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Review of Dialogue With Bakhtin on Second and Foreign Language Learning
EDITORS: Hall, Joan Kelly; Vitanova, Gergana; Marchenkova, Ludmila A. TITLE: Dialogue With Bakhtin on Second and Foreign Language Learning SUBTITLE: New Perspectives PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates YEAR: 2005
Carmen Pinilla-Padilla, PhD, is an English as a Foreign Language teacher and teacher educator and currently director of the Centro de Formación, Innovación y Recursos Educativos, Torrent-Spain.
DESCRIPTION OF PURPOSE AND CONTENTS
The purpose of this edited collection of papers by different authors is to explore links between the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin's ideas and second or foreign language learning. While Bakhtin has traditionally been seen as a literary critic, chapters in this book collect the ideas of scholars that see how Bakhtinian genres and rhetorical theory can be relevant and applied to second and foreign language education. The book addresses a variety of formal and informal educational contexts including elementary and university-level second or foreign language classrooms.
In the introduction to the book, before offering an overview of the chapters, the editors describe how interest of scholars in second and foreign language learning is shifting. They place that shift on a move from looking to the field of linguistics and psycholinguistics for its epistemological foundations to other disciplines in second and foreign language learning and explain how such is the case when looking into Mikhail Bakhtin. His understanding of language from his perspective as literary theorist in particular is relevant to second and foreign language learning for his conceptualization of the utterance as a socially constructed communicative act, locating learning in social interaction rather than within the individual learner, understanding learning as a product of a dialogical process.
The volume is arranged into two parts. Part I, ''Investigations into contexts of language learning and teaching'', presents seven chapters that report on investigations into specific contexts of language learning and teaching. Part II presents three chapters in which, according to the editors (p. 6), broader discussions on second and foreign language learning using Bakhtin's ideas as a springboard for thinking are presented.
Chapter 1 presents an introduction to the volume written by the editors with a brief description of all the chapters included in the book.
In Chapter 2, ''Mastering academic English: international graduate students' use of dialogue and speech genres to meet the writing demands of graduate school'', Dr. Karen Braxley organizes the chapter into two parts. She first presents a review of the concepts of dialogism and speech genres in relation to their relevance for learning English. The second part reports a study carried out with the purpose of analyzing how interaction enhances international graduate students learning to write the genres of academic English of their academic fields. The conclusion derived from the findings in the study reveals that dialogue, as proposed by Bakhtin, is basic for the negotiation of academic genres development.
Chapter 3, ''Multimodal re-representations of self and meaning for second language learners in English-dominant classrooms'', presents a study, based on both Bahktin and Vygostky's views, about how two novice learners of English as a second language in an English- dominant-third-grade classroom reorganize and develop semiotic tools such as drawings, block patterns and ornate designs in order to being able to access the social life in the classroom and hence to the learning of English.
Chapter 4, ''Dialogic investigations: cultural artifacts in ESOL composition classes'', reports a study in which foreign students learning English in the United States are given the tasks of analyzing and responding to a series of bumper stickers of their choice in the form of essays and letters to the owner of the bumper sticker. These compositions are interpreted in Jeffrey Lee Orr's study to reveal the dialogic process between the students with their schemata and the bumper stickers as utterances.
Chapter 5, ''Local creativity in the face of global domination: insights of Bakhtin for teaching English for dialogic communication'', analyzes and compares two examples of discourse analysis of contrasting video recorded classroom interactions in two English lessons in different secondary schools in Hong Kong. Their conclusion is that the introduction and use of local linguistic styles and social languages in teaching English at second language settings may enhance communication and generate more creative situations in the classroom therefore favoring the development of critical linguistic awareness about English and the expansion of different social languages in English.
Chapter 6, ''Metalinguistic awareness in dialogue: Bakhtinian considerations'', deals with the development of metalinguistic awareness as a social, and not only individual, cognitive process and present an ongoing study of a small group of Finnish children learning English. The study shows how metalinguistic awareness is developed and transferred from the polyphony generated by the multiple social and linguistic situations the children are engaged in.
Chapter 7, ''Uh uh no hapana: intersubjectivity, meaning and the self'', starts by presenting a strong theoretical framework relaying on Bakhtin, Voloshinov and Vygostky's theories. We are then offered a thorough description of the methodology used in the analysis of the discourse and dialogic activity between two novice learners of Swahili, rooted in dialogism, intersubjectivity and meaning. In her study, Elizabeth Platt describes how, through completing an information gap activity, the two learners show clearly different learning strategies and how one of the learners develops a greater self confidence as a language learner as a result of negotiating and the process of completing the task dialogically.
Chapter 8, ''Authoring the self in non-native language: a dialogic approach to agency and subjectivity'', illustrates the concept of voice, consciousness and answerability by analyzing how three eastern European adult immigrants author themselves by acting as agents in narrative discourse. Gergana Vitanova presents a study grounded on Bakhtin's conceptualization of language, self and authoring, which she describes together with a sketch of humanistic and poststructuralist schools of thought and how they have influenced second language research through their concept of self. Vitanova provides a very rich in details chapter and crystal clear examples of the Bakhtinian concept of dialogue.
