Multilingualism, Translanguaging and Baloney


In my post on Multilingualism and Translanguaging I made an effort to put a positive spin on work being done in the areas of multilingualism, translanguaging, raciolinguistics and Disability Critical Race Theory. I emphasised that this work is unified in its radical objective of challenging current language learning and language teaching practices and replacing them with “new configurations, which allow for the emergence of discourses and voices that are currently deliberately repressed by the status quo”. My argument was that while there are good reasons to support the general thrust of arguments in favor of multilingualism, there is no need for enthusiastic followers of this work to accuse those pursuing scientific research in psycholinguistics of imposing a “positivist paradigm” on applied linguistics. I suggested that the two domains of sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics need not lock horns in a culture war, just so long as those in the sociolinguistic camp don’t disappear down a relativist, socio-cultural hole where appeals to logic and empirical evidence are entirely abandoned.

Here, I take a closer, more critical look at the work of García, Flores and Rosa. My criticism is motivated by an attempt to persuade my chum Kevin Gregg that I haven’t completely lost the plot, and to persuade other readers that García, Flores and Rosa indulge in theoretical speculations, inspired by an extreme relativist epistemology, which result in little more than obscurantist baloney that gets nobody anywhere.

My Position

Let me begin by summarizing what I, from my critical rationalist perspective, acknowledge:

  • English acts as a lingua franca and as a powerful tool to protect and promote the interests of a capitalist class.
  • In the global ELT industry, teaching is informed by the monolingual fallacy, the native speaker fallacy and the subtractive fallacy (Phillipson, 2018).   
  • The ways in which English is privileged in education systems needs critical scrutiny, and policies that strengthen linguistic diversity are needed to counteract linguistic imperialism.
  • Translanguaging affirms bilinguals’ fluent languaging practices and aims to legitimise hybrid language uses.
  • ELT must generate translanguaging spaces where practices which explore the full range of users’ repertoires in creative and transformative ways are encouraged.
  • Translanguaging classroom practices can disrupt subtractive approaches to language education and deficit language policies.
  • Racism permeates ELT. It results in expecting language-minoritized students to model their linguistic practices on inapproriate white speaker norms.

Additive Bilingualism

To expose the baloney which I think characterises the work of García, Flores and Rosa, I use Cunmmins’ (2017) article, where he defends the construct of additive bilingualism and additive approaches to language education against criticisms made by them. I make comments that Cummins will certainly disagree with.

Cummins starts with Baker and Prys Jones’ (1998) definitions:

Additive Bilingualism: A situation where a second language is learnt by an individual or group without detracting from the maintenance and development of the first language. A situation where a second language adds to, rather than replaces the first language. (p. 698)

Subtractive Bilingualism: A situation in which a second language is learnt at the expense of the first language, and gradually replaces the first language (e.g. inmigrants (sic) to a country or minority language pupils in submersion education) (p. 706).”

 Cummins points out that although the additive/subtractive distinction was originally formulated as a psycholinguistic construct, it “rapidly evolved to intersect with issues of education equity and societal power relations”. His later definition is that additive bilingualism seeks to “help students add a second language (L2) while continuing to develop academic skills in their home language (L1)”.

Attacks on Cummins’ view begin with García’s (2009) claim that additive bilingualism positions bilingualism as the sum of two monolingualisms. She advocates replacing this mistaken view with the construct of translanguaging, which can act as both a description of the dynamic integrated linguistic practices of bilingual and multilingual students and as a pedagogical approach. Flores and Rosa (2015) build on García’s criticism by arguing that additive approaches interpret the linguistic practices of bilinguals through a monolingual framework where “discourses of linguistic appropriateness fueled by raciolinguistic ideologies” remain unchallenged. As a result, an additative approach “marginalizes” the “fluid linguistic practices” of bilingual students, Standard English learners, and heritage language learners (the three “communities” that Flores and Rosa (2015) deal with).

Cummins replies that García’s and Flores & Rosa’s conceptualizations of additive bilingualism “load the construct with extraneous conceptual baggage that is not intrinsic to its basic meaning”. Additive bilingualism, he argues, does not imply that bilingualism is the sum of two monolingualisms, and additive approaches to language education are as radical – and more coherent – than those of García and Flores & Rosa.

… the construct of additive bilingualism has evolved from its psycholinguistic roots to reference a set of education practices and initiatives that challenge the operation of coercive power structures. These power structures have historically excluded minoritized students’ L1 from schooling with the goal of replacing it with the L2. Extensive research carried out within the context of the additive bilingualism construct has demonstrated that minoritized students’ L1 can be promoted through bilingual education programs at no cost to students’ academic development in the L2″ (Cummins, 2017, p. 408).

So what is the “extraneous conceptual baggage” that has been loaded onto Cummins’ construct of additive bilingualism? It is, precisely,

the assumption that the construct of additive bilingualism necessarily entails distinct language systems rather than functioning as an integrated system” (Cummins, 2017, p. 411).

To be clear, the extraneous conceptual baggage resides in García’s rejection of the assumption that the categories “first language and second language” are meaningful. García insists that first language and second language are not actually distinct language systems, thus denying that Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Spanish and English, for example, are distinct language systems. Given this preposterous claim, it should not come as a surprise that García and Wei (2014) take the extra step into Humpy Dumpty land by claiming that the construct of language/languages itself is illegitimate. According to them, the translanguaging construct demands that bilingual students’ language practices must not be separated into home language and school language. It follows that the concept of transfer must be shed in favor of “a conceptualization of integration of language practices in the person of the learner” (García & Wei, 2014, p. 80).

So …..

One consequence of the assertion that languages don’t exist is that it is meaningless to talk about transfer from one language to another. It also means, as Cummins points out, that a child who says “My home language is English, but my school language is French” is making an ideologically-charged false utterance and that any source which refers to and provides information about the 7,106 languages and dialects that humanity has generated is similarly epistemologically wrong-headed. Cummins comments:

“The claim that languages exist as social constructions but have no legitimacy “in reality” raises the issue of what “reality” and “social construction” are. Also unclear is the meaning of the claim that languages don’t exist as linguistic entities but do exist in the social world” (Cummins, 2017, p. 414).

