Anonymous:Do you think linguistic theories help foreign language learning?
I majored in the English language at university.
In my opinion, general linguistic theories, such as phonetics, phonology, syntax and semantics,
partly helped me improve my English skills, but I found it more important to memorize words by exposing myself
to English through listening and writing.
Sociolinguisics, psycholinguistics and historical linguistics were very interesting subjects and helped broaden my perspectives, but they have very little to do with practical language learning.
Applied linguistics are for professionals such as language teachers or speech therapists.
I won't deny the importance of SLA research, but it doesn't help students with no teaching experiences.
Those with teaching experiences find it more helpful.
In conclusion, I think linguistic theories are not necessarily very important for early stage language learning.
As I said, in the second paragraph, language learners, particularly novice and intermediate learners, should
focus more on vocabulary building, listening and reading.
In my opinion, linguistic theories help learners organize their knowledge about the language they learn.
However, this happens when they have reached advanced levels.
JulielaiI agree. Many TEFL/TESL programmes I know of are incorporating too many linguistic courses into the curriculum (1). Not very helpful to L2 teacher trainees who need to work on their English (2), I'm afraid.1. Well, I dunno... Does that mean you want teachers to be 'mere ("stupid"...) teachers'. That is to say, do you mean teacher training program should equip trainees only with teaching skills in a manner such as the industrial Yanks (well... that depends on how you interpret 'industrial') do with their fast food store staff, and no more?
2. This I don't know either. So far as my program is concerned (and of course I am not (yet) in a position to speak of similar programs offered by other institutions), the linguistic courses offered foster students with a way of self-evaluation. Instead of resorting to authorities (ie. their language teachers), they are now an authority on their own. What that means is that they need a set of tools that will enable them to be certain about and make corrections to the materials they are teaching. What is taught is how to describe, and more ambitiously, to explain, linguistic performance. At least in the present pedagogical context, language teachers need more than just intuitions (as your thread suggests) such as to feed the ever hungry students for their need for grammatical rules to adhere to. Whether these rules do the job right is another matter that I don't want to go into here, and in fact I find the current linguistic approach, philosophically speaking, a bit disturbing because rules of this sort leads only to Lewis Carroll paradox, although I need more time to confirm this.
But you are right, English teachers with English as their non-native language need to work on their English. In fact, this claim extends to native speakers of any language as well. That can be explained on rather simple terms: Judgement of the degree of success in language pedagogy, at least in Hong Kong where you and I are in, I think, relates more to social expectations than to any linguistic reasons. A language teacher is expected to be the sole authority that distinguishes 'right utterances' from 'wrong utterances', and this expectation, in turn, requires agreement from the parents' part. Thus, for example:
1. I don't like no jam.
2. I don't like jam.
(1) is on some standards acceptable and on some others wrong. (2) is considered 'standard' English. Although both utterances may be uttered by native speakers of 'English', I don't think any parent who sends her kids to school wants to say, 'well that chap saying (1) is the guy I want to be my kid's English teacher.'
It's just more than that. Sometimes what is expected is not how the language is USED, but resembles more hyper-correction. Recently I read an interesting article (on Apple Daily...). Parents of some students in a secondary school were complaining about the 'many mistakes' the school had made in the exam papers. In one example, 'charity organisations (sic)' was criticised because 'A noun should not be modifying another noun'. Let us ignore for the moment whether this generalisation is right or whether the NP is 'correct'. A complaint in this form suggests that language teachers are expected to reach certain standards set not by themselves, but perhaps by the parents. Moreover, parents expect teachers to be arguing about language on 'linguistic forms', that is, generalisations about what language is (ought to be?).
This echoes with my earlier claim that the linguistic courses offered in teacher training programs offer an articulate tool of self-evaluation. I think there are two nicely interwined threads here: 1) whether those are in fact 'tools', and 2) whether those 'tools', if any such they are, do the job well. Given the present context, where teachers are supposed to argue on or teach language in the shape of linguistic generalisations, what I have been taught (I being in deep disgust, and of course with a few exceptions), I am sorry to say, is certainly the thing an English teacher needs in order to become an English teacher.
On (2) I don't think I am in a position to comment (maybe you know better than I do). But my speculation is that teachers think they are.
How are you lately? I sucked, flunked most linguistic subjects and did well on most philosophy courses, hoped for a transfer to philosophy and later dropped the idea. Btw, I read a paper in sociolinguistics and I suspect it's yours. Have you been engaged in that field?
Randy_TamJulielai1. Well, I dunno... Does that mean you want teachers to be 'mere ("stupid"...) teachers'. That is to say, do you mean teacher training program should equip trainees only with teaching skills in a manner such as the industrial Yanks (well... that depends on how you interpret 'industrial') do with their fast food store staff, and no more?
If I'm training to be an English teacher in HK, I'll expect the training to be like this:
Year 1: Intensive English courses, focusing on all four skills; a critical thinking course; Chinese courses
If my English is good enough at that point, then I can proceed to the teacher training portion of the programme in Year 2 and 3:
Year 2 courses: children and juvenile literature, interpersonal communication, basic linguistics, etc.
Year 3: courses on child psychology, psychology on learning, literature, linguistics, pedagogy, and some electives.
On self-evaluation: How does that make the teacher more effective?
well... that's not exactly what I was asking for. What I thought we need to know before making syllabuses of any shape is some underlying aims. For example, we need to know what level of English trainee teachers (esp. non-native ones) should attain -- how is the image of English in a place; a utility, a lingua-franca, or a genuine 'language'? All this affects the design of the course.
Self-evaluation, I insist, is an important tool so far as teaching is concerned. Unlike a preacher (no offense to religious peoples. I just mean those who obstinately believe in a deity despite evidence's saying otherwise) or a clerk who has every procedure to follow, the task that faces the teacher is always changing in its form, as teaching theories always evolve and new stuffs are always put into the syllabus. The latter is especially true when we come across language -- what was true a decade ago (dogmas: 'to-infs after "help"', '"that" must be put in in any that-clauses') may no longer be true of today's English. Under these circumstances, the teacher just cannot expect someone else to say to them, hey, that thing is not right. s/he has to decide for her/himself.
This burden (of asserting teachers should have the ability to self-evaluate) is also partly due to a false assumption on most non-native language students' part: students tend to assume that the teacher is the 'final authority' as to whether they are speaking 'correctly' or not. But this is totally understandable. Most of these students do not have the money to go abroad and get to know native speakers of the target language. The teacher is therefore usually the only major language source on which they can rely. Teachers can expect to see students throw out new language constructions everyday and, I am pretty sure, this is not the thing teacher trainees were encountered with (you don't think the Brits speak much the same way non-native speakers do, do you?). Linguistics training is therefore an 'objective' tool whereby to evaluate the performance of the teacher him/herself and of the students.
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