„Speaking Other Languages“ – review of the book

Prof. Dr. Yordanka Simeonova, Sofia University „St. Kliment Ohridski“

 A Review of: 

Todor Shopov, 2011, Speaking in Other Tongues: an Introduction to Pedagogic Sociolinguistics, in Bulgarian, 223 pages, Sofia: St. Kliment Ohridski University Press.

Speaking Other Languages  – review of the book

Todor Shopov - „Speaking Other Languages“

Todor Shopov’s recently published book, „Speaking in other tongues“, offers a different perspective to language learning. Exploring the complex problem of language education through the prism of sociology, this recent monographic study lays the foundations of a new research discipline – pedagogic sociolinguistics. Unquestionably, it is an interesting and perhaps a challenging research area; it is a contribution of the author.

The object of study is outstanding; it includes social and mental problems of language acquisition delineated on a general sociological level. The research synthesizes knowledge on language teaching methodology, sociolinguistics, sociology of culture and anthropology. The plan follows a flexible yet rigid logic: the author starts with the structure of social space and moves to the analysis of language as „a well-defined object“, to the use of language, the „rich and adaptive instrument“, in a communication „without borders“ and the real bases of intercomprehension. The author’s idea to present the aspects and prospects of early language learning at national and international level deserves commended. Shopov analyses the fundamental opposing claims in this area and illustrates them with abundant examples. The major idea is that communication and socialization are the key issues of child development.

This is followed by an analysis of the use of language in the broad social context outside the classroom. The reader will find it stimulating to follow the study of language and politics and mass media, the contrast between human language and animal communication, the facts and opinions on language and thought and on language and culture, the norms and values of societies, the use of language in mass communication, the metaphors we live by. I must emphasize the fact that communicative language competence is examined by relating language to social structure; communicative behavior is viewed in a double perspective – as a process and a product. On the one hand, communicative behavior is described as a process facilitating socialization of the individual, and on the other hand, as a product of that socialization.

The style of the argumentation is free, unexpected at places, but always accurate with regard to facts and examples. A positive feature is the preciseness of description of fundamental notions and terms – foreign language, context, communicative competence, choice, discourse, sociology, etc. Shopov’s timely attention to the idea that „foreign language“ means „just the ordering of acquisition of different languages, thus synonymous of „second language“ or „other language“ is quite opportune.

The argumentation is marked by another interesting detail. It is the author’s skill in providing information, to entice the reader offering but not imposing viewpoints. The reader is free to think autonomously, to dwell on problems and to interpret them in the context of his or her own professional position. For my part, I share the idea of treating the so called „alternative teaching methods“ as sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic matter. If in traditional methodology, including the communicative approach, the starting point is the consideration of learners’ future communicative needs and accordingly the structuring of teaching contents, in alternative methods one starts from learners’ immediate needs and accordingly the structuring and the social and psychological optimizing of discourse.

I should add that, in an appendix to the book, the author provides a description of a specific language (Bulgarian) written in another „bridge“ language (English). This description blends easily into the whole landscape of the problems investigated.

The contribution of the study is both theoretical and practical. With regard to theory, the author raises, comments on and integrates in a novel way important interdisciplinary questions. The in-depth understanding and presentation is bound to draw the attention of a wide readership. In connection with practice, the book is an introductory text in the academic discipline „language in sociocultural context“ for university students of Mass and Artistic Communication at the Faculty of Preschool and Primary Education at Sofia University „St. Kliment Ohridski“. The creation of this new course allows students to gain insight in the major scientific question of man as the centre of all disciplines studied at the University.

Therefore, I share the author’s opinion that the book „is not only a collection of study texts“ but is also „a connected story about language and society“. I shall add that without any textual overload this story can be an attractive and useful reading for all those who look for successful social dialogue in the modern dynamic world.

Written elegantly with a pinch of salt and a drop of honey, „Speaking in Other Tongues“ is definitely a highly informative book which is readable and at the same time academically and artistically appealing. You should read it. You’ll find that we can speak in other tongues and still understand each other.

Sofia, March 2012

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