Those of us who, unlike Cummins, question the merits of adopting an exclusively socio-cultural view of language and language learning will go further than that. The claim that “languages exist as social constructions” itself needs clarifying. What kind of claim is it? Does it base itself on the work of Vygotsky, Lantolf, or what? Unless it’s properly explained, it’s so much blather. But still, we can agree with Cummins that the claim that languages themselves have no legitimacy “in reality” raises the issue of what the hell they’re talking about. What “reality” are they referring to? Surely, according to any decent relativist epistemology, no stable “reality” exists. And what does seeing language as a “social construction” mean in the context of a “framework” where languages don’t exist?

Rather than dismissing such crap as obvious nonsense, Cummins bends over backwards to reconcile himself with his critics. He himself adopts a socio-cultural approach where a relativist epistemology is often in evidence, but where appeals to empirical evidence are nevertheless made. His article ends with an attempt to reconcile differences with García, Flores and Rosa by proposing a synthesis of perspectives that replaces the term “additive bilingualism” with “active bilingualism”. Good luck with that, Jim. It seems obvious to me that this overture will be roundly rejected. García, Flores and Rosa are committed to an agenda that is characterised by its aggressive rejection of any compromise. A relativist epistemology is coupled with hopelessly undefined constructs and a disdain for empirical evidence that makes it impervious to criticism and encourages the worst kind of cult following.

There’s more

In a reply to Cummins (2017) Flores says that Cummins and he are using different theories of language.

“For Cummins, language is a set of disembodied features that exist as separate from the people who use them and can be objectively documented by researchers. I reject this premise and instead believe that language is embodied in ways such that the social status of the speaker can impact how their language practices are taken up by the listener, which could include researchers”.

Cummins’s view of language is not fairly described by Flores, who himself nowhere gives his own view. To say that “language is embodied in ways such that bla bla bla” is not to explain any theory of language. Flores talks a lot about “academic language” but refuses to say what his theory of language is.

In a recent tweet, Flores says:

The tendency is to start conversations about language in the classroom around how to differentiate for ELs. This is the wrong starting point. You can’t differentiate effectively if you don’t have a understanding of what language is and how it is embedded in relations of power.

I replied

Please can you tell me where I can find your answer to the question “What is language?”     

And answer came there none. Does Flores agree with García’s nonsensical statement that languages exist as social constructions but have no legitimacy “in reality”?

Other tweets from Flores illustrate his stance. For example:

If we are going to psychologize racial oppression it seems to me that the white kid who believes the white doll is more beautiful than the Black doll has more psychological damage than the Black kid who believes the same thing. Their beliefs will also do more damage in the world.

For the record, I don’t think psychologizing racial oppression is generally a good idea. I’m just saying it we are going to do it at least do it accurately. (emojoi of man shrugging).      

I leave those versed in critical discourse analysis to interpret these remarks.

There remains the question of how the works of García, Flores & Rosa affect teaching practice. What do they offer in terms of how to improve language teaching? Cummins (2017) argues that Flores and Rosa do not address the instructional implications of their theoretical claims about raciolinguistic ideologies.

The relevance of this construct for teaching minoritized students will emerge in much more powerful ways when the authors address the apparent contradictions I identify and specify alternative instructional approaches to expand students’ academic registers in place of the approaches advocated by Delpit (1988, 2006) and Olsen (2010), which they reject. Additionally, it would be helpful to address the apparent inconsistency between the endorsement of additive approaches in the work of Bartlett and García (2011) and the rejection of additive approaches in the Flores and Rosa analysis (Cummins, 2017, p. 420).

Amen to that. Cummins’ article has the title “Teaching Minoritized Students: Are Additive Approaches Legitimate?”. His prime concern is to improve the teaching of minoritised students and he’s worked hard to provide answers to that question. I see very little of practical use in the assorted works of García, Flores and Rosa. Pues, I think it’s all mucho noise and pocas nueces.


Bartlett, L., & García, O. (2011). Additive schooling in subtractive times: Bilingual education and Dominican immigrant youth in the Heights. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

Cummins, J. (2017). Teaching Minoritized Students: Are Additive Approaches Legitimate? Harvard Educational Review, 87, 3, 404-425.

Flores, N., & Rosa, J. (2015). Undoing Appropriateness: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and Language Diversity in Education. Harvard Educational Review, 85, 2, 149–171.

García, O. (2009). Bilingual education in the 21st century: A global perspective. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Garcia, O. & Wei, L. (2014) Translanguaging: Language, Bilingualism, and Education.  NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Migliarini, V., & Stinson, C. (2021). Disability Critical Race Theory Solidarity Approach to Transform Pedagogy and Classroom Culture in TESOL. TESOL Journal, 55, 3, 708-718.

Phillipson, R. (2018) Linguistic Imperialism. Downloaded 28 Oct. 2021 from

Rosa, J., & Flores, N. (2017). Unsettling race and language: Toward a raciolinguistic perspective. Language in Society, 46, 5, 621-647.

A Sketch of a Process-influenced, Task-based Syllabus for English as an L2

Note: I’ve updated this to go with the Synthetic and Analytic Syllabuses Part 2 post, where I explain the motivation for Breen’s Process syllabus and describe what it entails.

Process Syllabuses

Breen’s (1987b) Process syllabus is based on this rationale:

  • Authentic communication between learners involves the genuine need to share meaning and to negotiate about things that actually matter and require action on a learner’s part.
  • Meta-communication and shared decision-making are necessary conditions of language learning in any classroom.
  • The Process Syllabus empowers learners and stresses the vital role of the teacher.

Rationale for a Process Task-Based Syllabus

I tentatively propose a Process Task-based syllabus based on this rationale:

  • Problem-solving tasks generate learner interaction, real communication, the negotiation of meaning, rich comprehensible input and output.
  • There is a focus on the processes of learner participation in discourse.
  • Tasks are sequenced on the basis of addressing learner problems as they arise, thereby overcoming sequencing limitations of conventional syllabus design criteria
  • Learners work on all parts of the sylllabus, including input and materials design.

Methodological Principles

  • Promote “Learning by Doing” (Real-world tasks)
  • Provide rich input (Realistic target language use)
  • Focus on Form (not FoFs)
  • Provide Negative Feedback (Recasts +)
  • Involve learners in decision-making
  • Respect Interlanguage Development.

Needs Analysis consists of:

  • Pre-course questionnaires
  • Interviews
  •  Planning sessions during course


In all tasks

  • Meaning is primary
  • Focus is on outcomes
  • Students feel the relevance of the task to their English language needs.

