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SLA Research: a Century-Long Impact on TEFL

Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research, a discipline within Applied Linguistics, has been evolving for approximately a century. This means we have had access to around 100 years of scientific commentary and guidance. But how much of this knowledge has truly permeated the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) industry?

This article aims to shed light on the contributions of SLA research to the TEFL industry, countering the argument that SLA research and researchers are far removed from the realities of the classroom and have little to offer except to their fellow researchers. It will also attempt to bridge the gap between research and practice in our profession.

The Disconnect Between Research and Practice

Despite the wealth of knowledge available, there seems to be a disconnect between SLA research and its application in the TEFL industry. This disconnect is not due to a lack of relevance, but rather a lack of understanding and communication between researchers and practitioners.

Bridging the Gap

To bridge this gap, TEFL professionals must understand the value of SLA research. This research provides valuable insights into how languages are learned, which can inform teaching strategies and curriculum development.

The Value of SLA Research in TEFL

Scientific Understanding of Language Learning

SLA research provides a scientific framework for understanding the process of language learning. It delves into the cognitive processes involved in language acquisition, such as memory, attention, and perception. By studying these processes, SLA research helps us understand how learners process, store, and retrieve linguistic information. This understanding can inform the development of teaching strategies that align with the cognitive processes of learners.

Insights into Social Factors

Language learning is not just a cognitive process; it is also a social one. SLA research investigates the social factors that influence language learning, such as the role of interaction, the influence of culture, and the impact of societal attitudes towards different languages. These insights can help language teachers create a more inclusive and effective learning environment.

Effective Teaching Methods

Perhaps one of the most direct applications of SLA research in TEFL is the development of effective teaching methods. SLA research can inform the design of instructional materials, the selection of teaching strategies, and the assessment of learner progress. By grounding these decisions in research, language teachers can ensure that their teaching practices are evidence-based and effective.

In conclusion, the value of SLA research in TEFL is immense. It offers a scientific basis for understanding language learning, provides insights into the social factors that influence language learning, and informs the development of effective teaching methods. By integrating SLA research into TEFL, we can enhance the quality of language education and facilitate the language learning process.

Invitation to Learn More

For those interested in delving deeper into this topic, award-winning Teacher Trainer, former School Principal, and Director of TESOL, Steve Hirschhorn, has produced for GTEFL a workshop titled “What has Second Language Acquisition Research ever done for us?”.
With over 40 years of experience in teaching and training teachers, Hirschhorn has lectured and delivered workshops from Peru to Japan and most stages in between. He has written numerous articles on various aspects of teacher training, teaching, and learning language.


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