Maley, SLA Research and ELT – The Elephant in the Room

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In June 2016, Alan Maley published an article called ‘More Research is Needed’ – A Mantra Too Far?”, arguing that, with regard to second language teaching,

research and the practice of teaching are quite different forms of activity, with no necessary connection between them.

Having pointed out that research and teaching are different and that they have divergent priorities, that research findings are routinely ignored, and that few new ideas in TESOL have come from research, Maley concludes:

we recognise the value and legitimacy of research and theory-building within its own domain.  But we should not expect it to have any necessary or close link with the activity of teaching.  

Maley uses Lightbown’s (2000) survey to summarise the contribution of SLA research to developments in TESOL over the past 50 years.

  1. “Adults and adolescents can ‘acquire a second language’
  2. The learner creates a systematic interlanguage….
  3. There are predictable sequences in L2 acquisition
  4. Practice does not make perfect
  5. Knowing a language rule does not mean one will be able to use it in communicative interaction
  6. Isolated error correction is usually ineffective in changing language behaviour
  7. For most adult Ls, acquisition stops before the L has attained native-like mastery of the target language
  8. . One cannot achieve native-like…command of a second language in one hour a day.
  9. The learner’s task is enormous because language is enormously complex.
  10. . A learner’s ability to understand language in a meaningful context exceeds their ability to comprehend de-contextualised language and to produce language of comparable complexity and accuracy.”

Maley comments:

While it is useful to have common-sense intuitions verified by research, the above list does not appear to make a radical contribution to our understanding of how we learn languages.

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I hope you noticed points 2 to 6 on the list, because it seems that Maley missed them. They’re all to do with research findings about interlanguage development, and the question is: how could Maley have read these points and failed to appreciate that they make an extremely radical contribution to our understanding of how we learn languages? How can Maley so confidently assert that research is of no relevance to the practice of teaching, when he acknowledges the findings of interlanguage development research which clearly indicate that most ELT today is carried out in a way that contradicts them?

Points 2 to 6 indicate that SLA is a process whereby “the learner creates a systematic interlanguage”, which is made up of “predictable sequences in L2 acquisition”. One implication of the nature of this interlanguage development is that “knowing a language rule does not mean one will be able to use it in communicative interaction.” More generally, robust research findings have shown that teaching can affect the rate but not the route of interlanguage development, and that, therefore, the most widely-used method of teaching English in the world today, namely by presenting and practicing a pre-determined series of linguistic forms (pronunciation contrasts, grammatical structures, notions, functions, lexical items, collocations, etc., etc.) is bound to fail: learners will simply not learn what they’re taught.  (See my post on the folly of coursebooks for a fuller discussion of the implications of interlanguage research findings on teaching practice.)

How can Maley so easily and breezily ignore such a huge “elephant in the room”? Not that he’s the only one who pretends the elephant isn’t there: none of the 15 who respond to Maley’s article draws attention to the implications of research into interlanguage development for teaching practice. Why is no attempt made by Maley or any of the 15 respondents to thoroughly examine SLA research findings and to then impartially evaluate their implications for teaching practice? Could it be that they’re just so stuck in their own grooves, so comfortably ensconced in the upper echelons of the ELT establishment that they’d rather not face research findings which so seriously challenge the principles on which current ELT practice rests? For all their nods in the direction of progress, Maley, Scrivener, Medgyes, Thornbury and the rest of them show an understandable reluctance to bite the hand that feeds them.

Just one example. Thornbury, the enfant terrible of the establishment, knows perfectly well that most current ELT practice flies in the face of robust SLA research findings. Thornbury propounds the Dogme approach, he speaks out against coursebooks, he gives courses in SLA to post graduate students in New York. And yet, in his response to Maley, he congratulates Maley, he agrees with him on so much, he burbles on about this and that, and only in the last paragraph does he say that we shouldn’t dismiss research completely because “without a knowledge base anything goes”. And that’s as far as Thornbury goes: he fails to flag up the elephant in the room, which is very disappointing.

Maley trots out the usual litany of complaints about the research community, many of them perfectly reasonable, justified, and in need of attention. He also makes some good points about what teachers can reasonably be expected to do in terms of on-going training and development. But none of this has the slightest relevance to the central erroneous argument that “we should not expect research to have any necessary or close link with the activity of teaching”. A lot of research is now specifically targeted at understanding instructed SLA, and the findings of this research should surely be of interest to teachers. Few teachers will have the time or inclination to regularly read articles that appear in scholarly journals reporting on the latest studies, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interested in on-going research and its implications for teaching practice.

