Essential reading in applied linguistics: The Language Teaching reading pack for MA/PhD students

BookshelfThe Applied Linguistics Reading Pack from Language Teaching has been a popular collection of articles since 2011, generating more than 30,000 downloads. Providing an overview of key content for anyone looking for an MA or PhD topic or anyone taking on a new group of MA or PhD students, the pack and the journal itself have been an essential resource for language professionals and a starting point for all things related to the discipline of applied linguistics.

Hand-picked by Language Teaching editor Dr Graeme Porte, this collection has recently been updated to include new articles, research and replication studies, and is also a useful sampler of the journal. This new package can be accessed by visiting

State-of-the-art articles: Critical survey articles of resent research

Review of washback research literature within Kante’s argument-based validation framework
Liying Cheng, Youyi Sun and Jia Ma

Research Timelines: Graphic overviews of the most significant bibliographies in the area

Research Timeline: Form-focused instruction and second language acquisition
Hossein Nassaji

Replication Studies

Learning vocabulary through meaning-focused input: Replication of Elley (1989) and Liu & Nation (1985)
Stuart Webb

Thinking Allowed: Research Agendas and Classroom Applications of Research

International teaching assistants at universities: A research agenda
Greta Gorsuch

Research into practice: Grammar learning and teaching
Diane Larsen-Freeman

Plenary Speeches

Interactive alignment: A teaching-friendly view of second language pronunciation learning
Pavel Trofimovich

For more Language Teaching, visit the journal home page or learn more about the journal’s thematic sections.

English language teaching research in South Korea: A review of recent studies (2009–2014)

LTA 47 2Blog post written by Ian Moodie based on an article in the latest issue of Language Teaching

This article (written by Hyun-Jeong Nam and myself) reviewed recent research published on English language teaching (ELT) in South Korea (Korea, hereafter). Language Teaching provided a platform for sharing the vast corpus of local ELT research with international readers, while also suggesting future research directions to local scholars. Beginning with a pool of 1,200 articles from 60 journals that published research on English education, we bound the review to discuss 95 studies focused on public sector ELT in Korea. Using broad themes from the national curriculum to organize the review, the discussion covered the following topics:

(1) Second language teacher education,

(2) Communicative language teaching,

(3) Language use and interaction in classrooms,

(4) Co-teaching with native-speaking English teachers,

(5) Curriculum and materials analysis,

(6) Treatments of teaching methods, and

(7) Assessment, testing and washback.

One of the main issues discussed is what we termed “the hard problem” for ELT in Korea; that is, finding solutions to the tremendous negative washback caused by language testing in Korea. Despite being one of the more monolingual countries in the world, Koreans face tremendous pressure to learn English. In addition to socioeconomic washback in need of addressing, a central objective in the national English curriculum – communicative competence – is undermined by tests focused on receptive skills.

Another prominent issue arising had to do with the research itself and the incentives, or lack thereof, for publishing high quality research in the Korean Citation Index (KCI). As we concluded:

Lastly, we would like to stimulate discussion regarding research standards in local publishing. The research reviewed above brought a deeper understanding of issues regarding ELT and learning in Korea … but we would like to finish by raising the question of whether or not there is enough research of reasonable quality to sustain the 60 or so journals publishing studies related to English education in Korea. The KCI answered a need to organize and assess domestic research, but an implication from this review is that it would be timely to consider its scope. Since its inception in 2007, the KCI has grown to include over 1,700 accredited journals, with about 400 more being considered … As elsewhere, the publish-or-perish reality for scholars creates impetus for research, but in Korea there is an issue for local scholars in that domestic journals are ranked much lower for workplace evaluations than research published in journals recognized by the Social Science Citation Index. This creates the necessity for local researchers, and especially those writing in Korean, to publish frequently in domestic journals, surely one of the reasons why there have been over 1,200 articles published on English education since 2009. The bulk of these have been relatively small-scale studies and there is a need for further research reviews and synthesis as discussed above, but there is also a need to create incentives for larger-scale research projects to be undertaken and published locally. … We would like to emphasize that this is not an issue limited to our field, or to Korea, but it is one worth consideration by university administrators and by the National Research Foundation, which oversees the KCI, in that it is important to continue to look for ways of improving the quality of research available in local publications so that the hard work of local scholars might have a larger impact at home and abroad.

