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Review of  Dialogue With Bakhtin on Second and Foreign Language Learning


Reviewer: Carmen Pinilla Padilla
Book Title: Dialogue With Bakhtin on Second and Foreign Language Learning
Book Author: Joan Kelly Hall Gergana Vitanova Ludmila A. Marchenkova
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Book Announcement: 17.1413

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Review:
EDITORS: Hall, Joan Kelly; Vitanova, Gergana; Marchenkova, Ludmila
A.
TITLE: Dialogue With Bakhtin on Second and Foreign Language
Learning
SUBTITLE: New Perspectives
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2005

Carmen Pinilla-Padilla, PhD, is an English as a Foreign Language
teacher and teacher educator and currently director of the Centro de
Formación, Innovación y Recursos Educativos, Torrent-Spain.

DESCRIPTION OF PURPOSE AND CONTENTS

The purpose of this edited collection of papers by different authors is
to explore links between the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin's
ideas and second or foreign language learning. While Bakhtin has
traditionally been seen as a literary critic, chapters in this book collect
the ideas of scholars that see how Bakhtinian genres and rhetorical
theory can be relevant and applied to second and foreign language
education. The book addresses a variety of formal and informal
educational contexts including elementary and university-level second
or foreign language classrooms.

In the introduction to the book, before offering an overview of the
chapters, the editors describe how interest of scholars in second and
foreign language learning is shifting. They place that shift on a move
from looking to the field of linguistics and psycholinguistics for its
epistemological foundations to other disciplines in second and foreign
language learning and explain how such is the case when looking into
Mikhail Bakhtin. His understanding of language from his perspective
as literary theorist in particular is relevant to second and foreign
language learning for his conceptualization of the utterance as a
socially constructed communicative act, locating learning in social
interaction rather than within the individual learner, understanding
learning as a product of a dialogical process.

The volume is arranged into two parts. Part I, ''Investigations into
contexts of language learning and teaching'', presents seven chapters
that report on investigations into specific contexts of language
learning and teaching. Part II presents three chapters in which,
according to the editors (p. 6), broader discussions on second and
foreign language learning using Bakhtin's ideas as a springboard for
thinking are presented.

Chapter 1 presents an introduction to the volume written by the
editors with a brief description of all the chapters included in the book.

In Chapter 2, ''Mastering academic English: international graduate
students' use of dialogue and speech genres to meet the writing
demands of graduate school'', Dr. Karen Braxley organizes the
chapter into two parts. She first presents a review of the concepts of
dialogism and speech genres in relation to their relevance for learning
English. The second part reports a study carried out with the purpose
of analyzing how interaction enhances international graduate students
learning to write the genres of academic English of their academic
fields. The conclusion derived from the findings in the study reveals
that dialogue, as proposed by Bakhtin, is basic for the negotiation of
academic genres development.

Chapter 3, ''Multimodal re-representations of self and meaning for
second language learners in English-dominant classrooms'', presents
a study, based on both Bahktin and Vygostky's views, about how two
novice learners of English as a second language in an English-
dominant-third-grade classroom reorganize and develop semiotic tools
such as drawings, block patterns and ornate designs in order to being
able to access the social life in the classroom and hence to the
learning of English.

Chapter 4, ''Dialogic investigations: cultural artifacts in ESOL
composition classes'', reports a study in which foreign students
learning English in the United States are given the tasks of analyzing
and responding to a series of bumper stickers of their choice in the
form of essays and letters to the owner of the bumper sticker. These
compositions are interpreted in Jeffrey Lee Orr's study to reveal the
dialogic process between the students with their schemata and the
bumper stickers as utterances.

Chapter 5, ''Local creativity in the face of global domination: insights of
Bakhtin for teaching English for dialogic communication'', analyzes and
compares two examples of discourse analysis of contrasting video
recorded classroom interactions in two English lessons in different
secondary schools in Hong Kong. Their conclusion is that the
introduction and use of local linguistic styles and social languages in
teaching English at second language settings may enhance
communication and generate more creative situations in the classroom
therefore favoring the development of critical linguistic awareness
about English and the expansion of different social languages in
English.

Chapter 6, ''Metalinguistic awareness in dialogue: Bakhtinian
considerations'', deals with the development of metalinguistic
awareness as a social, and not only individual, cognitive process and
present an ongoing study of a small group of Finnish children learning
English. The study shows how metalinguistic awareness is developed
and transferred from the polyphony generated by the multiple social
and linguistic situations the children are engaged in.

Chapter 7, ''Uh uh no hapana: intersubjectivity, meaning and the self'',
starts by presenting a strong theoretical framework relaying on
Bakhtin, Voloshinov and Vygostky's theories. We are then offered a
thorough description of the methodology used in the analysis of the
discourse and dialogic activity between two novice learners of Swahili,
rooted in dialogism, intersubjectivity and meaning. In her study,
Elizabeth Platt describes how, through completing an information gap
activity, the two learners show clearly different learning strategies and
how one of the learners develops a greater self confidence as a
language learner as a result of negotiating and the process of
completing the task dialogically.

