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A systems approach to language pedagogy
Tajino A., Springer International Publishing, New York, NY, 2019. 149 pp.  Type: Book
Date Reviewed: Aug 13 2021

Tajino, the editor of this brilliant edition, has compiled various approaches to language pedagogy from several authors. And he successfully uses the concept of a systems approach as the core of this research edition. Pedagogy is by its nature the science of teaching, and each teaching subject has appropriate pedagogy that shapes its learning environment. This is also true for teaching a language.

Language pedagogy is a complex process consisting of many aspects of language. These issues require a holistic approach, which is presented as the primary instrument for a comprehensive view on language learning and teaching. It is crucial to stress the selection of a systems approach in language pedagogy, based on the premise that a systems approach as a problem-solving paradigm considers the attributes of a teaching and learning system to achieve the objective of an entire system. The goal is to make a synthesis of the system where holistic methods are used to define the architecture of the entire system, resulting in the “maximum effectiveness of the system.” Thus, the holistic view is basic to a systems approach, presuming that “systems can best be understood as a whole.” All of these issues are the starting point of this edition, providing readers with various aspects of language pedagogy in a holistic manner.

Language pedagogy includes methods, processes, and techniques to teach and learn language within entire cultural, social, and demographic environments. Starting with the term definition as a human activity system, the introductory chapter gives an overview of the soft systems methodology (SSM) that is a crucial factor for general problem-solving and managing changes in the modern language pedagogy ecosystem. It is also the platform for a desired holistic approach to modern language pedagogy. Hence, SSM deployment in language curriculum design is effectively described with a case study showing how this methodology could help to overcome many different opinions, attitudes, and approaches during the curriculum design process.

Following an introduction to a systems approach in language pedagogy, some basic notions are given on applying SSM to language learning for language acquisition purposes. Naturally, this is successfully connected with the term “constructions” on which forms and meanings are acquired by students during the teaching and learning process. This approach suggests that the language system is not only a construction of autonomous components, but also a symbolic continuum assuming cognitive-linguistic views as a technique for language acquisition through the interaction of the system as a whole and its parts. The systems approach is also presented through its deployment for teaching English grammar primarily for communication purposes. This issue is expressed in the context of its significant role in language knowledge, since in many instances “the grammar competence plays a fundamental role in improving each of the four macro skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.” Further, a systems approach, from soft methods at the beginning to the genre theory at the end, shows how language pedagogy could be improved.

It is very interesting how this volume systematically combines various approaches that assume language as a system of meaning, form, and expression for society. Yet a language stays within a social context and is constituted by register, genre, and ideology. Hence, a systems approach includes genres, described with reference to the elements of language use, since meaning in text does not form by itself. Meaning is the realization of the social context above the level of language or as the external context of language. Thus, genre rules out what is appropriate to be talked about by participants and in what ways, that is, spoken or written mode. These issues influence a complex system such as language teaching and learning, where SSM is presented as the key component of language pedagogy. SSM helps to solve problems related to language education, providing practitioners with “a [unique] framework for improving practice.” Furthermore, it “allows practitioners to investigate and understand emergent properties so that solutions to problems can be found.” Practitioners using SSM are able to see how subsystem elements influence the main system.

Hence, the real potential of this volume is realized in a genre system that includes all participants in terms of address stakeholders and language functions. The key is a composition of genres, that is, elements and language that are essential for the whole. Thus, a genre approach not only explains English learning goals, but also prepares students “with the skills to analyze genre text and to make sense of complex [dialog] realities.” Most of the assumptions stated here should be valuable for everyone involved in the language teaching and learning process, as well as for curriculum creators, teachers, and students in the liberal arts. It also presents a new vocabulary in language pedagogy and creates a new platform for language pedagogy theory. It should be recommended reading that university libraries have on their shelves.

Reviewer:  F. J. Ruzic Review #: CR147332 (2112-0286)
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