We distinguish between Macro and Micro Tasks

Macro tasks: Solve a well-defined problem. My suggestion is that a macro task, involving 6 to 15 hours class time forms the framework for micro tasks, and that it is framed as a problem. Examples: 

  1. How can we re-organising the banking sector, post 2008, in Country X so as to avoid a repetition of the 2008 collapse, provide individuals with cheap, efficient, reliable services, etc. etc..?
  2. How do new sophisticated statistics software packages affect house / car / life / …. insurance in Country X?
  3. How can parents deal with teenagers’ use of mobile phones in Country X?
  4. The Reinvention of Danone: planning for continued growth.
  5. How can we ensure the continuation of Newspaper X in Country X?
  6. What is the best model for primary & secondary education: Finland, Poland, or UK?
  7. How can the problems of water scarcity in Country X be tackled?
  8. How can traffic problems in City X be tackled?
  9. How can racial discrimination in Industry X or Sector X in Country X be tackled?
  10. How can tourism in Location X be promoted?

Micro tasks: Each Macro Task is broken down into a series of Micro Tasks. Here is a suggested sequence, not definitive.

  • Understand the problem
  • Suggest Tentative Solutions
  • Gather information
  • Analyse and Assess information
  • Test Tentative Solutions
  • Propose Solution
  • Discuss Solution
  • Make decision
  • Report


The teacher takes charge of the first section of the course.

At the end of Section 1, there is a Feedback / Planning session. Students fill in 2 short questionnaires and then put together a plan for Section 2. They tell the teacher what topic or topics they want to work on, how they feel about help with grammar, vocab., etc., and how they want to work. The teachers uses their feedback and their plan to design Section 2 of the course.

The teacher then leads students through Section 2. At the end of the section, there is a new Feedback / Planning session, the students have learned from the first 2 sections a bit more about how to use the planning session to their best advantage, so they do a better job of planning Section 3, the teacher puts the plan together, and on it goes.

A 100 hour course will consist of 8 to 10 sections.

An Example: General Business Course for adults

  • Type of Student: Adult
  • Number of Students: 12
  • Level: Mid-Intermediate (CEFR: B2).
  • Course Duration: 100 hours; 6 hours a week.
  • Main Objectives: Improve English for business purposes. Priority: oral communication.

Section 1 (Hours 1 to 12)

Before the course starts, students fill in a NA and are interviewed.

The teacher designs and leads the first section of the course by leading work on a suitable Macro task, chosen on the basis of data gathered from NA and interviews. To carry out the Micro Tasks, materials from a Materials Bank are used: worksheets, web-based material, videos, oral and written texts, articles, newspaper reports, etc..

While carrying out the tasks, the teacher

  • attends to grammar through negative feedback and focus on form,
  • attends to vocabulary building and lexical chunks in vocab. sessions,
  • includes some written work in class,
  • sets homework of various types, 
  • establishes a website for the class,
  • provides a mixture of group work, pair work, whole class work,
  • generally tries to give students a taste of what’s possible.

First Feedback / Planning Session

Tool 1: Feedback Sheet

1= very bad   10 = excellent

General feeling about course so far:  1 2 3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

My participation:                                                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

My progress:                                                               1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

Teacher:                                                                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

Activities:                                                                     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

Use of time:                                                                1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

Level of difficulty:                                                      1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

Best parts of the classes:

Worst parts of the classes:

Too much / too little time was spent on:

General Comments:


Tool 2: Planning Sheet

What should be the Topic/s for the next Section of the course?

Class Work: What proportion of the time should we work

  • individually,
  • in pairs,
  • in small groups,
  • as a whole group?

Activities   Name activities yu want to do. Be as detailed as possible.

  • Listening (video / audio / etc.)
  • Reading (texts, internet searches, etc.)
  • Writing (e-mails, reports, etc.)
  • Speaking (discussions, meetings, stories, presentations, etc.)
  • Grammar work
  • Vocabulary work
  • Pronunciation work

What other recommendations do you have?

Prepare a report giving your recommendations for Section 2 of the course.



Students are given the Feedback and Planning questionnaires which they fill in individually.

They then get into groups of 4 to discuss their answers, reach consensus on the plan for Section 2, and prepare a report to give to the whole class. During this first planning session, it’s important for the teacher to encourage everybody to make specific, focused suggestions. My experience using this type of syllabus is that students will tend to say “We liked Section 1 well enough, you carry on, just let’s have a bit more of this and a bit less of that.” You have to insist that they give more input than this.

The whole class meets to hear reports from each group. The teacher records this meeting. The teacher listens to the feedback comments and makes no attempt to defend himself/herself against any criticism. The groups then report on their plans for Section 2, after which the class discusses the reports together and reaches  final decisions. The teacher promises to present the plan for Section 2 in the next class.

At the next class, the teacher presents the plan for Section 2. Exactly how much this reflects the students’ plan will depend on the context, but in any case it’s the teacher’s job to explain the plan, and to make sure it sufficiently reflects the students’ suggestions. Then Section 2 begins.

Section 2

In Section 2, the teacher leads students through one or more Macro tasks, chosen in line with the students’ decisions on topic. The Micro Tasks involve activities involving the 4 skills, and are again chosen to reflect the students’ comments on where they want to concentrate. The materials for these activities come from a Materials Bank, and it’s obvious that this Materials Bank plays a very important part in the delivery of this type of course. In the SLB cooperative, we’re currently working on materials that are coded according to topic, skill, level, grammar point, vocabulary area, group / pair / whole class work, etc., etc., so that if members want to do a syllabus of this type, they can quickly assemble the needed Micro Tasks which make up the Macro Task.

At the end of Section 2, the 2nd Feedback/Planning session is held. Students fill in the same questionnaires and go through the same group and whole class discussion phases. They do it better this time; and they’ll do it better the 3rd time.

Variations in Process TBLT

The basic idea is that the syllabus is divided into sections, and each section does macro problem-solving task(s). Each section preceded by a planning session. The variable elements are:

  • Number of Sections
  • Content of Planning Session (how much students decide)
  • Materials: (from Materials Bank to Coursebook)
  • Nature of tasks
  • Nature of vocab. and grammar work


The Process TBLT syllabus is very sketchy and open to lots of criticism. The NA is open to all the criticsms Long makes of it, and so are the tasks themselves, but on the other hand, students engage in the messy work of learning and directly affect decisions; it’s adaptable; it avoid the false assumptions made by synthetic syllabuses; it’s learner-centred; and it’s likely to be more rewarding for all concerned than coursebook-driven ELT.


