Research and language teaching: practitioner access to studies of instructed SLA

A topical and somewhat controversial theme arising in language teaching and language research circles concerns the relationship between research conducted on second language acquisition and learning and the practical concerns of language teachers. Just two examples from the past week:

Many teachers and teacher educators are concerned about access to academic research – see for example ELT research bites.

This post reports on another take on this issue, from a recent article in the Modern Language Journal by Emma Marsden and Rowena Kasprowicz (2017). It refers not to English language teaching (ELT) but rather modern foreign languages (MFL) in the UK, particularly French, German, and Spanish. (I am unaware of similar research in ELT circles, and of course delimiting a population of teachers and teacher educators is no doubt more complicated.)

samuel-zeller-358865Samuel Zeller

Foreign language (FL) educators’ exposure to research

The authors begin with a caveat that the goal of their paper is not to address teacher participation in research via action research, for example, but rather to investigate “the extent and manner in which research may reach FL educators in the first place” (p. 615). Conducted from the University of York, the study surveyed UK FL practitioners in schools and universities using two online questionnaires which attracted 183 and 391 respondents, and which the authors judged elicited responses from a large proportion of (particularly university-based) practitioners. The researchers found that

  • respondents accessed research via professional association newsletters and reports rather than academic journals or conferences;
  • school-based practitioners were much less likely to read about research than their university-based colleagues;
  • even university-based practitioners reported low engagement with research;
  • reasons given for lack of engagement with research included
    • lack of time
    • problems physically accessing publications
    • difficulty in understanding research.

The article contains a great deal of detail on the instruments and analysis which produced these conclusions as befits this kind of peer-reviewed international academic publication. The authors find their results “unsurprising,” though valuable as “the first evidence about the scale and nature of the (lack of) interface with research for non-English FL educators” (p. 624).

Indirect exposure to ISLA research

In the second part of the study, the authors examined indirect exposure to research through the practitioner-oriented publications most frequently cited in the surveys:

They note that over half the respondents (51.37%) did not mention any of these publications, so we’re looking at homeopathic doses in many cases. Nevertheless, the authors examined articles in these 7 publications which referred to research, and calculated the proportion of references to academic research on instructed second language acquisition (ISLA), compared to books, for example, or other types of publication.

Journals were selected if their Aims included the following terms: (a) (foreign OR second) language (learning OR acquisition) AND (b) (pedagogy OR practice OR instruction OR teaching OR school OR applied linguistics).

Marsden & Kasprowicz, 2017: 625

These are the ISLA journals thus identified. I have added links to home pages and copied relevant portions of their aims and scope, with the link to teaching in the third column. The authors also acknowledge that many of these journals include EFL/ESL research, not only other languages. (I suppose the inclusion of ESP journal and ELT research is a bit of a reach in this respect, though for those of us in ELT it does round out a very useful list.)

