Linguistics in Language Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

Linguistic theory has been a traditional component in the training of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), but recently the relevance of theoretical training has been questioned by some TESOL teacher educators. In this article, we highlight the problem that the voices of teachers-in-training have often been missing in this debate, and we call upon teacher educators to investigate how the perceptions of theory may change from the time teacher trainees first enter academic programs to the time they become seasoned professionals.

Introduction

What exactly do language teachers, including Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), need to know in order to be able to teach effectively? English grammar? Pedagogical practice? Linguistic theory? Intercultural communication? During the last decade, attempts to define the parameters of language teachers' knowledge base have intensified within the language teacher education community. [1] Some scholars have suggested the need for a broad knowledge base for language teachers. Shulman (1987), for instance, argues that teachers need to acquire content knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge, curriculum knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, knowledge of learners and their characteristics, knowledge of educational contexts, and knowledge of educational ends, purposes, and values. Yet, Byrnes' (2000) review of disciplinary knowledge in language learning and teaching shows that throughout the history of language education, essentially two academic disciplines have been in the foreground: linguistics and philosophy. Grabe, Stroller, & Tardy (2000), on the other hand, believe that four disciplines should be the foundation for teacher preparation--linguistics, psychology, anthropology, and education--and argue that the demands of teaching require professionals to integrate knowledge in these four disciplines. Freeman and Johnson (1998) have called for a 'reconceptualization' of the knowledge base in language teacher education in such a way that teachers focus somewhat less on theory and more on the activity of teaching itself, also paying more attention to social contexts and pedagogical processes of teaching. In a similar vein, Johnston and Goettsch (2000: 438) maintain that "... it is the teaching that is most important, not the language: that language teaching is first and foremost an educational enterprise, not a linguistic one."

Linguistic Theory in Language Teacher Education

A common thread through much of the recent debate is to call into question the extent of the grounding that language teachers need in theory, especially linguistic theory, as part of their training. [2] This debate arises in a context where the role of linguistic training in language teacher education programs has long been taken for granted. A review of graduate program requirements in TESOL clearly shows the prominent role linguistic study still plays in the education of second/foreign language teachers. Govardhan, Nayar, & Sheorey (1999), for example, surveyed the core courses in TESOL Master of Arts (MA) programs in US universities, basing their analysis on data collected from 194 US institutions as presented in Garshick (1998). They found that most programs mandate linguistic study. A review of Garshick (2002) indicates that this trend continues today.

Most teachers in language education programs are offered elective courses in linguistics as part of their professional education. However, we have observed that in our program many students choose to fill their elective options with methodology courses, while non-required courses dealing with aspects of linguistic theory are less frequently selected. Our conversations with colleagues at other institutions suggest that we are not alone in this observation. The same pattern can also be observed in professional gatherings of language teachers, such as the annual TESOL convention. …

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