 Read the full article ‘English language teaching research in South Korea: A review of recent studies (2009–2014)’

Deaf children’s bimodal bilingualism and education

LTA clog post - Jan 16Blog post written by Ruth Swanwick based on an article published in the  latest issue of Language Teaching

This paper provides an overview of the research into deaf children’s bilingualism and bilingual education through a synthesis of published studies over the last 15 years. The practice of educating deaf children bilingually through the use of sign language alongside written and spoken language initially developed during the 1980s in Scandanavia, the USA and the UK. This approach developed as a response to concerns about deaf children’s attainments within traditional spoken language approaches and research demonstrating sign languages to be naturally evolving rule-governed languages.

There is no one globally agreed-upon definition for the bilingual education of deaf children. However, there is a common philosophy and an underlying set of principles which do traverse countries and cultures. Philosophically, bilingual education strives towards the humanitarian and democratic goals of social inclusion and diversity. It is an approach to education that recognises the unique and distinctive features of deaf language and culture, validates the linguistic and cultural choices of deaf people and celebrates this diversity. The central tenet of this approach is that access from birth to a language for learning and development is the right of every child and that delay in language development is never acceptable.

This review brings together research in bimodal bilingual language development and educational practice to synthesise key issues for future research. The timeliness of this review relates to the changing climate of deaf education and the need to re-consider the goals and implementation of a bilingual approach. The reasons for this are firstly, that deaf children’s contexts for learning are changing as access to inclusive educational provision is afforded by new and developing hearing technologies. Further, new audiological technologies have had a significant impact on deaf children’s language experience and use. Specifically, digital hearing aid technology and cochlear implants have improved deaf children’s potential for spoken language development, and Universal Newborn Hearing Screening secures access to these technologies and early intervention programmes from birth. The success of these audiological advances and enhanced access to spoken language has changed the language and communication potential, and profiles of deaf children.

This review provides some directions for the development of a new theoretical model of bimodal bilingualism and deafness that recognises the multilingual and multimodal communicative resources of individuals as flexible and changing language repertoires. This represents a shift in perspective and the emergence of new constructs in deaf bimodal bilingualism, and discourses in the research and in the classroom.

Read the full article ‘Deaf children’s bimodal bilingualism and education’ here 

Replication in interaction and working memory research

JCL blog post Sep 15 - memoryBlog post written by Lorena Valmori based on an article in Language Teaching

Several empirical studies have shown that L2 interaction promotes L2 learning. However, recent research has also shown that individual differences, such as working memory capacity, can impact the benefits of feedback.  Working memory capacity is argued to be responsible for storing and processing incoming input and has been measured with a number of elicitation methods such as phonological short-term memory (digit and non-word span), reading span, and operation span. We argue that the time is right to replicate studies that unify the research areas of working memory capacity and L2 learning.

We selected and analyzed two recent studies (Révész 2012 and Goo 2012) that investigated how working memory capacity mediates effectiveness of feedback (recasts and metalinguistic feedback). In Goo’s study, it mediates the effects of recasts, but not of metalinguistic feedback; in Révész, it depends on the type of working memory test. We think these two studies represent recent directions in the field, address the important construct of working memory capacity whose measurements show potential methodological issues, and provide detailed descriptions of all aspects of the studies to facilitate replication.  In the attempt to generalize findings, we emphasize the importance of replication in a number of different areas including grammatical complexity of the target structure, the nature of the working memory tests, modes of delivery, and the possibility to gather information about the thought processes through stimulated recalls.

We invite you to read the full article ‘Replication in interaction and working memory research: Révész (2012) and Goo (2012)’ here

Research into practice: The influence of discourse studies on language descriptions and task design in published ELT materials

LTA 47 2Blog post written by Alex Gilmore based on an article in the latest issue of Language Teaching

 Discourse studies is a vast, multidisciplinary, and rapidly expanding area of research, embracing a range of approaches including discourse analysis, corpus analysis, conversation analysis, interactional sociolinguistics, critical discourse analysis, genre analysis and multimodal discourse analysis. Each approach offers its own unique perspective on discourse, focusing variably on text, context or a range of semiotic modes. Together, they provide foreign language teachers and material designers with new insights into language, and are beginning to have an observable impact on published English Language Teaching (ELT) materials. This paper looks at the ways in which the four approaches with the strongest links to the ELT profession (corpus analysis, conversation analysis, discourse analysis and genre analysis) have found their way into language learning materials, and offers some suggestions on how discourse studies may influence ELT classrooms in the future.

