Research – What’s It Good For?

The discussion on students is great. Without

breaking that up, let me bring up another group we often complain

about: the SLA

researchers and researchers in other fields.

Why do we complain about them? One thing Bill

VanPatten pointed out in his exchanges with us was that SLA is not


figuring out how to teach L2 but rather what happens when L2 is taught

and what

happens when it is learned.

Nevertheless, certain ideas come along that cause

us to gasp and say, “So that’s why……..!” or “Hey, maybe I should

redirect my

focus in that direction.” VanPatten himself and several of his

colleagues have

written very helpful how-to books for us.

What, then, are the strengths and weaknesses of

research and why isn’t it more helpful?

Part of it is that it is a little too complicated

sometimes. I have noticed that a lot of people, even other researchers,


Krashen, attributing things to him he did not say. For example, he


states that the Monitor must be used, just not overused. That’s where


instruction comes in. He stated that there are significant differences


learning L1 and L2 (by observation, L2 learners tend to be taller than


learners – that’s my contribution).

Looking at that last silly comment, now go to Gary

Taubes’ new book, Good Calories Bad Calories (appropriate topic as we

go into

Thanksgiving). It is about really bad science. Most of you were exposed


Kuhn’s book on paradigms and have an idea of how scientists can be

blinded by a

variety of things in their research. Taubes points out that scientists


experiments that clearly showed that X did not equl Y and then would


something like, “We can see by the results that X does not equal Y, so

we can be

assured that indeed, X does equal Y.” ??????

Amazing stuff. For those of you interested in

research on diabetes, obesity, heart disease, hypertension and all the


of so-called Syndrome X as it relates to food, the book is fascinating.

But I

cite it for its insights into how the best researchers can go awry.

Whenever anyone says to me, “The research says….”

I ask myself how that fits with what I know; does the research really

say that;

does the putative result fit into an overall scheme and is that good or


On this List, I have usually found myself referring

people to research or rather the summaries of research found in our


major works, but that is only b/c so many of us seem to think that only

classroom fl teachers know anything about how students learn L2. Not


Reading research is very important. Most

researchers are not dogmatic, though some are (and you’ll see some in


book), but I find that a lot of teachers read something and then react

to it as

if that person is telling them what to do.

Now maybe an admin (another topic) or a “trainer”

might say something like that, but researchers are generally so aloof


practical applications that we wish they WOULD tell us what to do.

What we must do is remain open and keep observing

as we try different methods. My own mind was opened reading Taubes’

book. I

thought that overweight people got that way through willful overeating

and a

fear of exercise. I cannot go into details here, but basically fat

people are

not getting nourishment from their fat and they are just as hungry as


else. Moreover, their hunger is a deep-seated (hypothalamus) drive that


irresistable. I feel really bad now about the way I thought about


people (not that I haven’t been overweight but it hasn’t proved that

hard for me

to return to my desired weight – my problem is blood pressure and there

I have

really struggled, a perfect target for the “you just need will power,

you wimp!”


So it would be good to hear from people the good

things they have got out of reading research and their frustrations


it. It’s helped me a lot. What has it done for you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *