What counts as effective LSP communication and who is to judge?

In this paper I argue that we haven’t done a good job of understanding, interpreting and implementing the notion of communicative competence in language teaching. This is true for general language teaching, but also with respect to languages for specific purposes (LSP), in spite of an explicit foregrounding of communicative needs and communicative events in LSP teaching:

LSP is generally used to refer to the teaching and research in language in relation to the communicative needs of speakers of a second language in facing a particular workplace, academic, or professional context. In such contexts, language is used for a limited range of communicative events.

(Basturkmen & Elder, 2004: 672)

However, the original definitions of communicative competence encompass a richer conceptualisation of this notion than is commonly implemented, and these can usefully inform current teaching practice.

I look at how second language acquisition research has interpreted communicative competence, how teachers have done so, and finally how the notion has been viewed in LSP testing circles.

Oral assessment criteria: undergraduate English studies class on media and communication

Course page


Peer feedback

Assessment criteria (teacher)









Pronunciation 3 3 2 1-2 0-1
Grammar/vocabulary 3 3 2 1-2 0-1
Communication 3 2 2 1-2 0-1
Total 9 8 6 4 2
Bonus 0.5 or 1 0.5 or 1 0.5 or 1 0.5 or 1
Grade /20 18 16 12 8 4

See also The Moth task for another example of peer evaluation criteria.


Bachman, L. F. (2002). Some reflections on task-based language performance assessment. Language Testing 19(4): 453-476.
Basturkmen, H. and C. Elder. (2004). The practice of LSP in Davies & Elder (Eds), The Handbook of Applied Linguistics. Blackwell Publishing.
Canale, M., & Swain, M. (1980). Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing. Applied linguistics, 1, 1. PDF
Canagarajah, S. (2018). Materializing ‘Competence’: Perspectives From International STEM Scholars. The Modern Language Journal.
Clark, B. (2017). Aviation English Research Project: Data analysis findings and best practice recommendations. Civil Aviation Authority https://publicapps.caa.co.uk/docs/33/CAP1375%20Mar17.pdf
Corder, S. P. (1967). The significance of learner’s errors. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 5(1-4), 161-170. PDF
Douglas, D. (2001). Language for Specific Purposes assessment criteria: where do they come from?. Language Testing, 18(2), 171-185.
Douglas, D., & Myers, R. (2000). Assessing the communication skills of veterinary students: Whose criteria? In Fairness and validation in language assessment: Selected papers from the 19th Language Testing Research Colloquium, Orlando, Florida (pp. 60-81). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Elder, C., McNamara, T., Kim, H., Pill, J., & Sato, T. (2017). Interrogating the construct of communicative competence in language assessment contexts: What the non-language specialist can tell us. Language & Communication, 57: 14-21
Harding, L. (2014). Communicative language testing: Current issues and future research. Language Assessment Quarterly, 11(2), 186-197.
Hulstijn, J. H. (2007). The shaky ground beneath the CEFR: Quantitative and qualitative dimensions of language proficiency. The Modern Language Journal, 91, 663–667. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.2007.00627_5.x
Hymes, D. 1972. On communicative competence. In J.B. Pride and J. Holmes (eds.). Sociolinguistics. Harmondsworth: Penguin. PDF
Fulcher, G. (2013). Practical language testing. Routledge.
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Jacoby, S., & McNamara, T. (1999). Locating competence. English for Specific Purposes, 18(3), 213-241.
Kim, H. (2012). Exploring the construct of aviation communication: A critique of the ICAO language proficiency policy. Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Melbourne.
Kim, H., & Billington, R. (2016). Pronunciation and comprehension in English as a lingua franca communication: Effect of L1 influence in international aviation communication. Applied Linguistics, amv075.
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In support of Slow scholarship

This book by two Canadian humanities scholars makes the argument for Slow culture in academia as a means of restoring well-being and pleasure in teaching, learning, and research.


The authors encourage resistance to pressures introduced by corporate, neoliberal transformations of universities by drawing on the philosophy and methods of the Slow movement.

Carl Honoré makes the case for Slowness in our lives this way:

Despite what some critics say, the Slow movement is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. Nor is it a Luddite attempt to drag the whole planet back to some pre-industrial utopia. On the contrary, the movement is made up of people like you and me, people who want to live better in a fast-paced, modern world. That is why the Slow philosophy can be summed up in a single word: balance. Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for. Seek to live at what musicians call the tempo giusto—the right speed.

Honoré 2004: 15

Berg and Seeber draw on Honoré’s seminal text and an eclectic range of others, from Parker and Craig (2006) through Lodge (2008) to Collini (2012), in order to apply Slow principles to academic life. In a 2013 journal article which they use as the introduction to the book, they suggest

Corporatisation not only speeds up the clock but also compromises academic values. By taking the time for deliberation, reflection, and dialogue, the Slow Professor takes back the intellectual life of the university.

Berg & Seeber 2013: 6

The book has chapters on university teaching and research, and on collegiality and community. The authors describe their book as a manifesto, and indeed it is short, clear and positive in its recommendations. Not too much space is devoted to documenting the problem, already well identified elsewhere:

Universities are depressed […] they’re terrified and cowering and underfinanced and overexamined and overbureaucratised.

