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Review of  Handbook of Foreign Language Communication and Learning

Reviewer: Kirsten Colquhoun
Book Title: Handbook of Foreign Language Communication and Learning
Book Author: Karlfried Knapp Barbara Seidlhofer
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 21.3788

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This is the sixth handbook in a series of nine, based on the idea that applied
linguistics is a problem-oriented way of relating linguistics to real-life
This handbook thus focuses on topics of language and communication as
everyday problems and emphasises the ability of applied linguistics to deal with
these issues. It is divided into 5 sections, with between three and six chapters in
each. Due to space limitations I will only briefly outline the scope of each
and its chapters.

I. The nature of foreign language learning

Section I looks at the general nature of foreign languages, their role in education
and what factors are involved in their acquisition. Ehlich (22 - 43) considers the
semantic implications of the terms involved in the discussion of language learning.
He ultimately concludes that ‘the expression 'foreign' indicates 'distance' ‘ (27),
which has individual and societal consequences. Wilton (45 - 78) then describes
the increasing importance given to multilingualism and the consequent effects on
education and the status of English. Mitchell (79 - 108) reviews key trends in
current policies and practices in foreign language education in school settings.
Hufeisen and Jessner (109 - 137) provide an introduction to the research in the
field of multiple language learning -- not, however, the learning of the first
language but rather further foreign languages. This is followed by an examination
of the relationship between Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and teaching, by
Cook (140 - 161). Finally, Edmondson (164 - 190) discusses the link between
teaching language and teaching culture.

II. Perspectives on foreign language learning and teaching

Section II discusses the different aspects of foreign languages -- linguistic,
cognitive, cultural and political -- and the implications these have for the way
languages are taught and learned. Widdowson (193 - 218) discusses the reciprocal
relationship between applied linguistics and pedagogy. Kramsch (219 - 246)
focuses rather on the cultural perspectives of language. Brutt-Griffler (247 - 278)
examines issues of political perspectives on foreign language learning and
teaching. Dewaele (279 - 308) reports on studies and research on the cognitive
perspectives of language and, in particular, the debate surrounding the age of
acquisition and the critical period hypothesis.

III. The design of foreign language teaching

Section III examines the factors that should be taken into consideration in the
design of a foreign language as a classroom subject. Johnson and Johnson (309 -
340) present an overview of the different types of syllabuses. Rodgers (341 - 372)
briefly outlines the history of language teaching methodology and the way in which
certain ideas have returned to current thinking. Legenhausen (373 - 400) discusses
the theoretical and historical background of autonomous learning. Bygate (401 -
439) considers the history of teaching speaking in foreign language teaching,
especially the debate between accuracy and fluency. Finally, Grabe and Stoller
(439 - 466) write similarly on the teaching of the written language by looking at
different approaches to teaching writing and its links to reading.

IV. Approaches to foreign language teaching

In chapter 17 Howatt (467 - 490) looks at a number of different approaches to
foreign language instruction, providing a history from 1880 to the present. Byram
and Mendez (491 - 516) then focus specifically on communicative language
teaching. This is followed by Gnutzmann's (517 - 544) descriptive chapter on the
differences between language for specific purposes versus general language. Wolff
(545 - 572) provides an interesting history of Content and Language Integrated
Learning (CLIL) and deals with some controversial issues surrounding this
approach. Kohn (573 - 603) then looks at Computer assisted foreign language
learning and how this new technology is changing language teaching and learning.

V. Evaluation in language learning and teaching

Finally, Section V addresses assessment and evaluation, of learners, curricula
and courses. In Chapter 22, McNamara (607 - 627) provides a history of language
testing and assessment and a brief look at controversial issues surrounding the
topic. Knapp (629 - 662) then considers the different issues in certification,
at ideas behind testing, implementation and contrast. Finally, Kiely and Rea-
Dickins (663 - 694) consider evaluation and learning in language programmes.


The editors state that ‘ ‘the intention [of this series] is to present the
available in applied linguistics today firstly from an explicitly problem solving
perspective and secondly, in a non-technical, easily comprehensible way’’ (xiii).
Indeed, this handbook is largely descriptive, providing overviews while not
presenting clear points of view. In this way, it is useful when information on a
specific topic is needed. The chapters are comprehensive and while some are
easier to read than others, this surely depends on one’s interests. It provides a
good update on the research to date in the different areas in this field.

One thing which is encouraging to see was Hufeisen and Jessner's ideas on
learning and teaching foreign languages. It has always been interesting to me how
the different languages a learner knows can interact with other languages being
learnt. I personally feel this background of the learner is not exploited enough in
foreign language education; so I am in total agreement that ‘ ‘previously learned
languages can be acknowledged and used within the classroom context by
students and teachers alike as bridge languages. The explicit acknowledgement of
the existence of previous languages, plus recognition of their status as useful
pedagogical tools will naturally ease the new language learning process’’(126).
Indeed I feel that all too often teachers try to isolate the language of study
to such
an extreme that it ignores any advantages knowing another language may have.

For myself, as a foreign language teacher I was also particularly impressed with
Wolff's chapter on ‘ ‘Content and language integrated learning’’ as, although
this is
not a new topic, Wolff reminds us that CLIL ‘ ‘must not be regarded simply as an
approach to language teaching and learning but that it is concerned both with
content and language’’ (547), thus emphasising the difference between CLIL and

Finally, Kohn provides in his chapter a thoroughly readable review of computer
assisted foreign language learning (CALL). As a teacher who makes every attempt
to be technologically savvy in lessons though often not accomplishing the
objectives, I was reassured by Kohn's suggestion that ‘ ‘the new technologies…
have not simplified the world of teaching and learning; on the contrary, they have
made it more complex, varied and demanding’’ (584). This chapter is wonderfully
useful in its overview of CALL, its purposes and uses – ‘ ‘the pedagogical
integration of traditional forms of language learning and teaching with the new
potential of e-learning’’ (584) -- and will be to anyone not entirely
comfortable (yet)
with the idea of CALL.

All in all, this handbook has brought together a number of useful chapters on a
range of aspects of foreign language learning and teaching. As a tool, it can be
utilised either as a means of keeping up-to-date on the research or as a way of
becoming more knowledgeable on a topic. In other words, it will appeal both to
those who already familiar with the research and those who are new to a subject.
Kirsten Colquhoun (Mphil cantab, DELTA) is currently teaching English to adults in Cambridge, UK. She is interested in the relationship between applied linguistics and second language acquisition and teaching.

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