Breen, M. (1987) Contemporary Paradigms in Syllabus Design. Part I   Language Teaching Volume 20, Issue 2

Breen, M. (1987) Contemporary Paradigms in Syllabus Design. Part 2   Language Teaching Volume 20, Issue 3

Breen, M., & Littlejohn, A. (Eds.). (2000). Classroom decision-making negotiation and process syllabus in practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Synthetic and Analytic Syllabuses, Part 2


In Part 1, I gave a brief summary of the main differences between synthetic and analytic syllabuses, emphasizing how little time synthetic syllabuses give to the development of implicit (procedural) knowledge of the L2. I argued that the synthetic syllabuses used in coursebooks contradict robust findings from SLA research by wrongly assuming that the explicit teaching of declarative knowledge (knowledge about the L2) will lead to the procedural knowledge learners need in order to successfully use the L2 for communicative purposes. I further argued that the analytic syllabus used in Long’s TBLT is likely to be more efficacious, because it conforms to SLA research findings which support the view that SLA is essentially a matter of learning by doing. If communicative competence is the goal, implicit learning is far more important than explicit learning, and it follows that classroom time should be devoted to the accomplishment of communicative tasks, during which, attention can be given to formal aspects of the L2.

In this Part 2, I look in more detail at the two types of syllabus, in order to clear up confusion caused by equating synthetic / analytic syllabuses with product / process syllabuses and Type A / Type B syllabuses.

Synthetic vs. Analytic Syllabuses

Long & Crookes (1992) updated Wilkins’ (1976) original distinction between these two types, and in doing so, moved Wilkins’ own notional-functional syllabus from the analytic category, where Wilkins had put it, into the synthetic category.

Synthetic syllabuses cut the L2 up into linguistic “items” which are treated one at a time in a step-by-step sequence. Items include words, collocations, grammar rules, sentence patterns and pronunciation norms, and examples of synthetic syllabuses are grammatical, lexical and notional /functional. Coursebooks series such as Headway, Outcomes and English File implement a synthetic syllabus. Items of the L2 are first selected for inclusion in the syllabus, and then sequenced for treatment. Once the content and sequencing decisions have been made, the items are contextualized, presented, explained and then practiced. Thus, learning an L2 consists of gradually accumulating knowledge of its parts. The syllabuses are called synthetic because they expect the learner to “re-synthesize” the language that has been broken down into a large number of small items for practical teaching reasons.

Analytic syllabuses work in reverse. They start with the learner and learning processes. Students are exposed to samples of the L2, which, while they may have been modified, are not controlled for structure or lexis in the way a synthetic syllabus demands. The learners’ job is to use the samples in communicative tasks in such a way that they analyze the input, and thereby induce rules of grammar and use for themselves. There is no overt or covert linguistic syllabus. More attention is paid to message and pedagogy than to formal aspects of the L2. The idea is that, much in the way children learn their L1, adults can best learn an L2 incidentally, through using it. Analytic syllabuses are implemented using spoken and written activities and texts, modified for L2 learners, chosen for their content, interest value, and comprehensibility. In the classroom, the focus is on students using the language in communicative tasks, as opposed to treating the L2 as an object of study. Grammar and vocabulary presentations, drills, and strictly controlled oral practice are seldom used. TBLT, Dogme, some immersion programmes, and some CLIL courses use analytic syllabuses.

Product vs Process Syllabuses

Breen (1987) classified syllabuses into two basic types: “propositional” and “Process”.  (Note that the first type is more usually referred to, although not by Breen, as a “product” syllabus.) According to Breen, the propositional syllabus represented the “dominant paradigm” in 1987. Two examples of propositional syllabuses given by Breen are the “formal” (grammar) syllabus and the “functional” syllabus; both see the syllabus as a propositional plan giving a detailed description of what is to be taught. Once the content of the syllabus has been determined, the teacher works through the syllabus using appropriate materials and (variations of) a “Present -> Practice -> Produce” (PPP) methodology.

In contrast, a Process syllabus is concerned with “how something is done”. It is interested in two “How?” questions. First, how is communication in the L2 done? In other words, how is the L2 used so that correctness, appropriacy, and meaningfulness are simultaneously achieved during communication within a certain range of events and situations? The syllabus is derived from an analysis of language use in a variety of events and situations, and maps out the procedural knowledge which enables a language user to communicate within them.

The second “How?” question is what really distinguishes a Process syllabus from the rest. It asks: how should learners participate in the experience of language learning? Breen says: “Just as tasks are socially situated in real communication in everyday life, the Process syllabus recognises that communication and learning in classrooms are also socially situated in the classroom group. In a sense, the Process syllabus addresses three interdependent processes: communication, learning, and the group process of a classroom community” (Breen, 1987b, p. 161). As a result of this all-important concern with the group process, Breen rejects the task-based syllabus because although it addresses the first “How?” question adequately, it does not sufficiently address the second one. Breen’s Process syllabus is “primarily a syllabus which addresses the decisions which have to be made and the working procedures which have to be undertaken for language learning in a group. It assumes, therefore, that the third process – how things may be done in the classroom situation – will be the means through which communicating and learning can be achieved” (Breen, 1987b, p. 166).

The Process syllabus completely breaks the mould (the established paradigm) of syllabus design, and thus it can’t be described in terms of the five questions which Breen applies to other types of syllabus, including task-based. Breen replaces the five questions with three concerns: (a) what the Process syllabus provides; (b) the relationship between the Process syllabus and the content or subject matter to be learned and (c) the rationale of the Process syllabus. In terms of what it provides, the Process syllabus consists of a plan relating to the major decisions which teacher and learners need to make during classroom language learning, and a bank of classroom activities made up of sets of tasks. The plan is presented in terms of questions which teacher and learners together discuss and agree upon. Questions refer to three main aspects of classroom work: participation, procedure and subject-matter. “Teacher and learners are involved in a cycle of decision-making through which their own preferred ways of working, their own on-going content syllabus, and their choices of appropriate activities and tasks are realised in the classroom” (Breen, 1987b, p. 167).

Below is Breen’s summary:

In a separate post, I’ve updated a sketch of a “Process task-based syllabus” that I did some years ago, just to give an idea of what a Process approach might lead to in TBLT. Mike Long, not surprisingly, did not think much of it, and I agree with his criticisms. I won’t go through those criticisms here, suffice it to note that there are very important differences between Breen’s Process syllabus and Long’s (2015) task-based syllabus. While Long’s syllabus is clearly an analytical syllabus, it is equally clearly not a Process syllabus. Long thinks it’s a mistake to give students such a pivotal role in the design of the syllabus; his task-based syllabus relies on its special type of needs analysis, and on the protagonism of the students in carrying out the tasks, to ensure that the course is learner-centred, relevant and efficacious. In Long’s opinion, syllabus design should be carried out by experts who rely on the data collected from domain experts, language scholars, teachers, and the students themselves, in order to make pedagogic tasks, which together comprise the syllabus that all lessons in a course are built around.

