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Review of  Sprachenlernen und Kognition

Reviewer: Franka Kermer
Book Title: Sprachenlernen und Kognition
Book Author: Jörg-Matthias Roche Ferran Suñer
Publisher: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Cognitive Science
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): German
Issue Number: 30.4135

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“Sprachenlernen und Kognition: Grundlagen einer kognitiven Sprachendidaktik”, edited by Jörg Roche and Ferran Suñer, appears in Narr Francke Attempto’s new series of publication Kompendium DaF/DaZ, edited by Jörg Roche. “Sprachenlernen und Kognition: Grundlagen einer kognitiven Sprachdidaktik” is the 1st publication in the series and has the form of a textbook divided into eight chapters, in addition to the introductory chapter, including learning outcomes at the beginning and exercises at the end of each chapter. The collection is primarily prepared by Jörg Roche and Ferran Suñer, but other experts were invited to contribute to the volume: Kees de Bot, Sabine de Knop, Marianne Hepp and Marina Foschi, and Parvaneh Sohrabi. The volume’s main focus is to explore how the framework of cognitive linguistics can be brought to bear on real life issues: the teaching and learning of foreign languages, in this case German. This contribution attempts to bridge the gap between current foreign language teaching techniques and cognitive-oriented frameworks of language. The book is intended for foreign language teachers, students of language pedagogy, applied cognitive linguists and people with an interest in foreign language didactics alike.

Chapter 1, “Sprachenlernen”, introduces the basic notions in a cognitive-oriented model of language, including contemporary views on the relationship between language, thought and culture, the merit of using cognitive-based theories as a basis for grammatical description, as well as the benefit of using cognitive approaches to language as a foundation of pedagogical grammars. It also outlines issues bearing on the language-brain interface, thereby discussing the neural basis of language and issues related to the differences in brain processing of first and second language acquisition. The last section of the chapter discusses differences between various techniques used in neuroimaging, such as structural imaging and functional imaging, which are used to examine brain processing in multilinguals.

In Chapter 2, Roche provides an introduction to the most relevant notions in cognitive linguistics, namely those of concepts, images and schemata. Numerous examples to demonstrate the close relationship between language and imagery that is postulated in cognitive linguistics are also offered. The chapter continues by presenting an insight into two most existential domains of experience, space and time, and their realisation in different languages, as well as a review of one of the most prominent theories within the cognitive framework, cognitive grammar.

The first part of the third chapter (“Konstruktionen und Chunks”), contributed by Sabine de Knop, is intended to introduce the theoretical basis of construction grammar in a precise manner and to recognise that not all constructions are equally relevant when learning a language. The second part of the chapter deals with chunks, learner’s use of chunks and the importance of introducing larger sequences of words to learners in foreign language teaching. It also touches upon the value of teaching constructions in the foreign language classroom by demonstrating how certain verbs in constructions can be taught to learners at less advanced and advanced levels of proficiency.

In Chapter 4, “Das mehrsprachige mentale Lexikon”, Roche attempts to answer questions that address the nature and organisation of our mental lexicon and stages of language processing. In light of these answers, specific tools and strategies for improving vocabulary instruction in the foreign language classroom are presented. Roche makes use of Levelt’s model of speech production to exemplify how language is processed and produced in the speakers’ mind. The chapter continues to show how insights from research on language processing can be utilised for teaching vocabulary. Lastly, this chapter offers an overview of second language vocabulary acquisition, thereby discussing the most relevant stages of vocabulary learning in a foreign language and the pedagogical implications that could be derived from these findings.

Chapter 5, “Text und Textualität”, is devoted to the discussion of the development of second language reading and characteristics of texts by means of contrastive text analysis. The value of relying on so-called hypertext materials in fostering foreign language reading comprehension is supported by various empirical studies presented in this section. A closer look at the text genre hypertext, its advantages and disadvantages for foreign language teaching as well as real-life examples of the applicability of hypertexts in the foreign language classroom is one of the major parts of Chapter 5.

L2-specific aspects of reading comprehension, such as metacognitive reading strategies, are the focal point in Chapter 6 (“Textverarbeitung”). Teaching how to use appropriate strategies to facilitate the development of reading skills among the learners and to think about what happens during the language learning process will lead learners to develop stronger learning skills. After illustrating the factors that distinguish reading comprehension in learners’ L1 and L2, textual macrostructures and their construction and organisation in the processing of text passages are presented. In the last section of Chapter 6, Parvaneh Sohrabi invites the reader to reflect upon their own metacognitive strategies and reading patterns and to make use of these strategies in the language teaching context to not only enhance learners’ reading comprehension skill but also to raise their metacognitive awareness to regulate their own language learning.