A.S. Byatt (Edmariam 2004)

Berg and Seeber’s diagnosis of the difficulties facing today’s academics rings true and will strike a chord with many. The authors show how experiences many may view as individual problems are, rather, part of a wider culture with far-reaching detrimental effects: time poverty in an audit culture, workplace loneliness, the “shadow CV” and academic shame.

But the authors go beyond handwringing to propose practical suggestions which, if not actual solutions, at least offer avenues to explore. (There is an interesting discussion of the difference between venting and whining, and why the former is necessary if the latter is to be avoided.) The chapter on pedagogy is perhaps especially insightful regarding teaching in the humanities, and the one on collegiality rejects the “network” view favoured in managerial approaches, instead arguing compellingly for a more human notion of community.

For me, the book is a rewarding read for a number of reasons. It puts labels on a number of key features of academic life that are either missing from or viewed quite differently in mainstream discourse. It offers a short but rich bibliography from a variety of sources for readers interested in following up on Slow culture, university reform, or academic fiction. And it offers an alternative vision of academia, with practical ideas for finding and maintaining the tempo giusto in our university lives.


Berg, M., & Seeber, B. (2016). The slow professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy. University of Toronto Press.

Berg, M & Seeber, B (2013) The slow professor: Challenging the culture of speed in the academy Transformative dialogues: Teaching and Learning Journal, 6(3). PDF

Collini, S. (2012). What are universities for? Penguin UK

Edmariam, A. (2004). Who’s afraid of the campus novel? The Guardian

Honoré, C. (2004). In Praise of Slowness. How a Worldwide movement is Changing the Cult of Speed. Harper Collins.

Parkins, W. and Craig, G. (2006). Slow Living. Oxford: Berg.

Lodge, D. (2008). Deaf Sentence. London: Harvill Secker.

Focus on form(s): principles and practice

The teaching of grammar is a frequent topic of debate among language teachers. Should we teach our learners the rules of grammar explicitly? If so, when and how do we do this? Or is it better to allow learners to pick up rules about the formal features of language in other ways, perhaps while they attempt to communicate, that is, focus on meaning? Sheen (2002) expresses this dilemma in these terms:

… on the one hand, there are those who advocate minimal to no interruption in communication, limiting attention to grammar by means of corrective feedback (Doughty and Varela 1998); on the other, there are those who advocate separate attention to grammar and subsequent integration of the knowledge provided in increasingly communicative activity (DeKeyser 1998)

Sheen (2002)

The traditional approach to language teaching has generally involved explicit grammar teaching, referred to by Long and colleagues as focus on formS, often in the form of teaching “the structure of the day” (Foster, 1999). Communicative approaches, in contrast, like task-based language teaching, put the emphasis on meaning. Here there are brief moments of focus on form_, where learners are encouraged to notice target language features, especially gaps between their own performance and L2 norms.


Romain Vignes Justin Peterson

Shintani (2013) provides a clear overview of the principles and pedagogical implications of each approach.

Focus on forms (FonFs)

FonFs corresponds to traditional grammar instruction where attention to form takes precedence over meaning:

“In focus on forms (FonFs; Long, 1991, 1996) language is broken down into discrete elements (e.g., words, grammar rules, notions, functions), which are then taught item by item in a linear, additive fashion. FonFs, therefore, constitutes a traditional approach to language teaching involving a linear syllabus, instructional materials, and corresponding procedures designed to present and practice a series of linguistic items. In this type of instruction, the learners’ primary attention is directed at linguistic form, but meaning is not excluded.”

Shintani 2013

FonFs can be equated with PPP.

In many current instructional materials, FonFs is realized in terms of present-practice-produce (PPP; Ur, 1996). DeKeyser (2007) argues that such an approach is ideally suited to older learners who have lost the ability for the kind of implicit learning that children are capable of.  However, PPP also figures strongly in instructional materials for children, including those who are complete beginners (Nakata, Frazier, Hoskins, & Graham, 2007). A key feature of PPP is that it seeks to elicit production of correct target forms right from the start as a means for learning them. PPP includes meaning-based activities as well as controlled production exercises, but when learners perform them they are likely to be aware that the purpose is not to communicate but to practice specific linguistic forms.

Shintani, 2013

Second language researchers and teacher educators disagree on the role of explicit grammar teaching in second language acquisition, with many researchers claiming that the intentional learning of explicit rules cannot transfer to the kind of subconscious language processing that we associate with the fluent, accurate, complex speech of L1 speakers and proficient L2 users (Long 2017). To develop this kind of proficiency in spontaneous production, incidental and implicit learning must take place. Long and colleagues suggest more subtle ways of promoting implicit learning by encouraging learners to notice or detect L2 features in the input they receive, that is, through focus on form_.

Focus on Form (FonF)

Shintani (2013) offers the following description of FonF:

In focus on form (FonF; Long, 1991; Long & Crookes, 1992) the primary focus is on meaning (i.e., on message processing) rather than on form. FonF involves an occasional shift of learners’ attention from meaning to a linguistic form and the meaning this conveys while the overriding focus remains on communicating. This shift can be triggered by perceived problems with either comprehension or production, and it can be initiated by either the teacher or students. A key feature of FonF instruction is that it emphasizes form-function mapping.”

Shintani, 2013: 39

In terms of pedagogical realisations, Shintani (2013) enumerates a number of options for instruction. These may by subtle or obvious (unintrusive or obtrusive), and can occur before or after communicative tasks (proactive versus reactive).

