Dewey's Theory of Language With Some Implications for Foreign Language Teaching


  • Carol A. Herron

    1. Emory University
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      Carol A. Herron (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison) is Assistant Professor of French at Emory University, Atlanta, GA.


ABSTRACT John Dewey is an American philosopher who dedicated much thought to how school subjects should be related and taught. He developed a theory of language and meaning that has been analyzed in various philosophical journals and essays. It is the intent of this paper to extend Dewey's ideas on language into the domain of foreign language teaching. The discussion will focus on (1) the origins of language; (2) the relation between language and communication; and (3) the value of studying a foreign language.

While Dewey did not always intend for foreign language teachers to be the beneficiaries of his general philosophy of language, he did make observations and distinctions from which worth-while pedagogical inferences can be drawn. Of special significance are the teaching practices that emanated from his theories as they were implemented by foreign language teachers in his University of Chicago Laboratory School. These strategies suggest certain positive directions for foreign language teaching in American schools. In particular, they respond to the imperative for our profession to convert strong arguments for foreign language study into successful programs that merit public support. Not only did the Dewey School anticipate the possibility of attributing communicative and cultural benefits to foreign language study, it organized the curriculum around this objective.