Language teachers continue to face a perennial problem (Gascoigne, 2002).  They are faced with making the same perennial decision in the language classroom. Do they need to teacher grammar?  If so, then why?  Will the process of teaching grammatical rules help a student become more proficient in his use of language? Teachers of foreign languages are concerned with the use of grammar in the language classroom, but they are not alone.  The same question can be asked about teaching native speakers of a language the grammatical concepts that constitute the code of their language.  Native speakers of a language, after all, command fluency of their mother tongue. 

Why do they need to study grammar?   In this chapter, we will present evidence that metacognition plays a critical role in successful learning.  Metacognition is sometimes defined as “thinking about thinking” and what it brings to the learning process is an awareness of the process of learning, the structures, involved in that process, the use of those structures in daily life, and the monitoring of those activities as a way of improving the educational process (Ridley, D. S. Schulz, P.A., Glanz, R. S. & Weinstein, 1992) 

Consequently, what we are saying is that when we teach grammatical concepts in the language classroom, we provide our students with a powerful cognitive instrument that enables them to organize and structure the events taking placing in the learning of a foreign language classroom into a successful learning experience.  They will be able to learn another language, not in the way that novices do, but in the same way that expert learners command and control the same language experience. 

 Novices do not stop and evaluate the comprehension of the materials in the language classroom. They do not examine the quality of their work and make the necessary revisions in the tasks that they perform. Novices do not make connections with the material used in the classroom and the contexts in their lives.

Expert learns bring a different level of awareness to the language classroom. They consciously identify what they know from what they do not know.  They establish learning goals and make use of personal resources such as textbooks, tapes, computer searches, and networks with other students that will help them in attaining those goals. They are aware of their performance and they know that their performance will be evaluated and this plays a part in their motivation to learn another language.  Experts take the time to plan their learning experiences; they organize their materials and using numerous strategies that will enable them to command the language learning experience. The learning of grammar is one of those valuable instruments that expert learners take seriously.  Expert learners also reflect on the learning process and keep tract of what works and what does not work for them.  These are metacognitive tasks because they have to do with thinking about thinking.  The monitoring the language experience plays an important role in providing feedback to the expert learner about his success in attaining the goals that he wants to accomplish. Tests are not seen as negative experiences, but as opportunities to learn about what has been accomplished and what needs to be learned or modified in the acquisition of the foreign language experience. Before explicating the concept of Metacognition in greater detail, it is important to note that this approach to education is not entirely new. It can be found in the work of Piaget and his concept of concrete operational thought (Phillips, 1969) and in the work of Vygotsky (1978) and his concept of the zone of proximal development.


Metacognitive Functions

The Novice Learner

The Expert Learner

Planning the Learning Experience

Novices do not really plan their activities. They do not think out the process of learning. They do not think about thinking.

Expert learners are good planners and pre-planners. They organize the learning experience.

Identification of what is known from what is not

Novices do not stop to think about what they already know so that they can differentiate the known from the unknown in the learning experience.

Experts know how to use past knowledge in evaluating new situations. They try to ascertain what it is that is different about the new learning experience

Thinking Strategies

Novice learners do not reflect on what strategies they are going to use in the learning experience. They muddle through each situation.

Expert learners think things through.  They ask questions about their new experience and they try to develop successful strategies that will enable them to learn the new ideas, forms, or performance tasks. Expert learners feel that they need one or more cognitive maps and thinking strategies on how to use those cognitive maps.


Novice learners do not monitor what they are doing in order to improve their learning experiences. They do not take an active role in the learning experience.

Successful learners constantly monitor their own abilities to perform a task or to understand a situation. They use cognitive maps that they have developed in order to visualize what they are doing and how well they are doing it.

Evaluating the Experience

Novice learners do things and then walk away from the learning experience. They do not evaluate their own performance. They feel that they have been judged and that ends the process.

Expert learners evaluate themselves all the time. If they are judged, they use that information to better themselves the next time.