Applied Linguistics Applied Linguistics publishes research into language with relevance to real-world problems. first and additional language learning, teaching, and use … language assessment; language planning and policies; language for special purposes
Applied Psycholinguistics Applied Psycholinguistics publishes original research papers on the psychological processes involved in language. a variety of disciplines including education
Canadian Modern Language Review The Canadian Modern Language Review publishes peer-reviewed articles on second language learning and teaching. serving researchers and language teaching professionals interested in the learning and teaching of English and French as second languages (Canada’s two official languages), as well as the range of modern, indigenous, heritage, and community languages taught and learned across Canada
English for Specific Purposes topics relevant to the teaching and learning of discourse for specific communities: academic, occupational, or otherwise specialized teaching and testing techniques, the effectiveness of various approaches to language learning and language teaching, and the training or retraining of teachers for the teaching of ESP
Foreign Language Annals Foreign Language Annals (FLA) is the official refereed, scholarly journal of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). Dedicated to the advancement of language teaching and learning, the journal seeks to serve the professional interests of classroom instructors, researchers, and administrators who are concerned with the learning and teaching of languages, particularly languages other than English at all levels of instruction.
Intercultural Pragmatics Intercultural Pragmatics is a fully peer-reviewed forum for theoretical and applied pragmatics research. The goal of the journal is to promote the development and understanding of pragmatic theory and intercultural competence applied linguistics … second language acquisition
Language and Intercultural Communication Language & Intercultural Communication promotes an interdisciplinary understanding of the interplay between language and intercultural communication. The journal is alert to the implications for education, especially higher education, and for language learning and teaching
Language Awareness Language Awareness encourages and disseminates work which explores the following: the role of explicit knowledge about language in the process of language learning; the role that such explicit knowledge about language plays in language teaching and how such knowledge can best be mediated by teachers; the role of explicit knowledge about language in language use: e.g. sensitivity to bias in language, manipulative aspects of language, literary use of language. the role that explicit knowledge about language plays in language teaching and how such knowledge can best be mediated by teachers
Language Learning We seek proposals that address a theme or research methodology that will be of interest and relevance to the journal’s international readership of language learning scholars second, and foreign language acquisition, language education,
* Language Learning and Technology LLT disseminates research to foreign and second language educators worldwide on issues related to technology and language education. language education
Language Teaching Language Teaching is the essential research resource for language professionals providing a rich and expert overview of research in the field of second-language teaching and learning. second language teaching and learning
The Modern Language Journal The editorial mission of The Modern Language Journal is to publish “research and discussion about the learning and teaching of foreign and second languages.” promoting scholarly exchange among researchers and teachers of all modern foreign languages and English as a second language
* Porta Linguarum Porta Linguarum is an interdepartmental and interuniversity journal that was born in 2004 and specializes in foreign language didactics and bilingual education, articles will be more practical and their orientation will be more related to the L2 teaching and learning process in classroom settings
Pragmatics and Society Pragmatics and Society puts the spotlight on societal aspects of language use, while incorporating many other facets of society-oriented pragmatic studies. how language use and social normativity influence and shape each other, for instance, in education (the teaching and acquisition of first and second languages)
ReCALL ReCALL is the journal of the European Association for Computer Assisted Language Learning (EUROCALL). It seeks to … promote the use of foreign languages within Europe and beyond, providing an international focus for the promulgation of innovative research in the area of computer-assisted language learning and technology-enhanced language learning in education and training. education and training
RELA/Spanish Journal of Applied Linguistics The Revista Española de Lingüística Aplicada/Spanish Journal of Applied Linguistics (RESLA/SJAL) is the biannual journal of the Spanish Association of Applied Linguistics (AESLA, language teaching, LSP
Studies in Second Language Acquisition Studies in Second Language Acquisition is a refereed journal of international scope devoted to the scientific discussion of acquisition or use of non-native and heritage languages. the interface of acquisition and use with pedagogy
System This international journal is devoted to the applications of educational technology and applied linguistics to problems of foreign language teaching and learning. Attention is paid to all languages and to problems associated with the study and teaching of English as a second or foreign language
TESOL Quarterly TESOL Quarterly, a professional, refereed journal, was first published in 1967. The Quarterly encourages submission of previously unpublished articles on topics of significance to individuals concerned with English language teaching and learning and standard English as a second dialect. psychology and sociology of language learning and teaching … testing and evaluation, professional preparation, curriculum design and development, instructional methods, materials, and techniques
Vial–Vigo Vigo International Journal of Applied Linguistics aims at covering the different areas of study in the field of applied linguistics. foreign language teaching and learning, LSP
Computer Assisted Language Learning all matters associated with the use of computers in language learning (L1 and L2), teaching and testing Language Learning and Teaching Methods, four skills,
Annual Review of Applied Linguistics The Annual Review of Applied Linguistics publishes research on key topics in the broad field of applied linguistics. Each issue is thematic, providing a variety of perspectives on the topic through research summaries, critical overviews, position papers and empirical studies. language learning and pedagogy … language assessment
Applied Linguistics Review Applied Linguistics Review (ALR) is an international, peer-reviewed journal that bridges the gap between linguistics and applied areas such as education, psychology and human development, sociology and politics. first or second language acquisition
ELT Journal ELT Journal is a quarterly publication for all those involved in English Language Teaching (ELT), whether as a second, additional, or foreign language, or as an international Lingua Franca The Journal links the everyday concerns of practitioners with insights gained from relevant academic disciplines such as applied linguistics, education, psychology, and sociology.
IRAL in Language Teaching International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching (IRAL) is devoted to problems of general and applied linguistics Contributions are welcome on naturalistic and instructed language learning, … language for specific purposes, language technology,
Journal of French Language Studies Journal of French Language Studies, sponsored by the Association for French Language Studies, encourages and promotes theoretical, descriptive and applied studies of all aspects of the French language. Studies of the acquisition of the French language, where these take due account of current theory in linguistics and applied linguistics, are also published
Language, Culture and Curriculum Language, Culture and Curriculum is a well-established journal that seeks to enhance the understanding of the relations between the three dimensions of its title. It welcomes work dealing with a wide range of languages (mother tongues, global English, foreign, minority, immigrant, heritage, or endangered languages) in the context of bilingual and multilingual education and first, second or additional language learning. The journal also includes studies of language instruction, teacher training, teaching methods and language-in-education policy
Language Teaching Research Language Teaching Research is a peer-reviewed academic journal that publishes papers in the fields of education and linguistics related to the teaching of any second language The journal is a venue for studies that demonstrate sound research methods and which report findings that have clear pedagogical implications
Language Testing Language Testing is a peer-reviewed academic journal that publishes papers relating to language testing and assessment. research into the washback and impact of language test use, and ground-breaking uses of assessments for learning
 The study found a very low incidence of reference to ISLA journals in the professional publications: “on average a reference to any one of the ISLA journals occurred in approximately one out of every six professional articles.” The strongest links were between North American publications: the NECTL review cited FLA and MLJ articles more frequently than other professional publications and other ISLA journals. The authors consider this “a surprisingly and worryingly low proportion” (p. 629).

