Making Grammar Instruction Relevant for Second Language Development: Bridging the Socio-Cognitive Divide in Theory and Practice

Date / Time

November 15, 2019

4:00 pm - 6:00 pm


Is it really possible for language teachers to focus on grammatical accuracy and meaningful communication at the same time? This talk explores theoretical and practical issues underlying the grammar-communication paradox to reveal how learner participation in classroom tasks is shaped by social and cognitive factors both within and beyond the teacher’s control.

This talk will demonstrate how the outcomes of classroom tasks are shaped by participants’ evolving understandings of the goals and means of language use. Explaining how such understandings affect linguistic development requires an integration of social and cognitive perspectives that is not yet well established in our theoretical or pedagogical literature. After first reviewing both perspectives’ explanations for L2 development and implications for classroom practice, I will argue that concepts from Relevance Theory (Sperber & Wilson, 1995; Wilson & Sperber, 2012), such as inferencing, cohesion, and cooperation, are aptly suited to bridging the socio-cognitive divide by providing a framework to synthesize research findings in language processing, interaction, and discourse and better inform L2 instructional design. Video recordings of classroom interactions during grammar-focused and conversation-focused tasks will be discussed with respect to the participation patterns they facilitate and the objectives they achieve. The quantity and quality of learner participation will be investigated, as well as self-reporting from students on the strategies they use to figure out how to participate successfully in class. Conclusions drawn from the presentation will be related to broader explanations of how we contextualize information when participating in discourse. The talk will conclude with suggestions for the design of activities, the evaluation of teaching materials, and classroom management.


Paul D. Toth is an associate professor of Spanish applied linguistics at Temple University, in Philadelphia. There, he conducts research on second language classrooms and teaches and mentors doctoral students and Spanish language teachers. Over the past 25 years, he has held a variety of positions related to second language teaching and learning, including: high school and university-level Spanish teacher, language curriculum coordinator, student teacher supervisor, graduate student mentor, and pre-service teacher educator. He has published 22 research articles and book chapters on instructed second language learning, and has twice been awarded the Paul Pimsleur Award for research excellence from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

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