Piaget was the first theorist to recognize that children and adults have different cognitive processes (Flavell, 1996: 200).  For Piaget (1926, 1952, 1954, 1986), it was important to cognitively probe children with repeated questions in order to ascertain their understanding and knowledge of the investigatory state of affairs that they were involved in.  His technique, le methode clinique, was unique.  He observed his subjects in a role of both a father figure and an experimenter. As a consequence, he was able to arrive at new insights into how children think. Piaget wanted to document the structures of knowledge (genetic epistemology) that children experience. The metaphor that Piaget used to describe how children develop cognitively is that of “the little scientist” who experiments with the world.  In this interaction with the world, the child allows new information to be assimilated into already existing cognitive structure (accommodation).  Children, according to Lefrançois (1995), accommodate to environmental demands and assimilate or incorporate objects and events from their learning activities into their current cognitive structures. The child tries to find a balance (equilibration) between assimilation (using old learning) and accommodation (changing behavior or learning new things).






Learning new things by interacting with the environment (physical and social). One may accommodate to these new influences by adjusting to them as a part of daily life. These are modifications that have not been assimilated into the cognitive system of the learner. The key word here is modification.

Assimilating new information into an already existing cognitive structure.  There are many times in life when one accepts modifications and finally integrate them into the current cognitive system of structures and relationships. The key word here is incorporation.

The modification of an activity or ability in the face of environmental demands

The act of incorporating objects or aspects of objects into learned activities

Piaget discovered that children developed their intelligence through a series of stages that differed in quality.  These stages of development, he noted, were radically different from those of adults.  Prior to Piaget, psychologists believed that children and adults share the same cognition and that they only differed quantitatively.  What Piaget revealed in his research is that adults and children differed quantitatively.  He referred to these stages as sensorimotor intelligence, concrete operational thought, and formal operational thought. 



Jean Piaget

Sensorimotor Intelligence

From birth to 1.5 years of age

Pre-Operational Thought

  1. 1.5 years to 6-7 years of age

Concrete Operational Thought

6-7 years to 11 years of age

Formal Operational Thought

11-12 years of age through adulthood

During the stage of sensorimotor intelligence, an infant learns to organize reflex actions. Its world is directed at actions rather than at symbolic activity. With concrete operational thought, a child enters the world of symbols.  This stage begins with pre-conceptual thinking (2-4 years of age) where a child lacks the ability to classify objects and is highly ego-centric. For example, all men are “daddy” and the only needs that are of significance are his own immediate needs. With the lateral stage of concrete operational thought, a child mature in their abilities to categorize things, use language, think logically, and understand the point of view of others, allocentric thinking.  The most important stage, for our purpose of discussion, is that of formal operational thought. This is the stage that is characterized by abstract thinking. A child at this stage can solve complex verbal problems, use hypothesis formation, and logically analyze events and relationships. What we find at this stage is that the child has become an abstract symbolic thinker.  The child is able to conceive of an idea and use his deductive powers to draw conclusions about the events occurring in his life.

Why is this stage important? What does it have to do with Metacognition?  This is an important stage because it because it is when a child is involved in thinking about thinking.  When we make a hypothesis about something, we are reflecting on the possible outcomes that can result from that hypothesis.  This kind of reflection is essentially a metacognitive function. We are thinking about thinking.  It is at this stage that a child begins to understand grammatical concepts.  They come to know the vocabulary of metacognition and are able to discern the various parts of speech, language function and imaginary linguistic situations.  There is a special connection between Piaget and metacognitive theory.  Flavell (1963) introduced Americans to the work of Piaget. It was in this early work that Flavell developed his ideas of metacognition and its relationship to formal operational thought.  Hence, it is not surprising to find out that it was Flavell who introduced the concept of metacognitive learning (Flavell, 1976, 1979; Flavell and Wellman, 1977).


Vygotsky and Piaget are often compared and many argue that one is better than the other or that one came before the other as contributors to the study of cognition. We are not concerned with those issues as we know that each of these avatars made significant contributions to metacognition, but in different ways. Vygotsky (1934; 1978) referred to this way of thinking as “the higher mental functions.”  Vygotsky argued that the human mind that there are two kinds of mental functions.  The lower mental functions[1] were not of special interest to him because they dealt with normal biological constructs that influence perception. What he found theoretically significant is the use of higher mental functions because they emerge as a product of cultural history.  What does he means by this?  Vygotsky argued that all higher mental functions are due to social and cultural forces within a society. He notes that over the centuries human beings have invented devices that have transformed their thinking. Writing, for example, is a social development that has revolutionized the world. One does not become literate by using our lower mental functions.  We achieve literacy by participating in social learning. Each child does not invent these instrumental systems; they are passed down across generations. Vygotsky argues that these cultural tools such as literacy are an indispensable part of human cognition. 

