Complexity and language teaching

Authored by: Sarah Mercer

The Routledge Handbook of English Language Teaching

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415747394
eBook ISBN: 9781315676203
Adobe ISBN: 9781317384472


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It has become customary to describe all kinds of different domains of language learning and teaching as ‘complex’. However, the term complex has a very distinct meaning in complexity theories that does not mean the same as complicated. If something is complicated, it means that it may be composed of multiple components, but these can be separated into distinct parts. An example often given is of that an airplane engine, which is highly complicated, but which can be taken apart and reconstructed by experts. In contrast, something that is ‘complex’ makes sense as a whole and cannot be taken apart and put back together again. Instead, its character emerges from the unique interaction of its multiple components, rather like a holistic, organic view of a human being. In this chapter, we are concerned with aspects of language teaching that are complex, not just complicated.

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