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History and Rationale

History

SLAT received approval from the Arizona Board of Regents in Fall 1990, and admitted its first doctoral students in Spring 1991. It is organized as an interdisciplinary committee, which currently has a membership of over seventy faculty with primary appointments in seventeen different departments housed in the College of Letters, Arts and Science (these include the College of Humanities, the College of Science, and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences), and the College of Education.

Specialists in SLAT are in demand at the state and national levels, as the number of non-English speaking students increases in the United States. According to some estimates about 18 percent of all school-age children in the U.S. came from non-English speaking homes, with major concentrations in the Southwest. These demographics demand an augmentation in research and development in the area of second language acquisition in order to solve the many complex problems which English language learners face.

Recent statistics also indicate an increase in foreign language enrollments at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels in the U.S., including traditionally taught languages like Spanish as well as less commonly taught languages like Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese. The renewed interest in foreign language learning places additional responsibilities on institutions of higher education to gain an optimal understanding of second language acquisition processes and the implications for classroom instruction. A survey of Modern Language Association’s Job Information Lists indicates that approximately twenty percent of all positions currently available in foreign language areas in U.S. universities require specialization in Second Language Acquisition or Language Pedagogy.

At the international level, there is steadily increasing professionalization of the field of second language research and teaching. There is thus also increasing demand for highly trained experts at universities abroad that wish to develop graduate programs in this field. In any given year, approximately 40-45% of the students currently enrolled in SLAT are from other countries.

The decision to organize SLAT as an interdisciplinary committee rather than within departmental bounds was made for reasons of program quality, efficiency, and coordination. First, understanding of the processes and practices of second language acquisition involves consideration of the interrelationships of language, learner (cognitive, affective, and social), and instructional variables. Applied linguists, sociolinguists, theoretical and functional linguists, psycholinguists, linguistic anthropologists, cognitive scientists and educational researchers have all been making contributions toward building an emerging theory of language acquisition. The conduct of research and the training of new scholars can thus best be implemented in a structure that minimizes administrative and disciplinary barriers. Second, at the time SLAT was proposed, several departments at the U of A already employed nationally and internationally recognized scholars who conduct research, teach, and publish in this and related areas. The establishment of this interdisciplinary committee brought existing resources into a cohesive program that has become one of the leading doctoral programs in the field. Third, the establishment of SLAT provided integrative ties for basic undergraduate language instruction on this campus, which is administered across the College of Humanities (e.g., English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Latin), the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Native American Languages), and the College of Education (American Sign Language). SLAT faculty members include the coordinators for instruction of most of these languages, who now have enhanced channels and opportunities for communication, collaboration, and innovative development. The participation of SLAT doctoral students as graduate teaching associates in various basic language programs is also contributing to the quality of undergraduate education by providing more experienced and more highly trained instructors than were previously available, and by substantially increasing the integration of instruction with current theory and research.