Today I came across an engaging word called metalinguistics. For experienced teachers or those who are in the field of studying languages it is not a tricky word but merely part of their vocabulary. What metalinguistics basically means is the ability to think about language and talk about it. Not so difficult after all!
If you are a teacher then the development of metalinguistic awareness is really a crucial component in that the learner should be able to competently select and discuss the use of process and strategies appropriate to their needs. When a learner obtains metalinguistic awareness they become aware of their listeners and how these listeners affect the choice of language the learner uses. This means the learner uses vocabulary; varies intonation, tone, volume, pace etc.
The learner also becomes aware of social situations and how these affect the language they use. For example the learner is aware of when to speak and when not to speak in a social situation. Or when to ask questions and when not to, and have the awareness of who talks first and who has the final say during a conversation, debate or perhaps an argument.
Finally, metalinguistic awareness also uses language behaviour that is opportune to the situation. For example body language may be used, posture, facial expressions, eye contact, nodding yes or shaking no of the head, gesture or touching, and often simple confirmations such as using the words ‘Mmm’ or ‘Okay’.
So why should we teach metalinguistic awareness? Because it allows the learner to grasp and talk about how language is used. It also teaches them how they should use language and of course use language in appropriate ways. Teachers who support metalinguistic awareness teach speaking and listening skills that everyone needs in order to interact confidently in a variety of environments such as school, family, friends, work, business etc.
Metalinguistic awareness is not something taught during specific grades or levels but it should be part and parcel of all levels and taught at all stages of learning. Some teaching strategies for metalinguistic awareness are for example self-talk, predicting, paraphrasing and summarizing.
Self-talk is like a running commentary that goes on inside our head. It is silent thinking, that’s when we try to make sense of what we hear, see and feel, and of course reflects on our actions. Self-questioning is really part of self-talk and both methods help the learner develop their metalinguistic awareness as self-questioning uses the thinking out loud strategy. By thinking out loud, the learner communicates with himself and tries to make sense of what he thinks.
Predicting uses prior knowledge and is an excellent way of improving metalinguistic awareness as it encourages the learner to make particular predictions before and during speaking and listening. Paraphrasing is often used for advanced learners as they learn how to rearrange the original text in a more condensed form. They also learn to summarize by perhaps verbally restating what they have just been told but in a much more abbreviated format.
In conclusion, is metalinguistic awareness essential to learn? Search your own thoughts. Do you have a better standing in society if your communication skills are proficient? How about employment opportunities? Metalinguistic awareness was perhaps not taught as much as what it should have been in the past however many teachers now encourage debates among students and drama classes.
Even with so much more freedom of speech within classroom settings, when comparing the standard of language skills several decades ago today one must wonder if there is an improvement or a decline in metalinguistic awareness.
© 2011 Griggs I. M. - Teaching Treasures Publications other articles by Ingrid Griggs