LINGUIST List 16.713

Thu Mar 10 2005

Disc: Re: Review: Applied Linguistics (Seidlhofer)

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        1.    Ronald Sheen, Re: Review: 'Controversies in Applied Linguistics' (Seidlhofer)

Message 1: Re: Review: 'Controversies in Applied Linguistics' (Seidlhofer)

Date: 10-Mar-2005
From: Ronald Sheen <>
Subject: Re: Review: 'Controversies in Applied Linguistics' (Seidlhofer)

Re: Review of Controversies in Applied Linguistics in LINGUIST List
16.623 (

Given the title of Barbara Seidlhofer's (BS) "Controversies in Applied
Linguistics" (reviewed by David Deterding), readers with a knowledge
of the history of applied linguistics might expect it to include an
account of the one major controversy which has dominated that
history. That is the failure of applied linguistics during the last half
century or so to do anything of real substance to improve the
effectiveness of foreign and second language classroom learning

Now, this is a pretty hard pill to swallow - which probably explains why
the vast majority of applied linguists do not express it, and why BS
fails to include it in her book, and why the reviewer fails to remark on
its omission.

Of course, BS, along with the vast majority of applied linguists, do not
consider this to be a glaring omission for they choose not to address
the fact that there is no empirical evidence to demonstrate that any of
the innovations of the last fifty years has improved the effectiveness
of FSLCL. Quite the contrary, in fact. Most reforms in education, in
general, and foreign-second language learning, in particular, have
proven to be failures (Adams and Chen 1981; Brumfitt 1981; Fullan
1982). In fact, Markee (1993:231), given the high risk of failure,
argues that "...innovations should be resisted rather than promoted
because their adoption may be more harmful than beneficial." Valette
(1991:325), indeed, argues, with supportive test scores, that the
innovations of the previous twenty five years had resulted in the
worsening of the proficiency standards of seniors graduating from

In any other area of research and application which aims to serve the
public, such a failure would result in much soul-searching and actual
investigation into the cause of the failure. Why doesn't it happen in
FSLCL? I'd suggest that it will never happen whilst applied linguists
continue to do research which ultimately has little to no relevance to
the effectiveness of FSLCL. Unfortunately, both researchers and
funding agencies continue to support research on multiple peripheral
issues which have but a tenuous relationship with the issue of the
effectiveness of FSLCL.

The fact that a book called "Controversies in Applied Linguistics" was
published whilst ignoring the one major controversy is symptomatic of
a malaise which besets the field of applied linguistics and results in
largely ignoring the crying need for long term comparative studies in
order to identify the most effective teaching/learning options in set


Adams, R. and Chen, D. (1981). The process of educational
innovation: An international perspective. London: Kogan Page in
association with the UNESCO Press.

Brumfitt, C. (1981). "Notional syllabuses revisited", A response."
Applied Linguistics, 2: 90-92.

Fullan, M. (1982). The meaning of educational change. New York:
Teachers College Press.

Markee, N. (1993). "The diffusion of innovation in language teaching"
Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 13: 229-243.

Valette, R.M. (1991) "Proficiency and the prevention of fossilization -
an editorial" The Modern Language Journal, 75: 325-336.

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
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