Repositioning Language Education Theory

  • Achilleas KostoulasEmail author
Part of the Second Language Learning and Teaching book series (SLLT)


This chapter proposes an interdisciplinary, transformation-oriented perspective of theory for language education. This perspective departs from traditional definitions of theory as a corpus of technical knowledge about teaching and learning; rather, language education theory is conceptualized as a heuristic process of meaning-making, and as the emergent understandings of teachers’ professional existence that result from it. Explicitly articulating such understandings is necessary for professional growth, and for challenging invisible processes that sustain structural inequalities in language education. The first part of the chapter describes a conceptual framework for scaffolding language education theory by relating it to the informing disciplines of applied linguistics, language education psychology, and pedagogy. The understandings that emerge from this synthesis are defined as being conservatively- or transformationally-oriented, and the argument is advanced that atomistic perspectives tend to be conservative in outlook. In the second part of the chapter, this argument is extended by suggesting that the emergent understandings are dynamic, and they may be “nudged” towards conservative or transformational directions by new input from the informing disciplines. This is exemplified with reference to examples from linguistics, psychology, and pedagogy. The chapter concludes by problematizing the implications of this perspective for language education.


Language education Applied linguistics Language education psychology Education theory 


  1. Bachman, L. F. (1990). Fundamental considerations in language testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Barkhuizen, G. (2016). Reflections on language teacher identity research. Abingdon: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Benati, A., & Angelovska, T. (2015). The effects of processing instruction on the acquisition of English simple past tense: Age and cognitive task demands. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 53(2), 249–269.Google Scholar
  4. Benesch, S. (2006). Critical media awareness: Teaching resistance to interpellation. In J. Edge (Ed.), (Re-)Locating TESOL at an age of empire (pp. 49–64). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  5. Benson, P. (2013). Teaching and researching: Autonomy in language learning (2nd ed.). Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Birch, B. M. (2009). The English language teacher in global civil society. Abingdon: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bruthieux, P. (2002). Hold your courses: Language education, language choice, and economic development. TESOL Quarterly, 36(3), 275–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brumfit, C. J. (1995). Teacher professionalism and research. In G. Cook, & B. Seidlhofer (Eds.), Principle and practice in applied linguistics: Studies in honour of H. G. Widdowson (pp. 27–42). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Brumfit, C. J. (2006). What, then, must we do? Or, who gets hurt when we speak, write and teach? In J. Edge (Ed.), (Re-)Locating TESOL at an age of empire (pp. 27–48). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  10. Bland, J. (Ed.). (2015). Teaching English to young learners: Critical issues in language teaching with 3–12-year olds. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  11. Blommaert, J. (2013). Ethnography, superdiversity and linguistic landscapes: Chronicles of complexity. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brown, N. J. L., Sokal, A. S., & Friedman, H. L. (2013). The complex dynamics of wishful thinking: The critical positivity ratio. American Psychologist, 68(9), 801–813.Google Scholar
  13. Byram, M. (2008). From foreign language education to education for intercultural citizenship: Essays and reflections. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Canagarajah, A. S. (1999). Resisting linguistic imperialism in English teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Carroll, J., & Sapon, S. (1959). Modern language aptitude test. New York: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  16. Cilliers, P. (1998). Complexity and postmodernism: Understanding complex systems. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Corder, S. P. (1981). Error analysis and interlanguage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Cumming, A. (2008). Theory in an applied field. TESOL Quarterly, 42(2), 285–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. De Costa, P. I., & Norton, B. (2017). Identity, transdisciplinarity, and the good language teacher (Special issue). The Modern Language Journal, 101(S1).Google Scholar
  20. Deleuze, G. (1986). The movement-image (H. Tomlinson, & B. Habberjam, trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  21. Dendrinos, B. (2009). Comment 3 to “Lingua franca or lingua frankensteinia.” In R. Phillipson (Ed.), Linguistic imperialism continued (pp. 181–182). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Edge, J. (2011). The reflexive teacher educator in TESOL: Roots and wings. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ellis, R. (2018). Reflections on task-based language teaching. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Enever, J., & Lindgren, E. (Eds.). (2017). Early language learning: Complexity and mixed methods. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  25. Erling, E. J., & Seargeant, P. (Eds.). (2018). English and development: Policy, pedagogy and globalisation. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  26. Fairclough, N. (2006). Language and globalisation. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Fill, A. F., & Penz, H. (Eds.). (2017). The Routledge handbook of ecolinguistics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. Fay, R., Lytra, V., & Ntavaliagkou, M. (2010). Multicultural awareness through English: A potential contribution of TESOL in Greek schools. Intercultural Education, 21(6), 581−595.Google Scholar
  29. Fredrickson, B. L., & Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60(7), 678–686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fredrickson, B. L., & Losada, M. F. (2013). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing: Correction to Fredrickson and Losada (2005). American Psychologist, 68(9), 822.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gabryś-Barker, D., & Gałajda, D. (Eds.). (2016). Positive psychology perspectives on foreign language learning and teaching. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  32. Gardner, R., & Lambert, W. (1972). Attitudes and motivation in second language learning. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.Google Scholar
  33. Giroux, H. A. (2011). On critical pedagogy. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  34. Gkonou, C., Daubney, M., & Dewaele, J.-M. (Eds.). (2017). New insights into language anxiety: Theory, research and educational implications. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  35. Gkonou, C., & Mercer, S. (2017). Understanding emotional and social intelligence among English language teachers. London: British Council.Google Scholar
