Top tools for learning 2016

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I recently responded to an online poll of educators’ tools for learning and saved my responses to kick off a class on learning technologies for language teachers.

These are my picks; here’s why. (They are all free.)

Getting started


LastPass is a password manager that saves your passwords online and lets you access them from one master password (the *last pass*word you’ll need from now on). It can generate secure passwords, but I don’t risk this (if you have connectivity problems you can’t retrieve these from memory). Instead I create my own passwords with a keyword system and save them to LastPass.

I suggest this as my first tool for learning because it’s the obvious first hurdle to using almost any platform, tool, or application and I find until students or trainees are confident logging in and out of multiple sites it’s difficult to build up confidence or expertise.

An associated tool is Xmarks, which lets you synchronise bookmarks across browsers and devices, which I also find useful for moving between machines, though if you share computers it might not be so relevant.

Google apps

Once you have your password manager set up, my next recommendation is Google Drive, where you have e-mail (Gmail), online storage (Google Drive), online wordprocessing (Google Docs) and spreadsheets (Google Sheets), as well as Calendar, Slides, and Forms (for online surveys, questionnaires, and tests). Also worth a look are Sites for building your own websites or getting learners to do so, and Communities for working with groups.

I find these work well for planning my teaching, administration (attendance, grades), giving feedback on student writing (Docs), or collecting links to sound files, for example (Forms). We have run telecollaborative projects on G-Drive, using a private folder to save student-teacher video selfies, with sub-folders for class tandems to share their learners’ productions and prepare collaborative papers and presentations.

If you have multiple Google accounts it’s worth associating one account with one browser (work gmail on Firefox, home gmail on Chrome, for example) to avoid problems signing in and out. I have never found the offline functionality anything close to effective, so only for use with good internet connectivity.

Writing and feedback

Google Docs

As noted, Google docs is useful for your own writing, but also for use with learners. They can edit their own documents, prepare translations in groups, or submit work for evaluation and you can set access to private (sign-in), public (no sign-in) or an intermediate option with files accessible via link (no sign-in).

I find the Docs interface (there is also one for Sheets, etc) less easily navigable than Drive. Also be aware that you need a computer for full functionality – on smartphones and tablets comments are not accessible, for example.


Evernote is very useful for taking notes offline and saving all sorts of bits and pieces which you can tag and sort into Notebooks or leave unorganised to search. The search function is great and it works offline. There’s an app for your phone but the free version limits the number of devices you can connect.

Collaboration and sharing


After Google apps perhaps the single most useful tool, Dropbox lets you save files and synchronise across devices. I use it to save teaching materials (slides, handouts) but also for collaborative research writing with colleagues in other countries. Accessible offline, syncs in the background, usable like a drive or folder on your own computer.

One thing to be careful about: the default drag and drop which copies a file from one drive to another in other circumstances moves the file on Dropbox. So if you download a file from a shared folder you delete that file for others. Doesn’t work well on an external drive; you must save your local version on your local hard drive.


This free website platform lets you make your own website with images, media, and other links very easily and intuitively. It has the advantages over Google sites of a) letting you create classes with your students’ names and e-mails, and b) making comments on pages easy to see.

Audio and video


For language teachers, you need the digital audio player VLC, which plays any format you can imagine.


This open platform is a good place to share audio files, which you or your learners can upload and save privately, share to a select audience, or open to the world. With adult learners you can outsource the recording (smartphones), uploading (SoundCloud), and sharing (Google Forms) so you can focus on the feedback.

Social media


I use the microblogging site to find and communicate useful resources for teaching (educator blogs, tools, pedagogical resources) and research (conference and journal calls for papers, new publications).

I save the references in my tweets to curated sites to help keep track, though the service for the free version of has fallen off and it may not be worth starting there now.

Low-tech classroom teaching

Finally, special mention for technology you can use in class without technology: with Plickers, learners hold up paper cards to answer pre-set or spontaneous multiple choice quizzes, and the teacher records them via smartphone.

Thinking in two languages

What language do you think in?


Folk views regarding the relationship between language and thought show interesting contrasts. Some feel they are practically synonymous, two sides of the same coin, or that language is a tool for thinking.

I see this quote attributed to Chomsky, but haven’t been able to track it down so far:

Language etches the grooves through which your thoughts must flow.

Einstein, on the other hand, felt that his thoughts preceded language:

The words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be “voluntarily” reproduced and combined.

(Read more here.)

Psycholinguistic research tends to side with Einstein in separating thought and language using models of speech processing the most widely accepted of which comes from Levelt.

According to Levelt’s speech processing model (1993, 1995, 1999), language is generated in a series of stages from conceptualisation, through formulation, to articulation, as shown below:

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Levelt (1995)

Levelt (1999) identifies these stages thus, ending with a monitoring process used both for our own speech and that of others:

Conceptual preparation
Alone, or interactively with the interlocutor, the speaker
generates a message, whose expression may affect the interlocutor as intended.
Grammatical encoding
The lexical concepts in the message will activate the corres-
ponding syntactic words (‘lemmas’) in the mental lexicon.
Morpho-phonological encoding
As soon as a lemma is selected, its form code
becomes activated. The speaker gets access to the item’s morphological and phono-
logical composition.
Phonetic encoding
Each of the syllables in the phonological score must trigger an
articulatory gesture.
The execution of the articulatory score by the laryngeal and supra-
laryngeal apparatus ultimately produces the end product: overt speech.
When we speak we monitor our own output, both our overt speech
and our internal speech.