FonF can involve a variety of instructional activities. Doughty and Williams (1998) distinguish these in terms of the extent to which they are unobtrusive or obtrusive, “reflecting the degree to which the focus on form interrupts the flow of communication” (p. 258). Thus, input flood and task-essential language constitute relatively unobtrusive types of FonF, whereas consciousness raising and input processing are obtrusive. These types of FonF also differ in terms of whether they involve reactive or proactive attention to form. For example, FonF involving tasks will entail the use of reactive techniques that induce on-the-spot attention to form as the task is performed. In contrast, consciousness-raising activities are proactive, because they focus on features that learners are made explicitly aware of.

Shintani, 2013: 39

Long (2017) argues in favour of what he calls unintrusive input enhancement, citing examples of studies where salient features of the language presented to learners are emphasised by colour-coding affixes, or providing aural as well as visual input. The aim is to encourage the learners to detect these features, perhaps without even being aware they are doing so; in this way, their focus on meaning is not disrupted.

Finally, in the Shintani (2013) study cited, the author compared FoFs and FoF approaches to teaching vocabulary to young Japanese EFL learners, and found a specific advantage for FoF in one case, and no difference in another.

This study compared the effectiveness of FonFs and FonF by investigating both the process features of the instruction and the learning outcomes. Although both types of instruction were effective for the acquisition of nouns, the FonF instruction was found to be more effective for the acquisition of adjectives. Only the FonF learners developed the knowledge needed to use the adjectives in free production. The key differences between the process features of the FonF and FonFs instruction were proposed as an explanation for this difference in learning outcomes. That is, only the FonF instruction was characterised by contextualized input, the occurrence of negotiation of meaning, and student-initiated production.

The theoretical positions and empirical research presented here support a pedagogical recommendation to focus on form_ rather than formS. The arguments are, however, rather complex, and as Shintani (2013) shows, it is difficult to operationalise FonF and FonFs and measure their effects in real classrooms. More research supporting FonF, this time in the area of pronunciation instruction, is summarised in Saito (2012), recently reviewed for ELTresearchbites by Anthony Schmidt.


DeKeyser, R. (1998). Beyond focus on form: Cognitive perspectives on learning and practicing second language grammar. In Doughty and Williams (eds.). Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition, 42-63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Doughty, C., & Varela, E. (1998). Communicative focus on form. Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition, 1, 114-138.

Foster, P. (1999). Task-based learning and pedagogy. ELT Journal, 53, 69–70, https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/53.1.69

Long, M. H. (2017). Instructed second language acquisition (ISLA): geopolitics, methodological issues, and some major research questions. ISLA 1(1) doi.org/10.1558/isla.33314

Long, M. H. (1996). The role of linguistic environment in second language acquisition. In W. C. Ritchie & T. K. Bhatia (Eds.), Handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 413–468). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Long, M. H. (1991). Focus on form: A design feature in language teaching methodology. In K. de Bot, R. Ginsberg, & C. Kramsch (Eds.), Foreign language research in cross-cultural perspective (pp. 39–52). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: John Benjamins.

Long, M. H., & Crookes, G. (1992). Three approaches to task-based syllabus design. TESOL Quarterly, 26, 27–56. doi:10.2307/3587368

Nakata, R., Frazier, K., Hoskins, B., & Graham, C. (2007). Let’s go. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Saito, K. (2012). Effects of instruction on L2 pronunciation development: A synthesis of 15 quasi‐experimental intervention studies. TESOL Quarterly, 46(4), 842-854.

Sheen, R. (2002). Focus on form and focus on forms. ELT journal, 56(3), 303-305. PDF

Shintani, N. (2013). The Effect of Focus on Form and Focus on Forms Instruction on the Acquisition of Productive Knowledge of L2 Vocabulary by Young Beginning‐Level Learners. TESOL quarterly, 47(1), 36-62.

Ur, P. (1996). A course in language teaching: Practice and theory. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Dutch courage: alcohol and foreign language performance

In this post I summarise a recent study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology which looked at the effect of alcohol on foreign language (FL) performance (Renner, Kersbergen, Field & Werthmann 2017). The study was conducted by psychologists at Dutch, German, and UK universities with German L2 users of Dutch. It cites a 1972 study by Guiora, Beit-Hallahmi, Brannon, Dull & Scovel which found a moderate effect on FL pronunciation under the influence of alcohol.

In the 2017 study, the prediction was the opposite. Based on a hypothesised loss of executive functioning, L2 users would overestimate their FL abilities and underperform in a discussion activity after drinking compared to non-drinking controls.


Michael Discenza


The researchers present the rationale for the study thus:
“There are at least two possible explanations for the popular belief that alcohol improves foreign language abilities.
1) Alcohol might actually improve the ability to speak in a foreign language, that is, lead to actual improvements in foreign language performance.
2) Alcohol might alter bilingual speakers’ perception of their own ability to speak the second language, that is, lead to subjectively perceived improvements in foreign language performance.”
Renner et al (p. 2)

They designed a study to test these theories using a between-subjects design with two conditions a) alcohol versus water consumption, and b) FL versus arithmetic task. Interestingly, the predictions regarding all four hypotheses in the study – concerning the actual and perceived effects of alcohol on task performance – were disconfirmed.


The study compared participants who consumed alcohol or water and on FL and non-FL tasks (= an arithmetic task).

