LINGUIST List 24.4754

Tue Nov 26 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Hadzantonis (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 28-Aug-2013
From: Clay Williams <>
Subject: English Language Pedagogies for a Northeast Asian Context
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Michael HadzantonisTITLE: English Language Pedagogies for a Northeast Asian ContextSUBTITLE: Developing and Contextually Framing the Transition TheorySERIES TITLE: Routledge Studies in SociolinguisticsPUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Clay Hunter Williams, Akita International University

SUMMARYDimitrios Michael Hadzantonis makes the case for a paradigm shift inpedagogical models for language acquisition and development, principally forthe Northeast Asia region -- especially Korea -- but he also lays claim tobroader, global applications of the proposed model. The book employs astep-by-step approach to bringing the full scope of the problem to light, byintroducing the push-pull dynamic in the struggle to implement new pedagogicalnorms without denigrating or rejecting traditional methods; discussing atlength the social, cultural, and pedagogical identities of his targetpopulation, South Korea; describing issues, innovations, and shortfallsspecific to language acquisition pedagogy in South Korea; and giving aholistic primer/review of Sociocultural Theory grounded in modern theory. Onlyafter this comprehensive background on learning English in the South Koreancontext has been covered does the author move on to arguing for his proposal-- The Transitional Model and Theory. He begins with a thorough review of thetheoretical background for Transition Theory, followed by the model itself andsome concluding remarks on the desired results of implementation in the SouthKorean educational context.

The foreword retells the story of a verbal incident witnessed by the author,which he expounds upon in the introduction (Chapter 1) and alludes tofrequently throughout the monograph as an example of “two people… express[ing]conflicting perspectives toward semiotic tools, texts, and textual modes, aselements for learning and development, and more so, for language development”(p. 1). The author draws a parallel between the issues of enculturation,methodology, conceptualization, agency, culture and ecology in this example tothe larger goal of exploring how influences of identity in South Korea affectthe development of L2 English competence and their negotiation of socialidentities and L2 pedagogies. The author then lays out his approach for themonograph -- postmodern, cross-disciplinary, and heavily grounded inSociocultural Theory -- with the end goal of demonstrating a model capable ofassisting South Korean (as well as other NE Asian) students of English toincrease their ability to negotiate membership in global communities. Hebegins by asking himself and the reader two key questions: 1) whether or notthe ability to successfully negotiate social identity would help students tofind membership in such global communities; and 2) how to design an approachwhich would enable students to negotiate language identities.

Chapter 2 presents a detailed evaluation of language and identity issues inthe modern South Korean context. Arguing that South Korean education must beseen from “within the context of its social and political situation, coupledwith significant Western influence” (p.15), Hadzantonis provides a broadoverview of the shaping forces on South Korean identity formulation,concentrating mostly on historical factors, government policies, andinternational/global aspirations. He begins with a brief overview ofConfucianism, noting that the Confucianism in modern South Korea variesgreatly from that in other regions, having been modified to better fit theKorean social context. This Neo-Confucianism is presented as an oppressivediscourse due to its emphases on hierarchy, consensus, and authority throughrank. The tendency to define oneself in terms of relation to others weakensindividual identity and can lead to pedagogical confrontation when studentsare negotiating identity through L2. From there, the author moves to issues ofnationalization and nationalism. Reviewing Korean history, he notes that therelatively recent emergence of a unified Korean political/cultural statecoincided with an introduction of new historical, nationalistic narrativesemphasizing “ethnic homogeneity, strongly grounding nation and nationalidentity, thus conflating nation with ethnicity and race” (p. 22).Furthermore, historical forces colluded to produce strongly authoritarianpolitical forces which have permeated the society, including education. TheKorean educational system’s seeming main goal has been to promote nationalismand feelings of national unity, leading to a racialized idea of nationhood.The growing importance of the English language is therefore frequentlyconceived of as a threat, and has reinforced the South Korean mindset ofnationalism and resistance to foreign ‘invasion.’ This sets up a paradox asSouth Korea has clearly stated transnational ambitions. While transnationalismwould naturally suggest willingness to cross both national and personalboundaries, “[n]ational identity in South Korea has inhibited the crossing oftransnational boundaries by South Koreans and their attempts to engage in themultiple orientations of global discourses” (p. 32). Appeals for globalizationhave been stymied by appeals to nationalism which disempower individuals, andreduce agency. Distorted and idealized images of the West also work to dim theprospects of successful L2 acquisition by potentially introducing envy ordisappointment (when the reality fails to match the image), both of which canreinforce nationalism. The Korean government’s appeals for globalizationactually explicitly aim “to appropriate globalization for nationalist goals”(p. 42). The author argues that while Koreans have a voracious appetite forEnglish-language pedagogy, these pedagogies and texts have beenmisappropriated and distorted by filtering such through the lenses ofnationalism, Confucianism, etc., resulting in reduced benefit, and ultimatelyin greater segregation from the world.

