Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Why Haven't We Solved Instructed SLA? A Sociocognitive Account

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Why Haven't We Solved Instructed SLA? A Sociocognitive Account

Article excerpt


Since its inception in 1967, Foreign Language Annals has sought to "serve the professional interests of classroom instructors, researchers, and administrators" by publishing scholarly work with "clear and significant implications for foreign language learning at all levels of instruction" (ACTFL, n.d., para. 1-2). A review of the past 50 years of publications in the journal shows empirical and theoretical work addressing this mission from a variety of perspectives, but always with the goal of better understanding how to help language learners grow. The road from theory and research to practice, however, is fraught with uncertainty and unexpected outcomes. Some recommendations for best practices that appeared in this journal have not withstood the test of time, such as calls for the use of amateur radio, cassette tapes, and super-8 films for second language (L2) speaking practice (Irving, 1976; Richmond, 1978). Others have required significant creative adaptation to local contexts, such as Guntermann's (1979) taxonomy of communicative language functions. Furthermore, a cultural divide between the concerns of theorists and practitioners has often threatened meaningful communication between the two communities, thus making a two-way flow of support difficult (Marsden & Kasprowicz, 2017). It is no wonder, then, that fundamental questions about the relationship between the principles and practice of effective pedagogy continue to be a focus of investigation and debate.

Although most language educators espouse autonomous, purposeful communication as their primary objective, after 50 years we still have not "solved" instructed second language acquisition (ISLA) with a means of faithfully and consistently implementing recognized best practices across K-16 contexts. Although recent work on identifying high-leverage teaching practices for L2 instruction have begun to providing useful resources (Davin & Troyan, 2015; Glisan & Donato, 2017; Hlas & Hlas, 2012), even experienced practitioners encounter obstacles that impede the implementation of optimal practices in their local contexts. This reflects the complexity of the challenges that teachers face and the wide array of variables that shape the course of language learning. Research on teacher cognition has revealed that contextual variation stems not only from the local circumstances of schools and classrooms, but also from individual teachers' attempts to reconcile pedagogical principles with their own personal experiences (Donato & Davin, 2017). When attempting to implement recommended practices, even teachers with ideal lesson plans struggle with the momentby-moment decisions that sustain learners in meaningful interaction (Davin & Troyan, 2015). Thus, putting new approaches into practice in any one classroom requires nuanced thinking, creativity, and a sensitivity to real-time contingencies that cannot be prescribed.

Against this backdrop of a bewildering set of variables, we seek in this article to identify four consensus-based principles concerning the nature of language learning which might guide practitioners when implementing pedagogical recommendations. We identify deficiencies in the conventional wisdom about how abstract principles are incorporated into concrete practice, and we argue that effective L2 pedagogy requires teachers to continually revisit the relationship between principles and practice, assessing what optimal learning experiences look like in their local contexts. By discussing the factors that affect how core principles are enacted in specific circumstances, we hope to empower teachers to engage wisely with future methodological proposals so that they can continue to translate new recommendations effectively into their own work with learners.


We begin conceptually by mapping out the cognitive and social terrain of variables that affect classroom language learning. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.