The two groups were controlled for age and gender (70% female) and informed they might be given alcohol. “Testing took place between 1.00 pm and 4.00 pm at a laboratory visually resembling a pub” (p. 4) and alcohol intake was controlled with the goal of achieving 0.4% blood alcohol level via rapid consumption of one vodka and lemon. Actual levels ranged from 0.2% to 0.6%. 
Subjects “were not explicitly informed whether their drink contained alcohol” nor “informed about the result of the breath analyser test” (p. 3). They participated in a 2-minute discussion with one experimenter (also blinded to alcohol/water condition).

Self-ratings of performance were obtained using mean response to the following 9 items on a Visual Analogue Scale of 0 (absolutely not) to 100 (very much).

  1. In general, how good did you find your Dutch language skills during the discussion?
  2. How comprehensible did you find your argumentation during the discussion?
  3. I feel that my word-pool was sufficient to engage in the discussion
  4. I feel that I had to keep looking for the right words in my memory to engage in the discussion
  5. I think that my pronunciation was clear during the discussion’ (reverse scored)
  6. I think that my pronunciation was unequivocal and clear during the discussion
  7. I think I almost always used the correct grammar during the discussion
  8. I think that my Dutch was fluent during the discussion
  9. In general, I think that my Dutch was very comprehensible during the discussion
Observer ratings were obtained using two Dutch-speaking raters who used the same 9 items and also assigned scores for pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and argumentation. The researchers also measured performance on an arithmetic task in each condition. Finally, self-esteem was gauged using a standard measure before and after the two tasks.


The hypotheses and findings were as follows:
  1. participants who consumed alcohol would rate their performance in the foreign language discussion more highly compared with those who consumed water, in line with the popular belief that alcohol increases the ability to speak in a foreign language
    Disconfirmed. There was no difference in self-ratings of FL performance between participants with/without alcohol.
  2. participants who consumed alcohol would receive lower observer-rated foreign language performance ratings compared with participants who consumed water, due to alcohol’s detrimental effect on executive functioning
    Disconfirmed. Participants on alcohol received significantly higher ratings, accounted for exclusively by higher pronunciation ratings.
  3. higher self-ratings in foreign language skills by participants who consumed alcohol would generalize to performance ratings in a non-language task
    Disconfirmed. Participants on alcohol rated their arithmetic performance lower than water drinkers, but there was no difference in actual performance.
  4. effects of alcohol on the subjective overestimation of foreign language skills (i.e. higher self-ratings in the alcohol vs. water condition) would be explained by a general overconfidence (indicated by self-esteem ratings) gained from drinking alcohol (‘Dutch courage’)
    Disconfirmed. Self-esteem rose after task performance, but there was no difference between alcohol and water groups (i.e. alcohol did not affect self-esteem)
The authors speculate their findings may relate to a positive effect of language anxiety

It is possible that a low to moderate dose of alcohol reduces language anxiety and therefore increases both one’s foreign language proficiency and one’s subjective foreign language evaluation. These explanations are speculative and cannot be tested in the current study (because we did not measure language anxiety)”

Renner et al, 2017 (6)

Limitations and further research

The authors acknowledge a number of limitations to this study. In my own view, the principal among them is the lack of proficiency measures beyond a) participant self-rating (the majority reported their level as “average” to “good”) and b) holistic rating of audio recordings by naive native speakers. The researchers suggest this increases the ecological validity of the study.

I would argue that to support a conclusion that moderate alcohol consumption can increase foreign language fluency, it would be useful to consider different

  • L1 and L2 pairings,
  • proficiency levels (measured other than by self-report)
  • blood alcohol levels.

It would also be useful to analyse L2 production for specific phonetic and acoustic cues associated with pronunciation, as well as other measures to verify lack of impact on other dimensions such as grammatical accuracy or lexical measures.

The link with language anxiety also seems relevant, as the authors speculate. This avenue of research is suggested by Horwitz in a 2010 paper (not reviewed in the Renner et al. study) where she comments on the Guiora et al (1972) study.

This early study that found its way into the popular press reported that students who ingested moderate amounts of alcohol achieved better pronunciation scores than students who ingested higher amounts of alcohol or no alcohol at all. Although the authors use the ingestion of alcohol as a proxy for a hypothesized change in ego state and increased empathy, it is more likely that moderate alcohol consumption relaxed the participants and hereby contributed to better pronunciation.

Horwitz, 2010


Guiora, A. Z., B. Beit-Hallahmi, R. C. Brannon, C. Y. Dull & T. Scovel (1972). The effects of experimentally induced changes in ego states on pronunciation ability in a second language: An exploratory study. Comprehensive Psychiatry 13.5, 421–428.

Horwitz, E. K. (2010). Foreign and second language anxiety. Language Teaching, 43, pp 154-167 doi:10.1017/S026144480999036X

Renner, F., Kersbergen, I., Field, M., & Werthmann, J. (2017). Dutch courage? Effects of acute alcohol consumption on self-ratings and observer ratings of foreign language skills. Journal of Psychopharmacology


Research for EFL teachers: French secondary school preparation

Recent reforms in French teacher education have led to the creation of new university schools of education (Ecoles Supérieures du Professorat et de l’Education) with masters programmes combining education sciences, disciplinary knowledge, pedagogy and also a research dimension. In the master’s programme in teaching English as a Foreign Language (Master MEEF Anglais), for future secondary EFL teachers, this research strand sits alongside English language and culture, EFL teaching, education theory and ICT. The initiation to research is offered during each of the two years of the programme, which integrates university courses and teaching practice. At Nice University, we designed a programme where an introduction to classroom research is connected with the two first-year teaching placements, which occur alongside university courses preparing for secondary school entrance exams (CAPES). In the second year, students conduct research projects in relation to the more extensive teaching practice involving university lecturers, secondary school practitioners and teacher educators.

