Educating the global citizen or the global consumer?

Blog post written by Claire Kramsch based on an article published in Language Teaching

My views on the impact that globalization has had on the learning and teaching of foreign languages have been very much influenced by my French upbringing. In the fifties in France I learned and then studied German not in order to find a job in Germany, nor to go and visit the country, nor even to make friends with Germans, but to enjoy German literature and to immerse myself in German poems and fairytales. The language for me was indissociable from texts on the page and the imaginary worlds they opened up for me.  Not that I had consciously intended it to be that way. The teaching of German in those days was pure grammar/translation, my teachers spoke German with an atrocious French accent, many of them has fought the  Germans and had just returned from POW camps, and Germany lay in ruins. And yet…not unlike many learners of English today, I embraced German as my ticket to freedom from what I perceived to be a stifling French educational system.

Later, once I got to know real Germans and discovered the thrills of real live conversation with native speakers of German (rather than textbook dialogues) I began to understand the potential of foreign language education to bring people together across national boundaries. But the language of international communication was increasingly English, not German. People were not learning English to study Shakespeare, but to adopt a more instrumental, commercially efficient mode of communication that became even more widespread with the invention of the Internet. I became fascinated by the extensive research conducted to improve the teaching of English as a global language. I benefitted tremendously from the insights of my colleagues in second language acquisition and applied linguistics, but I always missed the imaginary worlds of my youth, when I was a French citizen in love with German poetry.

So when the invitation came to reflect on “the global citizen” of the future, I couldn’t help thinking: What is a global citizen?  Isn’t globalization making us rather into global consumers? Isn’t globalization just another form of imperialism or colonialism?  As a French high school student, I had loved German precisely because it was not French nor English, because it was different and controversial. As a graduate student, I was seduced by the possibility of thinking and dreaming in different syntaxes, lexicons and metaphors. Now as a German professor in the United States I am happy to remain a French Germanist with a U.S. passport, resonating to different multilingual ecologies of being to which English, Latin, Greek and Russian were added later on.

Read the article ‘Educating the global citizen or the global consumer?’ published in Language Teaching

Where is Applied Linguistics headed? Cambridge Journal editors weigh in

In advance of the upcoming AAAL Annual Meeting in Chicago, we asked editors of Cambridge applied linguistics journals for their thoughts on the state of the field.

Where is applied linguistics headed? Are there new approaches, methods or priorities that you think will have real impact on research and related practice in coming years?

Martha Crago, editor of Applied Psycholinguistics“In the next year’s two major developments, one technological and one social, will have a striking impact on applied linguistics: 1)The disruptive technology of machine learning (artificial intelligence) is based on the early work on neural networks in neuropsychology as well as on reinforcement learning that was once considered a learning mechanism for language acquisition. These new technological developments are likely to circle back and inform or intersect with work in applied psycholinguistics and its underlying theories. In addition, “big data” (computational linguistics) and its growing ability to look at large data sets in increasingly sophisticated ways will become a future direction for the field. 2) Human migration has reached vast proportions in the last few years. It is leading to very large numbers if refugees who are either in transit, often for years, or who are arriving to become residents, both legal and illegal, in a new country. These migratory patterns have striking implications for multi-lingualism and -literacy in people of all ages. This in turn has consequences for social integration and education. As a result, refugee populations will become a major preoccupation for applied psycholinguistic researchers.”

Alex Boulton, Editor of ReCALL “Applied linguistics is itself a controversial term which means different things to different people, and covers different domains in different languages. In French, for example, “linguistique appliquée” fell largely out of favour in the 1990s as it suggested simply applying linguistics to real-world problems. What is probably the largest domain is now referred to as “didactique” – i.e. language teaching and learning. Various initiatives have been undertaken to explore this at national and international levels, notably through AILA – the International Association of Applied Linguistics, founded in France in the 1960s.

