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The Evolution of Research in the Area of English Language Teaching in Mexico

In order to better understand the influence of research in the area of English language teaching (ELT) in Mexico, we would first like to present a brief summary of the origins and history of Applied Linguistics, which is still considered a relatively new discipline. Placing the term in its origins will ease the understanding of its objectives in ELT; hence, its presence in Mexican educational contexts.

Historical Background

The term Applied Linguistics (AL) was first used in the 1940s “by a group of English composition teachers who wanted to be identified with scientific linguistic concepts rather than less precise literary concepts” (Kaplan, 2010, p. 4). This initial position is key as it places its conceptualization and actions in teacher practice rather than on theory. In the succeeding decade, a series of events paved the way for Applied Linguistics to be officially recognised as an independent discipline – independent from Linguistics –. In 1948, the first issue of Language Learning: A Quarterly Journal of Applied Linguistics, was published by Michigan State University in the USA, followed by the creation of the School of Applied Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1956, and finally the opening of the Centre for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, DC., USA (1959). This new field of study sprang well into the 1960s with the appearance of other organisations around the world, yet for the purposes of this text we will only mention those that have had an impact in Mexico, as Table 1 shows. 

Table 1. Founding Applied Linguistics Organisations

YearCountryOrganisation/ Institution
1951Mexico City, MexicoThe English Language Institute (Now: Greengates School)
1964Nancy, FranceAssociation Internationale de Linguistique Apliquée (AILA)
1966USA The Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
1966MexicoCentro de Enseñanza de Lenguas (CELE)
1967United KingdomBritish Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL)
1967United KingdomThe International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) 
1968Ontario, CanadaThe Modern Language Centre at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. 
1969CanadaThe Canadian Association of Applied Linguistics (ACLA)
1973MexicoThe Mexican Association of Teachers of English (MEXTESOL)
1978USAAmerican Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL)
1986MexicoAsociación Mexicana de Lingüística Aplicada (AMLA)
2001/ 2002MexicoAsociación Nacional Universitaria de Profesores de Inglés (ANUPI)

Regardless of the distinctive geographical region of each organisation, a commonality shared by every institution was the focus of study: practical language issues in second language teaching and learning. Currently, this focus has generally remained, yet other Special Interests Groups (SIGs) have risen given the different societal, educational and contextual scenarios that accompany ELT worldwide: Bilingualism, English for Specific Purposes, English as a Lingua Franca, First Language Acquisition, Language Policy, Learner Autonomy, Linguistic Corpora, Translation, Professional Development of English Teachers, to mention a few.

Along with other areas of interest, the need to disseminate research in the field of Applied Linguistics in the area of English Language Teaching with the purpose of supporting and advancing not only practice, but the diverse range of interest areas in the field; forums and conferences were established both nationally and internationally. Currently, it is more often than not, that every organisation holds a yearly conference and publishes its proceedings in their own journals such as: TESOL Quarterly, TESOL Journal, English Language Teaching, ELT Journal, TESL E-J (Open Access) and L2 Journal (Open Access).

Applied Linguistics in Mexico 

The field of Applied Linguistics in the area of English Language Teaching was estimated important; therefore, it gradually but assuredly, gained recognition in the Mexican educational context. For instance, in the late 1960s, there were a few state university programmes in Mexico on the teaching of foreign languages; nowadays, there are over thirty, both at graduate and undergraduate levels. In a similar vein, most of the teaching staff in these higher education programmes, have earned an MA or PhD degree in either Applied Linguistics or Language Teaching. This was mainly due to the implementation of federal policies (1996) by the Teacher Professional Development Programme for Higher Education, in Spanish, “Programa para el Desarrollo Profesional Docente para el Tipo Superior (PRODEP, formerly PROMEP)”[1]. One of the main policies implemented by PRODEP was a 10-year-programme, which main objective was to provide university teachers with scholarships to undertake both masters and doctorate programmes nationally or internationally[2].   

Additionally, PRODEP set out to enhance research in several disciplines throughout Mexico; Applied Linguistics and Language Teaching included. To achieve this, PRODEP established procedures and regulations for the promotion and standardisation of ‘teacher research groups’ of scholars who shared similar interests. Currently, there are 41 research groups registered in PRODEP in the field of Applied Linguistics in the area of English Language Teaching. Nine of them are categorised as consolidated groups, which means that most of its members hold a PhD degree, do research and publish collaboratively at an international level, amongst other things. Thirteen research groups are at a consolidating stage, meaning, some collaborative research and publications are conducted, and less than 50% of its members hold doctoral degrees, and the like. Finally, at an initial stage, there are 19 research groups, which main characteristic is that, their members are starting to develop specific lines of research and adopting practices from consolidating and consolidated research groups. 