 While each of the approaches to discourse focused on in the article brings its own unique perspective to the field, it is clear that there is also a high degree of interconnectivity and overlap amongst them. This suggests that, rather than limiting ourselves to one particular methodology, it would be much more useful to see them as complementary tools in our ‘discourse toolbox’: a selection of lenses that can be combined eclectically to reveal different layers of meaning in our data. Collaborative work of this type, however, brings with it significant challenges – relinquishing ‘ownership’ of knowledge, substantial time commitments, obstructive institutional structures, trust and process issues amongst participants, the negotiation of a common interdisciplinary language, and uncertain outcomes  – but, as Jan Blommaert in his book ‘Discourse’ (2005: 237) says, this is ‘a richer and more interesting field to dwell in than rigidly defined habitual orthodoxies of scientific exploration’.

 Although discourse studies started out as being predominantly about text linguistics, there has been a noticeable shift in focus away from texts towards the context of production, as well as increased interest in non-textual forms of social semiotics. This trend in itself is encouraging more interdisciplinary dialogue, as researchers begin to better appreciate the fact that the complexity of social interaction, as it is played out in the real world, requires a multi-level analytical approach in order to be truly descriptive.

Read the full article ‘Research into practice: The influence of discourse studies on language descriptions and task design in published ELT materials’


Studying Error Correction in Second Language Writing

LTA 47 2How Models from Past Research Can Inform Future Research

Blog post written by Dana Ferris based on an article in Language Teaching

The title of an important 2008 study by Andrea Lunsford and Karen Lunsford is “Mistakes are a fact of life.” “Mistakes” are also natural part of any learning process, but when it comes to student writing, teachers worry that if language errors—such as problems with verb tense or missing word endings or incomplete sentences (fragments) or incorrect punctuation—are left uncorrected, students will never learn from those mistakes. Teachers also worry that students’ ideas, competence, and work ethic will be harshly judged by later real-world audiences, such as graduate school professors or future employers, if young writers do not learn to self-edit errors and make progress in avoiding them on subsequent pieces of writing.

This tension between normal learning processes and teacher concerns about student development has led to a contentious several decades of research on the topic of “written corrective feedback”—error correction—in teaching writing, especially for students who are not writing in their first (primary) language. Studies of error correction in student writing have crossed several disciplinary boundaries—from foreign language studies to writing/composition studies to applied linguistics/second language studies. This is a topic that continues to be of great practical interest to teachers and researchers.
In my article published in Language Teaching, I discuss two very important studies on this topic, both of which appeared in major journals (Modern Language Journal and College Composition and Communication) in the 1980s. I talk about why these two studies have been important in shaping discussion and research about the topic of written CF in the following decades. I also argue that the two studies should be replicated—repeated under similar conditions—so that their findings can be extended to current student writers and classrooms. In this argument, I discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the two studies and make specific suggestions about what replications of these two important pieces of research might look like. Readers interested in this topic will find the detailed summaries of these two “oldies but goodies” valuable, and researchers looking for good models for their own studies will find them in these two landmark pieces of research.

Read the full article ‘Written corrective feedback in L2 writing: Connors & Lunsford (1988); Lunsford & Lunsford (2008); Lalande (1982)’ here

The truth about transitions: What psycholinguistics can teach us about writing

Blog post written by Yellowlees Douglas author of The Reader’s Brain: How Neuroscience Can Make You A Better Writer

The Reader's Brain Journalists, particularly those writing for American audiences, practically have transitions drilled into their heads from their first forays into writing for the public. Where’s your transition? their editors persist, as they linger over each sentence. However, those editors and newsroom sages handed on advice with well-established roots in psycholinguistics—and with particularly striking benefits for the reading public. I explore what linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience can teach us about writing in my forthcoming The Reader’s Brain: How Neuroscience Can Make You a Better Writer. And using an abundance of transitions is perhaps the simplest advice you can follow to make your writing easy to read, in addition to bolstering your readers’ speed and comprehension of even complex, academic prose.

As a species, we evolved to learn from observing cause and effect—and from making predictions based on those observations. For example, your everyday survival relies on your ability to predict how the driver to your right will behave on entering a roundabout, just as we predict hundreds of events that unfold in our daily lives, all of which dictate our behavior. But we feel relatively minimal cognitive strain from all these predictions, mostly made without any conscious awareness, because we can make predictions based on prior experience. We expect the familiar.

Similarly, in reading, we expect sequential sentences to relate to one another. However, most writers assume that their readers see the ideas represented in one sentence as inherently connected to the preceding sentence. But sentences can become islands of meaning, especially when writers fail to provide explicit linguistic cues that inform readers how one sentence follows another.

Take, for example, your typical university mission statement, the kind invariably featured in American university catalogues and websites:

Teaching—undergraduate and graduate through the doctorate—is the fundamental purpose of the university. Research and scholarship are integral to the education process and to expanding humankind’s understanding of the natural world, the mind and the senses. Service is the university’s obligation to share the benefits of its knowledge for the public good.

