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Linguistics for ESL Teachers

Linguistics for ESL Teachers | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Anyone who has studied linguistics or is a linguist has often been faced with the question, “so how many languages do you speak?”

A point of short-lived frustration in these scenarios, linguists are often mistaken for being polyglots.

Although sometimes they will focus on a particular language and even become fluent in it, their goal is not to translate documents or conversations for the sole purpose of doing so.

What is Linguistics?

Linguistics, therefore, is the study of human languages, the brain processes that allow us to communicate with each other. With some of the big questions tackled being, how does the brain put together sentences, learn new languages, where our languages come from, and why languages change.

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Why does it matter?

We often take it for granted as only a means of communicating, giving and receiving information, or forming connections with people. But it is everywhere, from old books to the endless streams on our social media feeds.

But when we look deeper, we find that the way we use language is shaped by and helps shape the setting we’re in, from formal and informal to specific relationships or cultural connections. The way we speak is essentially shaped by what surrounds us.

How does it work?

Apart from questionnaires and experiments, and general observation of the populus, linguists may utilize existing texts, recordings, video, historical documents, and introspection by consulting the language knowledge inside their own minds.

There are scientific methods and models developed by linguists to measure different variables, including mathematical equations, which helps to clear the social misconception that linguistics is purely a humanities-based subject.

Models such as the phrase structure trees developed by Noam Chompsky show us that we have an underlying mental structure of language in our brains that we are not aware of and process language hierarchically in chunks rather than word by word linearly.

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How can teachers use linguistics to teach a foreign language such as English?

For teachers working in a country with a different native language, or with ESL students, Utilizing phonetics and or phonology can enable them to better facilitate how certain alphabets are to be pronounced as opposed to how they are perceived when written—referring specifically to the oral features that are manipulated, as a part of the study into speech anatomy.

Understanding syntax may aid in explaining the differences between the grammar of the native language and the target language.

It helps clarify said differences so the students understand the accurate format of sentence structure and can further improvise more advanced sentences with multiple features and figures of speech without hesitation.

Can it help in career development?

Teachers in specific countries could further specialize in teaching students with those specific native languages and become an expert on the subject.

Developing methods and finding solutions to common issues for the students with existing lingual biases and developing their English skills with improved efficacy and efficiency.

Furthermore, studying linguistics can open up one’s career beyond teaching in the traditional sense or teaching altogether.

It is directly relevant in certain developing industries, such as speech recognition used in machine learning for Artificial Intelligence. Or for speech pathologists, special education teachers, legislators, writers, editors, and journalists.

In conclusion

Therefore, the study of linguistics is quintessential for the better comprehension of concepts such as human psychology, anthropology, and, most important of all, communication. All of this affects us on an everyday basis.

Every language teacher should consider studying linguistics at least in some part to improve their experience further and potentially, that of their students.

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