The objective of the research component of the master’s programme is to help students understand

  • how language is learned in classroom environments, and
  • how teaching affects the process and outcomes.

This post offers background on second language classroom research for university lecturers and secondary practitioners to inform second year student research projects. We begin with a brief discussion of current second language research, followed by a presentation of the action research framework recommended for master’s research projects, and finally some of the the wider implications and future directions for this work are considered.


Bench Accounting

Classroom research in ELT

Second language teaching research

The learning and teaching of foreign or second languages has been the object of research in a number of different disciplines. Second language acquisition research in the field of linguistics is often dated to early work on learner language and learner errors in the 1970s (Corder, 1967; Selinker, 1972). It is also often associated with experimental designs using test and control groups, and statistical analyses, in order to test the effect of particular aspects of the learning environment on language learning, for instance. In language education, on the other hand, researchers have used discourse analysis to investigate patterns of language use in the classroom, for example, and to examine how teachers develop their classroom skills. Neither of these types of research seems appropriate to our students, however, because they have little or no training in research methods, and are expected to become classroom language teachers, not researchers.

However, it is possible and worthwhile for our students to conduct a different type of classroom research which can support their developing teaching skills and encourage reflective practice. This in turn may help them become more effective teachers who are able to adapt to new challenges and opportunities throughout their careers.

Action research

Action research is frequently attributed to Lewin (1946) and involves the teacher acting as a researcher in his or her own classroom by finding a question (or puzzle, or problem) to investigate, collecting data, analysing and interpreting the data, and then acting on the results, often setting off a new cycles of action research. For example, a language teacher might wonder why some learners in a class seem more motivated to participate in learning activities than others (Ellis, 2013). The teacher would collect data to find out whether this intuitive judgement is correct (e.g., by recording lessons, or making field notes, or perhaps involving the learners themselves), and analysing this data. Then the teacher can consider ways to make changes, and again measure the effect on learners.

Burns has written on this topic for researchers (2005) and for practitioners (2010). She explains the different stages of the action research cycle: plan, act, observe and reflect (2010) and the benefits for teachers and for the field (2005). Cook (2012) has further practical advice for novice researchers at graduate level.

Analysing learner language

To investigate the effects of second language teaching it is important to obtain some kind of measure of classroom activities by collecting and analysing data. Data collection can involve recording class activities or gathering samples of learner productions (spoken or written work). Data analysis then requires studying the learner language in these interactions or productions in a systematic manner (not just assigning grades).

The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA, University of Minnesota) has online materials to support teacher research on learner language. This resource identifies a number of orientations which teachers can adopt to analyse their learners’ language use; perhaps the most accessible are

Students often find data analysis particularly challenging and need support both with the rationale for this and methods of carrying it out. Tarone and Swierzbin (2009) provides a useful framework for this.

Masters research projects

Suggested approaches

For the research projects to be conducted in the second year of the master’s programme, students can start from a pedagogical question, as in standard action research, or replicate a published classroom study, or conduct a CLIL project.

Teaching article

Choose an article from a journal in the list below which addresses a teaching issue relevant to your learners. Read up on the issue starting with the article’s reference list, and use it as the starting point for your action research cycle.

Replication study

Choose an article from a journal in the list below which reports on research on an aspect of second language teaching which is relevant to your learners. Conduct a similar study with your learners.

CLIL study

Apply CLIL principles to a teaching unit on a literary theme or cultural notion which is appropriate for your learners. Working with your tutor and any other colleagues, plan and teach the unit, then analyse it using the critical incident technique described in Coyles, Hood and Marsh (2010).

Conducting and writing up research

I suggest the following framework for M2 research projects.

Research method

  • define a research question (problematisation)
  • collect data
  • analyse and interpret findings (two AR cycles if possible)
  • collaboration among student, school tutor and university tutor on definition of research question, method (classes, data) and analysis

Report format

  • in English, with French-English glossary
  • 20-30 pages (4-6000 words), double-spaced, 12 pt, table of contents, page numbers
  • structure:
    • abstract
    • keywords
    • introduction
    • background or literature review
    • method (participants, classroom context, data collection)
    • analysis/results/discussion
    • conclusion,
    • references (APA format, as in the present document)
    • appendices (lesson plans, research instruments)
  • oral defence with tutor(s) and another instructor: 10 minute presentation, 10 minutes for questions
  • evaluation on quality of project, write-up and presentation/discussion.

Future directions

Our work on master’s classroom research projects can contribute to our overall efforts for teacher education in the programme by supporting both novice teachers and their more experienced practitioner tutors. If thoughtfully conceived and carried out, student projects can also contribute to broader research in second (English) language teaching.

With this in mind, it is important for our classroom research to

  • draw on relevant recent research by language teachers and teacher educators;
  • define reasonable research questions which can be adequately addressed in the time available;
  • collect data in an organised and ethically appropriate manner (using participant authorisation forms and anonymising data);
  • write up and share findings with peers (past and future graduate students), colleagues (English teachers in the local academy) and stakeholders (inspectors, ESPE, university).

