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Discourse Theory

written by: Molly Chandy • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

Discourse theory is gaining prominence and it has great implications in an educational context, especially in the field of second language acquisition. When a sentence gives a limited meaning, the relevant text around it should be considered for a deeper meaning.

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    Relevance of Discourse Theory in Language Acquisition

    Linguists traditionally define a sentence as the basic unit of expression. A sentence is defined as a group of words that makes sense. Most utterances and texts are in fact more than a sentence. The surrounding texts of the sentence gives it a deeper meaning. Subsequently, it gives validity and depth of meaning to a discourse. To understand the meaning of a sentence in its full meaning, the reader is helped by the surrounding text to get clarity of thought and meaning. Discourse theory states that all the relevant text around a message should be considered to understand it clearly and universally, instead of viewing it as a stand alone sentence. Discourse theory has received prominence in social sciences. Discourse theorists challenge rationalist and individualist approaches in many fields.

    Andrew Clifford in his work, "Discourse Theory and Performance-Based Assessment: Two Tools for Professional Interpreting," proposes using discourse theory to develop assessment instruments. He has made some groundbreaking observations relevant to interpreters all over the world. The impact of discourse theory is tremendous, especially in the translation industry. When a sentence is translated from one language to another, discourse theory allows the purity of the message to be transferred into another language. In discourse theory, thoughts and words are organized systematically for greater understanding.

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    Discourse Theory On Second Language Acquisition

    The discourse theory has great implications in an educational context. It shows how written, visual and oral texts give more depth to the texts when the context is understood. Interaction and categorization between teachers and students can be understood more deeply in the relevant circumstance in the social context. Instructional dialogue should be closely linked to the particular scenario in a classroom. The thoughts and connections between teachers and students during the process of teaching and language acquisition develop the rigorous nature of pedagogy. In this scenario, ideas and concepts will be mutually understood. It calls for a variety of teaching methods and teaching conditions specific to that classroom.

    For instance, if the topic of history is to be taught, it would not be fitting to make a few statements from the text about the topic. The topic should be discussed and the teacher should find out the existing knowledge of the learner, along with the learner’s interest, opinion and feedback on the topic. This process calls for a large variety of speech motivation and vocabulary building in language acquisition. It should call for a global approach to a given topic with clear distinctions of what is important and what is not. As a result, learners will distinguish between what is the core of the lesson and what are just details. Classroom instruction can consist of creating titles, keywords, abstracts, themes and reports. Forming groups, pairs or clusters to plan, deliver and implement events and programs can be part of a schemata.

    In order to understand topics of geography, law and social sciences, students would need background knowledge of the world they live in. Environmental discussions will call for an understanding of the plants, animals and the living world around them. Visual and auditory information would enhance the understanding of what is important and what is not. Practicing in simulated or realistic situations gives students a better understanding of the information learned. Ideas and their linguistic expressions exist within a society, with its web of customs, practices and institutions and discourse theory enhances the understanding of learners in language acquisition. Discourse theory is increasingly becoming popular in the study of national ideologies, foreign policies and in a whole range of academic and non-academic perspectives.