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Review of  An Introduction to Foreign Language Learning and Teaching


Reviewer: Suzanne Scott
Book Title: An Introduction to Foreign Language Learning and Teaching
Book Author: Keith Johnson
Publisher:
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Book Announcement: 12.2701

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Review:

Johnson, Keith (2001) An Introduction to Foreign Language
Learning and Teaching. Longman, ix+336pp, paperback ISBN
0-582-29086-4, GBP 27.99, Learning about Language series

Suzanne Scott, University of Otago

BRIEF DESCRIPTION
Keith Johnson's An Introduction to Foreign Language
Learning and Teaching (LINGUIST LIST 12.782) is written for
students just beginning study of the fields of language
learning and language teaching. The book addresses a wide
range of issues, from background information about what
language learning entails, to the processes learners
undergo, to techniques to use while teaching language.
Throughout, Johnson illustrates his points with detailed
examples, and provides discussion points for students to
consider.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION
Part I, Background, contains three chapters. The first
chapter briefly explains the importance of learning
additional languages, provides glimpses of five learners
learning via five methods, and then closes with an outline
of the book. Chapter 2 explains the basics of what it
means to learn a language. Johnson discusses systemic
competence (pronunciation, morphemes, syntax, vocabulary),
sociolinguistic competence, and strategic competence.

Chapter 3 introduces a history of language learning,
outlining structural linguistics, behaviourism,
transformational linguistics, and mentalist learning
theory. Johnson then discusses the "sociolinguistic
revolution" in language learning, marking a shift in
interest towards language in use and communicative
competence.

Part II, Learning, contains six chapters. Chapter 4
examines the role of errors arising from the L1, and at
Contrastive Analysis. Johnson also looks at errors which
are not the result of L1 transfer. A brief discussion of
Dulay and Burt's creative construction hypothesis follows.
The chapter closes by considering the morpheme acquisition
studies.

Chapter 5 first explains the learning/acquisition
distinction, and then explores acquisition. Johnson notes
characteristics of language input, and five "interesting
characteristics" of the output of language acquirers (e.g.:
learner language is 'simplified' language). In Chapter 6,
Johnson examines three theories of acquisition, which he
labels Krashen's Input Theory, Output and Interaction, and
Schumann's Acculturation Theory.

Chapter 7 focuses on recent theories of learning. Johnson
explains declarative and procedural knowledge,
automization, and restructuring. Referencing his 1996
book, Johnson discusses two pathways to mastering
languages, examining two sequences for moving between
declarative and procedural knowledge, which he calls
DECPRO, or the Learning Pathway, and moving from procedural
to declarative knowledge, which he calls PRODEC, or the
Acquisition Pathway.

Chapter 8 looks at individual differences in language
learning. He looks at the cognitive variables of
intelligence and aptitude, and the affective variables of
motivation and attitude. In this chapter, Johnson points
out difficulties with measuring such constructs, and
provides short examples of tests or measurements, such as
the Modern Language Aptitude Test.

Chapter 9 begins by focusing on the personality variables
of extroversion and introversion, tolerance of ambiguity,
empathy/ego permeability and sensitivity to rejection,
field dependence and independence. The chapter then
discusses the good language learner studies of the 1970s,
and closes with a short discussion of learning strategies.

Part III, Teaching, also has six chapters. Chapter 10 is
entitled "Language teaching: A brisk walk through recent
times." In this chapter, Johnson introduces a number of
methods and syllabi types. Johnson first proposes six
questions one should ask about a method. He then explains
the Grammar-Translation Method, the Direct Method, and
Audio-lingualism. Situational and audio-visual language
teaching, notional/functional communicative syllabi, and
humanistic approaches to language teaching (The Silent Way,
Community Language Learning, Total Physical Response, and
Suggestopedia) are also outlined. The chapter closes with
sections on procedural syllabi and task-based teaching.

Chapter 11, Contexts, examines the role of language
planners. Noting that language teaching is a political
act, Johnson considers some of the questions language
planners must ask themselves, looking at a range of
contextual issues, from the micro to the macro level. The
chapter concludes by noting that teachers must recognize
that the methods they prefer may not match local contextual
norms.

Chapter 12, Plans, looks at the planning of specific
programs, focusing on syllabus design, and particularly on
structural and notional functional syllabi. As he does
throughout the text, Johnson provides examples and
activities for students. For example, he replicates the
tables of contents of ESL texts, and has students work on
deciphering which syllabi types are being followed.
Criteria for ordering structural syllabi are suggested, as
well as problems which may arise. Johnson provides a
version of the Council of Europe's needs analysis model and
explains Van Ek's Threshold Level as one means of devising
a notional-functional syllabus.