Research networks were also organised under the umbrella of PRODEP. In November 2006, the National Network of Foreign Language Teaching Research Groups, in Spanish, Red de Cuerpos Académicos en Lenguas (RECALE), was founded at the University of Quintana Roo, Mexico, with the participation of 12 research groups from diverse public universities – currently, more than 20 universities are represented by RECALE –. One of RECALE’s prime purposes was to promote collaborative work amongst members and institutions, the following are examples of published work through this network[3]:

  • Carrazco Soto, E. & Castillo Zaragoza, E.D. (2013). Actividades de aprendizaje del inglés fuera del aula de clase: El caso de los estudiantes de la Universidad de Sonora. En M.G. Méndez López, M.D. Perales Escudero, & A. Peña Aguilar (coords.) Temas de Lingüística Aplicada en Universidades Mexicanas (pp. 15-33). Chetumal: Aakbal Editores. 
  • Tapia Carlín, R., et al. (2013) Looking into learner needs in Mexican ELTed: PIAFET Project Vol. 1, Puebla: BUAP.
  • Godínez Martínez, et al. (2014). Lengua, Culturalidad e Idenitdad: Estudios en contextos educativos mexicanos. Fontamara.  

Another organisation founded at the time was the Foreign Language Research Network, in Spanish, Red de Investigadores de Lenguas Extranjeras (RILE). In fact, most of the members of RECALE affiliated to RILE and vice versa. It can be stated that both RILE and RECALE have contributed to the area of English Language teaching in Mexico in a similar manner. 

Further, national and regional conventions, conferences and forums were also established where research results and teaching practices are presented and shared. Forums such as MEXTESOL, ANUPI, Foro de Especialistas Universitarios en Lenguas Extranjeras (FEULE, Colima) and The International Qualitative Research Conference of the University of Guanajuato, run annually or biannually where attendees and presenters include both Mexican and foreign undergraduate students, in-service teachers and researchers. 

Implications of research in Mexican educational contexts   

True to its origins, research in the field of Applied Linguistics has proven effective in advancing the area of English Language Teaching in Mexico in contexts such as: Learner Autonomy (Rico 2017), Learner Motivation (Quijano-Zavala, 2017), Linguistic Corpora (Sierra Martinez, 2017), Professional Practice (Diaz, 2017; Peralta-Castro, 2020), Revitalization of Minority Languages (Chanona, 2014; Nava, 2017),  Translation (Fernández Acosta, 2018), and Reflective Practice (Godínez 2018), to state a few. Nevertheless, one of Mexico’s most notorious research impact was the development and implementation of the National English Programme for Basic Education (NEPBE), in Spanish, Programa Nacional de Inglés en Educación Básica (PNIEB) now Programa Nacional de Inglés (PRONI).

NEPBE was implemented after conducting and revising a series of quantitative and qualitative research, which referred the need to establish English as a Foreign Language (EFL) starting basic education as the country was being placed year after year in the last places of ELT world ranking statistics. After its initial implementation (2009-2011), a series of other research have been conducted regarding the programme’s effectiveness on the language learning and teaching process, language acquisition results, processes of implementation according to the country region as well as teacher, context and student needs (Alcántar and Navarro, Monero, 2014; García, Martínez and Killian, 2017). These recent research results have enabled a re-structuring of the programme specifically in two main areas: teacher development and instructional design.

Concluding remarks

All in all, the field of Applied Linguistics in the area of English Language Teaching in Mexico has been considerably advanced by the many scholars who have found a purpose in research in benefit of society. The transferability of knowledge – research, data, theory, current methods and approaches – and skills from researchers working full time in any educational context is prime as it has been observed to have a direct impact in the different ELT communities they belong to, articulating knowledge and practice.    

Dra. Jovanna Matilde Godínez Martínez, ELT Services & Consulting

Dr. Alfredo Marín-Marín, Universidad de Quintana Roo


  • Kaplan, R.B. (2010). The Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics. Oxford University Press.  
  • Programa de Mejoramiento del Profesorado. Un primer análisis de su operación e impactos en el proceso de fortalecimiento académico de las universidades públicas Secretaría de Educación Pública – México: SEP, 2006, p. 2. 

[1] PRODEP: Teacher Professional Development Programme for Higher Education, in Spanish Programa para el Desarrollo Profesional Docente para el Tipo Superior (PRODEP), is a programme within the Federal Government’s Office for Academic Development that, seeks to professionalise full time teachers so that they are able to reach capacities, knowledge and skills in research-teaching and technological development and innovation, and with social responsibility, articulate and consolidate themselves in academic research groups and thereby generate new academic communities capable of transforming our social world.

[2] In 1996, out of 18,093 full time higher education teachers in Mexico, only 8% had acquired a doctorate degree, 32% possessed MAs and 60% held undergraduate degrees. Programa de Mejoramiento del Profesorado, Secretaría de Educación Pública – México: SEP, 2006, p. 2. 

[3] The reader is referred to the official RECALE website ( for further publications. 

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