Teaching a Foreign Language

Penny Ur characterizes the process of teaching a foreign language as “a complex one, which has to be broken down into components for purpose of study. There are the teaching acts of presenting and explaining new material, providing practice and testing. In the classroom, it is the teacher’s job to promote these three learning processes by the use of appropriate teaching acts.

Thus, the teacher presents and explains new material in order to make it clear, comprehensible and available for learning; gives practice to consolidate knowledge; and tests, in order to check what has been mastered and what still needs to be learned or reviewed.

But this isn’t the only way people learn a language in the classroom because they may absorb new material unconsciously, or semi – consciously, through exposure to comprehensible and personally meaningful speech or writing, without any purposeful teacher mediation.” The word “meaning” is defined in The Oxford Dictionary for Advanced Learners as “the ideas that a writer, artist, etc. wishes to communicate through a book, painting, etc.; sense or significance”.

On the contrary, some scholars make difference between “message” and “meaning”, describing message as what the writer wants the reader to think and feel, and describing meaning as the entire meaning of a text, comprising all denotative and connotative meanings however, it is evident the fact that words don’t have meanings in isolation and that their meaning depends on the meanings of other words. As we all know, each language depends on words and sentences having meaning: each word and each sentence is associated with at least one meaning. The sentences: “Mice chase cats.” and “Cats chase mice.” don’t have the same meaning even if the words in every sentence are similar.

Undoubtedly, word-order can change meaning, but not always. E.g. “ I had hardly gone out when the phone rang.” and “Hardly had I gone out when the phone rang.” Even if this pair of sentences has identical words which are written in a different order, the sentences do not differ in meaning; in other words, we are dealing with a two-way relation, the interpretation a sentence is given relies on the interpretation of the words in that sentence. Stylistics is considered a method of analyzing works of literature offering an “objective” or “scientific” analysis of literary excerpts. Stylistic analysis uses the objective analysis to find and explain the meanings of the text because there isn’t only one interpretation of the text as there are three key aspects when analyzing a text: the language itself, the context and what you bring to a text (your own experience). Stylistics refers to the study of style and one of the essential aims within stylistic analysis is to attempt to understand the relationship between the literary excerpt, on the one hand, and how we understand it , and have an effect upon us, on the other hand. As we go through a literary text we have to analyse linguistic structure at different levels (e. g.: grammar, vocabulary, sounds) in order to understand the text and the relations between the sentences.

Clearly, to understand the sentence entirely we must see it in its contexts because the meaning comes from the text. Even if we differ from one another yet we, as readers, often agree over what a certain text means although this may not be the only possible interpretation of the text but there may be more meanings. Thus, stylistic analysis should help the reader to become more aware of the processes of interpretation. Linguistics is the scientific study of languages whereas stylistic is “a method of applied language study which uses textual analysis to make discoveries about the structure and function of language.”

Indeed, it is not possible to name and find any linguistic characteristics that will give a literary feature on a text because it is very hard to make a difference between literature and language.” “Literary” is a feature given to a text which does not take into account what they are but what they do. If you want to understand what a word means, you must have in view at least four aspects.

Firstly, the fact that meanings change with time and it isn’t easy to keep up with the meanings of a word nowadays. Secondly, the meaning of a word should be seen in connection with the context in which it is used. What is more, the cultural differences can influence the meaning of a word. Also, a pair of words in English may seem to have identical meanings. For example, “child” and “kid” mean the same thing but there are different degrees of formality which each word expresses so, they are not quite identical. Semantics is the study of meanings and the study of meaning comprises units of language from words up to clauses and sentences. An idiom is generally made up of many words but it has only one meaning. For example, in the expression “it is raining cats and dogs”, the words “cats” and “dogs” have different meanings in most contexts but their individual meanings are completely changed within this idiom. In short, it is not the individual meaning of words but the whole expression “it is raining cats and dogs” which gives the meaning “to rain heavily”.

It is also worth noting that “texts always exist in a context, generally a context in which they are presented by the author or performer to an audience. That is, the text is always contextualized as part of verbal behavior in a particular situation with particular participants.” Cohesion is realized when the sentences cohere to make a meaningful text. “Coherence” is based on the semantic unity by which the reader or listener notice that sentences fit together. In other words, cohesion is the grammatical and lexical connection within a given text, the links that put a text together and convey its meanings.

Students should be taught to recognize the linking words which create textual cohesion because a text is not made up of independent sentences or words, but it is a web of connected words and, from the very beginning, students should be able to recognize these markers which can unveil the real meaning of the literary texts. In order to recognize these connectors, which will make students better understand the development of the plot in a literary text, teachers can propose some exercises such as: identifying the function of the connectors and finding equivalents; use appropriate linking words/ phrases from the theory box above to complete the sentences; underline the correct linking word/ phrase; replace the linking words with alternatives; use linking words/phrases to complete the main body paragraphs below with the arguments and justifications; complete the text with the missing connectors; change a list of statements and propositions into a coherent text by connecting sentences and adding linking words.

According to Bakhtin’s theories the forms and meanings of language are continuously shaped by history and culture and all languages offer a different point of view on the world, defined by its own meanings and values. Denotation: ”The meaning of a word is primarily what it refers to in the real world, its denotation.” For example, the denotation of the word mouse is a small animal that is covered in fur and has a long thin tail. Polysemy: Words can have many different meanings: in fact, one word in English often has more than one denotation. This phenomenon is called polysemy. The word issue, for instance, refers to a subject that people discuss or argue about, but it also refers to a magazine that is published at a particular time. To solve this problem of polysemy, students need to see and practise words in context, since it is the context that allows them to understand the meaning of a word, finding one word to fit all the gaps in a set of sentences which illustrate a range of meanings of a polysemous word.

Connotation, on the other hand, refers to “the associations, or positive or negative feelings it evokes, which may or may not be indicated in a dictionary definition.” This means that words can suggest different things depending on the context they occur in. A learner who fails to understand the connotation of a word will probably fail to get the message of the text.

Another important aspect to consider is sociocultural context which refers to the fact that the language used by a sociocultural group is closely connected with its values, attitudes and beliefs. Consequently, learning a language involves understanding and interpreting the culture of which it is part. It is important, therefore, for students to develop the ability to interpret texts from perspectives other than their own.

Ur, Penny, (2003), A Course in Language Teaching, Cambridge University Press, p. 202.
Simpson Paul, (1997), Language through literature, Routledge London and New York, p. 33.
Fabb Nigel, (1997), Linguistics and Literature, Blackwell Publishers Inc. , p. 15.


prof. Andreea Urzică

Liceul Teoretic Spiru Haret, Moinești (Bacău) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/andreea.urzica

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