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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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Explanation of terms

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ABSTRACTION, IDEALIZATION, MODELLING, INDUCTION vs DEDUCTION, BOTTOM-UP and TOP-DOWN PROCESSES. Abstraction, idealization, modelling, induction and bottom-up processes share the important similarity that the direction of our mental operations is from the basic, primary data to their more generalized form which results from eliminating some elements of the initial pool of information. Abstraction, idealization and modelling work by eliminating some features which we deem irrelevant, enabling us more easily to focus on the relevant ones. Abstraction is neutral with reference to epistemology, whereas idealization (Nowak 1977) and modelling (Johnson-Laird 1983, 2005) can be treated as technical terms in scientific research. Idealization is a bottom-up process that produces a representation of the subject matter of the given field in contrast to concretization, whereby a powerful, abstract concept is brought down to a more specific level by having various additional properties (re)inserted, or otherwise taken apart into more specific categories. Modelling is also an essentially bottom-up process but its specific purpose is to factor out the irrelevant elements of the real empirical focus of investigation, e.g. a phenomenon or a process, in order to capture its important components in their relationships in order to understand it better. In this sense, both idealization and modelling can be treated as cognitive tools in scientific research. In the field of language learning and use, induction and deduction take place between the particular and the general with reference to primary data and rules which govern the forms, while bottom-up and top-down processes refer to the inevitable...

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