From here, the author bridges into a basic review of sociolinguisticscholarship, defining and explaining concepts of social identity, negotiatingidentities, and fluidity and rheosis (which the author defines as facility inswitching identities, discourses, etc., and the ability to negotiate socialcapital, as well as the skills used to develop and employ fluid identities,respectively). He then discusses issues of native vs. nonnative speakereducators, exposing the racial and imperial assumptions behind the Englishlanguage industry preferences in South Korea for native speaker “models,” andproposes that “‘native’ speaker teachers without effective professionaldevelopment have qualifications insufficient to develop language competence inSouth Korean students” (p. 72). The inequalities in language education arediscussed in terms of power relationships between speakers (native and non)and the notion that the English competence that South Koreans seek is actuallythat of White, upper-class Americans, thus privileging certain learners andinstructors over others. The chapter ends with notes on the transfer ofsociocultural frameworks and identity negotiation during communication, payingspecial attention to the impact of cross-cultural classroom behaviors whichwill impact interaction and identity management.

Chapter 3 surveys how language teaching is conducted currently in theNortheast Asian educational context. The author starts with thesociolinguistic context, noting the effects of the U.S. occupation andglobalist policies which have raised the profile of the English language, andhas created a large demand for its instruction, and English ability has becomea type of class marker in South Korea. The author presents the traditionallanguage pedagogies of South Korea; much like in the rest of Northeast Asia,rote memorization, drilling, and grammar-translation are the rule. He thenpresents the outside influences on language education, and why modern, Westernpedagogies have largely failed to be adapted. He details, step-by-step, thelearning styles and strategies of East Asian students before detailing thestruggles more specific to Korean students of English. He argues that theprimacy of transmission approaches, combined with the inefficiencies ofmaterials designed for different educational milieus, as well as other factorsact to limit students’ abilities to form communities of practice. Turning toeducators in South Korea, he reiterates the common complaints that manyeducators simply lack the requisite skills, and will often fall back ontraditional pedagogies in order mask shortfalls in language competency. Theperceived inefficiencies of the public education system has sparked a massiveprivate instruction and testing industry, described in detail, which hasexacerbated the role of English ability as a class marker in modern SouthKorean society. The author describes the counterproductive effects as languagetesting has become a de facto goal in and of itself, and also how the privatemarket has responded to demand by importing Western instructors en masse. Thishas had questionable effects on students’ progress for, while these teachersoften have a full command of the language, they are, more often than not,wholly ignorant of the socio-educational dynamics in South Korea which canmake their attempts to employ modern (Western) pedagogies exercises infrustration. The author suggests that “providing appropriate pedagogicaleducation for these foreign educators to acculturate to and incorporate localstyles: all stake holders would greatly benefit from this” (p. 120). Thus theauthor has set up the problem in South Korean language education: moderninteractive pedagogies seem to be at odds with South Korean educationalculture, and thus are met with strong resistance. As such, he sets up the needfor the socio-educational culture to make a directed transition to a pointwherein students can productively employ modern pedagogies.

Chapter 4 presents a quick but broad overview of Sociocultural Theory toestablish the foundation and define the terms employed when presenting theauthor’s own theoretical framework. The chapter defines such concepts asimitation, lower/higher-order mental functions, genetic development,artifacts/tools/signs, mediation, scaffolding, the zone of proximaldevelopment (ZPD), and social constructionism.

The author begins to delve into the specifics of his proposal in chapter 5,however he is still focused on giving the background necessary to ground theproposed Transition Theory in theory. As such, the chapter is enormous, andlargely covers review of theory. He reviews the critical concepts ofcompetences; communicative strategies, including cognitive strategies, input,output, repetition, inculcation, and imitation; social strategies, delvinginto issues such as ecological approaches, student agency and autonomy,teacher roles, and group dynamics; affective strategies with the relatedfactors of motivation, anxiety, self-esteem, and communicative willingness;and pedagogical strategies, examining a broad range of pedagogical theories,from task-based to form-based to content and context-based. Throughout, hepresents relevant examples from the South Korean student population to buildthe case that (most) South Korean students are unable to effectively employlearning strategies in L2 acquisition. They are often stymied by culturalfactors which perceive the L2 as a threat to L1 identity, raising anxiety andlowering willingness to learn, as well as by foreign pedagogical methodologieswhich do not consider the students’ educational context, and thus their defacto default learning strategies, and are often rejected for their lack ofrelevancy. The author then argues for both teaching through SocioculturalTheory and for using sociocultural theories as content, and he thereby sets upthe need for pedagogical theory which will help the students to bridge fromtheir traditional pedagogies to that which would help them to better leveragetheir competencies toward the task of learning English.

