A problem with Language Awareness

Agneta M-L Svalberg

University of Leicester

A reasonable definition of the aim of Language Awareness activities and materials in the classroom would seem to be that they aim to affect learners' knowledge in a way that facilitates acquisition of the target language systems, for example the grammar.  This is arguably a more ambitious goal than that of 'traditional' grammar instruction which aims to affect behaviour rather than mental processes.

The boldness of the undertaking is encapsulated in the word 'awareness' which implies awareness of some kind of truth. Evidence of this is the collocation of 'to be aware of' with 'the fact that'. Thus a Language Awareness approach tries to guide learners towards the discovery and understanding of 'truths' about the language.

I will try to show in this paper that sometimes, on the contrary, learners are lead to acquire a false awareness. That is to say that misconceptions about the language are sometimes either created or, perhaps more often, reinforced by explicit  instruction. In research carried out at Universiti Brunei Darussalam I have, for instance, found that the association of would with unreal events is much stronger among Malay speaking learners than among native speakers of English. I will attempt to show that there is a link between such skewed perceptions of would and errors and non-standard usage, described in Svalberg 1998.  It will be argued that this and other misconstruals are partly due to transfer of training and that they can seriously hamper the learners' further progress. Some suggestions will be made for dealing with the particular tense/aspect notions exemplified.

The main purpose of the paper is, however, to raise the general issue of false Language Awareness and to question - with reference to research findings - whether the descriptive models teachers work with are adequate for the aims of Language Awareness approaches to language teaching.

Svalberg, A. M-L. 1998 Nativization in Brunei English: Deviation vs. Standard. World Englishes, Vol.17, NO.3