This article was written by A-P. Lian and published as Chapter 3 in Lian, A-P., Hoven, D. L. and Hudson, T. J.: Audio-Video Computer Enhanced Language Learning and the Development of Listening Comprehension Skills, Australian Second Language Learning Project, 1993, pp. 25-41

Awareness, Autonomy and Achievement1

1. Introduction
In this chapter there will be a discussion of three notions or factors which seem to be important in the learning of foreign languages: awareness, autonomy and achievement. An attempt will be made to define each of these notions, to explain their importance and then to describe how they might be and, indeed have been, integrated into language learning environments (albeit at tertiary level). Finally, a possible model for further development of the environment will be suggested together with a brief analysis of some of the associated implications.

Although discussion will revolve around work done in the teaching of languages at tertiary level, the principles examined, in most cases, are applicable to the school system as well.

2. Some theoretical considerations
Beginners' and intermediate language learning courses at university level have, as one of their major objectives, the developments of skills which will allow students to become operational in the language being learned.

These objectives correspond to modern approaches to language learning methodology which in turn are based on notions similar to Halliday's "learning how to mean" and "meaning potential" (Halliday, 1973; Halliday, 1975). In this essentially social perspective, language learning is not limited to appropriating words, grammatical rules and pronunciation, but implies that students will learn to master, or at very least control, a large number of complex, integrated skills

Further, rather than "finding" meaning in texts or "extracting" meaning from texts, meanings are negotiated as a result of interaction between self and text and, through the text, the producers of the text. Essentially, inferences are made and verified, rejected or revised according to clues in the text. At the same time as views about language and meaning have been modified within the language teaching community, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of catering to students' learning needs and motivations (one only needs to look at the spate of needs surveys which emerged in conjunction with functional-notional approaches to language learning and which, in one way or another, have remained ever since).

There has also been the accompanying recognition that students are individuals each of whom has his/her own developing so-called "interlanguage" (Selinker, 1972) (if one happens to believe in that notion).

Given the above, it seems logical then to assert that for learning to be maximally effective and efficient students cannot all be expected to learn in the same way, in the same space, at and in the same time, all in lock-stepped synchrony.

These are some of the major principles and beliefs which underpin the language learning environments have been developed or are currently under development by the author and his colleagues and which will guide the discussion which follows.

First, the greatest awareness of all: French is a language actually used by human beings to perform important and valuable tasks. Thus, as much as possible, French is the language of communication in the classroom. It is recognised that a multitude of teachers already do this, but it is nevertheless a crucial point to make as an equally large multitude of teachers do NOT do so.

3. Awareness
Without a range of awarenesses of many different kinds, it seems impossible to develop the ability to operate in a language.

The approach adopted for the development of awareness of linguistic and other communicative phenomena is based on the notion of optimal (Guberina, 1976) or critical (Joy & Lian, 1981) elements as posited by theorists of the verbo-tonal system.

Briefly, the theory postulates that perception is based on the detection of critical elements i.e. elements which matter to native speakers of a language, within the rich and complex whole in which they are found.

Another way of saying this is that students are confronted with an enormous mass of information from which they are required to select pertinent elements (items or "things" which matter). They are often unable to do this. It is not that they are physically unable or incapable of hearing or seeing but simply that they do not have the necessary wherewithal to organise what they hear or see. In short, they cannot work out what matters and what does not.

It is a little like totally untrained persons trying to locate Halley's comet in a sky which they have never examined before. All they can see is a mass of pinpoints of light. The trick is to find quickly and reliably the stellar configurations that matter within this global mass of pinpoints. Perception is therefore an active process. Once one knows how to find the appropriate stellar configurations (and the "how" is the really difficult part), it seems almost impossible to fail to see them (and one may even wonder sometimes at how others can be so blind or maybe even just plain stupid).

In this perspective, it is therefore important to find ways of making students aware, at a profound and personal level, of what it is that matters when they are confronted with the complexities first of understanding and then of producing language for the purpose of communication.

What, then, are some of the things that matter?

In a traditional approach, these things are grammar and vocabulary and, sometimes, pronunciation. In many cases, especially academic settings, it is also assumed that the workings of language and language rules need to be learned deductively rather than inductively from sets of metalinguistic descriptions. It is assumed that focused analysis together with the ability to describe linguistic operations will provide the learner with the prerequisite amount of knowledge necessary for communicative performance.

There are problems with such an approach. Perhaps one of the most important is that, in the heat of communicative activity, learners simply do not have the time to refer to their descriptive systems as a basis for extensive analysis and synthesis when they are faced with the complexities and substantial pressures of face to face interaction. And it is face to face interaction that most learners of foreign languages are interested in mastering, at least in Australian universities (Hawley, 1982), whether it is for the sake of experiencing a feeling of euphoria, for obtaining "insights" into other societies or for more mundane reasons such as travel or business.