There are two kinds of tools that Vygotsky discusses. One of them is fairly obvious. Human beings use technical tools. The other is not so obvious: language is a human instrument. It is an epistemological tool.  Vygotsky defined intelligence as the capacity to learn from tool instruction.  The teacher plays a central role in imparting these higher mental functions to children. She is there to help the student to go beyond his current level of competence. An index of this intelligence is not what a student can do now, but what a child can be capable of doing through interaction with adults.  The move from the present level of development to the new potential level of development is called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).  This zone is too difficult for a child to manage alone and for this reason it is done with a mentor, a teacher, helping adult. The use of apprenticeship in education is called scaffolding. The teacher helps the student to move to the next rung on the ladder of ZPD.



Zone of Proximal Development

Begin of the Process

Period of Growth

End of the Process

What you already know

What you are going to learn

What you will know

Introduction of a concept

Learning the concept

Evaluation of what you have learned

Presentation of a New Tool

Learning to Use the New Tool

Demonstration of the Successful Use of the New Tool.

Introduction of a New Concept

Learning to Use the New Concept

Successful Application of the New Concept

What Vygotsky is saying is that these new mental tools are developed through a teaching-learning process that involves social exchange in which shared meanings are developed through joint activity.  These changes in higher mental functions are not universal.  They are culture specific.  What does this mean?  It means that many of the cognitive categories and functions that cultural psychologists have argued are universal are not because these biological psychologists have not distinguished between lower and higher mental function as Vygotsky did. It turns out that the higher mental functions that one acquires in life are different from these because they go beyond forms of local knowledge and local culture (Geertz, 1973, 1983) that most people experience within a given system of daily experience.

What is important about the concept of the zone of proximal development is the fact that when a mentor or teacher assists a child in learning, he is engaged in a metacognitive act.  He is teaching the child how to think about thinking.  What Vygotsky means by higher mental functions is essentially what we call social learning. After we leave the home and enter school, we begin the process of social learning.  It is a long process of secondary socialization that takes us through various levels of complexity in social life. When we enter the world of mathematics, for example, we must learn how to think about mathematics. Doing mathematics is called arithmetic.  Thinking about mathematics is doing geometry, algebra, calculus, and so on. In the area of language education, we can learn a language by trying to memorize words and expressions by rote.  It is when we bring in language theory (grammar), teaching theory (applied linguistics), and teacher education (theories about teaching) that we enter into language learning as a metacognitive experience.  What Vygotsky does with metacognition is different from Piaget.

Piaget wanted to explain how human beings act as biological organism who must find a balance in accommodating and assimilating to the vagaries of life. Vygotsky, on the other hand, was interested in demonstrating that learning is a social process.  One does not acquire higher mental functions all alone.  One has the help of a teacher, teaching materials, and plans for learning (ZPD).  Just as Piaget failed to articulate a full theory of metacognition, so did Vygotsky.  That function was left to Flavell.


In introducing the concept of metacognition, we have already answered this question.  Metacognition is thinking about thinking.  It is, however, more complex than just thinking about cognition.  It has to do with the active monitoring and regulation of cognitive processes.  What we mean by this is that metacognition makes use of the executive control system (Duell, 1986).  What do we mean by this?  It means that metacognition involves active monitoring and consequent regulation of the cognitive process needed to achieve cognitive goals (Flavell, 1976: 252).  A successful learner must be able to construct meaning from information.  To be able to do this, the learner must be able to think about their own thought processes, identify the learning strategies that work best and consciously manage the learning experience (Flavell, 1976).  A successful learner is in charge of the learning process. He approached it with a plan of action, he has developed various strategies to get him to his goal, and he constantly monitors his own accomplishments. He is the executive in charge of his learning experience.