Levelt, 1999: 87-8

There is empirical support for these models, as Levelt and colleagues have demonstrated.

What of bilingual speech processing? The explosion of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and the whole notion of linguistic relativity gave this area of research something of a bad name, but recently interest has revived and interesting work is being conducted on how events are encoded in different languages (Pavlenko, 2011; Schmiedtová and colleagues). I leave you with this short reference list and an intention to return to this topic.


Bock, K., & Levelt, W. (2002). Language production. Psycholinguistics: Critical concepts in psychology, 5, 405. PDF

Cook, V. (?). Thinking in a mind with two languages.

Dipper, L. T., Black, M., & Bryan, K. L. (2005). Thinking for speaking and thinking for listening: The interaction of thought and language in typical and non-fluent comprehension and production. Language and Cognitive Processes, 20(3), 417-441.

Levelt, W. J. (1999). Producing spoken language: A blueprint of the speaker. In The neurocognition of language (pp. 83-122). Oxford University Press. PDF.

Levelt, W. J. (1995). The ability to speak: From intentions to spoken words. European Review, 3(01), 13-23. PDF.

Levelt, W. J. (1993). Speaking: From intention to articulation. MIT press.

Pavlenko, A. (2011). Thinking and Speaking in Two Languages. Multilingual Matters. Google books.

Popova, A. (2016). What is creativity? Brainpickings

Schmiedtová, B. (2011). Do L2 speakers think in the L1 when speaking in the L2. Vigo international journal of applied linguistics, 8(2), 138-179. PDF

Schmiedtová, B., von Stutterheim, C., & Carroll, M. (2011). Language-specific patterns in event construal of advanced second language speakers. Thinking and speaking in two languages, 66-107.

Improving spoken English: intermediate/advanced


A new year, some new speaking classes for my students of English at a French university. It’s one thing to give students feedback on their spoken English, but what should they be doing to improve. Here are some ideas for students working with individual feedback in terms of individual sounds (phonemes), connected speech (stress, rhythm, intonation), and more generally.


The main problems involve

  • consonants in English that do not exist in French: h, th
  • vowel contrasts involving vowels not present in French
  • the s sound in plurals (present in French but not pronounced) and the third person singular of the present simple (he walks)

To work on /h/ try

To work on th, try

  • Sounds of American English (online or app) for articulatory information (voiced and voiceless lingua-dental fricatives)
  • shadow reading, paying attention to segments with th.

To work on vowel contrasts, try

You can also look at this interactive IPA chart to contrast, for example, a French uvular /r/ with an English alveolar one.

Connected speech

French and English stress patterns differ in two related ways

  • vowel length
  • sentence stress

In French, we don’t distinguish between short and long vowels – French vowels are generally all the same length. But in English, some vowels are longer and some shorter. In French, each syllable generally has the same weight. In English, there is quite a difference between stressed and unstressed syllables.

This means that French speakers of English sometimes have difficulty with sentence stress: transferring French intonation patterns means all syllables tend to be the same length (too short) and receive the same stress. Teachers might give feedback such as the following:

  • too many stresses: every syllable is the same length and has the same stress
  • clipped delivery: the syllables are all too short, with no long vowels/diphthongs
  • no weak forms: syllables are equally stressed, with no shortened, unstressed syllables

The sound schwa is the weakest unstressed sound, and also the most common vowel in English. Learn about schwa on the BBC Learning English archive from 2008 and also work on connected speech.

Another way of working on this is shadow reading. You need to find good audio with a transcript, then practice shadowing the speaker by reading along with the volume set low, so that you copy the way the speaker produces stressed and unstressed syllables. Read about this activity here.

Going further

You can read more about intonation in the form of nuclear stress or articulatory setting. Some students are uptalking – read about this here if you like.

But listening more will also help. You can listen to short extracts intensively, perhaps working with a transcript to identify particular sounds you have difficulty with, stressed and unstressed syllables, and other aspects of intonation. You can also listen extensively, to audiobooks, lectures and podcast with the goal of picking up speech patterns in a more subconscious manner.



Articulatory setting: an approach to pronunciation teaching

Buried treasure from the BBC (on ELF pronunciation): non-native accents of English.

H-deletion in connected speech


Interactive IPA chart.

Phonetics: the sounds of American English. How to use the site. (see also app)

Poetry Archive

Pronunciation of /h/ in English. ALERT Acquiring language efficiently: Research and teaching. Concordia University.

RP pronunciation. BBC English.

Shadowing and summarizing. YouTube lecture. Murphey, 2001.

Shadow reading. Habilitacioninglesmadrid.

Sounds of speech. University of Iowa app (Apple/Android)

Understanding nuclear stress. English as a lingua franca pronunciation.

Uptalk in the OED. Language Log.