Published by CUP and owned by EUROCALL, ReCALL is a leading journal focusing specifically on computer-assisted language learning. In the 30 years of its existence, we have seen increasing democratisation of technology and access to it, especially via the internet. This is evident in everyday practices (learners no longer have to be in a classroom or a computer room) as well as in the research being conducted into informal online learning. While early papers tended to place the software itself at the centre of the paper, today the emphasis is more on what actually happens in the learning process when using various types of technologies in different situations for different purposes.
In terms of methodologies, various surveys have found the majority of studies in applied linguistics to be quantitative in nature; while these were traditionally considered the most prestigious by many researchers, the situation is certainly evolving. There is no question of abandoning quantitative work, especially for learning outcomes or large-scale surveys, but there seems to be increasing room for more qualitative approaches, which allow greater emic understanding of the complexity of the learning process and the individuals involved. Of particular interest are mixed methods studies which, appropriately conducted, can draw on the strengths of both quantitative and qualitative work. Another evolution is the rise of rigorous research syntheses of various types, from the quantitative meta-analysis to the more qualitative narrative synthesis, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

Julia R. Herschenesohn, Coordinating Editor, Journal of French Language Studies “As we approach the third decade of the 21st Century, the most important opportunity that I see in applied linguistics research is the accessibility of big data—large corpora of empirical evidence that are available online to all researchers. Cloud storage, open access and increased computational power open a range of options for obtaining and analyzing evidence of language use and acquisition. Open access databases allow scholars to use statistically significant quantities to form generalizations, test hypotheses, replicate earlier studies and reanalyze previous research using different methodologies. The combination of language data—including controlled experiments, monitored production, informal speech and spontaneous dialogue—and sophisticated statistical software has already impacted research and related practices and will continue to expand in the following decades. As Editor of JFLS, I have seen a shift in the submissions we receive to a much larger number of articles including evidence from public access databases. For example, our next special themed issue comprises articles drawing from a few corpora of carefully transcribed and annotated examples of contemporary French speech that are analyzed by several authors in terms of lexical, morphosyntactic and phonological characteristics. The contributors bring to bear different methodologies and sub-discipline perspectives while mining the same source of data. The availability of big data allows scholars to test theoretical hypotheses with solid statistical tools to further our knowledge of how language is acquired and used under various circumstances.”

Graeme Porte, Editor of Language Teaching

Recurrence, revitalization, and replication in Applied Linguistics

“Like any dynamic field of science, Applied Linguistics (AL) is both in constant change and ever eager to be of practical use to those who benefit from its research discoveries. As researchers we are urged to “apply” our discoveries – ideally to some kind of language learning context. Since those contexts will almost certainly involve a practitioner, the nexus between the FL teacher and the AL researcher should be a close and mutually-benefitting one.

We have been lucky in that both AL researchers and practitioners have traditionally embraced new methodologies and promising trends – together with the occasional fad and damp squib – with anticipation. A cursory historical overview of these apparently novel approaches will, however, reveal timely re-emergences of elements which are key to many of these movements.

There has been a tendency actually to re-discover what we often think we are discovering and then mould it through more modern hands into something more acceptably novel, consistent with current attitudes and/or linguistic fashion (Cook, 2003[1]). Such “discoveries” can be seen as heralding in a new age for practitioners or even paradigm shifts for researchers. Whole new careers can be forged, exciting new angles on L2 learning revealed – and novel text book series sold by the thousands! Some teaching methods – such as TPR or Suggestopaedia – can be short-lived; others, such as the “communicative approach”, can become thoroughly regenerated into other methods. Yet others, as Michael Swan reminds us in his latest position piece for us (Language Teaching, 51.2 April), are regularly dismissed in their entirety as deficient approaches only for latter-day AL pioneers to uncover seemingly redeeming kernels of wisdom in their theoretical and practical bases. In the case of “Grammar-Translation”, for example, there are still many L2 learners who feel knowledge of grammar and L1-L2 equivalences improve their understanding of the target language and continues to satisfy a perceived need for going about “serious” language learning.

A similar picture might be painted of our research paradigms. In our embracing of AL as an essentially social science endeavour, we might be accused of being over keen to dismiss methodological approaches which smack too much of a “pure science” rather than a “social science” approach. Once again, however, we are witnessing a recent re-visiting of these previously out-of-favour research approaches.