After thoroughly covering theory, the author finally in chapter 6 lays out theframework for the proposed Transition Model and Theory. The theory is designedto leverage the learning styles which students have already mastered, and viaa step-by-step incremental process, enable students to stretch their skillsuntil they can participate in and benefit from alternative/foreign pedagogies,and ultimately to be able to facilely negotiate their L2 identities. As theauthor states, this transition “constitutes a gradual paradigm shift withinthe individual … through transition, individuals develop knowledge of, andincreasingly accept, their own enculturations, for without drawing from theirown enculturations, negotiation becomes problematic at some points” (p. 250).The Transition Model can be briefly delineated as a set of 11 step-orderedstrategies composed of types of transition. These steps are: 1) task hierarchytransition; 2) group hierarchy transition; 3) affective transition; 4)pedagogical transition; 5) societal and cultural transition; 6) transitionthrough teacher pivoting; 7) top-down transition; 8) transition throughmultiple texts; 9) transitional modernities; 10) ecological modernity; 11)transition of self. Each of these strategies is fully explained in its ownsection. The author asserts the model as having potential global applicationin its ability to facilitate development of language competence, especially inareas where social, cultural, or educational factors can inhibit students’productive negotiation of identity and membership in the language communities.“The model and theory thus respond to a highly significant need for resolutionto a problem not only pertinent to South Korea, but globally. South Korea isonly one of the many (countless) regions requiring transition…” (p. 300).

Chapter 7, the final chapter, briefly revisits the ideas of the TransitionTheory and gives the author the opportunity to make a final appeal to thepotential effect of the theory in allowing students to get beyond traditionalpedagogies which effectively preclude interaction during English classes. Inthe author’s words, the model “bridges and integrates a series ofsociocultural factors, through which groups such as South Koreans can developa facility with and adroitness in identity selection, giving themselvesstronger leverage to move into more powerful communities” (pp. 302-303).

EVALUATIONEnglish-Language Pedagogies for a Northeast Asian Context was written as ascholarly monograph for fellow scholars involved in research on languagepedagogy in East Asia. The prose is extremely dense and scholarly in tone, andas such, would be of no real interest to anyone outside of academia, but thethorough theoretical grounding and review of up-to-date literature on thetopic would make this text to be of considerable interest to any sociolinguistand especially to adherents of Sociocultural Theory.

In general, I found the proposed model entirely convincing. The basic idea ofachieving a practical transition to increase L2 pedagogical relevance to EastAsian students is not new by any means. Full disclosure: I’ve advocatedsimilar ideas myself, and I’ve heard the like from other theorists for manyyears. Where the author is, I believe, breaking new ground, however, is theextent to which he takes the idea of transition. Most of calls forbridging/stretching strategies for East Asian students I have seen (and made)over the years have been focused purely on issues of specific pedagogicalmethodologies. Hadzantonis takes this concept and expands it into anover-arching model which accomplishes far more than simply enabling studentsto better understand and to participate in Western-model classroom activities.The model proposed engages students at both the societal and personal level toactively engage in identity negotiation which will enable higher levels ofstudent agency and autonomy and ultimately allow them to achieve fullmembership in the L2 community. The comprehensive way in which Hadzantonisalso manages to tie the proposal in to relevant sociocultural theories alsoserves to differentiate this monograph as offering something new, relevant,and useful to the field.

While the premise of the text is sound and the sourcing so abundant and solidthat it is nigh impossible to criticize the theory itself, I am not without acouple of minor critiques. First, the title and the claims of application to abroader Northeast Asian educational context are only in the narrowest sensesupported by the text, as it relies almost entirely on evidence from the SouthKorean context. While this is a minor quibble and I suspect the proposed modelwould still prove largely valid in Japanese or Chinese contexts, still much ofthe evidence marshaled in building the theoretical case was specific to SouthKorean historical and cultural matters. It would be tenuous at best touncritically apply the lessons of the ethnology reported to other regionswithout a similar intensive look at the social, cultural, and educationalforces which have shaped those milieus, and thus armed to be able to makeadaptations to the model as needed. It is my hope that regional scholars willtake the ideas proffered in this monograph and seek to apply the model toother regions and cultures. My second critique is simply a question ofdissemination. The value of the Transition Model will only be realized uponimplementation, but given the dense prose and the intended audience of thistext, the monograph itself cannot act as a vehicle for changing educationalpractices in South Korea. Simply put, general educational practitioners areunlikely to ever come across, let alone read, this book, even though theywould derive the most benefit from the ideas therein. I would thus implore theauthor (or other interested academics) to consider distilling concepts withinthe Transition Model to be presented in a more general audience teachingmethodology primer (such as those used in undergraduate teacher educationbooks).

In summary, if you are interested in sociocultural theories or second languagepedagogy issues in East Asia, English-Language Pedagogies for a NortheastAsian Context will give you a lot of new ideas to consider. I look forward tothis model entering into discussions about language education in East Asia.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERClay Williams is an assistant professor in the graduate English LanguageTeaching Practices department of Akita International University. His primaryareas of research include cross-script effects on L2 literacy development,lexical access in non-alphabetic script reading, and adapting L2 teachingmethodologies to East Asian classroom contexts.

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