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The Michel Blanc Lecture in Applied Linguistics 2020: Prof Raphael Berthele

Venue: Birkbeck Clore Management Centre, Room B01

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Evidence-based policy or policy-based evidence? Applied linguistics between scholarly rigour and pseudoscience.

Applied linguists work by definition on socially relevant topics. As any other scholarly discipline, we are expected to free ourselves from irrational biases and to apply intellectual rigour. At the same time, the politicised nature of our research topics makes our work particularly vulnerable to biases: Our own and our funders’ normative views on our educational systems and on society more generally are likely to interfere with our research practices.

In this lecture, Professor Raphael Berthele will focus on biases in scholarly research on language learning that have an impact on educational language planning and policy. Drawing on concrete cases related to notions such as linguistic interdependence or multilingual advantages in language learning, Professor Berthele will discuss problems of individual expertise and quality of research. Where there are methodological inadequacies and/or lack of expertise, problematic or even utterly false conclusions may be drawn. A critical review of influential claims in the field of applied linguistics with respect to robustness of the evidence and its fit to the actual policy problem should allow us to determine which theories and research strands may be useful for language-policy recommendations and which are probably not.

In this discussion, Professor Berthele addresses two delimitation problems: defining the boundary between pseudoscience and real science (in the wide sense of the term, including social sciences and humanities) and defining the boundary between scholarly rigor and political advocacy by academics.


Raphael Berthele is Professor in multilingualism at the University of Fribourg. He studied and worked at the Universities of Fribourg, Tübingen, Berkeley, and Berne. He co-founded the Fribourg Institute of Multilingualism in 2008 and currently directs the MA programmes in Multilingualism studies and in foreign language didactics. His research interests cover different areas from cognitive to social aspects of multilingualism. During the last few years, he has been focusing on the empirical investigation of receptive multilingualism, on the acquisition of literacy skills in multilinguals, on spatial reference in bi- and multilinguals, and on modern language learning aptitude in primary school children.

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