Language Teaching is now at the forefront of a push for a renewed effort to recognise the contribution of replication studies to our literature. Replicating previous studies as a serious research methodology has only emerged onto the applied linguistics scene relatively recently; it has been a subject of interest elsewhere for much longer and has appeared as a fleeting subject of debate in the general social sciences literature for decades. Its feted re-appearance owes much to the concern expressed by many who depend on our research for its possible pedagogical implications and applications and who are rightly concerned about the presence of undetected error or the lack of confirmatory evidence provided across many of our empirical endeavors.

We may go back empirically to a study for several reasons, but that revisiting is predicated on the idea that no one piece of research (or researcher!) can include, or control for, all the many variables that might affect an 0utcome. It follows that a particularly important study only stands to benefit from such renewed attention if it can have its findings more precisely validated, its reliability focused on, its generalization tested, or even delimited, and its eventual application in learning contexts more finely tuned.

[1] Cook G. (2003). Applied Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Andrew Moody, Editor of English Today “The question of where Applied Linguistics is headed is a very difficult one to address because the field is already quite diverse. As a new editor (for English Today), I don’t feel highly qualified to be making predictions about the future of the disciplines that work within Applied Linguistics, but there are two developments that I have noticed as a reader and researcher in sociolinguistics and I think that these two are likely to become more prominent.

First, sociolinguists (and this is especially relevant to sociolinguists who are working with the English language) have become increasingly comfortable working with data that would traditionally have been discarded as ‘non-spontaneous’ or ‘not naturally occurring’. Data sources might include English-language media, literary texts or texts from popular culture. These texts show a rich interplay between local voices (ones that might be thought of as ‘authentic’ languages) and global voices, and the sociolinguistic analyses of these kinds of interplays and tensions (between, for example, ‘global English’ and ‘local English’) have grown in sophistication and cogency. Consequently, the relationship between language and identity — a relationship that all too often had been conceptualised as a simple and static one-to-one exchange between identity and language use — is a relationship that is increasingly being explored as more pluralistic, situated, complex and performative. I imagine that this trend will continue within the disciplines of Applied Linguistics for some time.

Secondly, I have also noticed within the space of my career in English sociolinguistics an increasing degree of comfort that teachers and researchers have when discussing ‘Englishes’, and the linguistic variation that is represented by such a term. When I was writing my PhD dissertation on Hong Kong English, the consensus opinion among scholars working in Hong Kong (with only a few very prominent exceptions) was that ‘there was no such thing as Hong Kong English’. The justification for that point of view was that the variety of English used in Hong Kong was a ‘learner variety’ and that this somehow negated or diminished any status that the language might have as a variety of English that deserved to be studied sociolinguistically. Increasingly there is a willingness to accept the existence and the status of varieties like Hong Kong English, Japanese English, Chinese English, etc. and to allow these varieties to be studied more fully as English varieties. I expect that this trend will also continue for some time within English sociolinguistics, and within applied linguistics more generally.”


Going to AAAL? Visit the Cambridge booth to browse our journals, pick up new books, and grab a few freebies! Even if you are not attending, visit our website for 20% off all books on display.

Announcing a brand-new Applied Linguistics Essay Prize

Language Teaching announces the award of an essay prize which honours one of the founding editors of this journal.

Applied Linguistic Essay Prize

Christopher John Brumfit (1940-2006) was Professor of Education, Head of the Research and Graduate School of Education, and Director of the Centre for Language in Education at the University of Southampton, UK. He was a former Chair of the BAAL and Vice-President of AILA.

In his obituaries of Professor Brumfit in The Guardian newspaper and in Applied Linguistics, Professor Henry Widdowson wrote that ‘[Chris] was both a defender and a critic of traditional values. Education imposed conventional constraints, but these had also to provide for the individual freedom of unconventional self-expression’ adding that ‘Rather than accept current ideas or conventional assumptions, he would submit them to scrutiny. This was the kind of non-conformist critical thinking that he encouraged his students to engage in’.

The essay prize that bears his name aims to reward evidence of such critical thinking, scrutiny of arguments for and against, and original thought.

For more information, please visit

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.