Krashen’s theory of SLA had a profound effect on ELT, and for all its failings as a theory, it remains the starting point for the most important question that affects ELT: to what extent is instructed SLA a matter of unconscious “acquisition”, and to what extent is it “conscious learning”? Associated with this question are questions about putative sensitive periods, syllabus design; focus on formS versus focus on form;  noticing, priming, pronunciation teaching; vocabulary teaching, extensive reading, error correction and much more besides. All these questions have a direct effect on teaching practice. How are we to evaluate conflicting claims made about teaching practice by the advocates of the Lexical Approach, Dogme, CLT, and so on, if not by an appeal to the evidence about how people learn and about how they respond to various types of instruction? This evidence needs to be critically evaluated in order for us to propose tentative principles that guide our work. Until we articulate such principles, until we take a position on the fundamental issue of how implicit learning is best supplemented by explicit instruction, we remain in the world of the blind, at the mercy of one-eyed quacks who tell us to shun research findings and trust in their folksy wisdom which has nothing more to recommend it than the stamp of authority.

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It would be too much to hope for Maley not to include some version of the hackneyed old saw that language teaching is not a science. He ends with a quote from Stevick that does the job nicely: “So we flee back to the temples of science, to its priesthood that can feed us on reliability and validity..”, etc., etc.. Scrivener sings from the same hymn sheet:

I remain convinced that teaching is more a live, personal, creative, intuitive, human art than a measurable science. I cannot determine the quality of a Toulouse Lautrec picture by counting the number of colours he used, or measuring the length of his brush strokes, though both these things may give insights about his techniques and style. I can learn to appreciate his work by observing and thinking. I feel that much the same can be said of teaching.

This is, of course, a ridiculous straw man argument: nobody is suggesting that teaching is a science, or that it should be; and nobody is threatening the creative, human, craft of teaching when they suggest that teachers should be rational. If we want to understand how people learn languages, and if we want to find out the best ways to help them do so, then we need to go beyond anecdotes and feelings and folk lore, and to base ourselves on an appeal to a rational interrogation of the evidence, which is what good SLA research does.

How are we to make decisions about contradictory claims about the principles and practice of ELT? Do we go along with Scrivener’s view that

It all works. It all fails. I have listened to many ELT experts taking up similar or contrary positions on every topic. They are all right. They are all wrong.

or do we include a critical evaluation of what research has to say in our deliberations? Surely most teachers would agree that we should have a working knowledge of what those researching instructed SLA have to say, and surely teachers are nowhere near as anti-research as Maley and Scrivener suggest. I believe that teachers would welcome the chance to hear reports of the research done on instructed SLA and to discuss its implications.

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Imagine that as part of their 2017 teacher development programme, teachers belonging to the SLB Teachers Cooperative in Barcelona are given the chance to attend these two workshops:

  1. A workshop run by any one of the 15 respondents to Maley’s article on “How to grade your Concept Questions when presenting grammar points.”
  2. A workshop run by Carmen Muñoz from Barcelona University on Godroid’s (2016) study of the effects of implicit instruction on implicit and explicit knowledge development.

As one of the SLB group, I personally would be interested in attending both, and I dare to say that all the other teachers would feel the same. To suggest that the second workshop (a) has “no close link with the activity of teaching”, and (b) that teachers aren’t interested in such matters, is (a) absurd, and (b) insulting.

 

Godroid, A. (2016). The effects of implicit instruction on implicit and explicit knowledge development. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 38, 2, 177-215.

The journal “Humanising Language Teaching “ published Maley’s ‘More Research is Needed’ – A Mantra Too Far? . Responses were written by Jim Scrivener, Willy Cardoso, Peter Medgyes, Mario Saraceni, Dat Bao, Tom Farrell, Tamas Kiss, Richard Watson-Todd, Scott Thornbury, David A. Hill, Brian Tomlinson, Rod Ellis, Rod Bolitho, Penny Ur and Adrian Underhill. You can download both articles free here: http://www.hltmag.co.uk/jun16/index.htm

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35 thoughts on “Maley, SLA Research and ELT – The Elephant in the Room

  1. I feel, when you criticise Maley for failing to notice the effects of SLA research on our understanding of language you are, yourself, beating a strawman.

    Having read your commentary and then the original article, it strikes me that you and Maley would concur that there is a void between what research might tell us and what your average EFL or EAL teacher is able to do with it (let’s not kid ourselves into maintaining that the majority of schools or coursebooks now follow the route of acquisition principle!). It is, from my interpretation, this void that Maley takes issue with. Of course “points 2 to 6” are significant to our understanding of SLA and SLL, but (and this is no judgement on teachers), what opportunities do teachers actually get to implement them?

    Of course, Maley’s position is nothing new. Dylan Williams, IIRC, contended an urgent need to reconcile the theoretical, abstract findings of research with the practical occurrences of everyday teaching practice – perhaps a better way of structuring the argument than Maley managed.

