Exploring modern languages linguistics

Dr Federico Faloppa and Dr Chiara Ciarlo, School of Literature and Languages
f.faloppa@reading.ac.uk

Overview

12756The project successfully developed an introductory module in general linguistics, with a focus on foreign language specific issues for Part Two students who choose to do a single or joint honours language degree.  Providing a module for the teaching of linguistics to Modern Languages and European Studies students has had many benefits for the students, who report that the module has helped with their study of foreign languages.

Objectives

  • To determine which linguistics topics Part Two students would have an interest in, and benefit most from, studying in-depth.
  • To design a linguistics course for Modern Languages and European Studies students.
  • Provide students with theoretical knowledge which they can transfer to the study and understanding of other languages.
  • Provide students with skills that will improve their employability.

Context

Previously, the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies had offered only individual language tutorials or modules in the history of languages, and language in society, but little aimed at providing a general theoretical linguistic background of the languages that are taught.

Feedback on the language modules from previous years highlighted that a number of Modern Languages and European Studies students desired linguistics training. Although students were able to take courses offered by the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics, these were only of partial help to language students, as these courses mainly focus on the English language, and are not designed to have a supporting role in the study of foreign languages. As a result, it was necessary to design and pilot a linguistics course for Modern Languages and European Studies students, including core linguistic principles and more language-specific issues, with an eye to recurrent errors in the students’ language production on which they would be able to reflect.

Implementation

The first six months of the project were devoted to the gathering and analysis of resources in order to carry out research activity on aspects of the teaching of linguistics in modern foreign languages degrees.

Research activity was conducted to compare the level of linguistics provision in modern foreign languages degrees in the UK, and to establish what areas of linguistics are given more prominence in modern foreign languages curricula. The results of this research contributed to the creation of a network of experts in the field of the linguistics of modern foreign languages, who were later invited to present their views on the topic in a workshop held at the University of Reading.

For the one-day workshop, experts in the field of the linguistics of modern foreign languages were invited to present their latest research. This event was addressed to all staff and students within Modern Languages and European Studies, English Language and Applied Linguistics, the International Study and Language Institute, and the Institute of Education, in order to generate a shared discussion on the integration between language study and the study of language.

These activities fed into the creation of a taster session for phonetics, phonology and syntax, to which Part One students were invited to attend. At the end of the event, students were asked to give their feedback on the relevance, usefulness, or difficulty of what was explained during the taster sessions. This feedback was valuable for helping finalise the pilot module description.

The pilot module description was then approved, and the new module was taught during the 2013-14 academic year.

Impact

The project was successful, as it achieved its principle aim of creating a module to teach linguistics for Modern Languages and European Studies students, with the course structure and content having been established through a consultative process in order to ensure that students are provided with a module that meets their expectations of a linguistics course, and is able to provide students with a theoretical understanding of linguistics that should support their learning of modern languages, and with skills that will more generally enhance their employability.

Teaching linguistics to Modern Languages and European Studies students has been of great benefit to the students. Teaching staff within the Department have noted that students taking linguistics modules have more confidence and accuracy in their pronunciation when speaking foreign languages, and generally make fewer errors.

Reflections

Beyond its use to refine the module that would be taught, the taster session was beneficial as it highlighted the benefits that students receive from taster sessions with regard to their making module choices: as a result, the School explored the possibility of providing taster sessions for students to guide them in choosing their modules. Additionally, the provision of such taster sessions is valuable as it provides information on student expectations for module convenors, who can plan and design their modules so that they better meet these expectations.

The success of the project lead to the establishment of a Language and Linguistics Workgroup in order to investigate the implementation and coordination of linguistics teaching within the School.

Students have found the formal learning of linguistics very useful for their study of Modern Languages. With a better understanding of linguistic theory, students are better able to appreciate the errors they make within their own study. Students appreciate the challenge of learning linguistics, but some aspects, for example phonetics and syntax, are very technical, and students seemed to find these the most difficult. To help students meet the challenge, different approaches to teaching these topics have been utilised within the the module, such as creating visual representations of syntax, or using information technology in the teaching of phonetics.

Follow up

The pilot year of teaching the module was greatly successful, and as a result the opportunity to learn linguistics was opened up to all students within the School of Modern Languages and European Studies. Whereas the pilot module was a Part Two module, the module has now been redesigned to allow its provision at Part One. By having the module provided at Part One, students are now able to obtain a strong foundation in the linguistic theory that underpins their study of a modern language before they go on to more in-depth study in Parts Two and Three. Additionally, while teaching linguistics at Part One requires some aspects of the module to be simplified, it is able to contribute to a pathway in Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading, building up students’ linguistic knowledge over the course of their undergraduate study.

The project has also opened up the possibility for interdisciplinary cooperation: bilingual students from Modern Languages and European Studies collaborated on a project with Neurolinguistics students from the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences.

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