Chapter 7, “Multimedialität, Multimodalität und Multikodalität”, aims to offer a discussion of Paivio’s dual coding theory, which assumes that there are two cognitive subsystems, one specialised for the processing of imagery and the other specialised for dealing with language. The second part of the chapter addresses questions of how theories of multimedia learning can be translated into learner-accessible classroom materials in the foreign language context. Furthermore, it is shown how the theoretical prerequisites presented in Chapter 2 can be applied to teach various grammatical phenomena in the foreign language classroom. For example, the author makes use of Langacker’s trajector-landmark differentiation and active zones to exemplify how two-way prepositions in German can be taught by means of pictorial representation.

Finally, Chapter 8, “Kognition und Sprachvermittlung”, addresses the benefit of employing more cognitive-grounded descriptions of grammatical structures in language learning and teaching. In doing so, Roche first outlines the foundation of a cognitive-oriented pedagogical grammar, taking into consideration works that deal with multimedia learning and grammar animations. The chapter also highlights the importance and relevancy of metaphors in language learning and teaching. Lastly, it is shown how principles of cognitive theories to language can enrich teaching practices at every level of proficiency.


In “Sprachenlernen und Kognition: Grundlagen einer kognitiven Sprachendidaktik”, Roche and Suñer attempt to provide an up-to-date view of the ongoing paradigm shift in foreign language education and demonstrate that the use of cognitive linguistics as a basis of pedagogical grammar is one of the changes that fit with this paradigm shift to what is described as applied cognitive linguistics. The volume is an account of innovative ideas of how cognitive approaches to language and current foreign language instruction practices can be intertwined to contribute to implementing change in a holistic way. As the introduction states, it is a valuable contribution and step forward in providing language instructors with teaching concepts that are equally theoretically sound and learner-accessible. The volume is well-organised, and each chapter provides goals, learning outcomes and exercises at the end of each section, and theoretical context in a straightforward manner. It is well-written and concise, with the focus on the most central aspects of the respective topic. Each chapter deals with examples and data on spoken and written German as a foreign language.

“Sprachenlernen und Kognition” makes a significant and valuable contribution to the field for two reasons. First, the structure of the book and the learning outcomes at the beginning and the exercises at the end of each section offer is a great basis for language teacher training studies. This book could be, in one form or another, part of the language teacher training curriculum in universities all around the globe. Second, contributions in the field of applied cognitive linguistics commonly deal with English as a second language, whereas this volume is intended for scholars and language teachers interested in teaching German as a second or foreign language.

At the same time, the authors highlight important contemporary issues at the interface between cognitive linguistics and applied linguistics, such as the following: conceptual transfer, i.e., the transfer of L1-induced concepts to the L2; encyclopedic view of meaning and semantics; conceptual metaphor, which are starting to make their way into teaching materials; dual coding theory, which is compatible with the notion in cognitive linguistics that language is an integral part of cognition, and, lastly, grammar is meaningful, one of the key commitments within the cognitive movement.

The book is, however, not without weaknesses. The first minor criticism concerns the introductory chapter, which could have provided more justification as to why cognitive linguistics is deemed fruitful for foreign language pedagogy. Also, the editors could have referred to other contributions to the field and provide more context with regards to the common ground between cognitive linguistics and applied linguistics. Another minor drawback concerns Chapters One to Three: the accounts on cognitive linguistics, cognitive grammar and construction grammar are well presented if rather densely written overviews of these theoretical frameworks. Particularly, I have a few concerns that language teachers, who most likely are not familiar with these frameworks, cannot relate to the texts and consequently the reading act will be short-circuited. Furthermore, some of the concepts that are introduced as part of sample lesson plans later in the book were not sufficiently explained in previous chapters. For example, Chapter 7 exemplifies how the notion of trajector and landmark can be utilised to teach two-way prepositions in German, but does not provide the background information necessary for the audience to understand the way the trajector/landmark asymmetry relates to the elements in a relational structure. These limitations, however, do not diminish the relevance, validity and value of the book.
Franka Kermer received her Ph.D. in English Language and Culture from the University of Eastern Finland in 2015 with a thesis entitled A Cognitive Grammar Approach to Tense and Aspect Teaching in the L2 Context. Her research interests are primarily concerned with cognitive linguistics, particularly cognitive grammar, and second language acquisition. Her current post-doctoral research focuses on cross-linguistic differences and influence from the perspective of cognitive grammar and cognitive sociolinguistics.