Chances are, even if someone offered you the lottery jackpot for recalling this content in a mere half-hour, you’d fail—at least, not without some serious sweat put into rote memoriziation. Why? Despite the mission statement containing a mere three sentences, nothing connects any sentence to the others—aside from the writer’s implicit belief that everyone knows that universities focus on teaching, research, and service. Unfortunately, only an academic would understand that research, teaching, and service form the bedrock of any research university. As a result, we can safely guess that the writer was an academic. Sadly, the actual audience for the mission statement—the family members tendering up their retirement savings or mortgaging the house for tuition—fail to see any connections at all. As studies documented as early as the 1970s, readers read these apparently disconnected sentences more slowly and with greater activity in the parts of the brain dedicated to reading. In addition, readers also show poorer recall of sentences lacking any apparently logical or referential continuity.

Because prediction is the engine that enables readers’ comprehension, transitions play a vital role in enabling us to understand how sentences refer to one another. In fact, certain types of transitions—particularly those flagging causation, time, space, protagonist, and motivation—bind sentences more tightly together. When you use as a result, thus, then, because, or therefore, your reader sees the sentence she’s about to read as causally related to the sentence she’s just read. Moreover, when writers place transitions early in sentences, prior to the verb, readers grasp the relationship before they finish making predictions about how the sentence will play out. These predictions stem from our encounters with tens of thousands of sentences we’ve previously read. But put the transition after the verb, and your readers have already completed the heavy lifting of prediction. Or, worse, they’ve made the wrong predictions and need to reread your sentences again.

You might think that a snippet like too or also or even flies beneath your readers’ radar. Think again. Transitions are your readers’ linguistic lifelines that link sentences and ideas smoothly together, making your reading easy to understand and recall. You can discover more about not only transitions but also of how your readers’ brains work through every facet of your writing—from the words you choose to the cadence of your sentences in The Reader’s Brain: How Neuroscience Can Make You a Better Writer.

2014 Christopher Brumfit Award winner talks to Cambridge Extra

Foto H  van ZeelandBlog post written by Hilde van Zeeland, winner of the 2014 Christopher Brumfit Award

Most L2 vocabulary research has focused on learners’ knowledge of written, rather than spoken, words. In my thesis, I identified and addressed two gaps in the field: 1) how many spoken (versus written) words L2 learners know, i.e. their vocabulary knowledge in listening, and 2) how successful learners are at learning new words from spoken input, i.e. their vocabulary knowledge from listening.

The first two studies from my thesis (one published, one under review) focused on vocabulary knowledge in listening. Little is known about how many words learners know when they hear them in their spoken form, and in particular, if knowledge found on written tests (e.g. the VLT, VST, and the Yes/No test) is also available to learners when they listen to continuous speech. I compared learners’ knowledge of isolated written words with their knowledge of spoken words in isolation as well as in sentence contexts. When learners saw/heard words in isolation, they showed slightly better knowledge of written than spoken vocabulary. Interestingly, regarding spoken vocabulary, learners often failed to recognise words in continuous speech that they did demonstrate knowledge of when they heard them in isolation. This indicates that results from tests with isolated word forms (whether written or spoken) might overestimate the knowledge learners actually have at their disposal while listening. For pedagogical purposes, this means we should be careful with selecting listening materials based on results from such vocabulary tests (e.g. by means of lexical coverage calculations).

The third and fourth study (both published) focused on vocabulary knowledge from listening. The third study assessed L1 and L2 listeners’ success in inferencing word meanings from context, and explored the effect of three variables that have been found to affect inferencing success in reading: background knowledge, clue type, and vocabulary knowledge. Results showed that these variables had the same effect in listening. This suggests that, regardless of the input modality, it is advisable to control for these variables when carrying out lexical inferencing tasks, especially where their aim is to learn new vocabulary. The fourth study measured L2 listeners’ incidental vocabulary acquisition. It explored their learning of words’ meaning, form and grammatical function. Although learners acquired some knowledge types quicker than others, they did not build durable knowledge of any of them, even after having heard the target words 15 times. This indicates that spoken input alone is not very effective for vocabulary learning, and that some sort of input enhancement might be appropriate.

Together, these studies emphasise the importance of further examining the construct of spoken vocabulary knowledge, as well as the acquisition of it. However, although the vocabulary-listening domain is growing, it remains an under-researched area. I hope these studies will further encourage researchers to explore spoken vocabulary knowledge – both in and from listening.

Congratulations to Hilde on winning this prestigious award.

You can discover more about the Christopher Brumfit PhD/Ed.D. Thesis Award 2015 here. 

