About the Author

Elaine Horwitz
University of Texas at Austin

Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Director of the Graduate Program in Foreign Language Education at the University of Texas at Austin. She also teaches courses in language teaching methodology, second language acquisition, language testing, and second language research methods.

Weigh In: Is Teaching Language an Art or a Science?

Is teaching an art or a science? Are good teachers born or do people learn to be good teachers through study, experience, and mentorship? If the answer is study, what should be studied? Are the answers to these questions the same or different for second language teachers? How much “art” and how much “science” is there/should there be in language teaching?

The “science” of second language teaching is usually called Second Language Acquisition. The academic field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) seeks to understand how people develop the ability to listen to, speak, read, and write a new language. Most scholars also include the development of cultural understanding and cultural competence, or the ability to act appropriately in the second language community within the scope of SLA. It is generally believed that the best second language instruction is based on current SLA findings about how humans develop the ability to use new languages, and methods books directed at new language teachers typically include summaries of SLA research.

For people who write methods books, it is difficult to decide how much SLA material to include. Books that actually summarize current research in SLA can reach more than 500 pages. For example, the popular new volume by Susan Gass, Jennifer Behney, and Luke Plonsky, (Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course, Routledge, 2013) is 613 pages. There are also many academic journals that appear each month with new SLA findings. So it is essential that the authors of methods books choose SLA topics that are the most important for new teachers. Unfortunately, this choice is often easier said than done. In addition, SLA research can also be very abstract or have the goal of better understanding the workings of the human brain or the nature of language, rather than the best way to teach second languages.

These are all issues that I spent a lot of time thinking about when I wrote the first edition of Becoming a Language Teacher: A Practical Guide to Second Language Learning and Teaching. In revising the book for the second edition, I had to decide which SLA topics included in the first edition is still relevant to language teachers. I also had to choose new SLA findings to add. For example, the second edition includes additional SLA theories: Merrill Swain’s Output Hypothesis and Sociocultural Theories of SLA.

Maybe there is another and perhaps better way to decide which SLA material to include in a methods book: ask the book’s readers, so I am going to open a discussion here.

If you are a new language teacher, which second language acquisition questions do you want to read about?

If you are an experienced, language teacher, what do you think are the most important SLA topics for new teachers to learn about?

HorwitzCoverElaine Horwitz is Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Director of the Graduate Program in Foreign Language Education at the University of Texas at Austin. She also teaches courses in language teaching methodology, second language acquisition, language testing, and second language research methods. She is well known for her research on language anxiety and student and teacher beliefs about language learning. In addition to numerous scholarly articles and chapters, she is the co-editor with Dolly Young of Language Anxiety: From Theory and Practice to Classroom Implications. Her assessment tools, the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale and the Beliefs about Language Learning Inventory, are widely used to help teachers and researchers better understand the needs of second language learners. She has been an invited lecturer and consultant on improving language teaching throughout the world. Professor Horwitz is the author of Becoming a Language Teacher: A Practical Guide to Second Language Learning and Teaching, 2e.

2 Responses to Weigh In: Is Teaching Language an Art or a Science?

  1. Nihat Polat says:

    As teacher educators, we try to make sure we use the most relevant sources to help our teacher candidates ‘become’ the best teachers they can become. To do that, they need both the ‘science’ and the ‘art’. Even back when I was at graduate school, I always dreamed about a book that presented the ‘science’ and the ‘art’ of L2 teaching/learning integratedly. Elaine’s book does exactly that- presents SLA theory and research with approaches and methods in L2 education for candidates who are on their way to ‘become’ language teachers. I’ve been using this book for over five years now, and our teacher candidates have loved it!

    Thanks Elaine, for such a wonderful contribution to the field!

  2. zoux says:

    i believe art is more favored in language teaching.

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