It is common belief that language departments consist of experts in language and language learning. I am writing to tell you that this is not true. Language departments are largely—and in some cases, exclusively—concerned with literary and cultural studies. Such departments have little concern for the nature of language and less concern for how language is acquired. In most language departments, outdated myths about language and language acquisition inform most curricular development and pedagogical practice at all levels. The reason for these outdated myths is that there is no real presence of language science in these departments. As a consequence, many language departments are not the best places to learn language—in spite of what you might hear.

 

With the above said, I do not mean to question literary and cultural studies. Where would the humanities be without such efforts? But if you haven’t already found the following out, I will say it plainly: an expert in literary and cultural studies is almost always not an expert in language, language acquisition, or language teaching, in spite of what that person might claim. In fact, demographic data suggest that less than 20% of the professoriate in language departments actually consists of language experts (i.e., hold doctorates in some kind of language science and conduct research in this expertise). Six percent or less (depending on the language) are actual experts in language acquisition—a field that has direct implications for language teaching. In many institutions, there are no experts in language or language acquisition in a language department.