The purpose of this book is twofold: First, it is to introduce the reader to Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory (SCT) and Mikhail Bakhtin’s literary theory. These theories constitute the foundation for an alternative framework for theory, research, teaching, and testing in second language acquisition (SLA). Second, it is to discuss the existing cognitive bias in SLA theory and research.
In my opinion, the combined theories of Vygotsky and Bakhtin o√er a powerful framework for the ever-expanding field of SLA. The power of this new framework lies in its capacity to unite divergent views of SLA that often present a source of frustration for students whose goal is to become teachers of English as a second language (ESL).
The abstractness and conflicting explanations of many important topics in SLA contribute to a sense of separation between those who ”do” theorizing and those who ”do” practicing. In addition, the largely quantitative nature of SLA research studies reinforces this sense of separateness between theoreticians and practitioners by sending a false signal that unless one’s research study includes some sort of experiment and inferential statistics, one’s contribution to understanding second language acquisition processes is insignificant and marginal, almost anecdotal. Therefore, most teachers view their positions as powerless, entirely controlled by theoreticians and researchers whose abstract models they often consider impractical and whose ideas they reluctantly follow.
In order to change these dynamics between researchers and practitioners, a major theoretical shift needs to take place in SLA theory. Some have already called for the empowerment of teachers (van Lier 1996; Clarke 1994), but these calls are mainly theoretical. Although we all may agree that teachers’ empowerment is important and long overdue, there is a major gap between admitting it and actually implementing it in a real-life context.
I contend that the separation that currently exists between those involved in SLA theory-building and those who conduct classroom teaching and testing is due to the theoretical models to which most SLA researchers adhere: the cognitive and experimental scientific traditions, which SLA adopted from the other so-called hard sciences such as biology, chemistry, and above all cognitive psychology. As shown in Part One, the discussions and explanations of most important topics in SLA are heavily skewed in the direction of the cognitive scientific research tradition.
Closely associated with this prevailing tradition is the notion of a strict unidirectional flow of information (that is, knowledge) from theory to practice: First, new information is developed by theoreticians, and then some of this theoretical knowledge finds its way to practical settings, classrooms, or evaluation. In this paradigm, teachers are largely regarded as passive recipients of SLA research findings. Because of the nature of the theoretical models on which most of the SLA theory and research are based , teachers’ feedback or collaboration is regarded as unnecessary or irrelevant.