Now, it would appear that the production of "communicators" in a foreign language requires "the development of a critical awareness and sensitivity to a broad range of phenomena and circumstances. These include the pertinent purposive, situational and contextual parameters which, in turn, will determine appropriate discourse structures, language registers and communicative strategies. These will then dictate the language functions to be realised through the use of vocabulary, grammatical structure, intonation, vowel and consonant sounds, gaze, the organisation of gesture and of personal space" (Lian & Joy, 1981). Awareness-raising in all of these areas needs to occur for effective communication to take place. As a consequence of this, it also seems desirable to give priority to creating awarenesses capable of developing a number of areas simultaneously. For instance, by developing the rhythmic and melodic aspects of language, one can also develop a feel for the phonetic tension of the language as well as for its syntactic organisation (e.g. length and structure of a phonological group or rhythmic chunk), thus reducing the frequency of errors in these systems too.

The actual development of relevant awarenesses is a particularly difficult area to deal with. It is not enough to point out a particular phenomenon. It is important to find ways of getting students to accept and/or understand the phenomenon and to appropriate it at a personal or psychological level and, most importantly, in doing so, to break down any blockages, which are often translated into so-called language anxiety2, which may be operating.

As a simple and very common example, it does not matter how often one repeats that, in French, some words are masculine and others feminine, it is often extremely difficult for students from an English-speaking background to use the distinction appropriately unless they have appropriated the notion of "gender". In other words, the knowledge that gender distinctions exist does not necessarily lead to operational ability . They need to have a feel for gender.

Interestingly, when the "feel" for a feature is appropriated, it often comes as a great surprise to the learner. For instance when working with the SUVAG-Lingua in order to correct the perception of sounds it is not uncommon for students to say with some amazement things like: "Oh... is that what [y] is supposed to sound like?" The actual moment of initial perception of critical elements, if it is manifest to the learner, often occurs as a kind of awesome revelation.

Although the example just quoted is true, it is undoubtedly the case that there are many different levels of awareness and that in a student's learning of a language there will be many moments and many levels of "revelation" during the progressive refinement of the conceptual systems involved.

4. Autonomy
In this section the focus shifts away from awareness of external phenomena to some specific aspects of self-awareness.

In any context, the notion of autonomy implies at least the following:

They then will be in a position: Thus the development of autonomy in students will be of lasting value not only during their stay within an institutional environment but well beyond. Further, from a teacher's perspective, the development of autonomous learning skills should be a major goal as it ought to be fully recognised that no learning program, whatever it sets out to achieve, will ever be exhaustive in its coverage of communicative activity in the language being learned. The very best that one can hope for is to ensure that students have appropriated a certain rather arbitrary range of language functions, notions, etc., while having developed an awareness of the elements critical to a continuing appropriation of language generally and of the target language in particular.

Thus the problem here is not far removed from that dealt with in the preceding section on awareness and the same principles are likely to apply.

Perhaps the ultimate indication that autonomy has been attained is when students are seen to be trying to apply to the foreign language the same sorts of strategies that they are accustomed to using so effectively in their own native language i.e. that they know how to go about solving their language problems even if that solution happens to be beyond their current level of competence.

5. Achievement
This notion necessarily supposes the explicit or implicit setting of objectives by both learners and teachers.

It can also refer to the feeling of satisfaction resulting from the attainment of such objectives.

Students undertaking language courses do so for a wide variety of reasons which do not always correspond to the objectives of the institution which they are attending. In Australia, for instance,
universities generally provide language courses purporting largely to "educate" whereas language students often enrol in order to be able to "function" in the foreign language. This is not to say that such apparently disparate objectives are irreconcilable in fact, but merely to point out the existence of important differences.

Further, within any one group of students, motivations, whether integrative or instrumental can vary considerably.

Achievement also has another important dimension. Whereas, so far, only the motivation of student has been mentioned, i.e. their conscious or unconscious reasons for learning a foreign language, students also have certain language learning needs.

This author tends to define language learning needs as resulting from an interaction between students and their language tasks (Lian & Mestre, 1983; Lian & Mestre, 1985). Inability to perform in certain areas would point to deficiencies in the students' knowledge or skills and would indicate the necessity for the provision of support. Thus, new and largely unpredictable sets of objectives emerge from learning. Furthermore as the course progresses, and this is crucial, both motivations and needs are likely to change.

Under these circumstances, it seems important that language learning structures should make a special place for achievement. Students should actually be provided with the opportunity of making progress i.e. attaining objectives, and for gauging such progress with respect to their learning as well as with respect to their personal goals.

This can be done through the setting of short-term realisable goals in the form of demanding yet manageable tasks negotiated by students and teachers in consultation with one another. Objectives of these kinds are of great value inasmuch as they provide learners with a justified feeling of making progress through the mastering of steps which, in time, will genuinely allow them to attain their long-term objectives (e.g. "I want to speak French." or "I need to pass this exam.").