Type A and Type B syllabuses (R.V. White, 1988)

Type A syllabuses, are “interventionist” – the content of the syllabus is decided by preselecting the language to be taught, dividing it up into small pieces or items, determining learning objectives, and assessing success and failure in terms of achievement or mastery. These syllabuses are thus, says White, “external to the learner”, “other-directed” and “determined by authority”.

Type B syllabuses, on the other hand, are “noninterventionist”. No preselection or arrangement of items to be taught is made and objectives are determined by a process of negotiation between teacher and learners  as the course evolves. They are thus, says White, internal to the learner, they emphasise the process of learning rather than the subject matter, and assessment is carried out “in relationship to learners’ criteria for success”.

Here’s a summary:

Like Breen’s Process syllabus, a Type B syllabus evolves as it goes along, and thus it is fundamentally different to Long’s task-based syllabus, where the pedagogic tasks which make up the syllabus have already been decided, albeit as a result of a detailed needs analysis.


Wales High Resolution Efficacy Concept

Long & Crookes, Breen and R.V. White used their dichotomous categories of syllabus types in order to argue for change. In the name of efficacy, they all wanted to move away from the dominant syllabus type, which they described in their own ways as synthetic, propositional (product) and Type A syllabuses, respectively. These syllabuses share the same fatal flaw: they reduce second language learning to one more subject in the curriculum, making the L2 an object of study, like the human body in biology or the globe in geography. As an object of study, the L2 is chopped up into bits to facilitate the sequential teaching of the items which make up its parts, on the false assumption that declarative knowledge can be transformed into procedural knowledge through a certain type of practice. All these syllabuses adhere to Caroll’s (1966) view that L2 learning starts with explicit knowledge: through presentation / contextualization /explanation / comprehension checks / etc., the students have the items of language under consideration explained to them.

“Once the student has a proper degree of cognitive control over the structure of a language, facility will develop automatically with the use of the language in meaningful situations” (p.66).

This contrasts with the opposite, modern view, eloquently expressed by Hatch (1978):

“Language learning evolves out of learning how to carry on conversations. One learns how to do conversation, one learns how to interact verbally, and out of this interaction syntactic structures are developed” (p. 404).

Hatch’s view informs analytic, process and Type B syllabuses, all of which are based on the assumption that there is a weak interface between declarative and procedural knowledge and that procedural knowledge is best developed by engaging in relevant tasks where the focus is on meaning, but where the teacher provides scaffolding and feedback in order to improve the rate and quality of interlanguage development.

For all their agreement, it’s important to highlight the differences in the three accounts, especially the difference between Long & Crookes’ synthetic / analytic distinction, and the others. Breen and R.V. White are particularly concerned with the collaboration between teacher and students, as a result of which they both see “evolution” and “negotiation” as core elements of a syllabus. The syllabus is not pre-written, it evolves as procedures and content are continuously negotiated during the course. Long & Crookes (1992), on the other hand, use the synthetic / analytic distinction to argue for a certain type of task-based syllabus (one based on identifying target tasks and then designing pedagogic tasks), which, they claim, is more efficacious than Breen’s process syllabus, for various reasons.

The differences in the three dichotomies may help to sort out Chinaski’s doubts. I don’t know her real name, but “Chinaski” is the handle she uses on Twitter, where she has made quite a few comments about Long’s (2015) TBLT. Here’s an example:  

“I understand synthetic syllabuses to necessarily entail a product (Type A) approach to syllabus design in which the product covered by each unit of work, be it grammatical, discoursal, functional, situational, etc., is synthesised by learners and assimilated into their burgeoning language system. I would imagine Skehan’s process Type B approach to be further along the analytic continuum in that tasks are the medium and not the object of learning. Surely “building block” tasks and “exit” tasks are the hallmarks of a synthetic approach and reflect a concern for an accountability in ELT in line with neoliberal thinking”.

Synthetic syllabuses don’t “necessarily” entail covering a “product” in each unit of work – they “cover” bits of language. More precisely, each unit in a coursebook that implements a synthetic syllabus focuses on a few specific, discrete linguistic entities – structures, lexis, and notions and functions. Long’s task-based syllabus doesn’t use linguistic entities, but rather tasks, as its “course currency” or “unit of analysis”. His syllabus consists of a sequence of pedagogic tasks; these are derived from target tasks which are identified by a needs analysis. Examples of target tasks (described in Long, 2015) are flight attendants serving food & drinks; migrant workers in California dealing with a police stop while driving to work, and writing an article in English for a Catalan newspaper. The aim of the pedagogic tasks is to build students’ interlanguages so that they can eventually perform the identified target tasks. The pedagogic tasks use “elaborated” and “modified”, as opposed to “simplified” oral and written texts to provide input, and the “exit” pedagogic task is often a simulation of an identified target task. These pedagogic tasks might well be seen as building blocks, but that doesn’t make them “products”; they are not parts of a propositional syllabus as Breen uses the term, nor are they well-described as parts of a Type A syllabus. Using elaborated and modified texts to perform a relatively simple version of a target task is not the same as using simplified texts to teach a particular formal aspect of the L2, like the comparative of adjectives, for example.

Nevertheless, while to describe Skehan’s approach as “process Type B” is wide of the mark, and while I don’t think the synthetic / analytic distinction is best seen as a continuum, I think Chinaski points to something interesting when she says that Skehan’s approach to TBLT is “further along the analytic continuum in that tasks are the medium and not the object of learning”. Long’s syllabus lays out a course aimed at giving students the ability to complete certain target tasks. In Long’s words, the syllabus aims “to help students to develop their language abilities gradually to meet the demands of increasingly complex tasks, linguistic problems being treated reactively, as they arise” (Long, 2015, p. 222). Skehan, meanwhile, as I think Chinaski suggests, sees tasks as the best framework for teaching an L2, rejects Long’s reliance on identifying target tasks, and is not particularly concerned with the detailed design of pedagogic tasks.