    Personally, I do think Maley makes a lot of good points, but I disagree with him that research does not deserve its higher status (surely that comes with the territory? Football players get more pay and respect than cricket players. So what?) And I certainly disagree with him that the gulf between teaching and research is the fault of the researcher (sometimes it is!) rather than, say, people peddling intuitive nonsense such as that found in coursebooks.

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    • Hi Robert,

      What makes you say I’m “beating a strawman”? Even if Maley and I would concur “that there is a void between what research might tell us and what your average EFL or EAL teacher is able to do with it”, this has nothing to do with Maley’s assertion that SLA research findings have no necessary or close link with the activity of teaching. I argue that Maley’s assertion is wrong.

      The “void” between what research tells us about SLA and what teachers actually do is precisely the point. As you say, it’s not teachers’ fault that they’re told a load of baloney about language learning and trained to implement a grammar-based syllabus using a PPP methodology. It’s a disgrace that those responsible for running ELT institutions, teacher training, and IATEFL and TESOL refuse to recognise that current ELT practice flies in the face of robust research findings. It’s even more disgraceful, in my opinion, that Maley should argue that teachers don’t need to bother about SLA research findings.

      Maley’s right to say that academics don’t make it easy for teachers to follow what they’re doing; I’d go further and say that a great deal of what they do is worthless, and that at least half of the people working in academic jobs in universities would be thrown out on the ears if they produced such poor quality work in other sectors of the economy. But let’s not throw the baby (elephant) out with the bathwater: there is some excellent research going on in instructed SLA, and it’s getting better, thanks to methodological developments such as better stats., new technologies such as eye tracking, and on-line procedures which allow for better observation of real-time processing. There’s every reason to be optimistic about our ability to better understand the SLA process, but, unfortunately, there’s little reason for optimism about teachers’ ability to benefit from it, thanks to the attitudes and policies of those running the global ELT business, forecast to turnover $200 billion in 2017 (according to Pearson, who themselves predict business totalling $10 billion next year).

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  2. My interpretation of Maley’s article is that, as things currently stand, there is very little that teachers are able to do with SLA research, but that’s not because of the research per se (generally) but the state of the industry – this is, perhaps, exacerbated by the likes of Scrivener, who seem to be fighting an unnecessary battle on behalf of a teaching profession that never asked him to.

    The problem, I infer, for Maley is not that research is useless or lacking in value, but that current states of affairs render the teacher unable to apply their findings, and that the teacher should not feel in any way inferior or incompetent for not striving to act on all the research out there.

    Perhaps if, as Williams and similar minds request, there were a more accessible bridge between research and classroom practice, Maley would not even have written his article.

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    • I wish I agreed with your interpretation, but I don’t. Recall Maley’s comment on the list of SLA research achievements: “While it is useful to have common-sense intuitions verified by research, the above list does not appear to make a radical contribution to our understanding of how we learn languages”. He makes it clear that he’s not impressed with these achievements (which is why I suggest that he’s ignoring the elephant in the room) and that there’s little need for teachers to be aware of them.

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  3. “And yet, in his response to Maley, he [Thornbury] congratulates Maley, he agrees with him on so much, he burbles on about this and that, and only in the last paragraph does he say that we shouldn’t dismiss research completely…” I can’t defend myself on the charge of burbling (let the reader judge) but I can attempt to rebut the claim that ‘he [Thornbury] agrees with him [Maley] on so much’. If you read my response, you’ll see that the point where we unequivocally agree is on the ‘dysfunctional discourse’ between teachers and researchers, such that ‘the voices of teachers are subordinated to the voices of others who are less centrally involved in language teaching’ (Clarke 1994). For someone who militates for the rights of teachers, I would have thought you [Geoff] would have been the first to agree that the academic and research community disenfranchises teachers by (a) adopting an impenetrable and exclusionary discourse style; (b) equivocating on the relevance or practical application of their findings; and (c) rarely if ever engaging with the issues that most concern practising teachers in their classroms. Given that most research is conducted simply because academics HAVE To conduct research, this is perhaps unsurprising: we are all locked into a pernicious system of accountability and precarity.

    And a happy New Year to you!
    PS I am far too old to be an ‘enfant terrible’!

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    • I agree with each of the 3 points you make, Scott, and I agree with the conclusion, too. You’re absolutely right.

      None of which deals with my main point which was this: You failed to point out that SLA research findings contradict the way that most current ELT is carried out.

      Happy New Year to you too. Your age has nothing to do with your role as an enfant terrible; I just wish you’d be a bit more “terrible”.

