Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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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
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.
'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.