The Importance of Subject Knowledge and Pedagogy in Language Teaching

The Importance of Subject Knowledge and Pedagogy in Language Teaching

29 May 2024

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This informal CPD article, ‘The Importance of Subject Knowledge and Pedagogy in Language Teaching’, was provided by International Language Experts, who organise language training for companies and individuals. 

Effective language teaching hinges on a teacher's deep understanding of subject knowledge and the application of sound pedagogical principles. These twin pillars not only enhance the quality of instruction but also ensure that learning experiences are meaningful, engaging, and effective for students. This article delves into the importance of subject knowledge and pedagogy, emphasizing the nuanced approaches required when teaching children compared to adults.

The Role of Subject Knowledge

Subject knowledge refers to a teacher's comprehensive understanding of the content they are teaching. In the context of language instruction, this includes a grasp of grammar, vocabulary, syntax, phonetics, and cultural nuances of the language. A robust foundation in subject knowledge allows teachers to explain concepts clearly, anticipate and address common learner misconceptions, and provide accurate information (Shulman, 1986).

Having a deep understanding of the language enables teachers to create rich learning environments. For instance, they can design activities that encourage meaningful communication, select texts that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, and respond effectively to students' questions. This depth of knowledge also allows for flexibility in teaching, enabling educators to tailor their instruction to meet the diverse needs of learners.

The Importance of Pedagogy

Pedagogy, the art and science of teaching, involves the methods and strategies used to impart knowledge and skills. Applying pedagogical principles effectively can significantly impact student outcomes. Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) integrates pedagogy and subject knowledge, enabling teachers to transform their understanding into teachable content (Shulman, 1987).

Pedagogy encompasses a range of teaching strategies, from direct instruction and scaffolding to collaborative learning and inquiry-based activities. Effective teachers use a mix of these strategies, informed by their understanding of how students learn. For example, Vygotsky’s (1978) concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) suggests that learners benefit most from tasks that are just beyond their current abilities but achievable with guidance. Teachers who apply this principle can design lessons that challenge students while providing the necessary support.

Teaching Children vs. Adults

The approach to teaching languages must be tailored to the age and developmental stage of the learners. Children and adults differ significantly in their cognitive, emotional, and social characteristics, which impacts how they learn languages.

Teaching Children

Children are typically more receptive to learning new languages due to their developmental stage. They benefit from immersive, play-based, and interactive methods. According to Piaget (1972), children learn best through active engagement and concrete experiences. Therefore, language instruction for children should involve hands-on activities, games, songs, and stories that make learning fun and relevant.

Pedagogical principles such as scaffolding are particularly effective with children. Teachers can provide structured support that gradually diminishes as the child gains independence in using the language. Repetition and reinforcement are also crucial, as young learners need to hear and use new language forms repeatedly in various contexts to internalize them.

Teaching Adults

Adults, on the other hand, bring a wealth of life experience and prior knowledge to the learning process, which can be leveraged in language instruction. They tend to be more goal-oriented and motivated by practical applications of the language. Andragogy, or the method and practice of teaching adult learners, emphasizes the importance of relevance, self-direction, and practical problem-solving (Knowles, 1980).

For adults, instruction should be contextually relevant, connecting language learning to real-life situations, such as workplace communication or travel scenarios. Adults also benefit from explicit grammar instruction and the opportunity to practice language in meaningful, task-based activities. Constructive feedback and opportunities for reflection are essential, as they help adult learners understand their progress and areas for improvement.


The integration of subject knowledge and pedagogical principles is fundamental to effective language teaching. Teachers must adapt their strategies to suit the developmental stages and learning characteristics of their students, whether they are children or adults. By doing so, they create a dynamic and supportive learning environment that fosters language acquisition and proficiency.

Ultimately, the interplay of subject knowledge and pedagogy not only enhances the teaching process but also empowers learners to achieve their language learning goals. As educators continue to refine their practices, staying informed by current research and pedagogical theories will remain essential in delivering high-quality language education.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from International Language Experts, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.


Knowles, M. S. (1980). The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy. Cambridge Books.

Piaget, J. (1972). The Psychology of the Child. Basic Books.

Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those Who Understand: Knowledge Growth in Teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.

Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Harvard University Press.

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International Language Experts

For more information from International Language Experts, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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