Brain research

I’ve always been made nervous by appeals to “brain research”. We are told there is a way to conduct our classes, to arrange our curriculum, to present material, and to set up our classrooms that conforms to the results of “brain research”. Perhaps because I came out of a counseling-psychotherapeutic background, I was doubtful. An article in Long & Doughty’s The Handbook of Language Teaching tells all and backs up my skepticism. From page 76 in the article by Alan Beretta, “The Language-Learning Brain”, we have the following cautions:

“The appeal to neuroscience is littered with misconceptions, such as that it is a problem for cognitive science approaches that “research has discovered no structure in the brain that corresponds to a Language Acquisition Device as argued by Chomsky”. Chomsky argued no scuh thng, of course, but profound confusion of this sort will not be pursued here.” Earlier he listed some of the recommendations for teaching practice supposedly based on brain research, to which he appends: “The blandest comment that presents itself is that the conclusions do not follow from the premises.”

On p. 77, he delivers the death blow: “Given the preliminary nature of neurolinguistic inquiry and the descriptive bent of much of the work currently conducted, the upshot is that brain research can at present provide evidence that is little more than suggestive to a model of L2 acquistion and less than that to the practice of language teaching….. Practical applications, such as to teaching, are remote, beyond remote.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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