3 Approaches to the Study of Language 


3 Approaches to the Study of Language 

Freeman & Freeman (2014) present three approaches to the study of language. The first one discussed is language as structure. Those who follow this approach want to learn the grammar and mechanics of the language. The second one discussed is language as a mental faculty. Those who follow this approach believe that the human brain is preconditioned to learn language. They believe there is a connection between one’s cognitive abilities and language acquisition. The final approach is language as a functional resource. Those who follow this approach view language as a way to function. They are more concerned with the social interactions to develop language. What are the key ideas of each of these approaches and what are the implications for teaching each approach?  

Language as a Structure 

Language as structure refers to grammar. Those who follow this method are concerned with various parts of language, for example, they would teach sentence diagrams and have students identify words according to their part of speech such as a noun or a verb and so on. They study the Syntax of the language. The problem is we assume that all languages have the same parts of speech. This however has been the way many Americans have been taught language in the past and still current in many cases. This method does not allow students to learn how to communicate in the language they have chosen to learn.  

Language as Mental Faculty  

Language as a mental faculty deals with the connection between language and cognition. Language is something that is innate to all humans and part of our cognition. It is something that is preconditioned it us. Humans have an innate ability to learn language. Does this mean that humans only have this ability at an early age, or does this mean that we can learn language at any age? Does this mean that other species do not have the same ability? People who follow this method try to use this innate ability to teach language.  

Language as Functional Resource 

Language as a functional resource means language is about communication. Many have talked about how language should be inclusive. Which means when you study language you should be fully immersed in the language and the culture. This approach focuses on, “engaging in social interactions, humans develop the language they need” (Freeman and Freeman, 2014 p. 12). There are three aspects of this approach the field, the tenor, and the mode. All three of these aspects work together to in social interactions. However, things might be perceived differently in different cultures. What is accepted in one culture may not be accepted in another.  


All three of these approaches have merit and all add something to the study of language, however on their own they are missing key components. While grammar is important when learning a language, it cannot be taught as the only way to learn language. The same goes for language as a mental faculty. Even if language is an innate human ability, that does not mean that we can’t learn to use the other approaches. Finally, language as a functional approach is wonderful, but it does nothing to help someone read or write in that language. In conclusion, all approaches have merit, but it would be better for teachers to combine them.  


Freeman, D. E,. & Freeman, Y. S., (2014). Essential Linguistics: What Teachers Need to Know to Teach (7th ed.).


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