Lecture by Richard Schmidt, March 16, 2005

Fifty Probably True and Useful Findings from SLA

by Richard Schmidt, Professor, Department of Second Language Studies, Director, National foreign Language Resource Center, University of Hawai’i-Manoa

There is no generally accepted theory of Second Language Acquisition (SLA).  Indeed, major competing theories conflict in terms of such basic assumptions as the nature of language and the essence of learning.  One might conclude that SLA theory is not merely incomplete but also internally contradictory and generally irrelevant as a basis for language education.  This would be an unfortunate and unnecessary conclusion.  If one views a theory as a set of laws – hypothesis that have been or can be verified empirically (in the spirit of Spolsky, 1989), there are indeed general principles of learning that can be taken as probably true or at least well accepted.  And while empirical findings in SLA are also often in dispute it is also possible to identify a number that qualify as having been solidly established.  This talk will provide an account of what seems at this point (2004) to fall within the category of generally accepted findings, with particular attention to the distinction between empirical issues and expressions of advocacy and zeitgeist, the issue of “black boxing”, and the type of evidence needed to establish that a finding is both “true” and “useful”.

March 16, 2005
B4 Dwinelle Hall