Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Metalinguistic Intuition in Fla: A Seminal Enterprise Deserving Deeper Scrutiny

Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Metalinguistic Intuition in Fla: A Seminal Enterprise Deserving Deeper Scrutiny

Article excerpt


This paper reports on a preliminary study designed to investigate the metalinguistic abilities of firstand second-year undergraduate learners of English. In particular, it delves into the relationship between the learners' metalinguistic knowledge, the degree of transfer from their first language (L1), and their level of language proficiency with respect to the biological factor of gender. A metalinguistic assessment task devised by the researchers and an actual paper-based TOEFL test were the major instruments utilized. The participants comprised 116 freshmen and sophomores majoring in English translation at the Islamic Azad University, Roudehen Branch. The findings shed light on an important facet of L2 learning in terms of the relationship between the learners' explicit knowledge of language, their overall language proficiency (with respect to their educational status and gender) as well as the degree to which their L2 performance was affected by the process of language transfer from their L1. The data were submitted to different statistical analyses such as correlational analyses as well as the analysis of variance (two-way ANOVA). The results indicated a moderate correlation between the participants' general language proficiency and their metalinguistic knowledge. However, the findings did not confirm the idea of the transfer of metalinguistic knowledge across the two languages of Persian and English. Ultimately, it became evident that the factors of educational status and gender did not have any significant effect on the learners' performance dealing with the metalinguistic task.

Keywords: metalinguistic knowledge, language transfer, language proficiency


Correa (2011) refers to metalinguistic knowledge as one of the most controversial topics in Applied Linguistics in foreign language acquisition. The existing literature reveals great controversies between the proponents of metalinguistic knowledge as a facilitative factor for learning (Schmidt, 1990; Ellis & Laporte, 1997; Lightbown, 1998; Herdina & Jessner, 2000) and the opponents who regard it as a negative factor affecting learning in a deleterious manner (Krashen & Terrell, 1983; Stokes & Krashen, 1990).

According to Gass and Selinker (2008), metalinguistic knowledge refers to one's ability to utilize language as an object of inquiry rather than merely as a tool for conversing with others. In other words, metalinguistic awareness stands in opposition with the pure use of language which does not necessarily require thinking about language. As mentioned by Bialystock (1988, cited in Gass & Selinker, 2008), the metalinguistic knowledge, or the ability to think about the language, is often linked with an empowered ability to learn a language. In reference to the field of LI learning, bilingual children were recognized as being more enriched with metalinguistic knowledge compared with their monolingual counterparts.

However, the picture becomes rather complicated in the field of second language acquisition (SLA) in which the explicit explanation of an L2, particularly in the teaching of grammar, has been regarded as an unavoidable activity. Kellerman and Smith (1986) stated that in some extreme cases the teaching of an L2 was equated with the teaching of the grammar of that language by providing explicit explanations regarding the intended grammatical structures. It is worth remembering that such a perspective regarding SLA and teaching could also be easily traced in the educational system of Iran, in which language teaching was prominently illustrated in the creation of metalinguistic awareness for different linguistic forms. In other words, there has been considerable public concern about the standard of English language teaching and learning in Iran, and it is not bizarre to find comments about various inaccuracies in the learners' use of English in the classroom. Therefore, one area of SLA which is flourished with much debate at the present time is directly pertinent to the students' knowledge about language: Does it seem logical to maneuver language proficiency in terms of the relationship between the learners' L2 proficiency and their knowledge of grammatical rules underpinning their L2? …

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