There are three basic elements associated with metacognition.  There is the developing of a plan of action, the maintenance and monitoring of that plan of action, and the evaluation of how successfully that plan was carried out and what goals were achieved. There is a constant process of self-questioning involved in metacognition.


Status of the Plan

Questions that one should ask about the plan

Before the plan

What do I already know that will help me with this particular task?

Where is this learning experience going to take me?

What should I do first?

Why am I doing this?

How much time do I have to do this?

During the plan

How am I doing?

Am I on the right track?

How should I continue with the task?

What information is important to remember?

Should I slow down in certain areas due to difficulty?

What should I do if I do not understand the lesson?

What kind of help should I seek?

Where can I find this help?

After the plan

How well did I do?

Did I meet my expectations?

What could I have done differently?

How may I apply these insights to other areas of learning?

Do I need to go back and work on my weaknesses?

What is the difference between cognition and metacognition?  There are many times when it is difficult to distinguish between cognition and metacognition.  Here are some helpful suggestions:  When you are working on a problem, you are thinking.  However, if you begin to think about how to solve the problem or what new strategies you may use in the process, then you are involved in metacognition. If you are evaluating your program in solving the problem, then you are involved in metacognition. You are thinking about what you are thinking. 

Psychologists often discuss the concept of metacognitive knowledge and what they mean by this is how human beings learn and process information.  There is another kind of metacognitive knowledge that is not fully discussed in the literature and it has to do with the use of theory as a metacognitive tool.  Theories are metacognitive maps or outlines.  They provide a perspective on how knowledge is organized, accessed, and evaluated.  The cognitive maps come with their own metacognitive vocabulary.  One needs this kind of special lexicon in the process of thinking about thinking.  In subsequent chapters of this book, you will be introduced to the concept of cognitive linguistics. You will learn many new concepts and the vocabulary that is characteristically associated with those ideas. These terms are value laden. They connote system properties and conditions. They are structured forms of knowledge. They are metacognitive products of a metacognitive map, i.e., a theory of how to process and understand information. Theories constitute metacognitive knowledge.  They are statements of how to understand information and how to organize that information into a system of thought.  All theories have to do with thinking about thinking. Therefore, all theories are about metacognitive knowledge. 


Phonetics plays a significant role in the language learning. Those who are aware of phonetics and how the theory originated have a greater opportunity to organize speech sounds within a theoretical framework.  It is that theoretical framework that allows them to reflect on speech sounds, how they are produced, and how they are influenced by the articulatory parameters of other speech sounds. The model of how to write these sounds is known as phonetics and it has been around for several millennia.  About a century ago, linguists in France and England took a strong interest in the Sanskrit language. 

As they began their journey into this ancient language of India, they learned that more was written in Sanskrit than all of the combined literature of Greek and Latin.  Today, one could go to the Asian library of the University of Hawaii or at the University of California at Berkeley and pick up an ancient scroll written in Sanskrit.  Most of these scrolls have not been translated.  What is important about Sanskrit is that it lead to the discovery of manuscripts on phonetics written about 300 BC by a scholar known as Panini.  The method that he used in describing speech sounds is still used today, it is called “articulatory phonetics.”  In his writings, this Indian scholar noted that the vowels of a language could be described by means of a triangle.  Later, French scholars were to call this "the Vowel Triangle."     

When one produces these speech sounds, one quickly learns that the sounds [i] and [u] represent the highest tongue position in the mouth and [a] coincides with the lowest tongue position.  The vowel [i] and [u] also have something to do with tongue position.  The vowel [i] represents the farthest forward that one can push the tongue and still produce a vowel sound.  Similarly, [u] is the sound that is farthest back in the mouth.  Now, there are several important things that can be said about this simple vowel triangle.  First, it provides the nomenclature for the description of speech sounds.  These descriptions provide the metacognitive vocabulary of phonetics.  It allows one to designate each sound by means of an articulatory description.      

[i]         high front vowel

       [u]        high back vowel

       [a]        low central vowel

The second factor about this vowel triangle is that it provides the basis for the description of all other vowel sounds.  Languages differ in how they have modified the simple vowel triangle.  For example, if a language such as Spanish has a five-vowel system the new vowel additions will occur as mid-vowels.  These mid vowels are in an intermediate position between low vowels and high vowels.

