Composition vs. Linguistics

“Well DUH!”

This was my continued feeling as I read through Paul K. Matsuda’s article “Composition Studies and ESL Writing: A Disciplinary Division of Labor.” Of course specialized ESL courses are necessary for second-language speakers. As Matsuda gives the history of the development of ESL courses in various institutions, he mentions the growth of ESL students in universities and how the end of World War II brought with it a surge in ESL students. This fact alone makes me think that ESL courses would then be a given at the university level. Like every change that occurs though, the question then becomes who is in charge of this new program. While reading, it was clear that composition instructors did not want the task of having to learn new skills or adjust their teaching method to accommodate these new students. Linguistics teachers, on the other hand, were more than happy to take in these students having already had the proper training in second-language learning. The common sense here leads us to believe the composition instructors would just give up the ESL students, however this was not the case. Not fully understanding second-language learning, the composition instructors felt that it was not necessary to have a whole ESL program, but rather a few classes.

When I first chose a major at San Diego State University, I was a linguistics major. I enjoyed it because I was learning more about foreign languages than I had learned in my six semesters of Spanish. Instead of memorizing vocabulary and tenses, Linguistics was letting me break down every piece of the language, down to each word and phoneme. Despite being a native English speaker, it was in turn reflecting in my English performances because I could apply the techniques I was learning from Linguistics to my own writings for class. After this experience, and reading Matsuda’s article, there is no question in my mind that ESL courses need to be designed within an entire ESL program.

Having switched my major over to English but continuing to take Linguistics courses, I know that the process of second-language learning is never complete. Working together, composition and linguistics, is the only way in which we can provide the best assistance to ESL students. It doesn’t need to be a competition of who gets to teach what, but rather how we can both provide for the needs of the students.

Leave a Reply