Lay summaries of ISLA research

What I like about the paper is that instead of handwringing, the authors finish the article with a strong call for action and detailed proposal for doing so. They firmly reject an interpretation whereby school-based practitioners should read research in the 29 ISLA journals listed, or conversely, that these journals should change their research aims. Instead, they suggest the introduction of journal-initiated lay summaries whereby journals and/or authors “reframe their academic publications into summary formats that are both physically and conceptually accessible to practitioners” (p. 630). Organisations like AILA and repositories like IRIS could play a role. The authors suggest that journals need to take the lead and cite the example of eLife plain language digests.
The authors are also careful to avoid suggesting unilateral influence of research on practice, suggesting that increasing practitioner exposure to research through a centralised access point to lay summaries can be helpful in a variety of ways.

If any potential pedagogical relevance is claimed (by authors or editorial mission statements), the research could better find its way into practitioners’ communities of practice, for evaluation by them. Looking even further ahead, it is possible that improvements in this dimension could, in turn, produce a kind of ‘washback’ that affects the aims, construction, and design of ISLA research itself.

And the reference to the original article, open access (at least for now).


MARSDEN, E. and KASPROWICZ, R. (2017), Foreign Language Educators’ Exposure to Research: Reported Experiences, Exposure Via Citations, and a Proposal for Action. The Modern Language Journal, 101: 613–642.

7 thoughts on “Research and language teaching: practitioner access to studies of instructed SLA

  1. Thanks for this faithful, useful and very clear summary of the Marsden & Kasprowicz 2017 study.
    The “open accessible summaries” initiative that we proposed in that article now exists!

    It is actively supported (i.e., ‘fed’ with summaries) by several journals (including Language Learning, The Modern Language Journal, TESOL Quarterly).

    Emma Marsden

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