Other modifications of the vowel triangle can also be made.  Some languages such as Japanese, for example, has voiced and voiceless vowels[2]

          desU              “it is”
          deshita           “it was”
          [aru]              “to have”                     

In Japanese voiceless vowels occur between voiceless consonants in which the first is a fricative and after a voiceless fricative at the end of a word.  The end of the word has the same impact as a voiceless consonant.

In French, the modification of the vowel triangle occurs with a dichotomy of nasal verses oral vowels.                     

grand [grã]                  “big”

cent [sã]                     “hundred”

malade [malad]           "ill"

We could easily go on and explain how the parameters of vowel speech sounds are produced (phonation).  However, it would be more informative to see how these sounds operate within a specific language, English. There are several things about English speech sounds that make them very different from those of other languages. They include a contrast between simple and complex vowels.  The simple vowels are called monophthongs (Greek: mono one + phtongos sound) and the complex vowels are called diphthongs (Greek di two + phtongos sounds). Diphthongs are sounds that begin at one articulatory position in the oral cavity and move to another, usually towards a high front or high back vowel.  Since these high vowels extend outside the vowel triangle, they change sound value. In Europe the [y] is called a yod and the [w] is called a vaw.  In the United States, however, they are called front and back glides respectively since they are made by gliding the tongue forward or backwards to its target position.


sigh      [say]         my        [may]           pie       [pay]    write     [rayt]
cow      [kaw]         out       [awt]            how      [haw]   house   [haws]

English contains diphthongs with long glides from the steady state sound to the glide and there were called “genuine diphthongs.”  


English also has several shorter diphthongs and they called these “spurious diphthongs.” 



mate    [meyt]          gait       [geyt]      date      [deyt]               bait      [beyt]           low       [low]         go        [gow]               foe       [fow]            row      [row]         see       [siy]                  be        [biy]             bee       [biy]        seat      [siyt]
Luke    [luwk]            buy       [b^y]       cut        [k^t]                mutt     [m^t]           sofa      [sowf^]

With this information that speech sounds can be described in articulatory terms, you are able to understand not only how speech sounds are made, but also how you can produce them. 

Another concept that was learned from Sanskrit linguistics is the production of consonantal sounds.  They found that they could describe the sounds of a language in terms of where things touched (points of articulation) and how these sounds were produced (manner of articulation).  Sounds can be produced in many ways.  One of them is called stops or mutes.  This is because consonant sounds are produced by bringing two points of articulation together.  When the point of closure is strong this stops the air from being produced.  As the back pressure builds up, the sound stops or becomes mute.  For this reason, the sounds [p], [t], and [k] are called stops or mutes.  Sounds may be modified by letting them come out of the nasal chamber (nasal sounds) or out of the buccal cavity (oral sounds).

The sounds [m] and [n] are nasal sounds.  They are produced in the same way as the oral sounds [b] and [d] except that the sounds are emitted through the nasal chamber.  Another manner of producing sounds is called “fricatives.”  This happens when two points of articulation are slightly open producing a friction.  When [t] is not fully articulated, it produces the fricative [s]. 

Another kind of fricative sound is known as the affricate.  It is made up of two sounds, a palatal stop plus a fricative.  When palatalized [ty] is followed by a fricative sibilant [a], the combination produces a common English affricate [tsh] as the beginning and ending sounds in “church.”[tsh]. Hence, the following structural outline for producing consonantal sounds.

Theories provide cognitive maps in which information is organized around a basic concept of complex of concepts. In the case of speech sounds, the concept is clear. The tongue is position in the buccal cavity.  It can be moved along a limited range of parameters (High, Mid, Low, Front, and Back).  When the tongue is repositioned in the articulation of words, the result is a set of different speech sounds. The representations of these sounds are called phones (Greek: sound).  They are transcribed by brackets, [a], kat], etc.  If you are a student who is learning English as a foreign language, this kind of knowledge provides you with value information. It tells you how to organize the sounds of English and how to imitate them.  It allows you to think about these sounds (a metacognitive function) and reproduce them by means of metacognitive strategies. You now have a metacognitive map of the language, metacognitive vocabulary of the tasks that you are, and strategies to produce those sounds. This is why learning linguistic theory is important for students of language.  It enables the language learner to organize his experiences with language and reflect on them.  By knowing the theory behind phonetics, you can also monitor your progress and verify your new levels of achievement along the established zones of proximal development.  It is now time to go beyond this level of phonetic theory and investigate the English orthographical system and how it accounts for spelling patterns in English.