  36. Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz, M. B., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign language classroom anxiety. The Modern Language Journal, 70(2), 125–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate methodology and social context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Holliday, A. (2006). The struggle to teach English as an international language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. James, C. (1980). Contrastive analysis. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  40. Kachru, B. B. (2006). The English language in the outer circle. In K. Bolton & B. B. Kachru (Eds.), World Englishes: Critical concepts in linguistics (Vol. III, pp. 241–255). Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  41. Kachru, B. B. (2017). World Englishes and culture wars. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  42. King, J. (2016). “It’s time, put on the smile, it’s time!”: The emotional labour of second language teaching within a Japanese university. In C. Gkonou, D. Tatzl, & S. Mercer (Eds.), New directions in language learning psychology (pp. 97–112). Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kostoulas, A. (2018). A language school as a complex system: Complex systems theory and English language teaching. Berlin: Peter Lang.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kostoulas, A., & Stelma, J. (2016). Intentionality and complex systems theory: A new direction for language learning psychology. In C. Gkonou, D. Tatzl, & S. Mercer (Eds.), New directions in language learning psychology (pp. 7–24). Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kumaravadivelu, B. B. (2006a). Dangerous liaison: Globalisation, empire and TESOL. In J. Edge (Ed.), (Re-)Locating TESOL at an age of empire (pp. 1–26). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  46. Kumaravadivelu, B. B. (2006b). Understanding language teaching: From method to postmethod. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Larsen-Freeman, D. (2006). The emergence of complexity, fluency, and accuracy in the oral and written production of five Chinese learners of English. Applied Linguistics, 27(4), 590–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Larsen-Freeman, D. (2015). Research into practice: Grammar learning and teaching. Language Teaching, 48(2), 263–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lazarus, R. S. (2003). The Lazarus manifesto on positive psychology and psychology in general. Psychological Inquiry, 14, 173–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. MacIntyre, P. D., Gregersen, T., & Mercer, S. (Eds.). (2016). Positive psychology in second language acquisition. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  51. Matsuda, A. (Ed.). (2017). Preparing teachers to teach English as an international language. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  52. Medgyes, P. (2017). The (ir)relevance of academic research for the language teacher. ELT Journal, 71(4), 491–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Mercer, S., & Kostoulas, A. (2018). Introduction to language teacher psychology. In S. Mercer & A. Kostoulas (Eds.), Language teacher psychology (pp. 1–17). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  54. Nikula, T., Dafouz, E., Moore, P., & Smit, U. (Eds.). (2016). Conceptualising integration in CLIL and multilingual education. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  55. Norton, B. (2000). Identity and language learning: Social processes and educational practice. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  56. Oxford, R. L. (1990). Language learning strategies: What every teacher should know. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.Google Scholar
  57. Oxford, R. L. (2016). Teaching and researching language learning strategies: Self-regulation in context. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  58. Pennycook, A. (2004). Critical applied linguistics. In A. Davies & C. Elder (Eds.), The handbook of applied linguistics (pp. 784–807). Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Pennycook, A. (2001). Critical applied linguistics: A critical introduction. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pfenniger, S. E., & Singleton, D. (2017). Beyond age effects in instructional L2 learning: Revisiting the age factor. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Pienemann, M. (1998). Language processing and second language development: Processability theory. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Quirk, R. (1990). Language varieties and standard language. English Today, 21(1), 3–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Rich, G. J. (2017). The promise of qualitative inquiry for positive psychology: Diversifying methods. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12(3), 220–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Seargeant, P., & Erling, E. J. (2018). Introduction: English and development. In E. J. Erling & P. Seargeant (Eds.), English and development: Policy, pedagogy and globalisation (pp. 1–20). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  66. Said, E. (1993). Representations of an intellectual: Professionals and amateurs (Reith Lectures 1993, Lecture 4). Retrieved from
  67. Seidlhofer, B. (2011). Understanding English as a lingua franca. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  68. Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Selinker, L. (1972). Interlanguage. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 10, 209–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sifakis, N., & Tsantila, N. (Eds.). (2018). English as a lingua franca for EFL contexts. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  71. Slabakova, R. (2013). What is easy and what is hard to acquire in a second language: A generative perspective. In M. d. P. Garcia Mayo, M. J. Gutierrez Mangado, & M. Martínez Adrian (Eds.), Contemporary approaches to second language acquisition (pp. 5–29). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  72. Spoelman, M., & Verspoor, M. (2010). Dynamic patterns in development of accuracy and complexity: A longitudinal case study in the acquisition of Finnish. Applied Linguistics, 31(4), 532–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Stern, H. H. (1983). Fundamental concepts of language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  74. Trudgill, P. (2002). Standard language: What it isn’t. In T. Bex & R. J. Watts (Eds.), Standard English: The widening debate (pp. 117–128). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  75. Verspoor, M., Lowie, W., & Van Dijk, M. (2008). Variability in second language development from a dynamic systems perspective. The Modern Language Journal, 92(2), 214–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Varghese, M. M., Motha, S., Park, G., Reeves, J., & Trent, J. (Eds.). (2016). Language teacher identity in (multi)lingual educational contexts (Special issue). TESOL Quarterly, 50(3).Google Scholar
  77. Wallace, M. (1999). The reflective model revisited. In H. Trappes-Lomax, & I. McGrath (Eds.), Theory in language teacher education (pp. 179–189). Harlow: Longman in association with The British Council.Google Scholar
  78. Wallace, M. J. (1991). Training foreign language teachers: A reflective approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  79. Weir, C. J. (2005). Language testing and validation. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Williams, M., & Burden, R. (1997). Psychology for language teachers: A social constructivist approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  81. Willis, D., & Willis, J. (2007). Doing task-based teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  82. Woodward, T. (2001). Planning lessons and courses: Designing sequences of work for the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Wyatt, M. (2018). Language teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs: An introduction. In S. Mercer & A. Kostoulas (Eds.), Language teacher psychology (pp. 122–140). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Manchester Institute of Education, The University of ManchesterManchesterUK

Personalised recommendations