind, the processes of language learning are cognitive by definition. As has been emphasized, at the most elementary level, they take the form of human information processing, which involves registering, representing, organizing, converting, structuring and composing information in our cognitive subsystems. As a result of these processes, information is copied, multiplied, abstracted, constructed, proliferated, and propagated in various ways. The term ‘information’ denotes some meaningful unit with a form determined by its context. Therefore, the form of the transmitter, its meaning and context are part and parcel of information. Information is meaningful because it makes a difference, i.e. reduces unpredictability. Predictability, in turn, derives from the knowledge structures activated by the subject. Cognitive psychology attributes considerable significance to the context, both mental and environmental, in human information processing, storage and use. The role of natural and sociocultural environment is crucial to human survival whereas our information processing equipment is the most fundamental adaptive device for our interaction with this ecosystem (Klix 1980). Even infants demonstrate that they are biologically equipped to search...

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