In other words, students should be able to feel that they are making progress while in fact making progress. In this perspective, nothing succeeds like success and, by the same token, nothing fails like failure. This seems evidenced by the perception, in Queensland at any rate, that high school students have tended to abandon language studies because of lack of noticeable progress.

6. The learner as an individual
Readers will have noticed by now that the above discussion has been predicated on the notion of the learner as an individual.

Indeed, it is arguable, that every student is different in many ways from every other student no only in his/her manipulation of language but in terms of, or because of, the sum total of his/her experiences, his/her inferences drawn from these experiences as well as a multitude of other factors which together constitute the learner's "self".

It is further arguable that his/her perceptions are mediated by a "filter", also the product of the "self". This "filter" is a metaphor for describing mechanisms for accepting or rejecting the pertinence of events, stimuli, etc.) is not of the same kind as the "affective" filter postulated by Dulay and Burt (1977) nor the "socio-cultural" filter postulated by Besse (1983), nor even the better-known "phonological" filter of Trubetzkoy (1969). All of these filters are considered by their proponents to exercise essentially a negative influence on language-learning to the extent that they need to be weakened, modified or removed in some way. Rather, the filter proposed here and elsewhere (Lian & Mestre, 1983) is considered to be a set of mediating mechanisms which is always, and inevitably, present which can never be avoided but which can be modified by any experience, including the language-learning experience. Its influence a priori is neither good nor bad. It is simply there at all times and its negative factors need to be neutralised while its positive aspects can be developed. (For further discussion of the problem, cf. Lian & Mestre, 1983; Lian & Mestre, 1985).

7. Implications for language learning environments
As a result of the above considerations, a number of courses for which the author was primarily responsible at the University of Queensland's Department of Romance languages have evolved along the lines which will be described below.

8. Implementation considerations
Implementing systems similar to the ones described above would seem to imply the following points. A number of relevant technology-based applications are currently under development or have been developed or trialled. These include the following: 9. The place of classes in such a model
The points made above should not be interpreted as advocating the elimination of classroom activity and work to be done by students in groups. Indeed, operating in a language is essentially a social activity. Thus, opportunities for group work must be an integral part of any language learning environment. However, it is true to say that different sorts of classes ought to exist. For instance, there ought to be workshops under teacher control the purpose of which would be to focus on specific problems. There should also be other kinds of classes, or at least opportunities for learners to get together to practise their communicative skills, for preparing materials or for examining a range of problems. Not all of these classes need be under the supervision of a teacher, although easy access to various forms of assistance would be an advantage.

Two remarks ought to be made about this view of classwork.

Under these conditions, gone would be the arbitrary grammatical (or other) progressions which one so often finds in language learning courses. In short, a needs-based workshop system ought to provide both students and staff with the opportunity of making the best possible use of their time.

10. Research
Programmes of the kind just outlined need continuing and vigorous research activity if they are to be implemented properly. Thus it is important to develop not only a teaching infrastructure but a research infrastructure as well with particular emphasis on such things as error analysis, diagnostic procedures, learning styles, man-machine interfaces. The list could be very long.

It is not advocated that every school or teacher carry out major research, although every schools and teachers are part of a community of researchers who often produce interesting results through experimentation but are too modest to tell the rest of the world about it. Rather, it might be possible to think of the establishment of an infrastructure created through collaboration between the primary secondary and tertiary education systems for the betterment of all language teaching in a region, a state or even nationally. Such structures could then make it their business to discover and take into account the very real research findings of teachers in the classroom.

Although these points are not likely to be controversial and can be argued for in just a few sentences, it is arguable that research is the sine quae non for proper development of the learning structures outlined.

11. Conclusion
In this paper, an attempt has been made to describe the structure and implementation of a system which, under the best possible circumstances, will be flexible, negotiable, individualised, resource-based and research-based.

In doing so, one is acutely aware of the problems involved in implementing such a system in an institutional environment, especially in view of the potential tor administrative subversion which is built into it. Indeed, if it is to work then some current institutional teaching structures may need to undergo significant modifications and, in this context, the whole notion of "course" may have to be reappraised.

This is a relatively small price to pay in the ongoing search for an optimal language learning environment.


1 This chapter is based on an article entitled Awareness, Autonomy and Achievement in Foreign Language Learning published by A-P. Lian in Revue de Phonétique Appliquée, nos 82-84,1987, pp. 167-184.

2 Language anxiety has now become a thriving research area with many articles and a number of doctorates, particularly in the USA being produced. See, for instance, Young, D. J., 'The relationship between anxiety and foreign language oral proficiency ratings', in Horwitz, E. K. & Young, D. J. Language Anxiety: from theory and research to classroom implication,.


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