Learning a second language, either by immersing yourself into the culture that speaks it or by being formally taught by a fluent speaker, is an old practice in history. But the scientific study of second language acquisition is a much more recent development (as late as the 20th century).

So, has the teaching of second languages been affected by these studies? What techniques and theories foreign language teachers now have available that they didn't have in the past?

In order to keep this question focused, I'm referring specifically to teaching small groups of middle class literate adults who are native speakers of an Indo-European language and who voluntarily decide to learn another IE language, but belonging to another subfamily. Assume they are learning that second language in their native country, where it is not spoken (e.g. Spanish people learning German in Spain).

  • Are you asking about teaching techniques or self-teaching techniques? I think they would be quite different... :D
    – Alenanno
    May 20, 2012 at 16:22
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    Teaching whom? Every class is different. Teaching to monoglot speakers of another language, polyglots, or a mixed class? Teaching to speakers of related languages or unrelated? Teaching individuals, small classes, or large? Teaching literate people or not? Teaching children or adults? Teaching in a system with a specified curriculum or not? Teaching in a country where the language is spoken or not? Teaching a required course or an elective? Referring to "second language acquisition" and "foreign language teachers" as if they were monolithic entities that can be summarized is ... not accurate.
    – jlawler
    May 20, 2012 at 17:05
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    @jlawler Question edited. Please let me know if it's not specific enough ;-) May 20, 2012 at 17:27
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    @Otavio: OK :-) One presumes this is the situation that you (or friends) are in. Then the answer depends a lot on which languages are involved, how many cognates there are, how different the grammars are, how much research is available, how often and for how long the class meets, and -- crucially -- how much the teacher knows about the languages and their structures. But this is certainly focussed enough for an answer of some sort, bearing in mind that everybody's strategy for language learning is different from everybody else's. I've never been in that position, but a similar one.
    – jlawler
    May 20, 2012 at 17:51
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    There is a difference between teaching a second language (such as English in India or South Africa) and teaching a foreign language (such as German in Spain)
    – Henry
    May 26, 2012 at 21:28

2 Answers 2


The consensus among my fellow MA Applied Linguistics graduates and EAP colleagues is not a lot. Some mentioned that their tolerance for persistent errors from students has improved as a result of their awareness of developmental processes in language acquisition. After reading up on task-based language teaching (relentlessly pushed by tenured teacher-bashers like Mike Long) for an assignment, I concluded that realistically it can only be implemented at the institutional level; I don't see that happening very much except with Kris Van den Branden and his students, with limited success in the Vietnamese case. I've noticed recent CELTA trainees have started using the word 'task' for 'activity', but that's about it. There still seems to be a huge gap between SLA researchers and the transmission of classroom craft to teachers from academic managers and peers, and little reason for teachers to want to bridge it until SLA offers them some practical help.


Agree, not much!

The question is ambiguous though, as using the term 'second language acquisition' implies a cognitive approach that assumes some type of universal grammar, natural order of acquisition (eg. Krashen etc). That field of research was basically a dead end.

The study of methodology, teaching approaches etc, although less about hard science, has been (arguably) more productive.

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