The incorporation of qualitative studies into SLA has become difficult brought about by these research traditions; that is, the separation of the social and cultural from the mental use of experimental designs and statistical methods. “The predominance of psychological and thus, mentalist philosophical, theoretical and methodological traditions has resulted in a relatively narrow view of what constitutes a qualitative study”(Davis, 2011). Such disregarded the philosophical, theoretical and methodological aspects and has further resulted to issues on definition and legitimacy such as the usual assumption that “qualitative studies are not rigorous” (that is, relative to quantitative or statistical studies).
In this respect, linguistic anthropologists, ethnographers of communication and other qualitative researchers have provided an alternative method which viewed acquisition as a part of the socio-cultural contexts from which it is embedded, rather than just a mental individualistic process; that is, a “holistic” take in conducting research. Qualitative researchers began to adopt a “semiotic” approach in order to understand social influences on language acquisition. The semiotic perspective suggests that research must be conducted through local meanings of actions as defined by the point of view of the actor (Davis, 2011). This is commonly known today as the “interpretive” approach in which educational researchers like Erickson (1986) rely on their understanding of qualitative research (Davis, 2011).
This approach is different from the philosophy used by mainstream psychological schools; this difference dwells on the reliance on “emic” versus “etic” theory including data collection procedures. For one thing, the interpretive qualitative study used interviews, observations and other data collection procedures within the needed time frame prior to understanding the actor’s meanings for social actions – an “emit” perspective (Davis, 2011). On the contrary, SLA qualitative studies adopt the “etic” (outsider’s) perspective in which acquisition strategies are interpreted by the researcher to the learner. At present, these differences (between interpretive qualitative and ethnographic studies) are being challenged by the fact that boundaries between cultures are becoming blurred brought about by cross-cultural interaction and the meanings of social actions may not be shared but may be more individual.
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