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  1. #1
    peppy_man is offline Member
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    Default linguistic theory and English teaching

    There are many English teachers in many parts of the world, but
    generally (native) English teachers learn linguistics?
    For example, in TESOL, TEFL or CELTA courses, do they learn linguistic theories, such as syntax, semantics or phonetics?

    Also, do you think it's better for English teachers to learn linguistic theories?
    Or do you think English teachers don't need to learn them because they are too abstract and have very little to do with classroom teaching activities?

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: linguistic theory and English teaching

    I think a teacher should have an awareness of the major theories, though Chomsky, for instance, said that he didn't see his ideas as having any application in the classroom.

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    Default Re: linguistic theory and English teaching

    1. Generally speaking, no, they don't.
    2. Yes and no. It depends on the course.
    3. Yes and no. It depends on what theories. Syntax, semantics, and phonetics are not theories.
    4. It depends on a variety of factors. For example, if you're teaching, say, a TOEFL course, knowing something about the function and distribution of word classes would definitely come in handy when explaining why a given example is either correct or incorrect. If you're teaching kindergarten students, knowing something about developmental stages and how children learn language would definitely be a positive; e.g., spending a great deal of time on pronunciation isn't going to help them at that stage. If you're teaching junior and senior high school students, knowing that the 3rd person inflectional suffix -s (e.g., walks, eats, runs) takes time to filter its way in, would save you that time and effort you normally put in correcting the error.

    There are many more examples ...

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    Default Re: linguistic theory and English teaching

    I am not a native English speaker, I am a linguist (Russian), but I really think that all language teachers have to be aware of one or two linguistic theories at least. The history of linguistics, for example, is obligatory for all linguists. It's even a must-have! A teacher, who knows linguistic theories, is simply more professional or at least seems to be more professional. I know that teachers and doctors are the two professions that require natural-born talents but still it is much better to have some linguistic background rather than to be just a "practising teacher". Plus a classroom may become your laboratory in a way (as long as it doesn' harm your students, of course ).

  5. #5
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: linguistic theory and English teaching

    With more and more teachers taking MAs nowadays, more and more will be doing just that.

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    Default Re: linguistic theory and English teaching

    Speaking as someone who still considers himself an outsider in TEFL (or whichever acronym you prefer) I should point out that most 'native-speaker' teachers take a one month course. They don't have to have previously attended a university. Their trainers on such courses seldom have a background in linguistics.

    As a teacher trainer myself I'm constantly appalled by the general 'ignorance' of lingistics I find among my colleagues. Few of them, for example, realise just how controversial Chomskian linguistics now are. And yes, Chomsky denies his linguistics can have any bearing on education, yet the current notion of 'native-speaker' is surely based on his psycholinguistics.

    Most English teachers make do with some version of pedagogic grammar. Yet such grammars are full of rules which distort the English language – ie which do not reflect the language to be found in, eg, the British National Corpus.

    Thus, I've met teachers recently who were willing to swear that the term 'since' cannot be followed by a phrase containing the present perfect - "according to grammars written by native-speakers". And so the idea that a pedagogic grammar is useless unless based on an empirical grammar comes as a great surprise (even heresy) to mant EFL teachers.

  7. #7
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: linguistic theory and English teaching

    DrH, what sort of success rate do you get with getting teachers &/or leaners to use the BNC or similar? From what I've seen, a lot find take-up of these tools disappointing. Also, if you don't mind my asking, do you use search engines as rough and ready concordancers?

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    Default Re: linguistic theory and English teaching

    Hi TODL
    I have to admit that I use very primitive methods in searching the BNC, etc. I mostly check the typical use of a word or phrase. When I want something more complex I get some 'young thing' to do it. But I do find that, eg, the BNC is better than a dictionary, and much more useful/accurate than the average grammar book.

    As you'd expect, my success in 'spreading the corpora word' is middling to fair. Younger students and trainee teachers often get used to using corpora, once they get used to the idea (easily demonstrated) that much of the grammar they've been taught is junk. As I live in a 'mid-European' country most of the time, a great deal of the education my trainees previously received is of the (almost post-) communist 'these are the rules' kind. But this is not so unusual anywhere.

    We (trainees/students and I) recently used corpora to check out a hunch I had that the previously typical usage 'impressed by' is being/has been replaced by 'impressed with'. Seemingly pedestrian I know, but it is at least evidence for my hypothesis that a complete English grammar is impossible if only due to linguistic change ('drift'?).
    Actually, this research also showed up some of the flaws in the BNC (eg much of it seems quite old). As other corpora – including one we've been compiling here – provided stronger evidence for the 'drift'.

    Sometimes I'm grumpy with my fellow trainers – and particularly the 'gurus' of the TEFL world – but never with students (I hope).

    And I do appreciate your web site. So many students around the world seem to get (at the very least) inspiration from it.

  9. #9
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: linguistic theory and English teaching

    I have had similar results. I like http://view.byu.edu, but find that some students take to it, but many have a burst of enthusiasm, then stop. I find that getting them to use Google as a limited concordancer for some basic things can go well as they are generally accustomed to using it.

    The BNC does have limits- what are the criteria for inclusion in the one your making?

  10. #10
    peppy_man is offline Member
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    Default Re: linguistic theory and English teaching

    Thank you all for your responses.
    It's nice to have a fruitful discussion about the relation beween learning linguistics and teaching English.

    drhatch, your story that many TEFL teachers are not
    very aware of linguistic theories is very interesting for me.
    I know a native teacher who has a TEFL certificate but frequently laughs at
    his students' mistakes.
    Not to mention, this kind of attitude is unprofessional and disappointing,
    but, at the same time, makes me wonder whether TEFL (or TESOL)
    teachers are knowledgeable about linguistics.

    Though Chomsky says that the most important task for a language teahcer
    is to attract his/her students' attention,
    I believe that learning linguistic theories brings a lot of benefits to foreign language teaching.

    If they learn applied linguistic theories such as error analysis or affective filter hypothesis, they can detect the cause of their students' mistakes or errors
    and will never look down on them.
    If they learn phonetics, they can correct their students' pronunciations.
    This is more constructive than complaining about their students' "thick accents".
    If they learn syntax, they can correct their students' grammatical errors more effectively.

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