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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Review of Handbook of Foreign Language Communication and Learning
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 problems. 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 section 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 foreign 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, looking 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 knowledge 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 immersion.
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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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.