Saturday, March 17, 2012

Review - Critical Learning: Critical Discourse Analysis in EFL Teaching (Martínez, 2012)

YAY!!! The newest issue of the Journal of Language Teaching and Research is out!!

This is me, reading the Journal of
Language Teaching and Research...
except that I read it online. But this is
what I feel like when I read it. 
After browsing the titles, I choose to first read Critical Learning: Critical Discourse Analysis in EFL Teaching by Dolores Fernández Martínez, and I spent the morning reading and reflecting on the article. Here is my review.

The article begins with a brief introduction to discourse analysis (DA), then transfers into an introduction to critical discourse analysis (CDA)--the main difference being that CDA looks more specifically at power relations, control, and implicit strategy. A critical approach in the classroom, the author claims, benefits students in the rest of their lives, as well: “Students should learn language through exposure to different types of texts and be aware of the fact that the study of discourse can be applied to any text, problem, or situation” (p. 285). Fernández Martínez then presents a proposal for a CDA syllabus, of sorts, that includes a section on CDA Theory, a section on DA Tools, and a section on Texts (and using them in the classroom). She quickly discusses the first two sections, and then continues to describe six CDA activities featuring different authentic texts (because “authentic materials are more likely to connect with their interests and prompt their motivation and satisfaction.” 285), as well as questions to encourage critical discussion.

Very Critical Discourse Analysis. Notice, the critic glasses. 
Article Criticisms
My main criticism of this article is that the introduction and the explanation of the first two sections of the CDA syllabus were very brief and not very informative as to the exact intention or practices of the author. It would have been nice to have a stronger explanation of what exactly is meant by CDA and how is it is different than normal DA. Fernández Martínez mentioned in the beginning of the article that CDA was a method for social change, but I think a little more development in this section would be very helpful for the novice discourse analyst classroom teacher. I also really would have liked to see more explanation or example content of the “Theory” and “Tools” part, or at least an idea of the minimum requirements to be able to successfully teach this material....beyond telling students that the meaning of discourse is “contextually activated text” (p. 284).

My only other criticism is really petty. The political slogan she chose as the example for the first activity (“Yes, we can”) was attributed solely to Barak Obama, and while he DID use the slogan, I'm pretty sure that the president borrowed the phrase. I believe it was taken from the translation of the famous “Si, se puede” phrase coined by Hispanic rights activist and migrant farmer advocate Caesar Chavez, in the 1970s. Just sayin'.

If you overlook the criticisms about the first two sections of the paper, however, I think you will find a very interesting model for for creating interesting, authentic, student-centered language activities. What's more, they could easily be used in a Dogme ELT / Teaching Unplugged situation, where students bring the content, and together analyze the effect, the social relationships, and the purpose. I see many of these activities as being particularly useful in the second language context, where students are daily exposed to a large amount of target language material. However, I've also noticed from teaching English abroad, that in foreign countries, you see and hear a lot of English. In my experience, students don't always understand the meaning of what they are hearing and reading, even if they understand the words.

In conclusion, I would like to leave you with the final words of the article, which I feel are especially salient.
“All in all, the classroom presents tangible and attractive ways of interpreting contemporary culture; it is an excellent forum for teaching discourse analysis and for making students aware that there is a rich and complex world outside to be analyzed and criticalized” (288). 

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