What is the role of educational applied linguistics in language teaching?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The field of educational linguistics is a related-but-separate field of study that stems from applied linguistics. Using the same scientific and problem-based inquiry model as the field of applied linguistics, the area of educational linguistics specializes in the study of the cognitive processes that take place when languages are learned. This field also identifies strategies and interventions that can be considered as best practices for teaching languages. Additionally, it explores the use of language from a social, psychological, and educational perspective.

The history of educational linguistics goes back to 1972 when researcher Bernard Spolsky proposed a field of study that would address the need for using a clear methodology of breath, depth and application into language learning inquiry.

Spolsky contended that one of the basic "problems" within the field of applied linguistics is the lacking definition of a policy for language learning and teaching that is completely separate from the scientific study of language in isolation. In his 1974 article "Linguistics and the language barrier to education" Spolky speaks of a need to

...offer information relevant to the formulation of language education policy and to its implementation

This means that the role of educational linguistics is to provide teachers with insight as to what cognitive processes take place during second language and first language learning. Once these processes are identified, teachers can correlate them to best practices to be applied in the classroom. The implementation to which Spolksy refers is the process of creating and testing a solid and valid curriculum to address the needs of all learners. 

Sub-fields of educational linguistics include psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics, among many more. This is because, as Spolsky also argued, the process of language learning involves much more than the application of a teaching method: it is a combination of monitor versus bendable rules, of social dynamics, of inherent meaning, and of psychological processes.

In other words, it is thanks to the study of educational linguistics that we are able to treat language as a system of discourse, and not merely as a flat process. The role of educational linguistics is, then, to serve as the "go-to" source for teachers and learners alike to understand what is involved in the process of verbal communication, and what are the most effective ways to teach and learn this combination of sounds, symbols, and meanings which we call "language".


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