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Lourdes Ortega is a Professor in the Department of Linguistics at Georgetown University. Her main area of expertise is in second language acquisition, and she is committed to investigating what it means to become a bilingual or multilingual language user later in life in ways that can encourage connections between research and teaching and promote social justice. Before moving to the USA in 1993, she taught Spanish as a foreign language at the Cervantes Institute in Athens, Greece, and English as a second language in Hawaii and Georgia, USA. She has published widely and her books include Understanding Second Language Acquisition (2009, translated into Mandarin in 2016), and Technology-mediated TBLT (with Marta González-Lloret, John Benjamins, 2014). She is currently busy finishing The Handbook of Bilingualism for Cambridge University Press (with Annick De Houwer).
Lourdes's plenary will take place on Tuesday 10th April
What is SLA research good for, anyway?
In my nearly twenty years of being a second language acquisition (SLA) researcher, I have met many language teachers who told me learning about SLA really shifted their thinking about their teaching practice and their approach to teaching. I have, however, also spotted many baffled or dismayed faces of language teachers, who just couldn’t believe what SLA had to say (or how little it had to say) about some of their most urgent classroom questions. Many professional development efforts focus on familiarizing teachers with the latest trends in SLA research. But why should language teachers care?

In this talk I want to show new ways of seeing the relationship between research and teaching, from the perspective of a down-to-earth SLA researcher. First and foremost, research is about generating useful information for some community, of which the most important one is language teachers. A good example is motivation, an area where SLA researchers have sought, and mostly succeeded, to turn empirical evidence into knowledge that can make the lives of language teachers better. Often, findings from SLA need a large amount of contextualization and critical professional translation before they can be of use in actual local classroom contexts. A good case in point is research on error correction, which has yielded contradictory and fragmentary findings thus far. But the best research is about generating knowledge without which we would see the world of language teaching differently. Like discovering that the earth is round, not flat. Here, age and multilingualism are two areas in which SLA has a lot to offer to teachers.

My goal is to provide tools for thinking about research and teaching as imperfectly and not always obviously compatible perspectives that can enrich the professional lives of language teachers and researchers alike – but only when a delicate balance between idealism and pragmatism is struck.

An interview with Lourdes Ortega
What got you interested in the field of second language acquisition?
I was a language teacher for many years, and I was always hungry for professional development events to boost my daily practice. The more I heard in the workshops and courses I attended, the more I started to read independently. Eventually I realized I wanted to become the one doing the research on best teaching practices, not just the one who is taught about it or reads about it!

What about this topic inspires you?
For me (as for many people) teaching and learning languages is a sheer enjoyment. But teaching language well, if you are a teacher, and learning language to one's own satisfaction, if you are a student, are complex and highly contextual matters. And not everyone has access to the same kind of enjoyment and success when they do either. So I am inspired whenever I can understand some of the challenges better, and help others understand them too.

Do you have a favourite motto, saying or quotation you can share with us?
I think maybe my students would know better than me! But perhaps lately I’ve been guided by this internal motto "Let's look at it outside the box, yes... And let's also think whose box is it, and how many boxes are there, anyway?"

As our audience is so international, could you mention some of the countries you have lived and/or worked in?
Southern Spain is my birth country and the country where I got my first university degree. Greece is my country of passionate adoption, and if it weren't for my academic work, I would choose to live there. Germany will always be the country I go to for stimulating academic challenges. The United States has been home for 24 years now. But since I have lived the longest in Hawaii and Washington DC, and they are so very different, I see the United States as a collection of countries, really. I've lived rich lives in all four nation-states, but I have worked in only two, Greece and the United States.

What is your favourite thing to do outside ELT?
Sunbathing by the ocean, if possible on an island, and always enjoying good, adventurous food!

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