Coloriage magique: on busywork and boxticking


Sometimes good ideas lead to disappointing applications. Bruner’s appeal for discovery learning as an alternative to “mere memorizing” (Whyte, 2011) brought “learning by doing” to teacher education programmes the world over. But it often feels as though our educational system is entirely geared towards doing rather than learning, and this is ultimately detrimental to learning.

Asked about her experience of ICT training in pre-service primary teacher education, a graduate some years ago reported feeling as though she had been given a stack of “magic colouring” pages (often distributed in French primary classes for arithmetic practice) at the start of the year, had worked steadily through them, and having completed everything successfully, nonetheless had no impression of having learned anything substantive whatsoever at the end of the year. I was reminded of this comment on reading a recent post by Hendrick on resisting fads and gimmicks in the classoom.

My impression is that the managerialisation of education has brought learners, teachers, and teacher educators alike to an almost exclusive focus on box-ticking. We all spend our time completing tasks designed more to show that work has been finished to standard, rather than on the content to be considered, assimilated, or reflected upon.

With respect to learner at the receiving end of classroom instruction, Hendrick (2016) argues against dumbing down by appealing to contemporary youth culture and passing fads:

By insisting that the only way kids can learn is by being distracted into learning, we are offering them a debased view of the process itself

The same writer also contests the conflation of motivation and learning in a 2015 post here, arguing

If [learners] are being motivated to do the types of tasks they already know how to do or focus on the mere performing of superficial tasks at the expense of the assimilation of complex knowledge then the whole enterprise may be a waste of time.

It seems to me that the magic colouring activity corresponds exactly to those two points: the “learner” is simply repeating operations already known to them (in the above illustration, counting to 5), for the dubious reward of an unrelated outcome (Pokemon picture).

In further criticism of death-by-colouring, Hendrick cites a 2015 post by Quigley pointing to research which suggests that student use of highlighters as a revision tool is less effective than other, more reflective methods. Quigley anticipates resistance from teachers reluctant to abandon such ineffectual yet reassuring practices and responds thus:

I have been given feedback by teachers that use highlighters regularly that it is useful for effective organization in MFL; that they work best for lesser able students English; that it makes things stand out more than the humble pen.  My question would be: how do you know?  I can assure you that I am not certain that the answer will be what I expect, far from it. The research may be poppycock when translated to your setting, but if [sic] we won’t know that if we don’t reflect on the evidence and question our methods.

In the university contexts where I teach and train future teachers, many of the questions students ask during lectures are related less to how the course fits in their overall programme of study, or how particular points relate to more general learning objectives, than to specifics of how the course will be graded and what kind of questions can be expected on the exam. Robert Duke has an interesting take on teacher responsibility in this area in his 2009 lecture Why students don’t learn what we think we teach.

It’s interesting that one answer to Quigley’s call for teacher engagement with evidence is one I find appealing: action research (which I’ve written about in Talking the talk and Online support for classroom language teachers, and Masters in Teaching English research project topics). But of course as my trainee teacher noted earlier, without a change of tack, even these projects can be reduced to so much busywork, a coloriage magique, and just one more box to tick on the way out.


Duke, R. (2009). Why students don’t learn what we think we teach. Cornell University.

Hendrick, C. (2016). Why fads and gimmicks should be resisted in the classroom. Chronotope,18/09/2016

Hendrick, C. (2015). Engagement: Just because they’re busy, doesn’t mean they’re learning anything. Chronotope, 22/03/2016

Quigley, A. (2015). Why I hate highlighters. The Confident Teacher. 17/01/2015

Whyte, S. (2011). Good questions. Learning and teaching foreign languages.

From ‘war stories and romances’ to research agenda in ESP didactics

A presentation at the ESSE conference in Galway, August 2016.

The European Society for the Study of English meets annually to share research on different aspects of English studies. This year there are 86 seminars on a variety of topics in the literatures, cultural studies and language varieties of the English-speaking world, including one on Teaching English for Specific Purposes (S14), organised by my colleague Cédric Sarré and myself with Danica Milosovic (Nis, Serbia) and Alessandra Molino (Turin, Italy).


In today’s networked world where English is a basic skill, essential for communication in many spheres of academic, professional and social life, the need to move beyond anecdotal, romantic views of language learning and use has never been more pressing. Master (2005) called for the field to build on empirical research findings instead of “war stories and romances” in order to construct a viable theoretical ESP framework, while Douglas (2010) sees a complementary practical need: “defining and refining the concept of specific purpose language teaching is an ongoing task for practitioners” (Douglas, 2010). However, terminological confusion makes this is a challenging enterprise for those involved in teaching and researching ESP. This paper begins with a discussion of key terms in ESP teaching, including didactics and pedagogy, acquisition and learning, applied linguistics and language education, with the aim of defining a current interpretation. Taking ESP in French education as our example, we explore the role of English in higher education (cultural studies versus specific purposes training; Braud et al., 2015, Whyte, 2013) compared with secondary school level (language and culture versus content and language integrated learning CLIL). The paper identifies research themes emerging from a range of contexts covered in a new special interest group in ESP didactics (DidASp) within the French ESP research association GERAS. The goal is to propose a new model for ESP didactics at the intersection of modern languages, languages for specific purposes and second language acquisition. The present paper offers first steps in this direction with implication for ongoing research in ESP teaching and learning.