Sharing findings

Master’s in Teaching mini-conference

In Nice, we organised a day of Reflections on Classroom Practice in early June for first year students to share their teaching experiences using powerpoint presentations. We invited the students’ tutors and used these presentations as the basis for our grades. We used a similar format for second year student presentations, organised as joint half-day sessions including university and school tutors of all presenters.

Teacher education collaboration

We could also consider ways to build on second year master’s projects in Nice and Toulon by
organising combined research classes online (e.g., via the unice Connect platform)
organising outreach events with practising EFL teachers via inspectors and in-service training programmes
working with recent graduates and newly qualified teachers (T1, T2, T3) to continue professional support and encourage further practical research initiatives

Research collaboration

A final dimension to consider is collaborative research into language teacher education in our context. This is one area where I have done research with academic colleagues, graduate students and teachers (Cutrim Schmid & Whyte, 2012; Whyte & Alexander, 2014; Whyte, Cutrim Schmid, van Hazebrouck & Oberhofer, 2013), both in funded projects and independently. We might consider working together in similar ways with the MEEF students and tutors.

Organisations and conferences

Platforms for talks or publications include:

  • AFLA (Association Française de Linguistique Appliquée)
  • ARDAA (Association pour la Recherche en Didactique de l’Anglais et en Acquisition)
    http://www.ardaa.fr/ (colloque SAES (May)
  • EuroCALL (European association for Computer Assisted Language Learning)
    http://www.eurocall-languages.org/ conference (July/August)
    Special Interest Group in Teacher Education*
  • GERAS (Groupe d’Etude et de Recherche en Anglais de Spécialité)
    http://www.geras.fr/ colloque GERAS (March)
    Groupe de Travail sur la Didactique de l’Anglais de Spécialité*



Burns, A. (2010). Doing action research in English language teaching: A guide for practitioners. Routledge.

Burns, A. (2005). Action research: An evolving paradigm?. Language teaching, 38(02), 57-74.

Cook, V. (2012). Starting applied linguistics research. Retrieved 4 July 2014 http://www.academia.edu/4356490/Starting_Applied_Linguistics_Research

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

Coyle, D., Hood, P., & Marsh, D. (2010). The CLIL tool kit: transforming theory into practice. Coyle, D., Hood, P., & Marsh, D., CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning.

Cutrim Schmid, E., & Whyte, S. (Eds.) Teaching languages with technology: communicative approaches to interactive whiteboard use. A resource book for teacher development. Advances in Digital Language Learning and Teaching (Series editors: Michael Thomas, Mark Warschauer & Mark Peterson). Bloomsbury.

Ellis, R. (2013). Interview with Rod Ellis. Language magazine. Retrieved 3 July 2014 http://languagemagazine.com/?page_id=3843

Lewin, K. (1946). Action research and minority problems. Journal of Social Issues, 2(4), 34-46.

Selinker, L. (1972). Interlanguage. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 10(1-4), 209-232.

Whyte, S., & Alexander, J. (2014). Implementing tasks with interactive technologies in classroom CALL: towards a developmental framework. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 40 (1), 1-26.

Whyte, S., Cutrim Schmid, E., van Hazebrouck, S., & Oberhofer, M. (2013). Open educational resources for CALL teacher education: the iTILT interactive whiteboard project. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 27 (2), 122-148 doi: 10.1080/09588221.2013.818558

Open access journals

Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics / Revue canadienne de linguistique appliquée: http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/CJAL/index
English Teaching Forum: http://americanenglish.state.gov/english-teaching-forum
The Asian EFL Journal: http://asian-efl-journal.com/
TESL E-J: http://www.tesl-ej.org/

Online resources
Learner language (CARLA)

Foreign language teaching methods (COERLL)

Further reading

Spada, N., & Lightbown, P. (2006). How language are learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tarone, E., & Swierzbin, B. (2009). Exploring learner language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Internal report, UNS/ESPE Nice

S. Whyte, July 2014

New developments in ESP teaching and learning research

Our new book, New Developments in ESP teaching and learning research, came out 5 December. It’s an edited volume of studies in ESP teaching and learning, many conducted in France, but also including papers from Italy and Serbia.


There are nine chapters on issues ranging from course design and materials development to needs analysis, learner motivation, and evaluation, all in English for Specific Purpose contexts.

Our objective was to encourage research at the intersection between theoretical approaches to ESP, which are sometimes too abstract to be relevant to actual teaching practice, and practitioner reports, which, conversely, may be too dependent on particular contexts to interest those working in other domains.

Here’s the table of contents:

The book is available from research-publishing.net on an open-access model. PDFs of the complete volume or individual articles are freely available for download, and there’s a print-on-demand option for readers who wish to pay for a printed copy.


Research and language teaching: practitioner access to studies of instructed SLA

A topical and somewhat controversial theme arising in language teaching and language research circles concerns the relationship between research conducted on second language acquisition and learning and the practical concerns of language teachers. Just two examples from the past week:

Many teachers and teacher educators are concerned about access to academic research – see for example ELT research bites.

