Beyond Method and Towards Accountability
A Field in Search of a New Paradigm
The obsession of early applied linguistics with the search for a ‘scientific’ and therefore authoritative method of language teaching was dealt a blow by the emergence of communicative language teaching, at least in those interpretations of the approach that signaled a clear break with modernist and technocratic prescriptions for the design of instructional interventions.
Much of the misgivings with continuing along the latter pathway, namely the prescription of design by scientific authority, stemmed from the belated justification that communicative language teaching derived from some second language acquisition studies and also from constructivist explanations of how languages are learned. I have already referred to this in the section on “The psychological justification for a communicative approach to language teaching” in the previous chapter, and shall return to these two theoretical defences of communicative teaching in the following chapter. A good proportion of the doubts surrounding scientifically conceived designs were, however, related in the first instance not only to the fact that communicative language teaching initially lacked a ‘scientific’ justification. These doubts had in fact become apparent even earlier, arising from the inconclusive results of experimentation with methods in the early 1970s. Instead, the research turned to the pursuit of another avenue, in which increasing attention was focused on the qualities of the individual ‘good’ language learner (Horwitz 1987; Wenden and Rubin 1987; Oxford and Crookhall 1989; Chamot and Kupper 1989; Chamot and O’Malley 1990; Oxford 1990; Wenden 1991; Cohen 1998) or at other times on sociopsychological studies of aptitude for learning a new language, or of motivation, in studies that use data from learners in settings as diverse as the USA ; Canada; Hungary and Japan (e.g. Clement et al. 1977; Dornyei 1998, 2001, 2005; Dornyei and Csizer 1998 ; MacIntyre and Legatto 2011; Pigott 2012; for a further discussion of how more recent studies continue to focus on the latter, see Ellis and Larsen- Freeman 2006). What is also noteworthy is that once the quest for the best method
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faded, the remaining interest in method often lay outside of mainstream academic engagement with language teaching, and was to be found especially in the ‘designer’ or peripheral methods such as the Silent Way, Suggestopedia, and Community Language Learning and Counseling-learning , that were discussed in the previous chapter. These methods were themselves not left unaffected by the move to go beyond method, and the increasing attention to social and psychological variables. In fact, one of the most substantial overviews of emotional and affective factors in language teaching, that were made more prominent in these ‘humanistic’ approaches, is their discussion in Ehrman and Dyornyei (1998). In this survey, they attend to the multiplicity of psychologically distinguishable processes and dynamics that affect language learning, both from the point of view of the teachers and the language learners. Instead of a general, universally applicable design solution that can be found in a specific method, these investigations emphasize individuality and uniqueness.
Diane Larsen-Freeman captured some of the spirit of this time with the observations she made in her closing remarks at the 1996 AILA conference. Referring to the rise of postmodernist applied linguistics, she first contends that a number of tentative developments in the field have yet to come fully into their own. She then concludes (Larsen-Freeman 1997:90): “I take the observations that I have so far reported to be signs of a certain turmoil, a field in search of a new paradigm.” The same sentiment is evident in another assessment of the field made at roughly the same time by Rampton in the context of a review of applied linguistics. With reference to the multi-disciplinary conception of applied linguistics that was discussed above (Chap. 3) , he comments: “It is difficult to say whether this forward orientation reflects the end of a phase of fragmentation and the resurgence of a spirit of crossdisciplinary interchange that somehow got submerged after the early to mid’ 60s...” (Rampton 1997:16).
This sense of a loss of focus and uncertainty of purpose clearly reflects the disciplinary fragmentation that is to be expected when postmodernist interpretations come to dominate a field, such as what happened in applied linguistics during the 1990s and, to a certain extent, beyond that into the twenty-first century. Yet, whereas the rise of postmodernism signals the ascendancy of a potentially revolutionary interpretation of the field, the technocratic and modernist ideals associated with its counter-trend also retained some influence. As the postmodernist influence in the field strove to take applied linguistics beyond methods in its designs of language interventions i a residue of its antithesis remained. In the following discussion, I shall, utilizing some of the conclusions of earlier analyses (Weideman 2003), deal with these trends in this order, turning below first, therefore, to some postmodernist interpretations of applied linguistics, and to variations of opinion within those approaches to the field, before returning to the endurance of modernist perspectives. As will be seen, postmodernist developments in applied linguistics in the first instance entail not so much a loss as a change of focus; they emphasize the foundational point that one’s orientation in a discipline is fundamental to your approach to the designs that emanate from the work done within applied linguistics. Foundational orientation directs design choice, and not the other way around.