When Chomsky and Halle (1968) developed their own system of phonology, they did not use the tense versus lax system of transcription used by Fries and Pike, nor did they use the simple vowel versus diphthong system of Trager and Smith provided earlier in the phonation of English diphthongs.  Instead, they used a system of long and short vowels.  What this means, in effect, is that native speakers of English hear long versus short vowels.  This fact is not only current, but it also existed in Old English.  They explain their use of long vowels by recapitulating the historical events that led from Old English long vowels to Modern English diphthongs.



Chomsky and Halle (1968) claimed that these sound rules still operate in Modern English phonology.  What this claim means, in essence, is that the abstract underlying forms for most English words consist of patterns of long versus short vowels.  The long vowels are diphthongized and undergo the vowel shift.  Short vowels do not diphthongize.  Hence, this system adequately explains the pattern of simple vowels versus diphthongs advocated by Trager and Smith.  Also, long vowels are tense in English and short vowels are lax.  Furthermore, long vowels co-occur with diphthongs, and short vowels are always simple lax vowel.  Hence, this system adequately accounts for the system of contrasts of tense and lax vowels advocated by Fries and Pike.  In the following derivational system used by Chomsky and Halle (1968), the underlying forms of Modern English words demonstrate a strong familiarity with Old English.  The long vowels are diphthongized and then undergo a vowel shift.  These rules, it should be noted, are ordered.

Notice how Modern English has various devices for designating long and short vowels.  The silent “e” at the end of a word is nothing more than a device to signal that the preceding vowel is long.  Hence, the silent letter in ‘fine” means that the “i” vowel is long.   The silent letter in “house” means that the “ou” is long.  This spelling of [u] as “ou” comes from the French who imposed this spelling into English after their take over of England following the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  Another technique for designating long vowel is by means of doubled letters.  The double “e” in “green” tells one that “e” is a long vowel.  Similarly, the double “o” in “food” means that the underlying form of this word was originally a long back mid vowel.  Double consonants are used to signal short vowels.  Notice the word “botm” which did not undergo the processes of diphthongization and the vowel shift because it contains a short vowel.  In Modern English, the consonant cluster “tt” tells one that the preceding vowel is short.  Whenever such consonant clusters occur, they have the effect of shortening the preceding vowel.

There was another rule that shortened vowels.  This one occurred in words borrowed from French.  In that language, the antepenultimate vowel is shortened and this means that such a rule had to be adopted in English in order to account for the following alternations between long and short vowels.  This rule is called trisyllabic laxing or shortening because a long tense vowel is shortened and made lax and short in the process.


Other examples of trisyllabic shortening include: “profane, profanity, sane, sanity, divine, divinity,” but notice the exception to the rule occurs in “obese, obesity.”

Not only are certain long vowels shortened from Old English to Modern English, but show vowels are made long due to the influence of their neighboring sounds.  The “gh” spelling in “light, might, right,” etc. represent a spelling device to tell one that the preceding vowel is lengthened, cf. German Licht [liçt].

A similar process of vowel  lengthening occurs in dental nasal plus dental stop clusters:  blind, behind, ground, grind, wind, etc.  The older shortened forms of many of these words can still be found in Modern German such as  Grund “ground” and Hund “dog.”

In addition to the vowel changes from Old English, Modern English has also simplified initial consonant cluster.

