Applied Linguistics is all about using the results of language study in real life teaching.
Linguistics is the formal study of language. When the results of these studies are applied to TEFL at the chalkface, then this is applied linguistics. It is a relatively recent science and began to come to prominence in the 1950s in Europe and the United States.
Generally speaking, applied linguists ask a number of questions and then follow them up with scientific and academic research to find the answers:
- What is the best way to teach a language?
- What is the best way to learn a language?
- What factors affect language learning?
- How can technology help in language learning/teaching?
- How can social media help in language learning/teaching?
- How can language disorders be overcome?
A good example of the way in which applied linguistics has changed the classroom comes from studies into the way children learn their mother tongue (known as language acquisition). Academic research showed that children learned by being exposed to plenty of examples of language in context and slowly mimicking these, picking up language through everyday tasks.
However, at the time studies were showing this, schools were teaching language by giving grammar rules and very structured sentences and examples. In other words, the way people naturally learned languages was completely different from the way languages were taught in schools.
This led to a rethink amongst educators and since then we tend to teach English using a communicative method and the importance of grammar teaching in the classroom is far less than it used to be.
What is Applied Linguistics?
The term, applied linguistics, is quite general. This is partly because it is composed of many different disciplines including:
- computer science
An applied linguist might specialize in looking at the way in which the students’ psychology affects learning or perhaps how socio-economic criteria affect learning.
Applied linguistics can also be broken down into further specialized fields (in no particular order):
- bilingualism & multilingualism
- contrastive linguistics
- first and second language acquisition
- forensic linguistics
- discourse analysis
- computer assisted language learning
AAAL – American Association of Applied Linguistics – official website
BAAL – British Association for Applied Linguistics – official website