30th November 2015 – Deadline for receipt of summary and abstract and official proof of thesis acceptance

Research into Practice: Cultural and intercultural awareness

LTA classroom - Feb 15Blog post written by Will Baker based on an article in the latest issue of Language Teaching

It is commonly claimed that the main goal of learning and teaching a second language is for communication.  While this would seem both appropriate and beneficial, the goal and associated processes for learning are most accurately described as intercultural communication rather than just communication.   One of the consequences of this lack of interest in the intercultural in L2 teaching (or L3, L4 etc…), is that too often teaching and learning has focused on a fixed code or set of linguistic structures with little consideration of the wider intercultural communicative practices they are part of. This has been addressed in recent decades, in part, by the increasing interest in the cultural dimensions of language teaching and learning and in particular the notion of intercultural communicative competence.   The key to intercultural communicative competence is cultural or intercultural awareness.

In this article I examine the role of cultural awareness (CA) and intercultural awareness (ICA) in classroom theory and practice. CA and ICA can be roughly characterised as an awareness of the role of culture in communication with CA focused on national cultures and ICA on more dynamic and flexible relationships between languages and cultures. I consider the findings from CA and ICA research that have not been well applied those that have been well applied and those that have been over-applied to classrooms. In particular, I argue that CA and ICA are more prevalent in pedagogic theory, and to a lesser extent policy, than they are in practice. While the cultural dimension to language learning is now fairly mainstream, where elements of CA and ICA are applied or translated into the classroom they typically take the form of comparisons between national cultures, often in essentialist forms. There is still little evidence of classroom practice that relates to the fluid ways cultures and languages are related in intercultural communication, especially for English as a lingua franca or other languages used on a global scale.

Such an evaluation will necessarily be subjective, and I draw on my own experiences of teaching masters level courses in the UK to language teachers from around the world, as well as my experiences of and continued interest in English language teaching (ELT) in Thailand. At the same time though, I relate these experiences to what we currently understand through research about the role of cultural and intercultural awareness in L2 use and learning. Given my experiences of ELT, the discussion mainly focuses on English language teaching and English as a lingua franca; however, many of the issues are relevant to teaching other languages.

We invite you to read the full article ‘Research into Practice: Cultural and intercultural awareness’ here

2013 Christopher L. Brumfit Award Prize Runner-up Announced

LTA 47 2We are delighted to announce that the runner-up of this year’s prize is Alastair Henry.

We asked Alastair to provide Cambridge Extra with a summary of his winning work.

As a language teacher and language teacher educator it really is a great honour that my thesis ‘L3 Motivation’ was selected as runner-up for the 2013 Christopher Brumfit Award. In addition to my supervisors at the University of Gothenburg, and of course the panel of referees, the editor and members of the editorial board at Language Teaching, I would like to thank Professor Zoltán Dörnyei who generously agreed to review the thesis, providing guidance, advice and insights that were invaluable in enabling me to improve the work and sharpen some of the theoretical arguments.

When I started my research I hadn’t indented to write a thesis on school students’ motivation to learn additional languages such as French, German or Spanish. However I quickly realized that while there was a growing body of research on motivation to learn English, there was hardly any research on other languages. Nor did motivation researchers seem to differentiate between languages learnt as L2s or L3s. Furthermore, I began working at a time when a paradigm shift was taking place in motivation research, the new model offering opportunities to explore aspects of motivation – such as the impact of the L2 on L3 motivation – that had not previously existed.

The thesis consists of four papers (two published in System, one in the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development and and one in the International Journal of Multilingualism). In the first two studies I drew on questionnaire-based data to track secondary school students’ motivation to learn English (the L2) and French, German and Spanish (the L3) across six school grades, analysing the differences in motivational trajectories between the L2 and L3, and in girls’ and boy’s motivation over the period. In the third study I suggested that L2 English was having a negative effect on L3 motivation, testing this hypothesis using data from a cohort of final grade students, while in the fourth study I carried out interviews with students with differing motivational profiles identified using cluster analysis techniques. Analyses of the data in these studies revealed that negative comparisons with L2 English were having a negative effect on L3 motivation, particularly among boys, and that students who were successful in maintaining L3 motivation invoked counteracting resources to offset such effects. Based on these findings, and on proposals previously made by Zoltán Dörnyei, as well as work in the multilingual field by Ulrike Jessner, I offered a number of suggestions for ways in which teachers can help students strengthen their self-concepts as multilingual speakers, and how they can refocus on L3 learning in the face of negative comparisons with English.

Many congratulations Alastair on being runner-up in this coveted international award which perpetuates the name of such a distinguished linguist.