In Ellis, Skehan, Li, Shintanti & Lambert’s (2019) TBLT, Theory and Practice, Skehan follows Rod Ellis in arguing that an “operational” syllabus is better than an “illuminative” one (these are Prabhu’s (1978) terms). An operational syllabus is said to have the relatively modest aim of providing course content from which teachers can make their own lesson plans and reach appropriate goals for their learners in their local contexts. It specifies only what will be taught, not how it will be taught. “The content is fixed, but how the teacher uses the content is flexible” (Ellis, et al, 2019, p. 212). On the other hand, an “illuminative” syllabus is much more thorough and makes a considerable effort to ensure that “what is taught and what is learned are carefully aligned”. The examples given of illuminative syllabuses are “those used in workplace training where employees are briefly trained in how to perform key tasks (e.g., cleaning bathrooms at an airport, preparing a hotel room)”. Ellis and Skehan argue that an illuminative syllabus is undesirable, because it’s too prescriptive and it thus limits teachers’ and learners’ freedom to make the many intuitive decisions and adjustments which “optimize learners’ mastery of syllabus content”.

I personally find Ellis et al’s discussion of operational and illuminative syllabuses wholly unconvincing and very lacking in substance; but while it certainly needs a response, here is not the place. I mention it only because I think it’s interesting that Skehan seems to sign up to Ellis’ view of TBLT, and because it has some relevance to Chinaski’s doubts. My aim has been the modest one of clarifying how three different accounts of syllabus design have used three similar, but not identical terms to classify syllabuses into two opposing types.


Breen, M. (1987a). Contemporary Paradigms in Syllabus Design. Part 1. Language Teaching, 20,2, 81-92.

Breen, M. (1987b). Contemporary Paradigms in Syllabus Design. Part 2. Language Teaching, 20, 3, 157-174.

Carroll, J. B. (1966). The contribution of psychological theory and educational research to the teaching of foreign languages’ in A. Valdman (ed.). Trends in Language Teaching. McGraw-Hill, 93–106.

Ellis, R., Skehan, P., Li, S., Shintani, N., and Lambert, C. (2019). Task-based language teaching: Theory and practice. Cambridge University Press.

Hatch, E. (ed.) (1978). Second Language Acquisition: A Book of Readings. Newbury House.

Long, M. (2015) TBLT and SLA. Wiley.

Long, M. H., & Crookes, G. (1992). Three approaches to task‐based syllabus design. TESOL Quarterly, 26(1), 27-56.

White, R.V. (1988). The ELT Crriculum: Design, Innovation, and Management. Basil Blackwell.

Wilkins, D. A. (1976). Notional syllabuses. Oxford University Press

Multilingualism, Translanguaging and Theories of SLA


Multilingualism and translanguaging are “hot” topics among students enrolled in Leicester University’s MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL, and maybe this reflects not just the sharp increase in the number of articles on these topics appearing in academic journals, but also discussion among teachers and teacher educators in blogs and the social media in general.

Both topics begin with a questioning of how we define language; in particular, they question the assumption that most people are monolingual, and that to learn a second language is to learn a separate, different “system”, comprising of a separate grammar, vocabulary and so on. In other words, they challenge the traditional monolingual approach which conceives of bi/multilingualism as the addition of parallel monolingualisms, and which, furthermore, regards the hybrid uses of languages by bilinguals as signs of deviant or deficient language knowledge and use.

Moving away from Chomsky’s UG perspective and Saussure’s view of languages as arbitrary and autonomous systems of signs, translanguaging theorists embrace Bakhtin’s view that “language is inextricably bound to the context in which it exists and is incapable of neutrality because it emerges from the actions of speakers with certain perspectives and ideological positions”. The move from a view of language as a discrete system to ‘languaging’ as a socially situated action is further developed by the construct of “translanguaging” (see, for example, Garcia & Wei (2014). Translanguaging scholarship began with an analysis of the historic conflict between English and Welsh in Wales; English being the dominant language imposed on Wales by English colonial rule, and Welsh being the indigenous language endangered by the colonial language policy which excluded Welsh from formal education spaces in Wales. By the 1980s, children in Wales began learning through the concurrent use of Welsh and English in school, with means of representation in one language and means of expression in the other (Lewis, Jones, & Baker, 2012a; Lewis, Jones, & Baker, 2012b).

Translanguaging has since been expanded theoretically and practically by linguists and educators globally. Two facets stand out. First, García’s “dynamic bilingualism” (which emerges from her distinction between subtractive and additive bilingualism) insists that bilinguals choose parts from a complex linguistic repertoire depending on contextual, topical, and interactional factors. Translanguaging moves beyond languaging by affirming bilinguals’ fluent languaging practices and by aiming to transcend current boundaries of discourse so as to legitimise these hybrid language uses. Second, Li argues for the generation of translanguaging spaces, that is, spaces that encourage practices which explore the full range of users’ repertoires in creative and transformative ways. Translanguaging stems from indigenous resistance to oppression. It foregrounds students’ multilinguistic knowledge and practices as assets and insists that these be fully utilized in classroom communication and in the wider community. Translanguaging classroom praxis exemplifies how language teachers can disrupt subtractive approaches to language education and deficit language policies.

There is an obviously radical agenda at work here: translanguaging wants to throw out well-established ways of understanding languages, language learning and language teaching and to replace them with new configurations, which allow for the emergence of discourses and voices that are currently deliberately repressed by the status quo. García & Wei (2014) emphasise the importance of “criticality, critical pedagogy, social justice and the linguistic human rights agenda” (p. 3), and throughout the book there are references to and alignment with a political agenda, which stems from what one may call a socio-cultural perspective to applied linguistics. Translanguaging is closely connected to the topic of linguistic imperialism, which studies dominant languages, language policy, and their roles in Anglo‐American, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish colonial empires. In the postcolonial age, English acts as a lingua franca and also as a powerful tool to protect and promote the interests of a capitalist class. The teaching of English, as Phillipson (2018) points out, is founded on the monolingual fallacy, the native speaker fallacy, the early start fallacy, the maximum exposure fallacy, and the subtractive fallacy. Phillipson argues that the ways in which English is privileged in education systems needs critical scrutiny, and policies that strengthen linguistic diversity are needed to counteract linguistic imperialism.