Bhatia, V. (2012). Critical reflections on genre analysis. Ibérica: Revista de la Asociación Europea de Lenguas para Fines Específicos (AELFE), (24), 17-28.

Bowers, R. 1980. “War stories and romances: Interchanging experience in ELT.” Projects in materials design, 71-81.
Bowles, H. (2012). Analyzing languages for specific purposes discourse. The Modern Language Journal, 96(s1), 43-58.

Braud, Valérie, Philippe Millot, Cédric Sarré & Séverine Wozniak. 2015a. “Pour une formation de tous les anglicistes à la langue de spécialité”. Les Langues Modernes 3/2015, 67–76

Braud, Valérie, Philippe Millot, Cédric Sarré & Séverine Wozniak. 2015b. “‘You say you want a revolution…’ Contribution à la réflexion pour une politique des langues adaptée au secteur LANSAD.” Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité. Cahiers de l’Apliut, 34(1), 46-66.

Douglas, Dan. 2004. “Discourse domains: The cognitive context of speaking.” In Boxer D. & A. Cohen (Eds.), Studying Speaking to Inform Second Language Learning. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 25–47.

Douglas, Dan. 2010. “This won’t hurt a bit: Assessing English for nursing”. Taiwan International ESP Journal 2/2, 1–16.

Dudley-Evans, Tony & Maggie Jo St John. 1998. Developments in English for Specific Purposes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, Rod. 1997. “SLA and second language pedagogy”. SSLA 20, 69–92.

English for Specific Purposes. Journal aims and scope. <>.

Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays (Vol. 5019). New York: Basic books.

Hamilton, D. (1999). The pedagogic paradox (or why no didactics in England?). Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 7(1), 135-152.

Harjanne, Pirjo & Seppo Tella. 2007. “Foreign language didactics, foreign language teaching and transdisciplinary affordances”. Foreign languages and multicultural perspectives in the European context, 197–225.

Hutchinson, Tom & Alan Waters. 1987. English for Specific Purposes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hyland, Ken. 2006. “The ‘other’ English: Thoughts on EAP and academic writing”. The European English Messenger 15/2, 34–38.

Isani, Shaeda. 2013. “Quo vadis? Past, present and future aspects of ESP.” Book review of Paltridge, B. & S. Starfield (eds.), The Handbook of English for Specific Purposes. ASp 64, 192–198.

Kansanen, Pertti. 2004. “The role of general education in teacher education.” Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft 7/2, 207–218.

Kansanen, Pertti. 2009. “Subject‐matter didactics as a central knowledge base for teachers, or should it be called pedagogical content knowledge?”. Pedagogy, culture & society 17/1, 29–39.

Kansanen, Pertti & Matti Meri. 1999. “The didactic relation in the teaching-studying-learning process“. Didaktik/Fachdidaktik as Science (-s) of the Teaching profession 2/1, 107–116.

Kramsch, Claire. 2000. “Second language acquisition, applied linguistics, and the teaching of foreign languages”. Modern Language Journal 84/3, 311–326.

Master, Peter. 2005. “Research in English for specific purposes”. In Hinkel, E. (Ed.) Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning. London/New York: Routledge, 99–116.

Mémet, Monique. 2001. “Bref historique de l’enseignement et de la recherche en anglais de spécialité en France : de l’anglais pour non-spécialistes à l’anglistique du secteur LANSAD”. In Mémet M. & M. Petit (Eds.) L’anglais de spécialité en France : Mélanges en l’honneur de Michel Perrin. Bordeaux: GERAS Éditeur, 309–319.

Mémet, Monique & Michel Petit (Eds.). 2001. L’anglais de spécialité en France : Mélanges en l’honneur de Michel Perrin. Bordeaux: GERAS Éditeur.

Paltridge, Brian & Sue Starfield. 2011. “Research in English for specific purposes”. In Hinkel, E. (Ed.) Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning. Volume 2. London/New York: Routledge, 196–121.

Ryle, G. (1971). Collected papers, Vol. II. London: Hutchinson.

Sarré, C., & Whyte, S. 2016. “Research in ESP teaching and learning in French higher education: developing the construct of ESP didactics.” ASp, 69, 113-164.

Spada, N. (2015). SLA research and L2 pedagogy: Misapplications and questions of relevance. Language Teaching, 48(1), 69.

Taillefer, Gail. 2013. “CLIL in higher education: the (perfect?) crossroads of ESP and didactic reflection”. ASp 63, 31–53.

Tardieu, Claire. 2008. “Place de la didactique dans l’anglistique”. Journée d’étude SAES Caractéristiques et fonctions de la didactique de l’anglais, IUFM de Paris.

Tardieu, Claire. 2014. Notions-clés pour la didactique de l’anglais. Paris: Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle.

Trouillon, Jean-Louis. 2010. Approches de l’anglais de spécialité. Perpignan: Presses universitaires de Perpignan.

Whyte, Shona. (in press). “Who are the specialists? Teaching and learning specialised language in French educational contexts.” Recherches et pratiques pédagogiques en langue de spécialité, 35(3)

Whyte, Shona. 2013. “Teaching ESP: A task-based framework for French graduate courses”. ASp 63, 5–30.

