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Language in the real world
Language in the real world

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2 Applied linguistics

Now that we have working definitions of ‘language’ and ‘linguistics’, what could ‘applied linguistics’ be?

Activity 4

Timing: Allow 5 minutes

What does ‘applied linguistics’ mean to you? Use what you have learned so far in this course to come up with a definition.


Broadly speaking, applied linguistics can be seen as one sub-discipline of linguistics, albeit one that is also broad and itself encompasses other fields. Watch the short animation in the next activity for a more specific definition of applied linguistics.

Activity 5

Timing: Allow 15 minutes

Watch the animation ‘What is applied linguistics?’ As you watch, make notes on:

  • what applied linguistics is and is not
  • the difference between applied linguistics and linguistics applied
  • Brumfit’s definition of applied linguistics and the problems with it.
Download this video clip.Video player: ee817_anim_v05.mp4
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Applied linguistics is not about the theory of language or the description of the structure of language. It is also not just about language teaching. Instead, applied linguistics is a field of study that connects knowledge about language in theory with knowledge about how people use language in various contexts.

‘Linguistics applied’ embodied a 1970s attitude: practitioners simply took insights from theoretical linguists and applied them to situations in everyday life. It was a one-way process. ‘Applied linguistics’, on the other hand, is a more recent view that sees the applied field as also being able to contribute to theoretical linguistics in a mutually beneficial way. The new view also allows for a wider range of contexts to be investigated.

Brumfit defined applied linguistics as ‘the theoretical and empirical investigation of real-world problems in which language is a central issue’ (1995, p. 27). The word ‘problem’ suggests that applied linguistics is only concerned with situations where something has gone wrong and always has a ‘solution’. However, sometimes applied linguistics is simply about understanding what is actually going on.