The role of metalanguage in supporting academic language development

Mary J. Schleppegrell, Professor and Chair of Educational Studies, School of Education, University of Michigan

Metalanguage in the Service of Learning Language and Learning Through Language

Being explicit about language requires metalanguage (language about language), but use of metalanguage does not in itself support connections to meaning that connect with disciplinary goals in teaching. In SLA research, explicit instruction is typically described in terms of focus on form and the discussion of rules, and contrasted with implicit instruction, where rules are not evoked or discussed (see Andringa, de Glopper, & Hacquebord, 2011.) Meta-analyses of focus on form and explicit focus on rules in language teaching (e.g., Spada & Tomita, 2010) have shown that such focus can be effective in promoting more accurate use of the L2 (e.g., Simard & Jean, 2011). But in the context of education and writing instruction, studies show that just learning linguistic terminology is not supportive of other learning goals in and of itself (Myhill, 2003; Svalberg, 2007).

Berry (2010) points out that metalanguage can be conceived of as both thing (terminology) and process (talk about language), and in the research reported here, the focus is not on teaching metalanguage terminology, but on using meaning-focused metalanguage to help students participate in grade-level tasks and make effective discursive choices. The project builds on earlier research using SFL, including foundational work in Australia (Martin, 1993) and SFL descriptions of language development across the years of schooling and across content areas (e.g., Christie, 2012). The project also draws on research demonstrating the value of SFL metalanguage in classrooms with first and second language learners (e.g., Brisk & Zisselsberger, 2010; de Oliveira, 2008; French, 2010; Gebhard, Harman, & Seger, 2007; Quinn, 2004; Williams, 2004). In the United States, work with history teachers has shown the value of SFL metalanguage in highlighting key disciplinary meanings such as agency and interpretation (Schleppegrell, 2011).
(Excerpt from Schleppegrell,  2013, pp.156-157)


Schleppegrell, Mary. 2013. " The role of metalanguage in supporting academic language development." Language Learning 63, no. 1: 153-170. | link

Previous || Chapter 6: Directory || Next