The course Applied Linguistics for Language Teachers, which I taught in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years at the University of Graz, was part of the curriculum of pre-service teachers who were working towards a degree in English Language Education. The course consisted of 13 lectures with a practical component (Vorlesung mit Übung), which covered topics in first and second language acquisition (SLA), psychological aspects of SLA, implications of the role of English as a global language, and assessment.
Theory in SLA (Lecture 1)
In this introductory session we discussed what applied linguistics is all about, and we also looked into the role of theory in the professional development of language teachers. Some of the questions that we examined included:
- What is theory, and why is it important to language teachers?
- Why are some teachers sceptical about theory?
- What are the features of good (and bad!) theory?
- What theoretical knowledge do language teachers need?
English in the World (Lectures 2 & 3)
In these lectures, we discussed the following questions:
- ‘English is a global language’, but what does this actually mean? In connection to this question, we discussed the characteristics of lingua francas, and the ‘linguistic imperialism’ thesis (Phillipson, 1992).
- Is English a single language? This question was used to raise awareness of the diversity of English(es) across the globe. We also discussed the implications of this diversity of English in language education.
- Are native speakers ideal teachers? This question was used to prompt discussion about the characteristics of native speakers. We also used it as a starting point for thinking about issues of linguistic discrimination.
Second Language Acquisition (Lectures 4-6)
These lectures focused on second language acquisition. In the lectures, course participants engaged with contemporary theory about how languages are acquired, and how second language acquisition differs from the acquisition of the first language(s). Lecture 6 focussed especially on the critical period hypothesis, and its implications for instructed language education.
Psychology of Language Learning (Lectures 7 & 8)
The first of these lectures focused on the question: ‘What influences success in Second Language Acquisition?‘ In the lecture, we examined two contrasting perspectives, (a) that success is conditional on an innate ‘talent’ (Language Learning Aptitude); and (b) that success might depend on one’s core beliefs about learning (mindsets).
The next lecture in this segment looked into the question of motivation in language learning. In the lecture, we:
- discussed what motivation is;
- juxtaposed different approaches to understanding motivation;
- reflected on ways to generate and sustain motivation in instructed language learning.
Communicative competence (Lectures 9 & 10)
In these lectures we took a closer look on the notion of communicative competence, which we contrasted to more restricted understandings of linguistic / grammatical competence. We examined the linguistic theories that underpin communicative competence, and discussed their implications for language teaching.
Assessment (Lecture 11)
In this lecture, we took a critical look into language assessment. Among the things we discussed were:
- different types of assessment;
- the features of “good” and “bad” testing;
- the centralised Matura (the national school leaving exam in Austria);
- and the effect(s) of testing on teaching.