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Review of  New Perspectives On Teaching And Learning Modern Languages


Reviewer: Dalila Ayoun
Book Title: New Perspectives On Teaching And Learning Modern Languages
Book Author: Simon Green
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Book Announcement: 11.1984

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Review:

Green, S. (2000)(Ed.). New Perspectives on Teaching and Learning Modern
Languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. 194 pages.

Reviewed by Dalila Ayoun, University of Arizona.


New Perspectives on Teaching and Learning Modern Languages, edited by
Simon Green, is divided into three parts with three chapters each by
various authors.

Part I, entitled Research-Based Critical Analysis, considers
learning and teaching strategies (M. Grenfell); learner autonomy: why
foreign languages should occupy a central role in the curriculum
(D. Little); and motivation and the learners of modern languages
(G. Chambers).
Part II, entitled the Current Educational Context, considers the
primary sector (A. Gregory), modern languages within a policy for
language in education (C. Brumfit), and higher education
(A. Lodge).
The third and last part focuses on Classroom Practice: logging on
to learning, ICT, modern languages and real communicative
classrooms (P. Hood); vocational languages (J. Thorogood); and
meeting the challenge: developing the 3Cs curriculum (D. Doyle).

The variety of the chapters under each part makes for an
interesting and comprehensive overview of the current state of
learning and teaching foreign languages in Europe (primarily
Britain). With the exception of a handful of chapters, this edited
volume reads well and most chapters present a solid literature
review as a supporting background to their arguments even if, as
acknowledged in conclusion by the editor (S. Green), "a lot of the
ideas in this book are not new" (p. 183).
The book was prompted by the desire to address three crucial
questions: where are we now? Where could we be by 2005? And how
could we get there? These questions seem to be a good starting
point in a critical evaluation of this volume.
Where does Britain stand now in terms of its foreign language
teaching and training? There is a clear consensus throughout the
book that the British education system suffers from a lack of a
specific, well-thought out language policy as an integral part of
the national curriculum. This lack of clear planning compromises
the initiative of the early teaching of modern languages in
Britain, contrary to most other European countries. For example,
the Scottish National Primary Languages Network has been very
successful. A. Gregory in Chapter IV correctly points out that
questions of starting age, goals, content, liaison, continuity,
specific goals and objectives would have to be addressed before a
similar program could be implemented in Britain; but in so doing,
she doesn't mention that most of the answers are already present in
the theoretical and empirical literature in bilingualism and
second/foreign language acquisition.
Brumfit's chapter V is more useful in suggesting concrete measures
toward a national, well coordinated effort such as a Language
Charter with specific and well grounded theoretical and practical
principles. He also proposes to recognize and take into account
that other languages are already spoken in Britain, that various
languages play different roles and that languages contribute to
oneUs identity. Integrating foreign languages into the entire
curriculum is clearly a crucial step.
Chapter VI is equally well written and persuasive in its efforts to
convince readers what should be taken as a given: general
(theoretical and applied) linguistics needs to contribute to a
strong theoretical background to both student learning and teacher
training. Metalinguistic awareness can only benefit foreign
language learners, while making a significant and understated
contribution to the methodology and pedagogical approaches foreign
language instructors choose. In addition, how can foreign language
instructors teach effectively without an awareness of (first and
second) language acquisition theories?
Finally, Chapter VIII by Thorogood, also makes a significant
contribution to the evaluation of the current state of foreign
language teaching in Britain by considering vocational languages,
an area all too often neglected. The author attempts to stress how
vocational language and academic language converge rather than
diverge although there are indisputable differences between the
two. An important point is in the distinction between examination
and assessment partially addressed by the European global
assessment scale levels, similar to the ACTFL proficiency
guidelines.
The chapters dealing with the actual classroom methodologies all
express their deep dissatisfaction with the way the communicative
approach has taken over foreign language classrooms or rather with
the way it has been implemented, which barely distinguishes it from
the direct method for instance. Thus chapter IX stresses the need
for a more meaningful and challenging communication, in other words
a revision of the content of communication rather than the
methodology itself. The context of communication, i.e., the
classroom and the curriculum, must be revisited. Again, these
points have been already made elsewhere in the literature along
with the point underlying the need for negotiation of meaning in
real-life interactions as is well supported by some of the
empirical research cited in chapter VII.
Thus, the question is not whether language learners would benefit
from opportunities to use all four skills in a motivating,
challenging communicative environment with a content-based approach
which creates interactive activities during which learners can
notice and correct their errors as they restructure their
interlanguage. The question is how to implement such an approach
and to create such an environment. P. Hood proposes in chapter VII
that these goals may be reached with the help of CALL (computer
assisted language learning). All schools would be online, they
would have networked multimedia packages and use an interactive
whiteboard for a greater availability of current material and
personalized instruction of all four skills.
CALL could also partially alleviate the motivation problem outlined
by Chambers in chapter III, although the study's findings reported
in that chapter indicate that computers and teaching methodology do
not have much importance compared to the students' opinion or
perception of their teachers -- especially at the primary level
where students are less likely to be self motivated.
The communicative approach could also benefit from a greater focus
on learner and teacher autonomy as advocated in chapter II by
D. Little who shows that autonomy is a natural tendency in human
behavior. Autonomy in language learning could lead to more
effective and meaningful communication as the learners would decide
curriculum content in collaboration with teachers as successfully
done in a handful of classrooms (Dam, 1995).
Thus the current state of foreign language learning and teaching is
very clearly described and understood. The question of where
Britain would like to be in the next five years is best addressed
in chapters IV and V with the proposed National Primary Language
Network and Language Charter. However, it is unclear how these
suggestions could be implemented in the face of the pervasive
problems Britain has traditionally faced such as the endemic lack
of interest for foreign languages (partially explained by the
British insularity and the fact that English is a lingua franca
thanks to the economic power of United States) and the lack of a
national policy which integrates foreign language learning and
teaching into the curriculum. A daunting task indeed.

Dam, L. (1995). Learner autonomy 3: from theory to classroom
practice. Dublin: Authenktik.

Short biography: University of Arizona, French & Italian, and PhD
program in SLAT. Background and research interests include French
linguistics, second language acquisition of syntax, computer- and
web-based empirical research, foreign language methodology.

*********************************************************************
Dalila Ayoun - ayoun@u.arizona.edu
http://www.u.arizona.edu/~ayoun

560 Modern Languages
Department of French & Italian
1423 E. University
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721

French & Italian - http://www.coh.arizona.edu/french/french.html
SLAT PhD Program - http://www.coh.arizona.edu/slat
**********************************************************************



 
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