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  4. Dear Jeff,

    The main issue I have with your argument is that any classroom-based research that claims to evaluate methods using artficial constructs and related arbitrary operational definitions is that the most crucial factors, the teacher and the students, are tragically overlooked, yet, they are pivotal to the success of any type of instruction. The same worksheet, app, technique, curriculum, methodology can be used by different teachers with diametrically opposite degrees of success. As much of your narrative, here, clearly evidence, you seem to have very little grasp of the reality of secondary school ELT and MFL classroom practice. In learning settings such as English academies or bog standard comprehensive schools, for instance, the teacher makes all the difference and excellent practitioners stand out more by virtue of their charisma, intellectual excitement, interpersonal rapport and self-efficacy than because of their methological approaches.
    I do not agree with Maley on every point and I do agree that research has to be heeded to a certain extent. I do not agree with the use you make of it on this blog, though, as it is often abstract and sterile, as it is completely disconnected from the mundane reality of the classroom. The currency of theory has value only when it can converted into the everyday wealth of effective teaching and learning; ‘intellectual onanism’ and speculation of the likes that you practise, has often damaged classroom practitioners who have been at the receivin end of reforms and imposed theories/methodologies which have resulted in absolute failure. I suggest you visit the council estate schools where I taught in the past to understand how far your pseudo-erudite sarcasm is from reality and how crucial teachers are to language-instruction success.
    The success of any method hinges on variables that SLA researcher have never been able to control and never will be. The most important ones are the teacher and the students, whose attributes, behaviour and processes cannot as yet fully captured and measured objectively enough to prove or disprove any SLA theory. Example: Pienemann’s extremely skewed and quite unscientific and ungeneralizable findings, as instructed SLA means 1 million different things to 1 million different teachers and is likely to be implemented in 1 million different ways by every single one of them.

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    • Dear Gianfranco,

      Some SLA research examines the effects of different types of instruction on learning. It would be difficult to do such research if, as you suggest, the teachers and the students were “tragically overlooked”, but in the case of quantitative research anyway, terms must be carefully defined, the research questions about the variable(s) being examined must be carefully articulated, and the condition of ceteris paribus (holding other things constant) must be assumed. In line with these requirements, and using well-defined theoretical constructs to design studies based on a critical interrogation of empirical evidence, researchers have established that teaching can affect the rate but not the route of interlanguage development, and that, therefore, basing ELT on presenting and practicing a pre-determined series of linguistic forms is bound to fail. SLA research suggests that people learn English as an L2 in the same way, and go through the same stages of development, regardless of their L1 or of the learning environment. Other findings indicate that recasts have better long-term effects than explicit correction; that certain features of English as an L2 are “fragile” and in need of explicit attention; and that input enhancement (increasing the perceptual saliency of forms within L2 spoken or written L2 input) speeds up vocabulary learning.

      These are robust research findings. You accuse me of ‘intellectual onanism’, of “damaging classroom practitioners”, of having “very little grasp of reality”, and of ignoring the fact that “the teacher makes all the difference”, but you say nothing to challenge these findings.

      I don’t deny that ELT is a very skilled, demanding profession and that there are huge differences in the effectiveness of different teachers, some of whom help their students learn much, much faster than others. Nor do I deny that learning outcomes are affected by a wide range of factors, and that we’re a long way from completely understanding SLA and from knowing the best way to practice ELT. What I claim is that, based on the findings of SLA research, if teachers use coursebooks to present and practice a pre-selected sequence of linguistic forms, students won’t learn what they’re taught. I conclude from this that coursebook-based ELT obstructs rather than facilitates efficient and enjoyable learning and teaching. The use of coursebooks to implement a grammar-based synthetic syllabus, combined with skewed assessment procedures which classify learners in poorly-described proficiency bands, and teacher training courses (e.g. the CELTA course) which ignore research findings and encourage teachers to expect the impossible, reflect the interests of the establishment, not the best interests of learners and teachers.

      I can’t see anything in your comments which addresses these issues in any serious way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • (caveat: there might be typos as this was written after a long school day + an after school workshop and was not proofread)