This post reports on another take on this issue, from a recent article in the Modern Language Journal by Emma Marsden and Rowena Kasprowicz (2017). It refers not to English language teaching (ELT) but rather modern foreign languages (MFL) in the UK, particularly French, German, and Spanish. (I am unaware of similar research in ELT circles, and of course delimiting a population of teachers and teacher educators is no doubt more complicated.)

samuel-zeller-358865Samuel Zeller

Foreign language (FL) educators’ exposure to research

The authors begin with a caveat that the goal of their paper is not to address teacher participation in research via action research, for example, but rather to investigate “the extent and manner in which research may reach FL educators in the first place” (p. 615). Conducted from the University of York, the study surveyed UK FL practitioners in schools and universities using two online questionnaires which attracted 183 and 391 respondents, and which the authors judged elicited responses from a large proportion of (particularly university-based) practitioners. The researchers found that

  • respondents accessed research via professional association newsletters and reports rather than academic journals or conferences;
  • school-based practitioners were much less likely to read about research than their university-based colleagues;
  • even university-based practitioners reported low engagement with research;
  • reasons given for lack of engagement with research included
    • lack of time
    • problems physically accessing publications
    • difficulty in understanding research.

The article contains a great deal of detail on the instruments and analysis which produced these conclusions as befits this kind of peer-reviewed international academic publication. The authors find their results “unsurprising,” though valuable as “the first evidence about the scale and nature of the (lack of) interface with research for non-English FL educators” (p. 624).

Indirect exposure to ISLA research

In the second part of the study, the authors examined indirect exposure to research through the practitioner-oriented publications most frequently cited in the surveys:

They note that over half the respondents (51.37%) did not mention any of these publications, so we’re looking at homeopathic doses in many cases. Nevertheless, the authors examined articles in these 7 publications which referred to research, and calculated the proportion of references to academic research on instructed second language acquisition (ISLA), compared to books, for example, or other types of publication.

Journals were selected if their Aims included the following terms: (a) (foreign OR second) language (learning OR acquisition) AND (b) (pedagogy OR practice OR instruction OR teaching OR school OR applied linguistics).

Marsden & Kasprowicz, 2017: 625

These are the ISLA journals thus identified. I have added links to home pages and copied relevant portions of their aims and scope, with the link to teaching in the third column. The authors also acknowledge that many of these journals include EFL/ESL research, not only other languages. (I suppose the inclusion of ESP journal and ELT research is a bit of a reach in this respect, though for those of us in ELT it does round out a very useful list.)

