General trends in foreign language teaching and learning

Relevant disciplines

The academic (sub-)disciplines that concern themselves with the teaching and learning of (foreign) languages, like their self-denominations, are numerous and varied;

DOI 10.1515/9781614514862-015

they emanate from a wide range of communities and cultures, and adopt a wide range of perspectives. Both editions of Eli Hinkel’s (2005, 2011) handbook are titled Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning. In English-speaking contexts, second-language acquisition is often used as an umbrella term (see Ortega

2013). Even so, a distinction is sometimes made between acquisition as language acquisition in an informal, non-institutional context (as always in the case of an L1), and learning as that form of acquisition more closely linked to institutions such as schools and to language courses (Krashen 1982; Konigs 2003).

Similarly, a distinction is made - for example in the German-speaking countries - between a “second language” [Zweitsprache] and a “foreign language” [Fremdsprache], the former being “acquired” in “natural” environments (e.g., by migrants or members of a minority group acquiring a majority language), while the latter are “learned” in schools, universities and other similar institutions (Henrici and Riemer 2003: 39). This distinction seems reasonable. Yet it involves certain dangers given that the boundaries between first language (L1) and second language (L2), like those between second and foreign language(s), are often fluid and indistinct. At the same time, terms such as native language or mother tongue are seen - at least “officially” - as outdated in academic discourse (see Holliday 2006); in this chapter, I will use quotation marks around “native”. Additionally, qualifying a language as “foreign” may come with undesirable negative connotations. Nonetheless, in German-speaking countries, the term Fremdsprache [foreign language] is more commonly used than Zweitsprache [second language], sometimes as an umbrella term for all language classifications from L2 to Ln. For example, the largest German association for L2 topics is called Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Fremdsprachenforschung (DGFF) [German Association for Foreign Language Research].

Terms such as didactique des langues [language didactics], language teaching methodology (both Holtzer 2000), Sprachlehrforschung [language teaching research] (Grotjahn 2000) and Fremdsprachendidaktik [foreign language didactics] (Nold 2000) seem to imply a relatively strong emphasis on teaching. However, today more than ever before, learning and teaching languages are to be seen as two sides of the same coin (Cook 2009), especially given the increasingly pronounced emphasis on learners (see Section 2.2).

In linguistics, the field most closely associated with language learning and teaching is Applied Linguistics. Originally applied exclusively to language teaching and learning (as a well-established and - now as then - central field of research), Applied Linguistics is nowadays used mostly as an umbrella term for all areas of research that seek to solve real-world language and communication problems (see Brumfit 1997: 93). Meanwhile, the hope, or illusion, that linguistic theories might be applied directly to specific areas of application (“linguistics applied”, Widdowson 2000) has largely been abandoned. The prevailing idea is rather that we need specific, application-based theories (Wodak 2001; Stegu 2011: 100), and that these theories must often be highly interdisciplinary, especially in the area of language and communication (Widdowson 2005). For example, there are particularly strong areas of contact with psycholinguistic (Segalowitz and Lightbown 1999; Butzkamm 2002) and - a more recent development - with sociological or sociolinguistic research (see also the “social turn” in Second Language Acquisition, Block 2003). It goes without saying that pedagogical approaches (general theories of learning, etc.; Chardenet

2014) also have a central role to play in this interdisciplinary field.

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