As language teachers, we think about, talk about, and use language frequently, but we may or may not be aware of the ways in which we do it. This awareness is called teacher language awareness, or TLA, and we access our TLA in many different ways. TLA has three domains, the User, the Analyst, and the Teacher, as described by Edge (1988).
Your User Domain centers on your ability to use the language, or your language proficiency. It also includes all that goes along with being able to use a language proficiently, including knowing the sociocultural norms of the language, the different registers of the language, and how the context of some utterances can change their meaning.
The Analyst Domain addresses your ability to analyze the language, and understand its parts and structures. Teachers with highly developed Analyst Domains would likely be able to explain the forms and functions of English, or how the linguistic subfields of phonology, syntax, pragmatics, and semantics work together, for example.
Finally, the Teacher Domain includes your stores of pedagogical knowledge—both general knowledge, such as how to manage a classroom or pace a lesson, as well as pedagogical content knowledge, which is your ability to present lessons in and about English in such a way that your students understand them and are engaged in your class. To do this, TESOL educators must also draw upon their knowledge of language acquisition theory, their institutional and/or curricular requirements, and their own expertise as educators.
Phew! No wonder teaching language is such a challenging and rewarding task—there is a lot going on! In thinking about your own teaching and your TLA, are there areas in which you are more comfortable than others? For example:
- Do you feel like you have a good grasp of English grammar rules and structures, but have a more difficult time with pronunciation or idioms and slang?
- Do you feel like you are a very fluent speaker of English, but have a hard time explaining why or why not something is “correct” or “sounds right” in English?
- Perhaps you have studied English formally for several years, but are trying to learn new strategies and techniques to best reach your students.
These are all examples of strength in one domain, and needing development in another. As TESOL educators, it is important to remember that developing our own TLA is a career-long process, and each domain is important in its own right. That is, it may not be enough to speak and write in English well—TESOL educators should also be able to understand English as a system, and teach it in engaging and creative ways.
On the other hand, all the grammar knowledge in the world may not be helpful to students if they do not understand how to use it in different situations and with whom, or are not able to use it for their desired purposes. In addition, the most fun and immersive classroom activities cease to be meaningful if they do not serve to help students learn something about English or how to use it in English-speaking contexts. Balancing the growth of our three domains of TLA may help us to provide a more well-rounded English learning experience for our students, and a rewarding professional experience for ourselves.
Feel free to comment about TLA—what is your language background and teaching context? Which domain of TLA do you feel is your most developed? Which one would you like to improve upon? How might you go about that in terms of professional development?
Additional reading on TLA can be found in these sources:
- Andrews, S. J. (2007). Teacher language awareness. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
- Edge, J. (1988). Applying linguistics in English language teacher training for speakers of other languages. ELT Journal, 42(1), 9–13.
- Garcia, O. (2008). Multilingual language awareness and teacher education. In Encyclopedia of language and education (pp. 2130–2145). Springer US.
- Wright, T., & Bolitho, R. (1993). Language awareness: A missing link in language teacher education? ELT Journal, 47, 292–304.