Why should language teachers be interested in psycholinguistics?
This essay was written by J. Rafael Angel Mendoza in 1998, for the subject of Applied Linguistics, taught by Carol Lethaby.
University of Guadalajara, Modern Foreign Language School
Psycholinguistcs is sometimes defined as the study of language and the mind. As the name suggests, it is a subject that links psychology and linguistics and, therefore, its purpose is to find out about the structures and processes that underlie humans’ ability to speak and understand language (Aitchison, 1986). For this reason psycholinguistics is presented as an instrument of communication among people that arises in every social area; for example, teaching.
Aitchison (1986) states that psycholinguistics is not only focused on language interaction between people; it is also focused on what is happening with the individual. Among the variety of topics, three seem to be the most relevant:
1. The acquisition problem, which refers to the human nature of being born equipped with a certain linguistic knowledge, or to the humans’ capacity to learn language due to their intelligence.
2. The link between language knowledge and language use, which consists of the internal representation of language anyone has (linguistic knowledge), rather than the way people actually use language. Language usage is linked to language knowledge in a way that one can:
a) Understand sentences (decode)
b) Produce sentences (encode)
c) Store linguistic knowledge.
Nevertheless, the way people store linguistic knowledge would appear to be the defining element in the reason why language teachers should possess interest in psycholinguistics, since it is he only area where linguistics can actually calculate and obtained fata from the internalized language one has acquired.
3. Producing and comprehending speech, which is the fact occurring exactly when a person understands and produces sentences. This means that when one is producing/using language, an infinite number of sentences can be generated and understood.
Thus, since psycholinguists deal with the different aspects of language, language teachers’ interest could arise when considering different methodology explorations, as well as language development: acquisition phases, learning stages, grammar/structures dominance, degrees of production, among others.
Language is extremely complex; therefore, it is essential to realize how essential it is to become familiar with all the processes comprised in language learning. Since the language classroom is the lab room where different learning experiences take place, language teachers can function as researchers who, utilizing the principles psycholinguistics offers, can find and devise methods and approaches that benefit students’ language learning and development (Jackendoff, 1994).
Likewise, involving psycholinguistics paradigms in one’s appreciation of the teaching process has many advantages, as each new way to teach will result in a multiple diverse ways of learning. In other ways, the rapport between teachers and learners will diversify, as teachers will be able to provide differentiated ways of learning according to learning styles. Moreover, students’ performance should offer teachers new scenarios for continuing to enhance their strategy repertoire and their understanding of the teaching/learning process.
Conclusively, since part of language teachers’ duties is to empower students to understand their own learning process, the study of linguistics equips teachers with the background to visualize how learners interact with their learning, with a series of understandings to best concoct learning situations in which students, besides acquiring and developing language skills, also enhance their learning process as a whole.
Aitchison, J. (1986) The Articulate Mammal (2nd edition). London: Huitchison pp 10-14.
Jackendoff, R. (1994) Patterns in the Mind, New York.: Basic Books, a division of Harper Collins Publishers.