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TEFL Masterclass – What Has Second Language Acquisition Research Ever Done For Us?

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Steve Hirschhorn – Award-winning Teacher Trainer, Former School Principal & Director of TESOL.

Steve Hirschhorn has been teaching and training teachers for around 40 years. He has lectured and delivered workshops from Peru to Japan and most stages in between, going the long way round! Steve has been a Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics, school Principal and Director of TESOL; he was External Examiner for three UK universities’ MA TESOL and English Language boards. He has written numerous articles on various aspects of teacher-training, teaching and learning language.

What you will learn

Second Language Acquisition research has been developing within the field of Applied Linguistics and associated disciplines for around 100 years now. That means that we have access to 100 or so years of actual scientific commentary and guidance – or have we?

This workshop will offer a brief rationale for taking more notice of what SLA theory can offer teachers of language.

It will try to counter the argument that SLA research and researchers are far removed from the chalk face and have little or nothing pertinent to offer except to other researchers. At the same time, it will attempt to explain the disconnect between research and practice in our profession.

Workshop Summary

Introduction to the Webinar 

This two-part webinar explores the importance of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research and its applications in the language classroom. The speaker discusses a range of topics, from learner motivation and input/output to the lexical approach and interlanguage, emphasising the value of staying open to new research to improve language learning and teaching outcomes.

Understanding SLA Research for Effective Teaching

The speaker outlines the significance of SLA research and its relevance to language teachers. They discuss the importance of understanding language acquisition in order to develop effective teaching strategies and adapt them to the needs of individual learners. Research on input and output, for instance, has shown that providing meaningful and comprehensible input and opportunities for output is crucial for language development. Teachers should be mindful of the balance between input and output to ensure that students are both exposed to the target language and given the chance to practise it.

Applying SLA Research in the Classroom

delves into specific areas of SLA research and their applications in the classroom. One key area discussed is learner motivation. By understanding different motivation styles and catering to students’ individual needs, teachers can encourage better learning outcomes. The speaker also touches on foreigner talk, stressing the importance of appropriately graded input and the potential negative impact of over-simplifying language.

The lexical approach is another topic covered, with the speaker highlighting the value of exposing students to lexical chunks to aid in their language development. Fossilization, or the stagnation of language learning, is also discussed, with the speaker suggesting that teachers address fossilised errors in a patient, light-hearted manner, focusing on what students need to learn rather than getting frustrated.

Interlanguage, the unique linguistic system developed by language learners, is also mentioned as a valuable concept for teachers to understand. By being aware of interlanguage, teachers can more accurately monitor learners’ progress and identify areas that need further attention.

Promoting Effective Learning Practices

The U-curve hypothesis, which proposes that language learners initially experience high levels of language production followed by a gradual decline before recovering, is discussed as well. Teachers should be patient with students during this decline and encourage them to persevere through the challenging period.

Negotiation of meaning, where learners work together to understand language, is another valuable concept for teachers. Encouraging students to collaborate can lead to better language understanding and development. The speaker also addresses the order and sequence of activities, highlighting the importance of scaffolding language learning and not overwhelming students with too much information at once.


Lastly, the role of reading aloud is explored. Although the speaker was initially against the practice, they share research suggesting that reading aloud can improve accuracy in certain aspects of language learning. The speaker concludes by encouraging teachers to remain open to new research and integrate it into their teaching practice to improve language learning and teaching outcomes.

By staying informed about SLA research and applying its insights, language teachers can better support their students’ language development and create more effective learning experiences. Engaging with research allows teachers to continually evolve their teaching methods, ultimately leading to better learning outcomes for students.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. Do you subscribe to any peer-reviewed professional journals?
  2. How much influence on your everyday teaching does SLA research have?
  3. Do you feel that our profession (ELT) has advanced since you started teaching?
  • Ellis, R., (1999). SLA Research and Language Teaching by Rod Elis. Issues in Applied Linguistics, 10(1).
  • Larsen-Freeman, D., (1991). An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition Research. Routledge.
  • B. VanPatten, M. Smith and A. Benati (2020). Key Questions in Second Language Acquisition: An Introduction. Instructed Second Language Acquisition, 4(2).

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