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Archived Content from Conference Held in May 1999 

Building on our Strengths:
Second International Conference on Language Teacher Education


Whose Field Is It, Anyway? Controlling Definitions of Language Study

Pat Chaput, Harvard University

Any discussion of issues of power, status, and authority and language teaching must take into account the context of Ph.D. and master's degree granting language and literature departments that are the training ground of hundreds, even thousands of college and pre-college foreign language teachers. The socialization that students (future teachers) receive in these programs will shape their classroom practice and establish the priorities by which they measure and defend both the value of foreign language study and their success as teachers for years to come. These practices and values in turn derive from a definition of language study shaped by their departments that may never have been made explicit. The absence of such explicit consideration both of potential definitions and of the process of socialization that shapes them frequently hampers foreign language study from realizing its potential. Students may emerge as future teachers without having had their existing assumptions about the nature and purposes of language study questioned or even identified and without any explicit discussion of the contexts and content of language study in the United States. More unfortunately, these future teachers may have absorbed attitudes that negatively shrink and limit the very definition of what they do.

Teacher preparation programs are ideal opportunities for self-reflexive examination of the purposes and expectations of language study at all levels, and in various institutional contexts. They are opportunities to address issues of power, status, and authority, and to become sensitive to the discourses of language study, even to the terminology used (learners vs. students; teacher education vs. teacher training vs. teacher preparation; language learning vs. language study, etc.). Most importantly, they are opportunities to nurture habits of thought that separate the subject matter from multiple ways to teach it, articulate the content of language study and its potential contribution to broader educational goals, and encourage teachers to develop courses thoughtfully, independently, and realistically in response to the different circumstances they will encounter in different institutions and institutional contexts.


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