Applied Linguistics Applied Linguistics publishes research into language with relevance to real-world problems. first and additional language learning, teaching, and use … language assessment; language planning and policies; language for special purposes
Applied Psycholinguistics Applied Psycholinguistics publishes original research papers on the psychological processes involved in language. a variety of disciplines including education
Canadian Modern Language Review The Canadian Modern Language Review publishes peer-reviewed articles on second language learning and teaching. serving researchers and language teaching professionals interested in the learning and teaching of English and French as second languages (Canada’s two official languages), as well as the range of modern, indigenous, heritage, and community languages taught and learned across Canada
English for Specific Purposes topics relevant to the teaching and learning of discourse for specific communities: academic, occupational, or otherwise specialized teaching and testing techniques, the effectiveness of various approaches to language learning and language teaching, and the training or retraining of teachers for the teaching of ESP
Foreign Language Annals Foreign Language Annals (FLA) is the official refereed, scholarly journal of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). Dedicated to the advancement of language teaching and learning, the journal seeks to serve the professional interests of classroom instructors, researchers, and administrators who are concerned with the learning and teaching of languages, particularly languages other than English at all levels of instruction.
Intercultural Pragmatics Intercultural Pragmatics is a fully peer-reviewed forum for theoretical and applied pragmatics research. The goal of the journal is to promote the development and understanding of pragmatic theory and intercultural competence applied linguistics … second language acquisition
Language and Intercultural Communication Language & Intercultural Communication promotes an interdisciplinary understanding of the interplay between language and intercultural communication. The journal is alert to the implications for education, especially higher education, and for language learning and teaching
Language Awareness Language Awareness encourages and disseminates work which explores the following: the role of explicit knowledge about language in the process of language learning; the role that such explicit knowledge about language plays in language teaching and how such knowledge can best be mediated by teachers; the role of explicit knowledge about language in language use: e.g. sensitivity to bias in language, manipulative aspects of language, literary use of language. the role that explicit knowledge about language plays in language teaching and how such knowledge can best be mediated by teachers
Language Learning We seek proposals that address a theme or research methodology that will be of interest and relevance to the journal’s international readership of language learning scholars second, and foreign language acquisition, language education,
* Language Learning and Technology LLT disseminates research to foreign and second language educators worldwide on issues related to technology and language education. language education
Language Teaching Language Teaching is the essential research resource for language professionals providing a rich and expert overview of research in the field of second-language teaching and learning. second language teaching and learning
The Modern Language Journal The editorial mission of The Modern Language Journal is to publish “research and discussion about the learning and teaching of foreign and second languages.” promoting scholarly exchange among researchers and teachers of all modern foreign languages and English as a second language
* Porta Linguarum Porta Linguarum is an interdepartmental and interuniversity journal that was born in 2004 and specializes in foreign language didactics and bilingual education, articles will be more practical and their orientation will be more related to the L2 teaching and learning process in classroom settings
Pragmatics and Society Pragmatics and Society puts the spotlight on societal aspects of language use, while incorporating many other facets of society-oriented pragmatic studies. how language use and social normativity influence and shape each other, for instance, in education (the teaching and acquisition of first and second languages)
ReCALL ReCALL is the journal of the European Association for Computer Assisted Language Learning (EUROCALL). It seeks to … promote the use of foreign languages within Europe and beyond, providing an international focus for the promulgation of innovative research in the area of computer-assisted language learning and technology-enhanced language learning in education and training. education and training
RELA/Spanish Journal of Applied Linguistics The Revista Española de Lingüística Aplicada/Spanish Journal of Applied Linguistics (RESLA/SJAL) is the biannual journal of the Spanish Association of Applied Linguistics (AESLA, http://www.aesla.org.es). language teaching, LSP
Studies in Second Language Acquisition Studies in Second Language Acquisition is a refereed journal of international scope devoted to the scientific discussion of acquisition or use of non-native and heritage languages. the interface of acquisition and use with pedagogy
System This international journal is devoted to the applications of educational technology and applied linguistics to problems of foreign language teaching and learning. Attention is paid to all languages and to problems associated with the study and teaching of English as a second or foreign language
TESOL Quarterly TESOL Quarterly, a professional, refereed journal, was first published in 1967. The Quarterly encourages submission of previously unpublished articles on topics of significance to individuals concerned with English language teaching and learning and standard English as a second dialect. psychology and sociology of language learning and teaching … testing and evaluation, professional preparation, curriculum design and development, instructional methods, materials, and techniques
Vial–Vigo Vigo International Journal of Applied Linguistics aims at covering the different areas of study in the field of applied linguistics. foreign language teaching and learning, LSP
Computer Assisted Language Learning all matters associated with the use of computers in language learning (L1 and L2), teaching and testing Language Learning and Teaching Methods, four skills,
Annual Review of Applied Linguistics The Annual Review of Applied Linguistics publishes research on key topics in the broad field of applied linguistics. Each issue is thematic, providing a variety of perspectives on the topic through research summaries, critical overviews, position papers and empirical studies. language learning and pedagogy … language assessment
Applied Linguistics Review Applied Linguistics Review (ALR) is an international, peer-reviewed journal that bridges the gap between linguistics and applied areas such as education, psychology and human development, sociology and politics. first or second language acquisition
ELT Journal ELT Journal is a quarterly publication for all those involved in English Language Teaching (ELT), whether as a second, additional, or foreign language, or as an international Lingua Franca The Journal links the everyday concerns of practitioners with insights gained from relevant academic disciplines such as applied linguistics, education, psychology, and sociology.
IRAL in Language Teaching International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching (IRAL) is devoted to problems of general and applied linguistics Contributions are welcome on naturalistic and instructed language learning, … language for specific purposes, language technology,
Journal of French Language Studies Journal of French Language Studies, sponsored by the Association for French Language Studies, encourages and promotes theoretical, descriptive and applied studies of all aspects of the French language. Studies of the acquisition of the French language, where these take due account of current theory in linguistics and applied linguistics, are also published
Language, Culture and Curriculum Language, Culture and Curriculum is a well-established journal that seeks to enhance the understanding of the relations between the three dimensions of its title. It welcomes work dealing with a wide range of languages (mother tongues, global English, foreign, minority, immigrant, heritage, or endangered languages) in the context of bilingual and multilingual education and first, second or additional language learning. The journal also includes studies of language instruction, teacher training, teaching methods and language-in-education policy
Language Teaching Research Language Teaching Research is a peer-reviewed academic journal that publishes papers in the fields of education and linguistics related to the teaching of any second language The journal is a venue for studies that demonstrate sound research methods and which report findings that have clear pedagogical implications
Language Testing Language Testing is a peer-reviewed academic journal that publishes papers relating to language testing and assessment. research into the washback and impact of language test use, and ground-breaking uses of assessments for learning
 The study found a very low incidence of reference to ISLA journals in the professional publications: “on average a reference to any one of the ISLA journals occurred in approximately one out of every six professional articles.” The strongest links were between North American publications: the NECTL review cited FLA and MLJ articles more frequently than other professional publications and other ISLA journals. The authors consider this “a surprisingly and worryingly low proportion” (p. 629).

Lay summaries of ISLA research

What I like about the paper is that instead of handwringing, the authors finish the article with a strong call for action and detailed proposal for doing so. They firmly reject an interpretation whereby school-based practitioners should read research in the 29 ISLA journals listed, or conversely, that these journals should change their research aims. Instead, they suggest the introduction of journal-initiated lay summaries whereby journals and/or authors “reframe their academic publications into summary formats that are both physically and conceptually accessible to practitioners” (p. 630). Organisations like AILA and repositories like IRIS could play a role. The authors suggest that journals need to take the lead and cite the example of eLife plain language digests.
The authors are also careful to avoid suggesting unilateral influence of research on practice, suggesting that increasing practitioner exposure to research through a centralised access point to lay summaries can be helpful in a variety of ways.

If any potential pedagogical relevance is claimed (by authors or editorial mission statements), the research could better find its way into practitioners’ communities of practice, for evaluation by them. Looking even further ahead, it is possible that improvements in this dimension could, in turn, produce a kind of ‘washback’ that affects the aims, construction, and design of ISLA research itself.

And the reference to the original article, open access (at least for now).


MARSDEN, E. and KASPROWICZ, R. (2017), Foreign Language Educators’ Exposure to Research: Reported Experiences, Exposure Via Citations, and a Proposal for Action. The Modern Language Journal, 101: 613–642.