Ellis Sla Perspective

Topics: Second language acquisition, Research, Teacher Pages: 39 (13452 words) Published: March 21, 2013
SLSSLA, 20, 69–92. Printed in the United States of America.

An Educational Perspective

Rod Ellis
Temple University

Many SLA researchers have demonstrated an interest in language pedagogy (LP), yet the relationship between SLA and LP is a problematic one, not so much because of the limitations of SLA itself but because the two disciplines involve different “Discourses” (Gee, 1990). In this paper it is argued that an educational perspective is needed in order to examine how SLA can contribute to LP. Such a perspective suggests ways in which SLA can be appraised in a pedagogically relevant manner and, more importantly, what kinds of applications may be fruitful. It is suggested that relevance is more likely to be achieved if SLA is used to address issues that practitioners nominate as important to them. Different models of application are considered, reflecting different ways of viewing teaching. A behavioral model, according to which teachers implement those behaviors that research has shown to be effective, is rejected. However, SLA can serve as an important source of information that can help to shape practitioners’ theories of teaching (a cognitive model). Most importantly, it constitutes a source of “provisional specifications” that practitioners can evaluate in their own contexts of action (an interpretation model). SLA also affords practitioners the means for conducting their own investigations. In short, an educational perspective suggests that for SLA to influence LP, practitioners need assistance in transforming knowledge about L2 acquisition into practice.

‘ . . . researchers must justify themselves to practitioners, not practitioners to researchers.’ Stenhouse, 1981

SLA has in part, perhaps the larger part, been motivated by an expressed desire to improve language pedagogy. Pica (1994) writes, “Much of the work (in SLA) has  1997 Cambridge University Press 0272-2631/97 $7.50 + .10



Rod Ellis

been carried out by language researchers who are deeply interested in teaching practice because many of them were teachers at one time” (p. 50). The work that Pica refers to has involved both the study of naturalistic and instructed L2 acquisition. The rationale for studying the former is provided by Hatch, Flashner, and Hunt (1986): For both the teacher and the teacher trainer, the task is to find those experiences that contribute most to learning and to work out ways of bringing reasonable copies of those experiences, and the ways of dealing with them, into the classroom. ( p. 20)

Thus, if scaffolding learners’ utterances can be shown to aid syntax learning in naturalistic acquisition (Hatch, 1978a), it might follow that teachers need to find ways of introducing such scaffolding into their classrooms. This kind of application, however, is open to challenge; it does not follow that what works well in naturalistic contexts will work well in classrooms and, even if this were to be demonstrated, it does not follow that the naturalistic way is the most efficient way of learning. In contrast, the study of instructed L2 acquisition seems to afford the possibility of more direct application to teaching. However, as we will shortly see, the application of instructed SLA to LP is also problematic. Some SLA researchers have shown considerable reticence in applying the results of their work to language pedagogy. In early articles, Tarone, Swain, and Fathman (1976) and Hatch (1978a) argued that caution must be exercised. Hatch recognized that applying results from the domain of research to the domain of pedagogy often necessitated an “incredible leap in logic,” which needed to be guarded against. Implicit in this view is the assumption that once researchers really knew the facts of L2 acquisition it will be possible to give sound advice. Long (1990a, p. 656) feels sufficiently confident to list a set of “well-attested facts.” Others, myself included,...
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