Linguistics and Language Teachers

Second Language Acquisition

It would be silly of me to suggest that all language teachers develop a fluency with the cutting edge of linguistics research. That said, Second Language Acquisition (SLA) (text)books often synthesize research in an easily-digestible way for laypeople. As I mentioned above, one of the main goals for this field is to produce actionable research for language educators. If your only exposure to language-specific teaching strategies is the textbook you use to teach, keep in mind that your textbook was probably written according to market trends rather than effective pedagogy (see Tyranny of the Textbook: An Insider Exposes How Educational Materials Undermine Reforms, by Beverlee Jobrack).

I urge you to allocate some of your limited time as an educator to improving your understanding of the following topics, since these are all open questions with no one, definitive answer:

  • How do people learn languages (or how people learn in general)?
  • How do second language learning differs from native language learning?
  • How do we activate language learning mechanisms?
  • What factors influence a student’s choice of language to study?
  • What factors affect learner motivation in language study?
  • How do we define language competency?
  • How do we measure language competency?
  • How do we describe the mechanical relationships between language forms and functions?
  • How does language usage change over time?
  • How does language usage vary in different communities (e.g. French in Sénégal vs. French in France)?
  • How do bilinguals (/multilinguals) differ from monolinguals?

If you’re looking for research that’s specific to your language, I would start with the “Grammar” genre. These descriptive grammars examine a target language, its forms, and functions, along theoretical linguistic frameworks. Usually, these are uninspiringly titled “A Grammar of X” or “X Grammar”. Here’s a few for Latin and Greek that don’t have that formulaic title:

  • Vox Latīna, W.S. Allen
  • Vox Graeca, W.S. Allen
  • Syntactical Mechanics, Bruce McMenomy
  • Latin: A Linguistic Introduction, Renato Oniga, (Ed. & Trans. Norma Schifano) (Though I would recommend some introductory Syntax before starting this one)

In case you became a language teacher through nontraditional means, or your program was a general “Education” pathway without language-specific pedagogy, here are some nice textbooks that discuss interventions for language teachers and the underlying SLA research:

  • Becoming a Language Teacher: A Practical Guide to Second Language Learning and Teaching, Elaine Kolker Horowitz
  • Languages and Learners: Making the Match: World Language Instruction in K-8 Classrooms and Beyond, Helena Curtain and Carol Ann Dahlberg
  • Implementing Successful FLES Programs: Foreign Languages at the Elementary School Level, Elaine Margarita
  • Teacher’s Handbook: Contextualized Language Instruction, Judith L. Shrum and Eileen W. Glisan.

If you feel like teaching yourself theoretical linguistics, here are some starting textbooks:

  • Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction; William O’Grady, John Archibald, Mark Aronoff, and Janie Rees-Miller.
  • Grammar as Science, Richard Larson.
  • What is Sociolinguistics, Gerard Van Herk.
  • What is Morphology, Mark Aronoff and Kristen Fudeman
  • Pragmatics, Jean Stilwell Peccei

There are also some very accessible textbooks on Second Language Acquisition:

  • Language Assessment in Practice, Lyle Bachman & Adrian Palmer
  • Second Language Learning Theories, Rosamond Mitchell, Florence Myles, and Emma Marsden (this is a very dense read for the uninitiated, as it’s an overview of the entire field of scholarly research)
  • Language in Mind, Julie Sedivy

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