Language education used to be an unusual, if not eccentric, pursuit - an exercise engaged in by scholars, as monks did with Latin - and later, Greek. From the 16th through the 18th centuries, language students used to memorize grammatical rules and applied these to translate abstract sentences and decode written texts in the target language. Today, countries like Colombia (Ministerio de Educación Nacional- British Council: Programa de Bilinguismo, 2006), Canada, Japan (Kubota, 1998), and China (Kirkpatrick & Zhichang, 2002) frame their education policies to teach at least one foreign language at primary and secondary school level. Globalized and multilingual, this is what many countries are or would like to become and, they are placing enormous importance and vast resources on foreign language learning, especially learning the English language.
English as a foreign language (EFL) is widely spoken simply because it is a medium of communication in areas such as technology, science, finance, trade, media, commerce, manufacturing, tourism, and international relations, all of which impact everyday life and events for most of us. Having a good level of English unlocks borders, cultures, histories, and different points of view, which in turn, multiply educational as well as occupational opportunities thereby increasing competency and competitiveness, leading to higher living standards, and enhancing both multiculturalism as well as globalization in our communities. Some of the most commonly cited challenges of learning to communicate proficiently in a foreign language are associated to the degree of difficulty the learner encounters in relating to the target culture, or linked with syntactic and semantics differences between the second and the first language, or connected with the level of intricacy needed to decode or derive meaning from foreign concepts and ideas - whether written or spoken.
Discourse analysis, concerned as it is with language in context, provides teachers with the theoretical knowledge and empirical tools that can support and enhance the development of EFL education. A discourse analysis approach to language learning removes language from the confines of textbooks and makes it tangible, so that students can explore language as interaction rather than as grammatical units.
Equipping students with the skills that will enable them to communicate and interact in the international community and global economy; implies a robust EFL program which must balance several considerations; two of the most significant ones being; a) At what age should foreign language learning start? b) What teaching methods should be used? Although data does seem to indicate that learners who begin natural exposure to second languages during childhood generally achieve higher proficiency than those beginning as adults, the impact of age on ultimate proficiency is not always clear cut. While young learners are more likely than older students to ultimately speak a new language like native speakers, adolescents and adults actually learn foreign languages faster (American Educational Research Asociation, 2006). Therefore younger is not necessarily better; children are superior to older learners only in the long run (Krashen, 2009).
Moreover, the implication of the data is not so much that language teaching should start early - say, at the age of six - and expect spectacular results, but rather that the teaching should be appropriate (Halliday, 1991). For example, empirical evidence in Venezuela (Latuff, 2005) has shown that, a few hours per week of English language instruction based on the structural view of language, using traditional methods, and focusing on learning some words as well as a few ritualized exchanges may be beneficial for cultural exposure and appreciation, but do not result in real mastery. Evidence shows that a balanced instructional approach is vital; too much focus on meaning fails to create the...
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