Williams, Christopher. 2014. “The future of ESP studies: building on success, exploring new paths, avoiding pitfalls”. ASp 66, 137–150.


Applied linguistics, linguistique appliquée

I am an applied linguist in an English department in France and I work in French and English on instructed second language acquisition, classroom interaction, and teacher integration of learning technologies. A native-speaker of English with a PhD from Indiana University Bloomington, my baseline references are generally from the literature in English, and for some twenty-five years in the field, I have tended to subscribe to a view expressed by Widdowson (2000: 4):

people who call themselves applied linguists should stop agonizing about the nature of their enquiry, and just get on with it.

However, two decades in French academia have given me a fair perspective on relevant research in France, and have taught me caution when discussing my field. Many key terms show at best limited overlap in meaning in the two languages, and often have very different connotations. Applied linguistics and linguistique appliquée are one such pair. I thought I’d take a moment to tease the two terms apart, but as often happens once you start unpicking you can end up with quite a long thread (and in the end I converted this post into a paper). And it turns out, I am not alone in finding this a ticklish issue, even if we restrict our purview to a single language:

from time to time the underlying uncertainty about the scope and status of applied linguistics breaks surface […] the issue is a highly contentious one that raises quite fundamental questions about academic identity.
Widdowson, 2000: 4

A number of researchers have looked at the term applied linguistics (and its French counterpart linguistique appliquée) from a historical viewpoint (Linn, 2008, 2011; Smith, 2015), from a contrastive perspective (Berthet, 2009; Liddicoat, 2009; Véronique, 2009), and from an epistemological standpoint (Carter & McCarthy, 2015; Véronique, 2009, 2010; Widdowson, 2000). What follows is the skeleton and links for a paper you can read on ResearchGate; comments welcome.

Linguistics applied and applied linguistics

Widdowson (1980) drew a distinction between applied linguistics and what he termed linguistics applied.

The difference between these modes of intervention is that in the case of linguistics applied the assumption is that the problem can be reformulated by the direct and unilateral application of concepts and terms deriving from linguistic enquiry itself.

In the case of applied linguistics, intervention is crucially a matter of mediation. Here there is the recognition that linguistic insights are not self-evident but a matter of interpretation; that ideas and findings from linguistics can only be made relevant in reference to other perceptions and perspectives that define the context of the problem.

Widdowson, 2000

Applied linguistics and linguistique appliquée in Britain, the US, and France

Berthet’s chronology of the field in the three geographical spheres is the subject of broad agreement (Léon, 2015; Linn, 2011; Linn et al., 2011; Véronique, 2009) and includes the following institutional and academic milestones:

  • 1948 Language Learning: A quarterly journal of applied linguistics, Michigan (Fries)
  • 1957 School of Applied Linguistics, Edinburgh (Catford)
  • 1958 Centre de linguistique appliquée, Besançon (Quemada)
  • 1961 Etudes de linguistique appliquée, Besançon (Quemada)
  • 1964 Association internationale de linguistique appliquée [à l’enseignement des langues vivantes] (AILA), Nancy
  • 1965 Chair of Applied Linguistics, Essex (Strevens)
  • 1965 Association française de linguistique appliquée (AFLA)
  • 1967 British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL)
  • 1977 American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL)
  • 1980 Applied Linguistics journal (Canada/UK/US)

(And for a Canadian perspective, see Cobb, 2009, in French and English).


The French alternatives: DDL/DLC and RAL

In France, the disciplines of didactique des langues étrangères (DDL or DLE), sometimes also didactique des langues-cultures (DLC), and (recherche en) acquisition des langues étrangères (RAL, ALS) cover the second/foreign language learning and teaching aspects of what elsewhere is termed applied linguistics.

Didactique des langues – language didactics

Berthet’s motivation for his 2011 paper seems to be to explore why he himself, a “didactician,” that is, a researcher whose object of study is the teaching/learning of second languages, should not call himself an applied linguist, as is the case elsewhere and was in France in the past. He is a didactician, he adds, who wonders whether the time is ripe to reflect on the redefinition of his discipline.

Recherches en acquisition des langues – second language research

Véronique, an acquisitionist, identifies “a difference in objectives between second language research, a branch of linguistics, and foreign language didactics, a praxeological discipline” (Véronique, 2010: 82).


Overlapping terminology, intersecting interests

On this reading of some of the literature on second/foreign language learning and teaching in different research traditions in English-speaking countries and in France, I offer the following, somewhat tentative conclusions regarding the translation and interpretation of word pairs in the two languages.

