Melinda Whong: Language Teaching

 This book has recently been brought to my attention when I was struggling (I still am, but armed with more input) with trying to grasp why Generative Grammar and Cognitive Linguistics are so irreconcilable. I do understand the fundamental difference of focus on grammar as a system; seeing language as separate from other kinds of knowledge; and seeing it as innate on the one hand, as opposed to focussing on lexis/chunks/a continuum of grammar and lexis with grammar as ‘representations’ and not rules; seeing grammar as part of cognition of any kind; and as emergent over time with no innate disposition on the other hand.

Melinda Whong’s book “Language Teaching: Linguistic Theory in Practice” has been tremendously helpful for me to understand those differences. So far, I have read about a third of it, and I find it highly accessible (though by no means simplistic), it is easy enough to read while still being “academic”, and for me it presents difficult concepts in exactly the right balance of overview and detail. 
The first chapter opens up the general questions of the book and presents different views of what language is and how it might be acquired. Key concepts like UG, CL, metalinguistic knowledge, interlanguage, error vs mistake are introduced within the narrative, and they are repeated in subsequent chapters in such a way that the reader is reminded of the concept in case he forgot, but not sounding like unnecessary repetition. The chapter ends with a preview of possible practical implications for the classroom, to be explored later in the book.
The second chapter, “Historical Overview – Language and Language Teaching”, was one that I initially wanted to skip, since in the past few weeks I had had several overviews of methods and their progression from one to the other – I don’t know why I didn’t skip it, probably because I couldn’t be bothered to find the beginning of the next chapter and just read on. I am glad I did! This overview describes the use of languages and foreign language learning within its time, be this pre-1500 England, post-1500 England and France, the 1800s or the first part of the 20th century. Each of these descriptions of language use is linked to how language was taught at the time and how this was influenced by views on what language is; parallel to this,the development of the discipline of linguistics is traced. This is done in less than 20 pages, so at no point does it feel like a dull “Historical Overview”. 
The third chapter begins with the development of different theories in Generative Grammar, from the various versions of Standard Theory to Principles and Parameters and then Minimalism. It then briefly touches how L1 acquisition is viewed within that framework, before devoting most of the chapter to discussing possible implications of “language as a biological property” (the title of the chapter) for second language development. I have yet to read that part but I am sure it will be illuminative. 
I would like to highlight again that reading this book helped me put loose ends together; it is a great overview of theoretical concepts that we have touched in the module “Second Language Acquisition: Perspectives for Teachers”, and I only wish that I had started reading it earlier in the course. 

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