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Interview with Professor James Lantolf

time:2022-10-26 views:

The public Wechat account of Center for the Cognitive Science of Language at Beijing Language and Culture Universit has launched a new activity, which is titled "Talk with Masters". Through this activity, the world-class academic masters will be invited to share their academic experience and exchange ideas. In the first episode, we are more honored to have Professor James Lantolf fromf Pennsylvania State University to share his valuable opinions.

Expert Information

Professor James P. Lantolf is distinguished Professor of the Introduction Base, Emeritus Professor of Pennsylvania State University, and editor-in-chief of Applied Linguistics, an international authoritative linguistics journal. Professor Lantolf is one of the leading figures in the development of social and cultural theories. His research interests include sociocultural theory (SCT) and classroom second language development. He developed the concept approach Method (CBT) and pioneered the concept of Dynamic Assessment (DA). He was awarded the "Most Distinguished Scholar and Service Award of the North American Association for Applied Linguistics". He is listed as one of the most influential applied linguists of the past 35 years by History of Applied Linguistics (1980 onwards).

Q1: What is the significance and foothold of combining socio-cultural theory (SCT) with SLA research compared with traditional SLA research?

Compared to the traditional sense of SLA research,  what is the exact significance and focus of combining SCT with SLA research?


There are about 18 theories in the field of second language acquisition, most of which are specialized theories based on linguistics. As a broad psychological theory, socio-cultural theory highlights the important role of language in the process of thinking. Therefore, the difference between sociocultural theory and other theories is that most theories focus on language learners' ability to internalize foreign language knowledge for social communication needs, while sociocultural theory excavates the second function of language from social communication -- psychological function -- that is, the function of language to regulate the thinking process. At present, no other theory of second language acquisition deals with this important area. One of the concerns of sociocultural theory is the extent to which learners can internalize a new language within the scope of their mental functioning.

There are something like 18 different theories of SLA. Most are designed specifically for SLA and are largely  linguistically-based theories. SCT is a general psychological theory that assigns significance to language in the  thinking process. Hence,  most theories are focused on the ability of learners to internalize a new language for the purpose of social  communication. SCT recognizes that language has a second function, derived from social communication,  and this is its psychological function -- that is, its capacity to mediate the thinking process. No other theory of SLA addresses this important topic. An important  question that SCT considers is the extent to which a learner can internalize a new language in its psychological  function.

Q2: Compared with traditional second language acquisition research, what is the significance and focus of combining socio-cultural theory with second language learning research?

What is the significance and focus of combining SCT with SLA research, compared to traditional SLA research?


I'm not sure how to define "traditional" second language acquisition studies. As I responded to the first question, there are about 18 theories of second language acquisition. I do not agree with the statement that sociocultural theory and second language acquisition are combined. I am inclined to put it this way: Because socio-cultural theory is a broad psychological theory that explains how the mind is formed and how it works, it must take into account the effects of learning a second language on the thought process (see the answer to the first question).

I'm not sure what traditional SLA research is. As I said in my answer to the first question, I'm not sure what traditional SLA research is. As I said in my answer to the first question, there are approximately 18 different theories of SLA. I wouldn't say that SCT combines with SLA. I would say that. There are approximately 18 different theories of SLA. I wouldn't say that SCT combines with SLA. I would say that because SCT is a general psychological theory that explains the formation and functioning of thinking,  it has to consider the impact of L2 learning on the thinking process (as I tried to explain in my response to the first  question).

Q3: How to maintain academic enthusiasm?

You are an world-class scholar with great achievements, so how do you always maintain passion on academic research?


This question is difficult to answer. Looking back on my 40-year research career, I am fascinated by the possibilities that sociocultural theory has opened up for the study of what learning a new language means to an individual. How to improve the efficiency of foreign language learning? How can learners use the acquired language to regulate their relationships with others and their own thought processes? These are thought-provoking questions, and I think Vygotsky's book is a good way to answer them.

This is a difficult question to answer. The possibilities --that SCT offers --for investigating-- what the learning of a  new language means --for the individual --has fascinated me for the past 40 years. How can we improve the learning of  new languages and once they are learned how do people use them to regulate their relationships to others and to their  own thinking process. To me this is a fascinating question and I believe that Vygotsky's writings provide a way of answering these questions.

Q4: Do you have any academic reading skills? How do you read the literature?

Do you have any tips for academic reading and how do you organize your reading list especially the papers?


Vygotsky said that to be a good researcher, one must first ask valuable questions. Therefore, I always read with questions and try to find answers. Reading for the sake of reading is often unsatisfactory. Motivational reading is reading for the purpose of seeking answers to questions. I know people who want to read all the journal articles in the field of second language acquisition. Even when I do this, it's hard not to forget. But if I read for puzzlement, then the knowledge is easier to enter my mind and apply to my next research. In addition, it is important to expand the scope of reading. Einstein once said that expanding the scope of reading is an important part of developing creative thinking, and I agree with him. I also agree with Vygotsky that it is important to keep reading philosophy. Because philosophy provides the theoretical background for all scientific work. So I encourage you to read both professional and non-professional, and you'll find that the answers to a lot of questions, even a lot of questions, will come from reading outside the classroom.

Vygotsky wrote that to be a good researcher one has to ask good questions. So,  I always try to organize what I read around the questions that I ask. Reading for the sake of reading is not very  productive. Reading to try to find answers to good questions is motivated reading. I know people who try to read  everything that appears in SLA journals. If I do this,  much of what I read is forgotten. But if I read because I want to try to find answers to good questions,  I am more likely to remember what I read and I am more likely to use this knowledge in my own research. Also,  it is very important to try to read outside of your field. Einstein said that this was the key to his ability to think  creatively and I agree. Vygotsky insisted that it was important to read philosophy and I agree with this as well.  Philosophy provides the theoretical background for all work in science. I would encourage you to mix reading within your  field with reading outside of your field. You will find that many of the answers to your questions and even many of  your questions will come from outside reading.

Q5: How to apply socio-cultural theory and cognitive neuroscience to linguistic research?

How can SCT and cognitive neuroscience be used together in linguistic research ?


That's a very good question. At the beginning of the rise of sociocultural theory, some scholars, led by Vygotsky and Rulia, had already extended their research interests to the field of neuroscience, such as some studies conducted in the middle and late last century. Rulia, Vygotsky's most important colleague, is widely recognized as the founder of neuropsychology. My current research project attempts to combine ERP research with socio-cultural theory. This has important implications for studying the brain and mind