  • applied linguistics/linguistique appliquée
    Applied linguistics is generally interpreted in broader terms than la linguistique appliquée, and generally accords more importance to research in second language teaching and learning. More recent French definitions acknowledge a broader interpretation and the place of second/foreign language research within la linguistique appliquée (CRELA, 2013).
  • linguistics versus linguistique / sciences du langage
    General linguistics is broadly synonymous with language sciences, if a somewhat narrower discpline; sciences du langage is no doubt an appropriate translation for many purposes. La linguistique in French academia tends to refer to stylistics and textual function, and viewed as a branch of the humanities.
  • second language acquisition (SLA)/acquisition des langues secondes (ALS)
    These terms are more or less synonymous, though SLA is viewed as part of applied linguistics, unlike ALS.
  • second language research/recherche en acquisition des langues secondes (RAL)
    as above
  • language teaching and learning/enseignement-apprentissage des langues
    These terms are synonymous; the field is concerned with language pedagogy, including methods, materials development, classroom practice, and assessment.
    These topics are covered in TEFL/TESOL  publications and textbooks on l’enseignement du FLE/FLES.
  • foreign/second language teaching research/didactique des langues (DDL)
    These terms cover language teaching research. The English expression includes language learning and comes under both SLA and applied linguistics in the English-speaking world. The term instructed SLA is also used, though a poor translation for DDL which generally excludes acquisition research. La didactique des langues focuses on theoretical models for language teaching and recognises neither applied linguistics nor SLA as parent disciplines.
  • foreign versus second language/langues étrangères ou secondes
    This paper has not discussed these terms, but they are also a source of disagreement and confusion. Second language may be used in English a) as an umbrella term for any language learned after the first, or b) restricted to contexts where the target language is the ambient language (e.g., French in Paris). In this second case, a foreign language is one learned in the absence of contact with the native-speaking community (e.g., English in a French high school). Thus researchers often refer to second language acquisition while practitioners talk of foreign language teaching. Since SLA is excluded from DDL, which takes the practitioner perspective, the term langue étrangère is more commonly used in French, particularly outside FLE/FLES circles.

And beyond these terminological notes, what answers can we offer to the question posed at the CRELA conference in 2013:

“What, then, is the situation in France today concerning applied linguistics? Can applied linguistics provide common ground and reduce fragmentation in the field?”

First, it seems clear that this is an important question about academic identity, and that applied linguistics should not be limited to “applicationism” or “linguistics applied.”

Second, we have seen that for historical reasons second/foreign language teaching research in France has for the most part been conducted in isolation from work in second language research and without reference to the broader field of applied linguistics.

Third, it seems that connections between French DDL research on one hand, and both applied linguistics and SLA on the other, are possible and no doubt desirable (Berthet, 2009; Véronique, 2009, 2010). All three have roots in traditions of research and practice in language teaching and learning that reach back further than we may realise:

The lesson from the history of applied linguistics is that research makes a difference when the desire to make a difference is built into the research from the outset and where the boundary between university research and the world where language is actually used and experienced is a thin and porous one.

Linn, 2011: 25

Read the full paper on ResearchGate.


Berthet, M. (2011). La linguistique appliquée a l’enseignement des langues secondes aux Etats-unis, en France et en Grande-Bretagne. Histoire Épistémologie Langage, 33(1), 83-97. [open access]

Carter, R., & McCarthy, M. (2015). Spoken grammar: Where are we and where are we going?. Applied Linguistics, 1-21.

Cobb, T. (2009). An applied linguist’s response to the linguists’ Projet de reconfiguration. [open access]

Corder, S. P. (1967). The significance of learner’s errors. IRAL-International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 5(1-4), 161-170. PDF

Cultures de recherche en linguistique appliquée. (2013). Colloque CRELA, Nancy, France. Appel à communication. PDF

Fries, C. C. (1955). American Linguistics and the teaching of English, Language Learning 6 (1), 1-22.

Histoire Épistémologie Langage, 33(1) 2011. Linguistique appliquée et disciplinarisation. [open access]

Galisson, R. (1994). Un espace disciplinaire pour l’enseignement/apprentissage des langues-cultures en France: État des lieux et perspective. Revue française de pédagogie, 25-37. [open access]

Léon, J. (2015). Linguistique appliquée et traitement automatique des langues. Etude historique et comparative. Recherches en Didactique des Langues et Cultures: les Cahiers de l’Acedle, 12(3), 9-32. [open access]

Liddicoat, A. J. (2009). La didactique et ses equivalents en anglais: terminologies et cadres theoriques dans la circulation des idees, Francais dans le monde: Recherches et applications, 46: 33-41. PDF

Linn, A. R. (2008). The birth of applied linguistics: The Anglo-Scandinavian school as  ‘discourse community’. Historiographia Linguistica, 35(3), 342-384. [open access]

Linn, A. (2011). Impact: Linguistics in the real world. Histoire Épistémologie Langage, 33(1), 15-27. [open access]

Linn, A., Candel, D., & Léon, J. (2011). Présentation: Linguistique appliquée et disciplinarisation. Histoire Épistémologie Langage, 33(1), 7-14. [open access]

Research cultures in applied linguistics. (2013). Colloque CRELA, Nancy, France. Call for papers. PDF

Smith, R. (2015). Building ‘Applied Linguistic Historiography’: Rationale, Scope, and Methods. Applied Linguistics.

Véronique, G. (2009). La linguistique appliquée et la didactique des langues et des cultures: une polémique française au cœur d’un débat international. La circulation internationale des idées en DDL, Recherches et applications–Le français dans le monde, (46), 42-52. PDF

Véronique, D. (2010). La recherche sur l’acquisition des langues étrangères: entre le nomologique et l’actionnel. Le français dans le monde-Recherches et applications, (48), 76-85. [open access]

Widdowson, H. G. (1980). Models and fictions. Applied Linguistics, 1(2), 165-170.

