Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Mindful Learning and Second Language Acquisition

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Mindful Learning and Second Language Acquisition

Article excerpt


Mindful learning is a theory of learning with a number of applications for Second Language Acquisition (SLA). In the present paper we juxtapose (mis)conceptions and givens of SLA with myths of learning and mindful alternatives.


Contemporary theories of second language teaching have benefited greatly from perspectives that transcend the discipline of language. Task-based instruction is gaining ground in language instruction in particular, but also in other disciplines that recognize the need to apply learner knowledge to some task in order to promote a more complete integration of systematic knowledge and to improve retention of that knowledge. In The "Power of Mindful Learning," Langer (1997) presents a compelling case for a mindful approach to teaching and learning that has valuable insights for teachers in all disciplines. Lee and VanPatten (2003) present (mis)conceptions of second language acquisition in much the same way that Langer (1997) exposes and debunks myths of learning. The present paper draws parallels between mindfulness and acquisition-oriented instruction for the purpose of demonstrating the relevance of mindful learning theory for second language instruction.

Intelligenee and Learning vs. Mindfulness and Acquisition

Langer (1997) challenges the notion that the best possible outcome of learning is intelligence. According to her, intelligence is defined as knowing what is out there and being able to fit that knowledge within that environment. She argues that what teachers should be cultivating in learners is mindfulness. Mindfulness requires that individuals define their relationship to the environment. When individuals become mindful they not only see the world, but also re-see it from their own experiences and with their own insights. By looking through the lens of intelligence and mindfulness we can better understand the likely outcomes of different approaches to language teaching and make more informed pedagogical choices.


Intelligence is often defined and assessed as the ability to fit knowledge to increasingly discriminating slots according to some preexisting standard of fit. We are intelligent when we can answer a question, make an observation, or solve a problem consistent with those who wrote the question, been in the field, or lived through the problem before us. While we rely upon the voices of past experts, it is the reality of the situation that dictates what is an appropriate response. We are matching the environment, as a stable reality, to the categories of knowing we have been taught. When we are intelligent we have a means for achieving those outcomes that we have been told are important. We can quickly identify the relevant characteristics of the situation based upon facts and skills we learned in the past, apply those to a "novel" situation, and move to a resolution. In sum, intelligence asks students to know A, B, X and Y, know the conditions by which to recognize X or Y in the environment, and know under what conditions to apply either A or B in order to get the desired outcome form X or Y.


Mindfulness is the ability to create options. We are mindful when we broaden the possibilities by looking at reality through several different perspectives rather than trying to fit reality into the categories we have been taught. Mindfulness requires that the students rely upon their own, not the expert's, experiences to shift perspectives for themselves. When they do so, students will come to see the novelty of the situation rather than the null set of characteristics that a single perspective prescribes. They will come to determine for themselves what is a desirable outcome and find their own sense of meaning in the process. They will recognize the advantages and disadvantages of the skills and knowledge they have come to know such that they will be able to rely upon their own goals when selecting which to call upon. …

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