        Dear Geoff,

        First off, I did say something to rebutt your claims. In primis, I stated that ‘Instructed SLA’ can mean a million different things. I do believe, for instance, that a big issue with most of the studies you allude to is ineffective teaching, a crucial variable which you cannot dispell even if you control for all the other surrounding variables threatening the internal or external validity of an experiment (e.g. researcher effect and individual differences – which in this type of studies are difficult to control for). Note that by ineffective teaching I don’t simply allude to classroom delivery, but curriculum design too. It is obvious, for instance, that the very poor recycling that you observe in popular EFL and MFL coursebooks is not going to be conducive to effective learning. Moreover, the label ‘Instructed SLA’ must be defined not only in terms of classroom procedures and medium and long-term planning, but in terms of what ‘effective instructed SLA means’, what an ‘effective language instructor is’ as well as what constitutes effective curriculum design and effective coursebooks. Until those crucial variables are clearly defined, you are comparing apples and pears, the biggest fault in Pienmann’s study and other preposterous meta-analyses a la Krashen and VanPatten. I despise currently available coursebooks because they are badly designed in terms of content and sequencing; do not recycle continuously; they do not include compelling input and they require a lot of supplementation which teachers often do haphazardly. Finally, I agree that some research is useful and I am an avid reader of it, but the use you make of it results in ‘intellectual onanism’ (yes I do repeat the accusation) because it overlooks very important details by analyzing very complex cognitive and affective processes through the nebulous lenses of paradigms, constructs and other abstract approximations and pseudo-logarhythms which do not apply to the classroom micro-cosm, with its unique interaction of Cognition and Emotion. SLA research, at this moment in history, can only capture and attempt to analyze the product of our thinking but not thinking itself- the greatest limitation of all. Even Learning as you implicitly define it is a flawed construct when viewed in this light.
        Not to mention your use of the term ‘robust findings’. Would you rather inject a anti-cancer drug into a fellow human based on ‘robust findings’ or a homemade concotion that has ‘anecdotally’ worked with all of your previous patients but has not been approved by the academic community because it failed a Significance test? Get real, Geoff. Applied Linguistics is not an exact science.
        I believe research is useful to draw inspiration from and try out but I have learnt not to pontificate based on its findings even when robust. Krashen did and it ruined decades and decades of L1 and L2 education in the UK; the scars visible to this day, with teachers who can’t spell, don’t know word classes and grammar in general.
        As I told you before, go into the classroom and teach as I do day in day out on a heavy timetable and try out the methods and theories you advocate before you sell them as universal truth (like your assertion that recasts are more effective than corrections, based on a couple of studies of questionable internal and external validity carried out with ridiculously small samples considering the claim).

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      • My reply to these comments come after the ***s.

        a big issue with most of the studies you allude to is ineffective teaching

        *** No it isn’t. Most of the studies I allude to regarding (stages of) interlanguage development are not classroom-based.

        Ineffective teaching is a crucial variable which you cannot dispell even if you control for all the other surrounding variables threatening the internal or external validity of an experiment (e.g. researcher effect and individual differences – which in this type of studies are difficult to control for).

        *** This is incoherent.

        Note that by ineffective teaching I don’t simply allude to classroom delivery, but curriculum design too.

        *** And why not the weather, too? You fail to understand fundamental aspects of research design.

        the label ‘Instructed SLA’ must be defined not only in terms of classroom procedures and medium and long-term planning, but in terms of what ‘effective instructed SLA means’, what an ‘effective language instructor is’ as well as what constitutes effective curriculum design and effective coursebooks.

        *** Wrong. “Instructed SLA” must be defined in such a way that it’s distinguished from other types of SLA – that’s what a definition does. So Instructed second language acquisition can be defined as implicit and explicit L2 learning when the learning is influenced by teachers, classmates or teaching materials.

        Until those crucial variables are clearly defined, you are comparing apples and pears, the biggest fault in Pienmann’s study and other preposterous meta-analyses a la Krashen and VanPatten.

        *** Pienemann’s study and the work of Krashen and VanPatten are not meta-analyses.

        the use you make of [research] results in ‘intellectual onanism’ .. . because it overlooks very important details by analyzing very complex cognitive and affective processes through the nebulous lenses of paradigms, constructs and other abstract approximations and pseudo-logarhythms which do not apply to the classroom micro-cosm, with its unique interaction of Cognition and Emotion.

        *** The research I refer to doesn’t analyse anything through the lenses of paradigms or pseudo-logarithms, whatever they are.

        SLA research, at this moment in history, can only capture and attempt to analyze the product of our thinking but not thinking itself- the greatest limitation of all. Even Learning as you implicitly define it is a flawed construct when viewed in this light.

        *** SLA research can and does analyse “thinking itself”. I don’t know what definition of learning you assume I’ve implicitly defined, but in any case the argument is incoherent. .

        Not to mention your use of the term ‘robust findings’. Would you rather inject a anti-cancer drug into a fellow human based on ‘robust findings’ or a homemade concotion that has ‘anecdotally’ worked with all of your previous patients but has not been approved by the academic community because it failed a Significance test? Get real, Geoff. Applied Linguistics is not an exact science.

        *** This is another absurd (and rather tasteless) argument. Nobody suggests that applied linguistics is an exact science; “robust findings” simply means that the findings have stood up to replication studies and to detailed critical examination, and thus deserve to be seriously considered.