Widdowson, H. G. (2000). On the limitations of linguistics applied. Applied linguistics, 21(1), 3-25. [open access]

Zarate, G., & Liddicoat, A. (2009). La circulation internationale des idées en didactique des langues. Recherches et Applications / Le Français dans le Monde PDF

Teaching languages with technology: 2 reviews

9781623569334Two reviews of our edited volume on communicative language teaching with the interactive whiteboard (IWB):

Davidson Devall, K. (2015). Review of the book Teaching Languages with Technology: Communicative Approaches to Whiteboard Use. The Modern Language Journal, 99(4).

Guichon, N., & Merlet, E. (2016). Critique : Teaching Languages with Technology: Communicative Approaches to Whiteboard Use. Canadian Modern Language Review / Revue Canadienne des Langues Vivantes, 72, 1, 284–286 doi:10.3138/cmlr.72.1.284

Preview on Google Books

These reviews focus on different aspects of this collection of case studies from the iTILT project on the integration of the IWB in classroom foreign language teaching. Both pick up on Colpaert’s reminder in his foreword to the book that technology is only one aspect of the learning environment, and go on to highlight the pedagogical dimension of technology integration, and from there to teacher education concerns. Davidson Devall sees the potential of the volume to inform action research in IWB-supported language teaching, and for language teacher education with technologies other than the IWB, while Guichon and Merlet underline the importance of progressive appropriation of the technological and pedagogical affordances of digital tools.

This post offers some short quotations from each review, followed by a summary of some of our recommendations for teacher development given in the final chapter of the book.

Davidson Devall (2015)

This review in the Modern Language Journal considers its implications for teacher education “even in contexts different from those in the book,” that is, beyond the primary school classroom which is the focus of several chapters, and beyond the IWB itself.

As Colpaert states in his Foreword, “What makes IWBs [interactive whiteboards] very interesting is their unique position in the technological spectrum: on the one hand they feature a specific set of limitations and affordances, but on the other hand they easily fit within many learning environments as one piece of the puzzle” (p. xii). The editors of this volume seek to encourage further research and material development efforts for the interactive whiteboard by presenting specific applications and opening a dialogue for discovery learning amongst instructors and students.
As evident from the title, the book is intended for teacher education and development. The overview of the development of technology- enhanced language learning as well as pre- and post-reading reflective questions for each chapter provide excellent support for implementation in a pedagogical methods course.
the criteria for designing materials structured by Cutrim Schmid and Whyte could be helpful for use with other interactive technologies as they touch on “methodological principles,” “pedagogical activities,” “learner engagement,” “tools and features,” and practical considerations” (pp. 245–248).


Guichon & Merlet (2016)

This review is in French and appears in the Canadian Modern Language Review. It notes that the book aims to suggest avenues for pedagogical exploitation of the IWB based on research rather than simply promote this tool, and that one of the most interesting aspects of the volume lies in the recommendations in the final chapter for the training of teacher educators.

D’emblée, que ce soit par le biais de l’avant-propos de Jozef Colpaert qui déclare que « no technology, not even the [Interactive Whiteboard] , carries an inherent, direct, measurable and generalizable effect » (p. xii) ou dans l’introduction de Shona Whyte qui prend le soin d’ancrer la réflexion dans l’approche par tâches, le lecteur est assuré que l’objectif de cet ouvrage n’est pas de faire la promotion d’un outil, mais de proposer des pistes d’exploitation pédagogique d’une manière critique et informée par la recherche et les données empiriques.
L’un des aspects les plus intéressants de cet ouvrage est qu’il fournit des axes pour guider la formation de formateurs à l’utilisation du TNI dans la classe de langue (c’est d’ailleurs l’orientation du dernier chapitre). L’enseignant, dont le rôle primordial est rappelé, est invité à s’engager dans une réflexion pédagogique, cherchant à impliquer réellement ses apprenants dans les interactions. Est ainsi souligné avec acuité l’importance du processus de l’appropriation de l’outil qui ne peut se faire qu’en se donnant le temps de l’expérience et en mettant en place des projets de formation par étapes. Le processus de formation gagne à inclure des phases de réflexion, personnelle ou collective, à partir de pratiques de classe contextualisées et répondant aux besoins et à la réalité des enseignants désireux de s’approprier le TNI comme un nouvel élément de leur environnement et de leur répertoire pédagogiques.

Supporting teacher education for technology integration

In Chapter 8, our conclusion to this edited collection, we propose the following principles for teacher education.

Principles and guidelines for IWB-supported language teaching practice

In work on teacher professional development elsewhere, we suggest a number of principles for the design and implementation of IWB training (Cutrim Schmid & Schimmack, 2009; Cutrim Schmid & Whyte, 2012; Whyte et al., 2013). This section will review these recommendations in light of the findings presented in this book. The present volume includes studies of IWB teacher training courses in Belgium and Turkey, which revealed interesting aspects of the challenges and complexities involved in such endeavors. Other chapters have also dealt with this topic indirectly, since all studies contained an element of reflective practice, a component of continuing professional development in both informal and institutional settings.

