Those who have advocated social approaches to applied linguistics have often been critical of the individualism of second language acquisition (SLA) research. This paper identifies the emergence of a more balanced view of the social and individual in recent work. Adopting Berger's (1972) metaphor of ‘ways of seeing’, it offers a history of applied linguistics based on three eras: the era of ‘the invisible learner’, the era of ‘learner-centredness’, and the era of ‘person-centredness’, which we may now be entering. It suggests dominant research methodologies have led to the particular ways of seeing language learners that are characteristic of each of the three eras. In spite of the critique of individualism, the preference for individual case studies in social approaches is leading to a new theoretical focus on the individual that may be best captured by the term ‘person-centredness’.