 “Standardized English” has become the focus of criticism from a wide range of scholars and researchers, and to those mentioned above, we should add Nelson Flores and Jonathan Rosa (see, for example, Flores & Rosa, 2015; Rosa & Flores, 2017) and Valentina Migliarini and Chelsea Stinson (see Migliarini & Stinson, 2021). Flores and Rosa argue that standardized linguistic practices, far from being an objective set of linguistic forms appropriate for an academic setting, are actually demonstrations of raciolinguistic ideologies, and that language education expects language-minoritized students to model their linguistic practices after the white speaking subject, “despite the fact that the white listening subject continues to perceive their language use in racialized ways” (Flores & Rosa, 2015, p. 149). Migliarini & Stinson (2021) use the Disability Critical Race Theory (DisCrit) solidarity framework “to challenge the deficiency lens through which students at the intersections of race, language, and dis/ability are constantly perceived”, arguing that this has “the potential to create more authentic solidarity with multiply marginalized students” (p. 711). DisCrit solidarity attempts to transform teachers’ understanding of power relations in the classroom “so that they are not steeped in color-evasion and silent on interlocking systems of oppression”. The framework also offers the opportunity to interrogate the ways ableism and linguicism reproduce inequities for students with disabilities. The DisCrit framework embraces translanguaging “as a strategic process (García, 2009b), theory of language (Wei, 2018), and as pedagogy (Garcia, 2009a) which conceptualizes the linguistic practices and mental grammar(s) of multilingual people” (Migliarini & Stinson, 2021, p. 713).

While I have no reason to think that any of the sources cited above intended the consequence, it’s a fact that most of the students I know who are drawn to the views and approaches sketched above are fervent in their commitment to sociolinguistics, and express hostility towards the work of psycholinguists working on cognitive theories of SLA, particularly those who claim to be carrying out scientific research. They frequently refer disparagingly to “positivism”, or to the “positivist paradigm” and express their support for “rebels” like Schumann, Lantolf, Firth & Wagner, and Block who, in the 1990s, tried to rock the positivist boat in which most SLA scholars so smugly sailed. Below, I suggest that no such “culture war” is necessary. There is, IMHO, no need for students interested in sociolinguistics in general, or in translanguaging in particular, to reject “scientific” attempts to provide a psycholinguistic explanation for how we learn languages. Note that I use bits from Jordan (2004).            

The Critical Rationalist Viewpoint

First let me state my own position. I’m a critical rationalist and I adopt a realist epistemology. Like most of those working in the field of psycholinguistics, I am interested in the advancement of scientific knowledge and I think rational argument and an appeal to empirical data are the two pillars on which such advancement are based. We make the following assumptions:

1. An external world exists independently of our perceptions of it. It’s possible to study different phenomena in this world, to make meaningful statements about them, and to improve our knowledge of them. This amounts to a minimally realist epistemology, and therefore excludes those who claim that there is no objective way to judge among competing theories. 

2. There’s an asymmetry between truth and falsehood (Popper, 1959, 1962, 1972). We’ll never know that Theory X (a causal explanation for phenomena A, B, & C) is true, but we can know that it’s false.

3. Research is inseparable from theory.  We can’t just observe the world: all observation involves theorising.  As Popper (1959, 1972) argued, there is no way we can talk about something sensed and not interpreted. 

4. Theories attempt to explain phenomena.  Observational data are used to support and test those theories.

5. Research is fundamentally concerned with problem-solving. Research in SLA should be seen as attempted explanations. Data collection, taxonomies, “rich descriptions” of events, etc., must be in the service of an explanatory theory.  Hypotheses are the beginning of attempts to solve problems. Hypotheses should lead to theories that organise and explain a certain group of phenomena and the hypotheses about them.  Theories are explanations and are the final goal of research. The aim should be to unify descriptions and low-level theories into a general causal theory.

6. There is no strict demarcation line between “science” and “non-science”: there is no small set of rules, adherence to which defines the scientific method, and no need for SLA researchers and theory builders to emulate the methods of physics, for example. There is no one road to theory (we don’t have to start with the careful accumulation of data, or with universal principles). SLA research needs a multi-method approach.  

7. Considerable progress has been made in the field of SLA in attempts to explain how people learn a second language, mainly by those who have seen learning as a psychological process involving input, processing and output. Starting with work on error analysis, passing through various processing approaches and ending with theories such as those of Carroll (2001), Towell & Hawkins (1994), and N. Ellis (2019), researchers have relied on appeals to empirical evidence and logic to develop a body of knowledge and research findings which, while far from offering a full theory with paradigmatic status, allow us, among other things, to judge among different approaches to language teaching and identify those which are more and less efficacious. I’ll return to this, later.    

The Relativist Viewpoint

 There are some in the SLA academic community who adopt a relativist, postmodernist position – they deny the idea of any objective reality external to the observer, and claim that there are a multiplicity of realities, all of which are social constructs.  The adoption of the view that the construction of reality is a social process means that there can be no one “best” theory of anything: there are simply different ways of looking at, seeing, and talking about things, each with its own perspective, each with its own set of explicit or implicit rules which members of the social group construct for themselves. So science is just one specific type of social construction, a particular kind of language game which has no more claim to objective truth than any other.

In the 1990s, a group of relativist SLA scholars challenged what they saw as the outdated and suffocating “positivist” paradigm which they claimed dominated the field, and sought to replace it with their own research methodology. Here are a few examples:

First, a precursor. Schumann (1983) suggests that SLA research should be viewed as both art and science. As an example of the artistic perspective at work, Schumann recommends viewing the opposing accounts of Krashen and McLaughlin of conscious and unconscious learning as

“two different paintings of the language learning experience – as reality symbolised in two different ways… Viewers can choose between the two on an aesthetic basis, favouring the painting which they find to be phenomenologically true to their experience” (Schumann, 1983: 74).

Lantolf (1996) suggests that scientific theories are metaphors, that the acceptance of “standard scientific language” within a discipline “diminishes the productivity of the scientific endeavour”, so that “to keep a field fresh and vibrant, one must create new metaphors” (Lantolf, 1996, 756).

Firth and Wagner (1997) argue that SLA research should be “reconceptualiized” so as to “enlarge the ontological and empirical parameters of the field”.  They continue:

“We claim that methodologies, theories and foci within SLA reflect an imbalance between cognitive and mentalistic orientations, and social and contextual orientations to language, the former orientation being unquestionably in the ascendancy” (Firth and Wagner, 1997: 143).

At the end of their paper they say:

“although SLA has the potential to make significant contributions to a wide range of research issues, that potential is not being realised while the field in general perpetuates the theoretical imbalances and skewed perspectives on discourse and communication” (Firth and Wagner, 1997: 285).  