"Ways and means" is the title of Chapter 13. Here, Johnson
discusses declarativization, how teachers show learners how
language works, which Johnson calls "conveying language,"
and proceduralization, or practicing language. He
highlights characteristics needed to do either process
well, and outlines techniques teachers may use. Johnson
notes differences between drills and "the real-thing
practice." The chapter closes with a discussion of the
commonly used "PPP" activity sequence: presentation,
practice, and production, and suggests considering
Brumfit's (1979) reversal of these processes, such that
students are placed in situations requiring production,
with presentation and practice of needed structures coming
later.

Chapter 14 discusses the skills of reading and writing, but
notes the interrelationship of skills, such that listening
activities can be readily adapted to be reading activities,
and vice versa, as can writing and speaking activities be
adapted from each other. Johnson notes bottom-up and top-
down reading processes, highlighting problems in accounting
for how people read texts. He introduces a number of
teaching activities.

Chapter 15, Tests, provides a brief overview of types of
tests (achievement, diagnostic, proficiency, and placement)
and of some key areas of concern in the field of testing.
Psychometric testing, integrative testing, and
communicative testing are each discussed. Four
characteristics of a good test are discussed: validity,
reliability, discrimination, and feasibility, as is the
concept of sampling. The chapter, and book, close with a
very brief discussion of issues and techniques for testing
skills.

EVALUATION
Longman's announcement of this text at
http://linguistlist.org/issues/12/12-782.html
states that it is "an engaging, student-friendly
guide to the fields of foreign language learning and
teaching," and with this I would wholeheartedly concur.
The text is easy to read, maintaining an amiable tone
throughout, a result, no doubt, of the fact that much of
the material originated from talks delivered to students.
If you offer an undergraduate course which covers the
topics of SLA, language teaching methods, and syllabus
design, this is a book to consider adopting.

Throughout the book, Johnson elaborates on issues by
providing detailed examples in boxes which accompany the
body of his text. Contrastive Analysis, for example, is
illustrated with a box comparing English and Polish
personal pronouns. Many teaching techniques are similarly
conveyed. Johnson also provides (in tinted boxes) numerous
activities and questions for students to consider as he
introduces concepts. The boxes add greatly to the text,
filling in useful information, and provoking students to
make connections between ideas. Reading the book, one can
imagine that Johnson is a teacher well skilled in
conveying ideas with clarity and ease. Academic staff who
are new to teaching this subject (and even old hands) will
find innumerable well-explained examples to use in their
lectures.

I have two reservations about the text. The first, a minor
point, deals with terminology. There are a number of
places where commonly known terms in the field are modified
or changed. In one instance, Johnson provides an analogy
comparing language drills to practicing scales on the
piano. Then, for the balance of the chapter, he refers to
drills as "scales." Elsewhere, Johnson calls Krashen's
Monitor Model "Krashen's Input Theory," and Schumann's
Acculturation Hypothesis "Schumann's Acculturation Theory"
(acknowledging in a footnote that, for the purpose of
avoiding confusion, he has modified the names). In
another example, Johnson uses the term "conveying language"
to refer to ways of showing students how language works.
This, he states, "may seem a curious term, and is not one
generally used in the literature" (p. 236). Nonetheless,
he uses it throughout the chapter. That Johnson, a co-
editor of the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Applied
Linguistics (1998), and thus someone familiar with the
plethora of terms in our field, would use these non-
standard terms surprised me, as I would think this practice
would add to beginning students' confusion, rather than
alleviate it. Such students already have plenty of terms
to learn; furthermore, if they continue in the field, they
will need to learn the commonly used term.

My second reservation deals with coverage. The book does an
admirable job of presenting an overview of the fields of
language learning and teaching for an undergraduate
audience, especially with earlier historical information.
But I'm left with a sense of students not being brought as
up-to-date as I would hope (as much as one can be in our
fast-changing field), and of coverage not being as even as
I might desire, even for an introductory text. A few
examples might illustrate this point. UG warrants a single
sentence. Sociolinguistics is mentioned, but sociocultural
theory is not. In the section on teaching skills,
discussion of listening is minimal.

Undoubtedly, it is inevitable that some topics will be
omitted or given short coverage in any text, and perhaps
particularly so in a book with so wide a focus-on learning
and teaching languages-and for a beginning audience. In
fact, Johnson closes his book by stating that "now [that]
it is time to stop [writing], I am aware only of what [the
book] has not covered. Hopefully you will be sufficiently
stimulated by what it contains to find out for yourself
about what it does not contain" (p. 312). Despite this
plea, I did find myself wishing that this talented author
had spent less space, for example, on Krashen, and more
telling students in his lucid, easy prose, what was new in
the field.

REFERENCES
Johnson, Keith. (1998) Language teaching and skill
learning. Oxford: Blackwell.

Johnson, Keith, and Johnson, Helen. (Eds.) (1996)
Encyclopedic dictionary of applied linguistics. Oxford:
Blackwell.

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Suzanne Scott is a Lecturer in Linguistics at the
University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. She teaches
courses in language teacher education, including
sociolinguistics. Her current research projects
investigate two different areas: adult acquisition of
Maori, and doctor-patient communication.


 
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