        I believe research is useful to draw inspiration from and try out but I have learnt not to pontificate based on its findings even when robust.

        *** I’ve never seen more pontificating about ELT than that found on your website. The fact that none of your pontificating is based on research findings, even when robust, is an indication of how much we should trust it.

        Krashen …. ruined decades and decades of L1 and L2 education in the UK; the scars visible to this day, with teachers who can’t spell, don’t know word classes and grammar in general.

        *** This is another absurd assertion.

        As I told you before, go into the classroom and teach as I do day in day out on a heavy timetable and try out the methods and theories you advocate before you sell them as universal truth

        *** I went into the classroom and taught English at all levels for more than 20,000 hours, and I still teach today. I criticise coursebook-based ELT, I recommend Dogme, Long’s version of TBLT and I tentitively explore the possibilities of a negotiated process syllabus. Needless to say, I don’t sell any method or theory as a universal truth, and let me add that I don’t sell strident, over-confident, poorly-supported advice to teachers as you do, either.

        your assertion that recasts are more effective than corrections [is] based on a couple of studies of questionable internal and external validity carried out with ridiculously small samples considering the claim.

        *** This is one final demonstration of your ignorance and of a general inability to argue a case rationally.

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      • I don’t see any problem with flaunting one’s qualifications.

        Robert, CELTA (pass), BA (Philosophy), A Level (English), A Level (Psychology), A Level (Philosophy of Religion & Ethics)

        They’re especially useful in rhetoric.

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      • I replied to all your arguments. I dismissed 3 of your comments as absurd or incoherent, not because they were “arguments” I felt unable to “effectively rebutt” (sic) but because I thought their incoherence and/or absurdity spoke for itself. For you, here’s a gloss on those 3 comments.

        1. To say that “ineffective teaching is a crucial variable which you cannot dispell (sic) even if you control for all the other surrounding variables threatening the internal or external validity of an experiment (e.g. researcher effect and individual differences – which in this type of studies are difficult to control for)” is incoherent; i.e.: it is without logical or meaningful connection; disjointed and rambling. It doesn’t make sense to talk of dispelling variables; the mentions of threats to internal and external validity are disjointed and rambling; “this type of studies” is ungrammatical, and, in any case, you don’t make it clear what class or classes of studies you’re talking about. The sentence is a mess and the argument that it tries to support, as I pointed out, is wrong, because teaching, ineffectual or otherwise, is not a variable in most of the interlanguage studies that I allude to.

        2. Your argument against my use of the term “robust findings” is that in treating cancer, any realistic person would rather inject a homemade concotion (sic) that has ‘anecdotally’ worked with all of their previous patients but has not been approved by the academic community because it failed a Significance test than inject a anti-cancer drug into a fellow human based on ‘robust findings’. This argument is absurd; i.e.: contrary to common sense and laughably foolish. Furthermore, as I pointed out, appealing to “robust findings” doesn’t imply, as you wrongly say, that applied linguistics is a science.

        3. To assert that Krashen “ruined decades and decades of L1 and L2 education in the UK”, leaving “scars visible to this day, with teachers who can’t spell, don’t know word classes and grammar in general” is also absurd. Whatever the effects of Krashen’s work, to assert that it ruined L1 and L2 education in the UK, and is responsible for today’s teachers not being able to spell is laughably foolish.

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      • Sorry, I forgot to explain why your “arguments” about Krashen are absurd. The claim that decades and decades of L1 and L2 education in the UK have been ruined is reckless, exaggerated and unreasonable. The claim that Krashen himself is the cause of this putative ruin is even more unreasonable. Since it’s likely that many factors have contributed to any decline in L1 and L2 education in the UK that might have occurred, your claim is thus laughably foolish. You can apply the same comments in order to understand the absurdity of your remarks about the failings of today’s teachers and Krashen’s responsibility for them. As they say in all the best counselling clinics, I hope this helps.