Palatalization was another sound change that took place from Old English. Palatal velars [gy] changed into front glides [y]: gyar "year," and gyald "yield." The noted diachronic difference between the cognate forms of German Tag and English "day" has to do with this rule. Another cognate can be found in the German Nagel with English "nail"

Those who wanted to reform English orthography during the zenith of structuralism overlooked the richness of spelling devices contained in the language. By looking at the spelling of a word, one can tell if it was borrowed from German, French, Latin, Greek, and so on. These differences are important because many of the old forms of pluralization still operate in these borrowed forms.

datum data Greek
alumnus alumni, Latin
cherub cherubim Hebrew
ox oxen German

Those who wanted to reform English Spelling noted that "hymn" and "him" should be spelled alike. If this occurred, it would lose the distinction between the word origins because "hymn" is a Greek word. Another problem that was overlook by those advocating reform is the silent letter in "hymn" which emerges in the form "hymnal." Other silent letters could be found in "damn, damnation, bomb, bombastic, and sign, signal.

If someone really wanted to reform English spelling, they would have to base their modifications on the system devised by Chomsky and Halle. Consider, for example, the spelling of syllabic consonants in English.

bottom film center centre (British) central color fur button murder murderer

The final sounds in all of these words are syllabic. How these syllabic final nasals and liquids are written is another matter. In the transition from Old English to Middle English, printers and scholars of the language legitimated many spelling patterns at this time. Caxton, a printer in London, did the most, however, to regularize English orthography. Once a pattern was printed, it was also legitimated in the process. Conflicts in orthographical reform continued to occur because each region of the country seemed to have its own variation on how something is to be spelled. The result is that the final syllabic [*] is written as -em, -om, -um, and -um. All of these variations represent the same phonetic entity, syllabic m.. Many individuals see these final spelling forms and assume that they must insert a vowel before the final syllabic consonant. This vowel is usually a mid central lax vowel, the epenthetic schwa as for example, when "film" becomes "filum.[filam]" One only needs to look at the word "center" to understand the process. This final syllabic resonant liquid is represented in English spelling as "center" and "centre." Both are merely devices for designating a syllabic consonant. When this word occurs in non-final position, however, the syllabic devices are abandoned as in "central" and "centrifugal." One could easily reform the spelling of "center" to a more basic form, "centr,"

Another situation in which spelling reforms could be accomplished rationally can be found in the forms "read" [riyd] (present tense) and "read" [red] (past tense). Since it is obvious that a past tense marker is added to the latter lexical item, it should be reflected in the orthography as "read" and "readd." These differences in spelling could be readily accounted for in the derivation of these items.

The Great English Vowel Shift provides a powerful map for student of English orthography. It tells them why there is a silent "e" after "white" and why there is a double "t" in "bottom." It also informs one as to how English orthography is stratified in such a way that English orthography provides clues about word origins. Words with "ph" are of Greek origin and words with "gh" are of Germanic origin. This cognitive map provides opportunities for the student to construct numerous strategies about English orthography. It also comes with a caveat as this orthography was developed at a time when the printing press created an epistemic rupture in England. Some of the variations of spelling at that time were solidified in the newly emerging orthography of London. The historical rules discussed in this transition from Old English to Modern English constitute the metacognitive vocabulary that one associates with the metacognitive map of the Great English Vowel Shift.

There is one more topic that needs to be discussed in this chapter on metacognition. What people do in life is to follow routines and patterns of behavior. Some of these patterns are unconscious. The study of these routines, scenarios, and social scripts is known as Activity Theory. It is argued that these patterns of organized behavior need to be investigated by language teachers. Activity Theory is a metacognitive approach to how language is used in social contexts.


Activity Theory was mainly an effort in Russia to develop a new psychology based on Marxist philosophy. It was predicated on the assumption that the human mind comes to exist and develop and can only be understood within the context of meaningful interaction between human beings that is goal oriented and socially determined. This was called the principle of unity and inseparability on consciousness by Sergey Rubinstein (Bannon, 1997). This interest in human action as a unit of psychological analysis was elaborated upon by Alexey Leontiev (1978, 1979; web source). He elaborated on this framework and brought into play such basic principles as object-orientedness, the dual concepts of internalization and externalization, tool mediation, hierarchical structure of activity, and continuous development.