PART II, Implications for theory and practice, comprises three chapters.
Chapter 9, Language, culture and self: the Bakhtin-Vygosty encounter, offers a rich description of the common grounds where the theories by the two scholars meet in order to provide a framework for second language pedagogy. Ludmila Marchenkova articulates the chapter around the three interrelated areas of the notion of language, the role of culture in the developing of intercultural understanding and the formation of self and the role of the other in this process.
Chapter 10, Dialogical imagination of (inter)cultural spaces: rethinking the semiotic ecology of second language and literacy learning, by Alex Kostogriz, advocates for the generation of a thirdspace pedagogy of second language literacy. In this space, the dimensions in the organization of literacy learning environments are redesigned and reorganized to shift from the currently dominating cultural binarism in education to the configuration of another, new, recreated thirdspace. Kostogriz basis his idea on three spheres of classroom practices: material-semiotic, intellectual and discursive. He argues for a socially constructed learning (third)space where multiple voices need not compete to be heard and understood but rather participate in a truly intercultural dialogue.
Chapter 11, Japanese business telephone conversations as Bakhtinian speech genre: applications for second language acquisition, explores how language learners' pragmatic competence in Japanese may be developed by using the genre of Japanese business conversations in teaching and proposes that authentic conversations used for learning interactional strategies in Japanese will be preferred by second and foreign language students. Lindsay Amthor Yotsukura also explores the notion of addressivity in Bakhtin to explore students' design of appropriate productions for their audiences.
The different chapters are written by scholars from around the Globe who work on diverse educational settings and have a wide array of linguistic and educational specializations and research interests that coincide on regarding Bakhtin's theories an enriching source of ideas, therefore, the book itself is polyglossic in nature and it gathers the dialogic relationship between the researchers and Bakhtin's utterances, a relationship that gives place to these persuasive chapters where we are offered a sensible understanding of ways to build bridges between our existing practices and our practices-to-be.
Hard as it may be to put together different authors' works on a cohesive single piece of writing, the editors have managed to organize them coherently in an interesting book around the richness and interest of the Bakhtin's Circle works for language teachers. In spite of that, the division of the material in two parts is not so evident because all of the chapters offer case studies and different research strategies and experiences and all of them offer ideas for further thinking and suggestions for exploration. In fact, although not strictly necessary, because the purpose of the book to explore links between Bakhtin's ideas and second or foreign language learning is fully achieved, but bearing in mind that second and foreign language educators are only recently looking into their practice under the light of Bakhtin's ideas, it might be of interest for those not acquainted with Bakhtin's ideas to read Chapters 8, 9 and 10 after the Introduction and before the other chapters instead of reading the book as it is because they offer a deep, critical overview of Bakhtin in his historical context and his relationship with Vygostkian views. It is in that sense that it might have been adequate for the introduction to offer a wider presentation of Bakhtin and his world. Also in relation with the structuring of the book, it could be argued that Chapter 11 is quite more similar in structure and type of contents to chapters in the first part of the book than to those included in the second.
Nonetheless, as every chapter shows meditated and referenced explanations of the different authors' interpretations and a specific approach to second and foreign language learning from a particular perspective towards Bakhtinian thought, global understanding is facilitated even to those novices to Bakhtin from the beginning of the book.
Quite relevant to practitioners of the Global English teaching trend is Chapter 5, that proposes teaching English for dialogic communication to ''heteroglossize English and to change English from an authoritative discourse to internally persuasive discourse to the students'' (p. 95). The dimensions of teaching English as a global language are evident in this piece of work and only four chapters (5, 7, 8 and 11) are not devoted to studies in English as a second or foreign language learning settings.
Just a little note about the introductory chapter where the book description of the editors may be confusing because it misplaces the numbers of the chapters; this introduction is actually chapter 1, whereas chapter 1 in the introduction actually refers to chapter 2 of the book. Therefore, the numbering coincides with that in the Introduction only from chapter 7 onwards. This may probably be because the editors wrote it not thinking it would be regarded as a chapter of the book.
Notwithstanding, the significance of this compilation is undeniable for linguists who are interested in Bakhtin and Vygostky and how to apply their theories to language learning and therefore the volume should be of interest to scholars coming from the field of Applied Linguistics but especially form the Language Acquisition subfield.
The variety of voices in this collection brings to life the dialogical nature of communication, the book shows the dialogue among the authors and Bakhtin's and it prompts our very dialogue with them through the reading and interpretation of their texts and of course our future dialogue with Bakhtin.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Carmen Pinilla-Padilla has experience teaching in Primary and Secondary schools and University levels. She obtained her PhD from the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain, where she participates in courses at doctorate level; she also collaborates as tutor for students of English Philology at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia in Valencia. Her research interests center on collaborative learning, computer-mediated-communication and interaction in language learning.