Chapter 8, ''Authoring the self in non-native language: a dialogic
approach to agency and subjectivity'', illustrates the concept of voice,
consciousness and answerability by analyzing how three eastern
European adult immigrants author themselves by acting as agents in
narrative discourse. Gergana Vitanova presents a study grounded on
Bakhtin's conceptualization of language, self and authoring, which she
describes together with a sketch of humanistic and poststructuralist
schools of thought and how they have influenced second language
research through their concept of self. Vitanova provides a very rich in
details chapter and crystal clear examples of the Bakhtinian concept
of dialogue.

PART II, Implications for theory and practice, comprises three chapters.

Chapter 9, Language, culture and self: the Bakhtin-Vygosty
encounter, offers a rich description of the common grounds where the
theories by the two scholars meet in order to provide a framework for
second language pedagogy. Ludmila Marchenkova articulates the
chapter around the three interrelated areas of the notion of language,
the role of culture in the developing of intercultural understanding and
the formation of self and the role of the other in this process.

Chapter 10, Dialogical imagination of (inter)cultural spaces: rethinking
the semiotic ecology of second language and literacy learning, by Alex
Kostogriz, advocates for the generation of a thirdspace pedagogy of
second language literacy. In this space, the dimensions in the
organization of literacy learning environments are redesigned and
reorganized to shift from the currently dominating cultural binarism in
education to the configuration of another, new, recreated thirdspace.
Kostogriz basis his idea on three spheres of classroom practices:
material-semiotic, intellectual and discursive. He argues for a socially
constructed learning (third)space where multiple voices need not
compete to be heard and understood but rather participate in a truly
intercultural dialogue.

Chapter 11, Japanese business telephone conversations as
Bakhtinian speech genre: applications for second language
acquisition, explores how language learners' pragmatic competence in
Japanese may be developed by using the genre of Japanese
business conversations in teaching and proposes that authentic
conversations used for learning interactional strategies in Japanese
will be preferred by second and foreign language students. Lindsay
Amthor Yotsukura also explores the notion of addressivity in Bakhtin
to explore students' design of appropriate productions for their
audiences.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

The different chapters are written by scholars from around the Globe
who work on diverse educational settings and have a wide array of
linguistic and educational specializations and research interests that
coincide on regarding Bakhtin's theories an enriching source of ideas,
therefore, the book itself is polyglossic in nature and it gathers the
dialogic relationship between the researchers and Bakhtin's
utterances, a relationship that gives place to these persuasive
chapters where we are offered a sensible understanding of ways to
build bridges between our existing practices and our practices-to-be.

Hard as it may be to put together different authors' works on a
cohesive single piece of writing, the editors have managed to organize
them coherently in an interesting book around the richness and
interest of the Bakhtin's Circle works for language teachers. In spite of
that, the division of the material in two parts is not so evident because
all of the chapters offer case studies and different research strategies
and experiences and all of them offer ideas for further thinking and
suggestions for exploration. In fact, although not strictly necessary,
because the purpose of the book to explore links between Bakhtin's
ideas and second or foreign language learning is fully achieved, but
bearing in mind that second and foreign language educators are only
recently looking into their practice under the light of Bakhtin's ideas, it
might be of interest for those not acquainted with Bakhtin's ideas to
read Chapters 8, 9 and 10 after the Introduction and before the other
chapters instead of reading the book as it is because they offer a
deep, critical overview of Bakhtin in his historical context and his
relationship with Vygostkian views. It is in that sense that it might have
been adequate for the introduction to offer a wider presentation of
Bakhtin and his world. Also in relation with the structuring of the book,
it could be argued that Chapter 11 is quite more similar in structure
and type of contents to chapters in the first part of the book than to
those included in the second.

Nonetheless, as every chapter shows meditated and referenced
explanations of the different authors' interpretations and a specific
approach to second and foreign language learning from a particular
perspective towards Bakhtinian thought, global understanding is
facilitated even to those novices to Bakhtin from the beginning of the
book.

Quite relevant to practitioners of the Global English teaching trend is
Chapter 5, that proposes teaching English for dialogic communication
to ''heteroglossize English and to change English from an authoritative
discourse to internally persuasive discourse to the students'' (p. 95).
The dimensions of teaching English as a global language are evident
in this piece of work and only four chapters (5, 7, 8 and 11) are not
devoted to studies in English as a second or foreign language
learning settings.

Just a little note about the introductory chapter where the book
description of the editors may be confusing because it misplaces the
numbers of the chapters; this introduction is actually chapter 1,
whereas chapter 1 in the introduction actually refers to chapter 2 of
the book. Therefore, the numbering coincides with that in the
Introduction only from chapter 7 onwards. This may probably be
because the editors wrote it not thinking it would be regarded as a
chapter of the book.

Notwithstanding, the significance of this compilation is undeniable for
linguists who are interested in Bakhtin and Vygostky and how to apply
their theories to language learning and therefore the volume should
be of interest to scholars coming from the field of Applied Linguistics
but especially form the Language Acquisition subfield.

The variety of voices in this collection brings to life the dialogical
nature of communication, the book shows the dialogue among the
authors and Bakhtin's and it prompts our very dialogue with them
through the reading and interpretation of their texts and of course our
future dialogue with Bakhtin.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER


Carmen Pinilla-Padilla has experience teaching in Primary and
Secondary schools and University levels. She obtained her PhD from
the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain, where she participates
in courses at doctorate level; she also collaborates as tutor for
students of English Philology at the Universidad Nacional de
Educación a Distancia in Valencia. Her research interests center on
collaborative learning, computer-mediated-communication and
interaction in language learning.


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