The interdisciplinary nature of language teaching

The English language classroom is one of only a handful of settings in which language is used and learned simply for the sake of using and learning it. Beyond the classroom, English is used for a myriad of transactional reasons—getting things done—and relational reasons—using language to build relationships. Just as one’s L2 is used beyond the classroom in innumerable disciplines and for in nite purposes, so too can multifarious elds contribute to our approaches to teaching the language. Here I will touch on three that have in uenced my teaching in ways that have been useful to my students in their real lives, beyond the classroom.

The rst is phonetics (i.e., how the human body makes the sounds of a particular language). How can English learners’ awareness of phonological processes enable them to accurately articulate the sounds of English which do not exist in their native languages? While the training of language teachers commonly includes instruction in the grammatical structure of English, many teachers do not know how the sounds which make up English are formed within the vocal tract (the parts of the human body used to make language sounds, beginning at the lips and nostrils and going all the way down to the vocal cords in the larynx). Knowing what the tongue position looks like, whether or not the vocal cords are vibrating, and how the airstream is obstructed, or not, in the articulation of each English sound, enables me, as a teacher, to explain and show my students how the sounds are made. It enables me to suggest adjustments to the student’s tongue position in order to produce a more target-like sound. The sounds that come before and after the one which is being learned—say, the /æ/ in pat—in uence how it is articulated. This is why pat, in which the vocal cords are still for the nal consonant, has a shorter-sounding /æ/ than pad, in which the /æ/ is longer because the vocal cords vibrate for the nal /d/. Phonetics has already contributed vastly to researchers’ understanding of how languages are spoken and learned. Teachers and their students who understand the mechanics of constructing the sounds of English can visualize and, much more quickly, imitate the English sounds that they hear.

In thinking about English beyond the language classroom, one of the Julie Kerekesmost common contexts that comes to mind is employment. The eld of human resources gives ESL teachers a rich knowledge base regarding the language used in seeking employment (the job interview) as well as on the job. Social psychological experiments have shown that prospective employers form their rst, and often lasting, impressions of job candidates within mere seconds. The message a job candidate communicates within the rst few seconds of a job interview is formed by much more than just words. The job candidate’s physical appearance, facial expressions, intonation patterns, and eye contact, to name just a few nonverbal factors, are all contributors to the overall impression the candidate effects. Language teachers who are informed about how people can make positive impressions on the people with whom they interact can share with their students how establishing rapport and discovering common ground with one’s interlocutor can be just as important, or even more important, than speaking English uently and articulately. Workplaces are more diverse than ever, in terms of the demographics but also employee mobility and employee roles. One can express exibility, adaptability, and enthusiasm within split seconds of an encounter. These qualities can be addressed in the language classroom, and will contribute greatly to rst impressions at work.

Finally, the teacher can go beyond what is helpful to her students as individuals by taking a feminist theoretically informed pedagogical approach. Feminism, while aimed at recognizing and treating all people equally, emphasizes variability in terms of what each student (and each teacher) needs in order to be able to learn (and teach) effectively. Rather than a teacher-fronted class in which the teacher determines what the students need and then delivers it to them as a group, in a feminist-oriented classroom there is room for negotiations between teacher and students which enable the teacher to understand better what will help each student. A feminist approach promotes relationship-building in the classroom, through which the teacher becomes more invested in each student’s success, while the students also become more involved in each other’s positive learning experiences. While individual learning (and teaching) styles are taken into consideration, the overall effect of a feminist pedagogical approach is a more collective learning experience. The linguistic and cultural differences that make up a classroom community are seen as, rather than obstacles that stand in the way of clear communication, an eclectic set of resources contributed by each student and the teacher. Members of this community build rapport with each other through sharing of common as well as unique experiences. Language learning as not merely an individual activity and achievement, but it is co-constructed by those within the learning community.


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