- Applied linguistics in language education by Steven McDonough
Applied linguistics (AL) is a wide and diverse field with a number of different subareas. Applied linguistics in language education by Steven McDonough introduces the reader to those areas within the field that are directly related to language pedagogy. The book consists of twelve chapters which are grouped into four thematic sections entitled ‘What is applied linguistics?’ (Chs. 1–2), ‘Language, linguistics, and teaching’ (Chs. 3–4), ‘Language learning’ (Chs. 5–7), and ‘Applied linguistics and the teaching profession’ (Chs. 8–12).
After a brief general introduction, Section 1 presents an overview of what kind of discipline AL is, how it affects (and how it is affected by) language education, and what it actually means to know a second language. The two chapters stress the interdisciplinarity and mediator position of AL and touch upon problems related to theoretical issues (especially the lack of a ‘grand theory’ of AL) and practical concerns (e.g. data collection).
Section 2 looks at linguistic theories and their applicability in language teaching. Two of the central questions that this section tackles are: What should language practitioners know about linguistics?, and Which developments in linguistic research are relevant for and should be incorporated into teaching? Ch. 3 raises a number of issues in the description of language, such as interlanguage phenomena, grammars, dictionaries, and language comparisons, and discusses the role of description at the sound, word, and sentence levels in language teaching. Ch. 4 focuses on the importance of discourse analysis for language education, thus expanding the issue of linguistic description to a textual or pragmatic level.
Section 3 deals with a central puzzle in AL: How do people learn foreign languages? The three chapters in this section discuss various questions related to this puzzle. While Ch. 5 looks at interlanguage (or learner language) and differences between languages, Ch. 6 centers on cognitive processing in second language acquisition (SLA). Important in this context are a number of factors (e.g. intention, attention, understanding) that influence information processing in the acquisition of reading, talking, listening, and writing skills. Differences between individual learners and the implications these differences may have for SLA theories are the concern of Ch. 7.
The fourth and final section of the book pays particular attention to the teaching profession and presents a number of problems that are relevant mainly for language practitioners but also for applied linguists. The section looks at some crucial issues, such as method and methodology, teacher education and development, the classroom context, and evaluation and testing. For instance, it is discussed how teaching methods differ, in what ways teachers are (and should be) educated, what happens in the classroom, and which problems relate to assessing learners. In the last chapter of the book the author gets back to some central and so-far unresolved issues of AL, such as [End Page 542] the scope of AL or the relationship between research and practice, and stresses the special status of AL as an activity which is theory- and research-based but also very much concerned with practical issues.
It is doubtful whether this book is, as the description on the publisher’s website claims, ‘the most concise overview of current linguistics presently available’, but it certainly provides a useful introduction to the field, offering different perspectives on each of the issues it picks up and leaving the reader with quite some food for thought.