Although most of these principles apply to the majority of technology professional development contexts, the examples given to exemplify the guidelines are drawn from IWB-based studies. This will help readers understand how these principles can be applied to their specific context. We suggest five key principles to inform the design and implementation of IWB training programmes.

4.1 Pedagogical framework based on theoretical foundation

IWB training programmes should have a sound theoretical basis and a clear pedagogical framework.

All chapters have emphasized the value of IWB professional development rooted in established language learning theory. From this perspective, the affordances of the technology with respect to teaching goals constitute the best starting point for an attempt to understand the potential of the IWB. The first question teachers should ask is not “What can I do with an IWB in my language lesson?” but rather “How can I use the IWB to support language learning?”

4.2 Contextually embedded professional development

IWB training programmes should focus on teachers’ immediate pedagogical needs and be embedded in the work teachers actually do.

In most chapters, the participating teachers reflected on IWB use that was embedded in their own practice. The pre-service teachers in chapters 3 (Kegenhof) and 4 (Sailer) worked in tandem with practicing teachers, but their reflection is based on the materials they developed and the lessons they designed and implemented in this collaborative context. This approach allowed teachers to experiment with ways the IWB could support and enhance teaching, thereby gaining a better understanding of the strengths and limitations of this technology.


4.3 Reflective practice

IWB training courses should create opportunities for teachers to reflect on their practice.

All studies presented in this book include an element of reflective practice, since participating teachers and teacher researchers were involved in critical reflection
through various means. The insightful discussions and recommendations provided by the participating teachers and teacher researchers in this volume underline the value of reflective practice as a powerful impetus for professional development, confirming much earlier work in this area (e.g. Mcniff, 1988; Bartlett, 1990; Wallace, 1998; Allwright &
Lenzuen, 1997).

4.4 Professional collaboration

IWB training courses should create opportunities to establish professional contacts and undertake collaborative projects.

Several chapters in this volume have dealt with the relationship between collaboration and professional development. Chapters 3 and 4 report on research projects within a larger professional development program for pre-service EFL teachers involving school-based research projects where pre-service teachers design, implement, and evaluate technology-enhanced EFL lessons in collaboration with in-service teachers (Cutrim Schmid & Hegelheimer, 2014). This type of professional collaboration has been widely recommended in the CALL literature to encourage the all-important integration of theoretical with procedural knowledge (e.g., Meskill et al., 2006).

4.5 Ongoing support for professional development

IWB teacher training courses should provide teachers with enough opportunities for gradual accumulation of knowledge and experience within their constraints of time and energy.

Although the majority of studies described in this volume do not have a longitudinal design, several authors emphasize the importance of providing teachers with the opportunity to construct knowledge gradually with the support of peers or trainers. In the area of materials design, we propose a list of 38 criteria for IWB-mediated teaching resources, organized in five main areas, which may be useful for teachers and trainers in developing and evaluating their own teaching materials.

Regarding classroom interaction, we suggest and illustrate a four-level interaction/interactivity framework which can inform the analysis of IWB-supported language teaching.

We believe that the language teacher plays a primordial role in effectively integrating IWB use in the language classroom, hence the priority given to high quality teacher education. Similarly, without attention to interactional opportunities both as these arise in instruction and through the careful planning of teaching materials, much effort devoted to IWB integration simply goes to waste. As Colpaert notes in his foreword,

“IWBs cannot generate a learning effect on their own, but they are indispensable cornerstones for creating powerful learning environments.”

We hope our contributions in this final chapter, together with the rich and varied classroom case studies in this volume, can inform and inspire language teachers throughout the world to make the most of this potential.



Allwright, D. and Lenzuen, R. (1997), ‘Exploratory practice: Work at the cultura inglesa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’, Language Teaching Research, 1, 73-79.

Bartlett, L. (1990), ‘Teacher development through reflective teaching’, in J.C. Richards and D. Nunan (eds.), Second Language Teacher Education. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Cutrim Schmid, E. and Hegelheimer, V. (2014), ‘Collaborative research projects in the technology-enhanced language classroom: Pre-service and in-service teachers exchange knowledge about technology’. ReCALL, 26(03), 315-332

Cutrim Schmid, E. and Schimmack, E. (2010), ‘First Steps towards a model of interactive whiteboard training for language teachers’, in Thomas, M. and Cutrim Schmid, E. (eds.), Interactive Whiteboards: Theory, Research and Practice. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, pp. 197-214.

Cutrim Schmid, E., and Whyte, S. (2012), ‘Interactive whiteboards in state school settings: Teacher responses to socio-constructivist hegemonies’, Language Learning and Technology, 16, (2), 65-86.

McNiff, J. (1988), Action Research: Principles and Practice. London: Routledge.

Meskill, C., Anthony, N., Hilliker, S., Tseng, C. and You, J. (2006), ‘Expert-novice teacher mentoring in language learning technology’, in P. Hubbard and M. Levy (eds.), Teacher Education in CALL. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 283-298.

Whyte, S., Cutrim Schmid, E., van Hazebrouck Thompson, S. and Oberhofer, M. (2013), ‘Open educational resources for CALL teacher education: the iTILT interactive whiteboard project’, Computer Assisted Language Learning, (ahead-of-print), 1-27.

Wallace, M. (1998), Action Research for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.