Content knowledge in language teacher education

Defining content knowledgeContent knowledge refers to the amount and organisation of knowledge per se in the mind of the teacher and it makes the distinct subject matter of the profession (James, 2001:5; Shulman, 1986:9; 1987:9). As regards EFL teachers (English as a Foreign Language), Roberts (1998: 105) points out that having content knowledge means that teachers show knowledge of the systems of the target language and competence in it. This means that teachers should have declarative knowledge of the language (Bailey et al., 2001: 23; Day 1990:43), i.e. knowledge about English grammar and phonetics, for instance, and be simultaneously proficient and confident users of it as they will become language models for their learners (Barnes, 2002:199).  Although it is asserted that well founded content knowledge provides ground for teacher authority and teaching as a profession (Ball et al., 2008:404), it should be acknowledged that, in ELT, English may be a foreign language taught as a subject (Widdowson, 2002:67-68). This means that teachers will present a pedagogical construct of the language as a real entity, which should not be equated to the language as experienced by its native speakers. Thus, we might suggest that teachers in Spain or Brazil, for example, should not be expected to know English as if it were their L1. Such an expectation would fail to recognise the numerous contextual features which might go against this goal in language teacher education. Nevertheless, language teacher education programmes are still called to offer rich opportunities for subject matter development through different sources.  Sources of content knowledge The sources for this type of knowledge will come from, as Shulman (1987: 8-9) describes, scholarship content disciplines related to English as a system. However, when we refer to content knowledge, we mean not only knowledge about the language but also the development of the different components of communicative competence. Needless to say, some of the sources, such as Linguistics, Phonetics, and Grammar, will enhance the linguistic competence of prospective teachers. With reference to Linguistics, Bartels (1999:46-56) adopts a cautious stance. He believes that linguistic knowledge will become meaningful to student-teachers provided it shows them how this knowledge can be used for language teaching. Linguistics teaching, Bartels continues, should be for developing knowledge of interlanguage analysis, and developing skills in analysing second language learning in specific students. I believe this may be a rather functional view of Linguistics as it is expected to be applied to teaching only. In my view, Linguistics needs to be explored both for its own sake and for language teaching purposes since teachers may also become involved in applied linguistics projects not necessarily linked to formal education. On the other hand, it is also claimed that communicative competence may be best achieved if intercultural understanding is included in programmes (Byram, 1999:73; Woodgate-Jones, 2008:2-3). Also, Davies (2002:63) states that a social component in the shape of sociolinguistics offers ILTE both knowledge about the complexities of speech communities found in the English language, and skills which will inform curriculum choices among varieties of English. This sociolinguistic source within content knowledge applies to both subject matter knowledge, the language as a system, and cultural awareness. To speak about communities of practice in this matrix is to include information about World Englishes as another source for knowledge-base whose origin is not American or European (Brown, 2002:446). Therefore, this interest in the social aspect of content knowledge can be seen under what I may call general cultural knowledge whose sources could be History, Geography and Literature among others. Thus, we could draw a distinction between subject-matter knowledge, i.e., knowledge of the language connected with linguistic competence, and general cultural knowledge, which aims at expanding student-teachers’ cultural capital in their ILTE.

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