Block (1996) argues that the field of SLA is under the sway of a ruling ideology, and in the course of a plea for a wider view of SLA research, Block challenges some central assumptions held by what he sees as the ruling clique. The assumptions that Block objects to include

  • that there is any such thing as “normal science”,
  • that a multiplicity of theories is problematic,
  • that replication studies are helpful, and
  • that there is an “ample body” of “accepted findings” within SLA research. 

Finally Block argues that one problem for the SLA community, which stems from its being under the sway of such misleading assumptions, is that those who attempt to challenge them do not get a fair opportunity to voice and promote their alternative views.

Markee (1994) notes that: “a few writers have valiantly attempted to stem the nomothetic tide”, but that “these have been voices crying in the applied linguistic wilderness.” (p. 91). Markee wants to replace the nomothetic paradigm with a “hermeneutic scientific tradition” which

  • replaces “explanation” with “understanding”,
  • replaces “objective, value-free language” with “the ordinary language of social actors and their lay explanations of everyday experience.”; and
  • replaces “a mathematical statistical explanation” of a phenomenon with an explanation “that is constructed in terms of lay participants’ real-time understanding of the phenomenon” (Markee, 1994: 93).


I think we need to separate two different issues which have been wrongly bundled together by the relativists. When Firth and Wagner (1997, 1998) argue for “a reconceptualization of SLA research that would enlarge the ontological and empirical parameters of the field”, they would seem to be making a plea for more attention to be paid to sociolinguistics and discourse analysis, and for SLA research to be liberated from the domination of a “Chomskian legacy”. This plea strikes me as perfectly reasonable. But there is another argument in the Firth and Wagner paper, namely that those working in psycholinguistics are dominated by the view that SLA research should be carried out according to “established” and “normal” scientific standards, and that there is something deeply wrong with such a position. They suggest that SLA research should throw off the assumptions of scientific enquiry and adopt a relativist epistemology which holds that there is not one reality, that all science is political, that all statements are theory-laden, that theories are a kind of story-telling, and so on. 

Block (1996) also conflates these two issues when he claims that those who attempt to challenge the ruling clique in SLA do not get a fair opportunity to voice and promote their alternative views, while at the same time claiming that the field of SLA is dominated by a certain methodological orthodoxy which should be replaced by a more relativistic alternative.  Surely, we must separate the issues.

To argue for a shift in focus for SLA research, i.e. for a more multi-theoretical, multi-methodological approach, where research is done from a sociocultural perspective, where a more context-sensitive approach is adopted, where concepts such as “non-native speaker”, “learner”, and “interlanguage” are re-examined with increased “emic” (i.e. participant-relevant) sensitivity, is one thing. To argue that there is no rational way to decide that Theory X is better than Theory Y is another, separate thing. The first issue is a political question about priorities in the distribution of limited research resources, the second issue is about the fundamental questions of what we can know, and of how we should do research. The relativists have every right to argue for more resources to be devoted to their kind of research, and to argue the merits of their kind of approach to theory construction and assessment. But they should clearly separate what are, I repeat, two different issues.  If it is in fact the case that those professing to use a rationalist, deductive research methodology are imposing their methods on others, and are insensitive to the value of “home-grown ways of thinking”, then I would be the first to urge them to stop such an imposition, and to listen to different points of view. What I would not ask them to do is stop criticising, or to abandon their methodology.

The important issue concerns explanation. While I hold a rationalist, realist position, the relativists claim that such views are obsolete and blinkering. This is an epistemological issue. As an example, we can take the argument that scientific theories are metaphors, that the acceptance of “standard scientific language” within a discipline “diminishes the productivity of the scientific endeavour” and that “to keep a field fresh and vibrant, one must create new metaphors.” Nobody questions that terms like “input” “processing” and “output” are metaphors, and it is certainly worth reminding oneself that they are metaphors. But terms like “input” are not just metaphors, they are theoretical constructs, and they’re used to construct theories which attempt to explain events that take place in a real world and they are open to empirical tests which support or falsify them and thus make it possible for us to choose rationally between them. 

To the extent that researchers need to be flexible, to be imaginative, to open up to unlikely possibilities, to brainstorm, to “fly kites”, etc., I would completely endorse Schumann’s suggestion that SLA research should be viewed as both art and science. I have no objection to looking at Krashen’s and McLaughlin’s theories as “paintings”, as reality symbolised in two different ways, but sooner or later, I suggest, we will need to scrutinise Krashen’s and McLaughlin’s accounts in order to check their validity, and to subject them to empirical tests. On the basis of such scrutiny, by uncovering ill-defined terms, contradictions, etc., and by seeing how they stand up to empirical tests, we will be able to evaluate the two accounts and make some tentative choice between them.  First, they cannot both be correct: McLaughlin suggests that conscious learning affects language production, while Krashen denies this. Second, they suggest different ways of continuing the search for answers to the question of interlanguage development, and different pedagogical applications. So researchers need reasons to choose between them. Krashen’s account is seriously flawed because first, its terms are almost circular, and second, there is very little empirical content in it. These, to the rationalist, are extremely serious defects. Schumann suggests that: “Neither position is correct; they are simply alternative representations of reality” (Schumann, 1983: 75). It may well turn out that neither position is correct, and they are certainly alternative representations of reality; but if the implication is that there is no way, other than an appeal to our own subjective aesthetic sense, to decide between them, then here is where rationalists and relativists must part company.  

Thanks to adopting a research methodology which relies on a rationalist epistemology and an appeal to logic and empirical evidence, there is wide consensus in the field of SLA that second language learning is a process of learning declarative and procedural knowledge, and that it is the implicit learning of procedural knowledge which is largely responsible for communicative competence in an L2. The clear implication for teaching is that a synthetic syllabus is inefficacious, which I have argued at length in various posts on this blog.


If we then ask why coursebook-driven ELT – which relies on a synthetic syllabus and is thus, according to robust SLA research findings, inefficacious – dominates ELT, we are in a different domain, and we need to adopt political, social and cultural perspectives. The inefficacious use of coursebooks is one of the pillars of a huge, global, multi-billion dollar industry, the other pillars being private and public educational institutions, teacher education, and language testing and assessment. This ELT industry, based as it is on the commodification of education in the service of maximizing profit, is part of neoliberal capitalist world, and its injustices take us back to the start of this post, to the concerns of those researching multilingualism and translanguaging. It seems entirely appropriate to me that one would adopt a socio-cultural perspective in order to investigate these sociolinguistic issues, and I fail to see why anybody would argue that those working on a psycholinguistic theory of SLA are indulging in outdated, reactionary, “positivist claptrap”.     


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