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    • Hi Gianfranco, “the letters behind your name” (LOL) do lend your line of “intellectual onanism” a taste of Freudian slip. I think we had an exchange on that earlier on. It does not need repeating here. I try to dodge it. For all of Geoff’s sometimes off-putting frankness, your flaunting—his frankness, I do not think he can be blamed for selling untested methods to teachers. Rather, he has taken to task other players in ELT for the very same proselytizing you are charging him with. I for my part do not spend countless hours in the classroom anymore. I am thankful for that. (It seems to me an evil of the teaching profession that in order to upgrade pay teachers take on extra classes, privates, tutoring, to the detriment of planning, searching, and professional growth. I have worked with language teachers for some time and have found that curiosity is not a reliable feature of the profession. Whenever I strike up philosophical questions that underpin teaching actions, teachers often look through me until we get to discuss the next latest activity–teachers as technicians, and I eat my heart out. Tragically, language because so common is trivialized.) I am left to do the exciting task of soul searching and hunting down the rabbit of how and why we manage to learn and use language the way we do. Just because we cannot gain absolute certainty, why would that make the searching worthless? I think exact science is only possible in mathematics and maybe physics. We have not stuck to ponder these exclusively. You express that SLA research is of little help and what matters is “effective teaching and learning.” I wonder how you would know to tell the difference without having some tools, information, and discipline akin to SLA research at hand that informs your judgment. I have had feedback sessions with teachers who would tell me that their teaching was excellent. When asked why they can say so they offered the observation that students liked their classes. After the case of proselytizing, we can now charge the felony of prostitution—edutainment. When interviewing teachers about the thing they can do best in the classroom, the majority offered the answer “creating a nice atmosphere.” Apparently, teachers like to be liked. “…the teacher makes all the difference and excellent practitioners stand out more by virtue of their charisma, intellectual excitement, interpersonal rapport and self-efficacy than because of their methodological approaches.” True, I also prefer to get along with my teacher. And also true that we have been advised to foster student motivation by going public with our own enthusiasm for the discipline ( Zoltan Dörnyei.) These observations do not stay apart from methodology. They are part of methodology. I think the Natural Approach and what has come of it in Krashen’s latest idea of compelling comprehensible input embraces the very same notions of rapport, intellectual excitement, etc. Task-based learning seems to tap into similar lines of reasoning, making learning individually relevant…. SLA research should confirm the various claims for “the right way to teach” be it Krashen, Long, Harmer, Lewis, etc. If I understand this blog correctly, this has been the raison d’être of Geoff’s interventions.

      Saludos,
      Thom

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Thom,
        I always enjoy the sobriety and impartiality of your tone – I think you should coach Geoff. It would definitely enhance his blog, which to be honest I don’t follow closely enough to ascribe to it the merits you do.
        I agree with you entirely and I would have not pursued two MAs and a PhD at Reading Uni studying under some of the biggest names in ELT and MFL research, e.g. Weir, Robinson, Crystal, White, Richards and Macaro to name but a few.
        In my reply to Geoff I have issues with the use he makes of the research he quotes and the tone he issues to convey his convictions – which, sadly, is the main selling point of his blog and what attracts a fortunatelt limited number of people, for reasons that are beyond my understanding, to read it.
        I think Maley exaggerates but makes some very good pointa based on sound pragmatism; Geoff, quoting unreliable research – as he always does – rebutts them with sweepin statements.
        Someone who claims rigour and knowledge of research, should examine closely the methodology of the studies he produces in support of his arguments. The studies on recast that he mentions has so many flaws and limitations in their design and procedures that it is scandalous he should even make the claims he does.
        My choice of the word ‘onanism’ refers to an approach to Applied Linguistics typical of individuals like Geoff who dwell in the realm of (pseudo) intellectual self-complacency and bigotry but contribute little (hence the onanistic metaphor) to teaching.
        I chose the risky path of ‘vulgarizing’ academia and research – often at the expense of rigour – because teachers need to learn about and from research in shapes and forms which are intelligible to them.
        The issue I have is less with SLA research then with Geoff’s attitude to it. When I said that it studies the result of human thinking not thinkin itself, he revealed exactly what I mean about the lack of substance in his arguments and my disappointment with his intellectual capacity: I mean a fact that it is obvious ‘Thoughts are the results of the thinking process, of a chain of impulses fired from neuron to neuron followin dynamics and itineraries that neuroimaging has only recently started to reconstruct’ and the social sciences through clumsy think-aloud and other verbal reports claim to bring to light.
        Research is badly used when it is employed as the truth or even as the approximation on the truth. Research provides indications, frames and ‘crutches’ for the evaluation of instructional practices (like you rightly sugggested) but not as ultimate truths like Geoff constantly does.
        I am often surprised as to how, someone who teaches on an MA course can be so lightheartedly quote studies which should have not bearing at all on instructed SLA either because they relate to naturalistic acquisition or because they have limited external validity. Thanks for your reply, Thom.
        Saludos is Spanish – ‘Saluti’ is the Italian version 🙂

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      • Conti on recasts:

        “a couple of studies of questionable internal and external validity carried out with ridiculously small samples”

        “The studies on recast that he mentions has so many flaws and limitations in their design and procedures that it is scandalous he should even make the claims he does.”

        There are over 60 published studies on L2 recasts. See “Recasts in SLA: The Story So Far” in Long, M.H. (2007) Problems in SLA. Mahwah, NJ., Lawrence Erlbaum.