Principle of Activity Theory  Explication

 Actions are directed towards goals. They must be fulfilled by an object in order to meet that goal. Every activity is directed at something that exists in the world, its goal. The idea of an object is not limited in Activity Theory to physical, chemical, and biological properties of entities. Social and cultural properties also function as objects. Human activity is guided by anticipation and this anticipation is a motive for that activity. It is a motive that is directed towards a goal.

Hierarchical Structure of Activity The interaction between human being and the world is organized into functionally subordinated levels within a hierarchy. Leontiev notes three levels: activities, actions, and operations. Each of these is intentionally performed by a human being and operates as an adaptation to the physical aspects of the world. These operations become routines and unconscious and depend on the conditions under which the action is being carried out. The basis of this orientation comes through experience with concrete materials of operation. In this way, it forms a pattern of expectation about the execution of each operation controlling the process or chain of processes. According to Leontiev, the order of these activities is not fixed. What Social Schema Theory demonstrates, however, is that these activities are structured and subject to social and cultural constraints. Where the flexibility comes into play with the goals, actions and operations. The object remains the same, but the goals, actions, and operations change under different conditions.

Internalization and Externalization  Activity has an internal side and an external side and they are directly related to one another. This division is used as a didactic device to highlight the concept or principle involved. Any external activity is supported by processes that originate inside the subject and any internal process appears in some form or fashion in the external world. Vygotsky noted that internalization is social by its very nature. The range of operations done by a person in cooperation with others comprises a zone of proximal development. Hence, externalization is the opposite of internalization. Mental processes manifest themselves in external actions and are performed by persons so that they can be verified and corrected. Hence, what emerges is a holistic activity in which includes an artifact (object), a goal, operations, and other motor activities.
 Mediation  Human activity is mediated by a number of tools. Leontiev mentions technical tools and symbolic tools. It is argued that activity schemas such as social script theory also should be regarded as tools of operation. The use of mediated activity is mentioned by Leontiev, but it is not fully articulated. He notes that mediated activities are created by people to control their own behavior. The artifacts that they use are laden with social and cultural values. Once established, these artifacts (technical tools, signs, language, machines, and script activities) persist as structures of mediation.
 Development  Activity theory requires that human interaction with reality should be analyzed in the context of development, that is, through the enactment of an activity involving other people and artifacts. The context of the situation is both internal to the people involved and external to them. These objective and subjective ends are unified. In this regard, social scripts should be seen as activities that are both internal and external. The internal has been referred to as the theater of the mind by St. Clair, Thomé-Williams, and Su (2004). This nomenclature is not to be confused with the empiricist use of that term which was based on a tabula rasa model of the mind. The theater of the mind proposed in this context has a playwright (a social agent), actors, mental stage settings, a projected audience of significant others, and a social critic. Furthermore, these events are framed (Goffman, 1974).

Since Leontiev was operating with a Marxist philosophy, he was concerned about the division of labor and how that concept played a role in the development of higher mental functions among human beings. It is through activities within that division of labor that human beings organize their lifes, define the kinds of things that people think about, perceive, imagine, remember, speak, and feel. Much of what Leontiev attempted to articulate has been investigated within a similar Marxian context by Pierre Bourdieu (1977 chapter 2; 1990a; 1990b: chapter 3) under the concept of habitus, a structure of understanding about the nature of things which structures psychological phenomena and which in itself is structured by social practices. Social script theory (St. Clair, Thomé-Williams, Su, 2004) is an attempt to articulate those social and psychological structures within the context of activity theory and the sociology of knowledge.


In this chapter, we have argued that teaching grammar is essential to the study of language in the classroom. This is true of both native speakers of English who are studying their own language or speakers of a language who are in the process of learning another language. One does not study grammar outside of a theoretical context. This would be the equivalent to study arithmetic when what you need to study is mathematics. In later chapters, we will provide a cognitive linguistics model of language. We will also provide a sociological model of language that can be used in classroom to teach social scripts.

What we have done in this chapter is to highlight the importance of theory for the learning experience. Metacognition enhances and enriches the learning experience. The aforementioned examples of phonetic theory and English orthographical theory provide examples of the power that a theoretical approach brings to the language classroom as a cognitive map. It enables one to organize the language experience, develop strategies, monitor behavior, and evaluate the various levels of goal achievement within the new learning experience.