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Review of  Fremdsprachendidaktik


Reviewer: Susanne Tienken
Book Title: Fremdsprachendidaktik
Book Author: Helene Decke-Cornill Lutz Küster
Publisher: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Linguistic Theories
Book Announcement: 22.1914

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Review:
AUTHORS: Decke-Cornill, Helene and Küster, Lutz
TITLE: Fremdsprachendidaktik
SUBTITLE: Eine Einführung
SERIES TITLE: Bachelor-Wissen
PUBLISHER: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag
YEAR: 2010

Susanne Tienken, Department of Modern Languages, Uppsala University, Sweden

SUMMARY

The present volume is a textbook, mainly written for students undertaking the
Bachelor of Education. It provides a broad survey of theoretical, historical,
political, cultural and methodological issues concerning the teaching of foreign
languages in primary and secondary schools. It is written in German and many
considerations are based on a German or European point of view. Each chapter is
completed by a summary, a couple of tasks and recommendations for further reading.

In chapter 1, the authors outline the roots and the boundaries of their issue,
foreign language didactics. It is described as a discipline for enculturation
and as a discipline for transformation, fusing several scientific fields such as
language acquisition, cultural studies, psychology etc. Thereafter, the authors
provide a description of the situation of English, French and Spanish as school
subjects.

Chapter 2 comprises a critical survey of several approaches to language
acquisition: behaviorism, nativism, cognitivism and interactionism. The
cognitivist-constructivist approach is outlined as the most adequate,
understanding language acquisition as an interactionally motivated,
self-organized mental activity of learners. The phenomenon of interlanguage is
also discussed.

In chapter 3, the authors strive to obtain a deeper understanding of the issue
of cognition. Different kinds of knowledge and different theories of motivation
are presented. The chapter includes a discussion of emotional aspects of
communication and of the implications for teaching in practice.

Chapter 4 focuses on the political dimension of language education from
Charlemagne to the democratizing efforts of the nineteen-seventies. The authors
illustrate the interdependency of content and methodology and the political
mainstream of each time period. The purpose of the retrospective is to convey
critical awareness of how political and societal currencies are embedded in
contemporary foreign language teaching.

Chapter 5 provides a survey of the conceptual change from the knowledge of a
certain language to communicative competence. The authors join the critique
against Habermas' (1971) and Piepho's (1974) concept of ideal communicative
competence and declare the need for a professional discussion of language as a
tool of power and of the classroom as a space for hegemony struggles.

Chapter 6 highlights the issue of media in foreign language teaching. Above all,
media is mainly seen as a functional and not as a material phenomenon which
allows considering teachers, language, textbooks, and movies - as well as
digital media - as media. Furthermore, the authors make a difference between
media made for the teaching context (i.e. textbooks, papers) and authentic media
like websites, newspapers, etc. The authors find the use of a textbook adequate
as long as textbooks are not the entirety of the daily agenda of foreign
language teaching.

Discussing several ways of interacting, chapter 7 is the most practical chapter.
The authors illustrate typical interactions and assert that interaction in the
classroom differs strongly from interaction in other contexts. This is not
necessarily considered as a negative feature but it is stressed that respectful
and engaging interaction should be a core value of contemporary foreign language
teaching.

In chapter 8, the early beginnings of foreign language teaching in primary
schools and bilingual education are outlined as exemplary models for language
learning. Suggesting this, the authors contradict the opinion that language
learning should happen within the boundaries of a school subject of its own like
English, Spanish, French, with pupils starting at a more mature age.

Chapter 9 contains a critical survey on both European and German language
politics and educational standards. Moreover, the European language portfolio is
discussed. The authors see the main problem of the current change from curricula
to educational competence standards in neglecting performative aspects of
language practice and in ''teaching to the test'' (Hallet/Müller-Hartmann 2006:5).
Features like tolerance or cooperation are hardly measurable and run therefore
the risk of becoming unimportant.

In chapter 10, devices like grammar and lexicon/vocabulary are viewed in their
function of acquiring communicative competence. Instruction in grammar and
vocabulary has been condemned because it was considered to inhibit active and
creative language use. The authors stress the necessity of creating a deeper
understanding of grammatical features.

The authors continue with practical considerations concerning language skills in
chapter 11, dealing with listening and reading comprehension, writing and oral
skills and even the capacity of language mediation. Language skills are not only
regarded as linguistic competences in a narrow sense of phonetic, lexical or
grammatical segmentation and structuring, but also as social, pragmatic and
strategic abilities. With this background, aspects of test criteria and
evaluation are discussed and contemporary measuring efforts are put into the
political frame of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Chapter 12 gives a survey of several methodological concepts of foreign language
learning which are influenced by the overall idea of students as so-called
autonomous learners. This means, in a broader perspective, an understanding of
learning as a lifelong process in our ever-changing world. Didactic aspects are
presented as strongly entangled with several concepts of awareness, such as
learning awareness and media awareness. Media competence cannot be developed
without a critical approach to the subject. Obviously, this extends traditional
foreign language teaching.

Foreign language teaching has not always been a good example for tolerance but
rather perpetuated stereotypical ideas about the foreign. Therefore, chapter 13
focuses on the awkward issue of intercultural learning. The notion of culture is
defined and the importance of the teacher's sensibility and awareness is
stressed. Like in the foregoing chapter, the authors plead for a combination of
cognitive and affective approaches. For intercultural learning this means, for
example, undertaking student exchange programs, e-mail partnerships and the
choice of thought-provoking learning material.

In the last chapter of the book, chapter 14, the authors focus on the
development of literary and esthetic competences within foreign language
teaching. The potential of literature, pictures, media texts, comics and movies
is discussed, emphasizing the aspects of these artifacts both explaining and
opening up the world. The authors make clear that contemporary literature
studies in school (should) mean cultural studies, but they also admit that this
change from a more linguistically oriented teaching will make the learning
effect less measurable.

EVALUATION

'Fremdsprachendidaktik' will be extraordinarily useful as an introduction into
the field of foreign language teaching in Europe. After having read this book,
there should be no doubt what a graduate with a Bachelor of Education is
supposed to know about the subject. The authors succeed very well in
transforming recent research from an impressive variety of fields into the
accessible format of a textbook. There are a large number of tables,
illustrations, keywords, conclusions and summaries making it easier to keep
focus. Furthermore, the book is clearly arranged and the authors maintain an
accessible tone throughout the book. The structure of 14 chapters will probably
inspire even university teachers to structure courses in a similar and valuable
way. The fact that single chapters can be picked out for discussion and the
subject index make 'Fremdsprachendidaktik' suitable as a work of reference as
well. Thus, 'Fremdsprachendidaktik' is a very good textbook.

The authors succeed keeping curiosity alive because they consistently provide a
thorough introduction to the subject from a critical point of view and because
they suggest small-scale research tasks at the end of each chapter. The
relativity of knowledge may be somewhat frustrating for bachelor students but it
makes the book very open-minded and it prepares students both for life and for
their next level of education, the Master of Education.

In spite of this, the book has one surprising shortcoming: there is neither a
chapter nor a single paragraph about gender perspectives on foreign language
learning. This is a real drawback since gender issues still play an important
role in the classroom, unfortunately, even though recent mainstream research
trends have put their spotlights on other aspects of language and culture.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Susanne Tienken, PhD, is a research fellow at the Department of Modern Languages at Uppsala University, Sweden. She is currently working on a project about social identities and narrating in the Internet. Her main research interests are found in the areas of sociolinguistics, critical discourse analysis, applied linguistics (NGL) and cultural studies. She teaches courses in linguistics and in German as a foreign language.

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