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      • Having made the claim several times. The burden of proof is on Conti to show that the studies are unreliable.

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      • I said “research findings indicate that recasts have better long-term effects than explicit correction.” If you read (and managed to grasp the main points of) the literature, rather than spout bullshit about it, you would know that the lively debate about the role of negative feedback in SLA continues, and that many respectable scholars disagree with my statement about recasts. But, as far as I know, nobody has ever suggested that research on recasts consists of “a couple of studies of questionable internal and external validity carried out with ridiculously small samples”, or that it’s “scandalous” to suggest that they might be (sic) more effective than explicit correction.

        You’ve said nothing to enhance Maley’s original argument, Conti, and I’m tired of replying to your drivel. I suggest you get somebody to cover over the hole you’ve dug for yourself and go to sleep.

        Liked by 1 person

      • As expected, Geoff, You eluded my questions and challenge. Just a lot of circular arguments as usual. Evidence that much of what you write is pure intellectual onanism of no use for classroom practitioners. I hope you start writing something more useful, positive and inspiring for the language teaching community that your readers can actually use in their lessons in the remainder of this year. Wish you luck!

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      • No circular argument. Just trying to annoy Geoff, as I have been doing in my last three hole-digging comments of mine – silly and childish vindictive old me still annoyed at his less-than-inspiring intrusion in my life a while back and for being very rude to my good friend Hugh Dellar (I recommend is blog by the way). Hoping that he writes another damning post on my blog full of ‘bullshit’, stylish epiteths, witty attempts at my academic credibility, expressing irritation at the letters after my name and at the fact that so many people read the strident prose I dish out through my despicable blog. Sorry Robert can’t resist the temptation of getting him hissed off. (this is truly my last comment ever on Critical Elt – promise!)

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      • Love when you old classy self comes out, Geoff. Intention was never to enhance Maley’s argument but to irritate you into taking a more constructive and realistic approach in your blog so as to enhance teacher professional development through your blog instead of taking up a pretty negative and destructive role without offering clear solutions to teachers. I do believe that you have much to offer to the L2 teacher community but you are currently engaging in a purely narcissistic exercise – like many others do – rather than offering guidance to classroom practitioners. I actually, silly drivels designed to provoke you apart, I do agree with much of what you say – but the tone, the premises and your reference to shaky research spoil it all for me. But you have your (few – I must say) fans providing you with the daily narcissistic supply that fuel your Aenesidemus-like rants. My last comment on Critical ELT.

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  5. Sorry to lower the level of the debate with a simple request for assistance.

    If there are predictable sequences in L2 acquisition (though I’m not sure that Doughty and Long’s “Handbook of SLA Acquisition” fully supports that view), can anyone point me in the direction of primary school (ie grades 1-6) EFL course material which is based on that approach. Thanks.

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    • Hi Patrick,

      What Chapter in Doughty and Long’s “Handbook of SLA Acquisition” are you referring to? I don’t think the claims about stages in interlanguage development lend themselves to any sequencing of materials, but let’s see if anyone out there knows of any attempts to do so.

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    • Hi, Patrick,

      Are you interested in the UK school system, or primary-age EFL students in other territories?

      Concern in schools, at least in the UK, seems to be over how best to incorporate EAL pupils into the mainstream (e.g whether to group them with SEN or provide special provisions for them).

      Concerning EFL, materials writers seem to rely either on BC or UK/US pedagogy for their ideas. Hence uptake of Phonetics (unquestionably supported and endorsed by primary educators) CLIL, and project-based learning.

      Project-based learning might be worth looking into. It seems to be reconcilable with the fixed-route concept (which, as I understand it, is not externally fixed, but determimed by various factors revolving around interlanguage).

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  6. Hi Geoff, I haven’t been able to find the reference yet, but I’ll keep on it.

    Robert, I’m in what might be called a hardcore EFL environment, no English language input at all outside of the classroom. In this environment the BC’s main interest seems to be trying to sell projects to maximise consultancy fees which are set at London rates rather than local rates – but they (the BC) certainly provide fertile ground for research into cultural imperialism.

    Surely the “fixed-route”, “natural order” concept depends on interlanguage factors, and don’t they depend upon the type of input plus the gap between L1 and L2?

    For example, an L1 Dutch person acquiring English L2 would presumably have a different “natural order” than a Laotian, even assuming the same input?

    I have also noticed that many, actually nearly all, expat NES EFL teachers fail to absorb the indigenous language beyond, say, CEFR 1.1, despite years of comprehensible input.

    btw I just discovered your site today Geoff, and I greatly enjoy the mix of iconoclasm, vitriol and scholarship!

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