Doctoral studies at French universities

Many faculty at French universities receive frequent applications from international students wishing to enroll in a doctoral programme in France. Since different countries have different administrative procedures and also academic customs, here’s a short guide for students in humanities and social sciences at universities in France.

If you want to enrol in doctoral studies at a French university, you need to find an adviser to supervise your dissertation and a research laboratory to accept your application.

  1. You should also look at university websites to find research laboratories and faculty.
    1. You need someone who is professeur or maîtres de conférences HDR (meaning habilités à diriger des recherches). Sometimes maîtres de conférences who are not HDR co-supervise with qualified colleagues.
    2. You should also consider how your research project fits with the lab’s research priorities and with faculty members’ competences and research interests.
  2. Then you need a plan for your doctoral dissertation. This is a 3-5 page document with
    1. a proposed title
    2. a review of research already conducted in the area,
    3. an outline of your proposed contribution and a bibliography.

Your aim should be to show that you have prior experience in your chosen domain and that your proposed topic falls in an area of interest to your potential adviser and their research lab.

If this seems difficult to do immediately, students often consider enrolling in a masters programme first to improve their knowledge and skills in their proposed field, to learn about key terms and current research in the French context, and make contact with labs and professors who might be willing to supervise your doctoral project. It is often easier for professors to work students they already know and who have documented experience gained in local or national masters programmes.


Teaching English for No Obvious Reason: Abbott (1980)

Neil McMillan (@neil_mcm) of Animalising ELT and Serveis Linguistics de Barcelona put out a Twitter call to track down a reference to TENOR, or Teaching English for No Obvious Reason (Abbott, 1980). As a teacher educator for secondary school EFL teachers in France, and an applied linguist interested in language for specific purposes in foreign language settings, I am generally alive to the relevance of learner needs and learner objectives in different teaching contexts. (What are the needs and goals of French teenage learners of English, for example, and what are the implications for teachers’ use of authentic materials?) But I had always attributed the tongue-in-cheek TENOR acronym to Peter Medgyes, a fellow toiler in the foreign language vineyards.

On closer inspection Medgyes’ 1986 article does not credit Abbott, and the Abbott (1980) reference is a letter to the editor of the British Council ELT Documents series. Abbott (1980) is replying to Kennedy (1980), whose article seeks to rebut Abbott’s 1978 paper on ESP.  I was curious about this 40 year-old argument at the origin of an irreverent label which some in the ELT profession clearly still feel is relevant today.

How far should learner ‘wants’ be catered for?
Photo by Thomas Griesbeck on Unsplash

1. ESP learner needs and why they aren’t (Abbott 1978) 

Abbott (1978) is an intriguingly anguished piece on the difficulties and contradictions of designing and implementing what he calls ‘one-off’ ESP courses. He concludes:

Our response to the demands of ESP leads us to expend more energy and more resources in what appears still in many cases to be an act of faith. 

Abbott (1978: 103)

The article tackles a number of fundamental problems in ESP by asking a series of tricky questions. I quote these in order using Abbott’s original wording with slight edits to preserve the argument structure:

  1. Should the learner himself, and not his language teacher, his subject teachers or the ESP expert, specify his language needs? (98)
  2. How far should the learner’s ‘wants,’ as opposed to any externally identified ‘needs,’ be catered for? (99)
  3. Is it “necessarily the best policy” to “aim to capitalise on student motivation by being self evidently consonant with his needs’ (Philips & Shettlesworth: 1976)
    – if the subject is for any reason ‘unwanted’ the language tends to be ‘unwanted’ too (100)
    – the time and manpower involved in the production of ESP materials for ‘one-off’ purposes can become prohibitive (100)
  4. Might it not be possible to provide helpful materials which are not ‘special subject-specific?’ (100) because
    – publishers, local or otherwise, will not, after the first flush of enthusiasm about ESP, be willing to consider the small market provided by a ‘one-off’ market
    – unless the results of ESP programmes match up to the amount of money spent on [them …] the sponsoring institutions […] will be unwilling to continue to support such programmes or to sponsor new ones (101)
  5. Is it the ESP teacher’s responsibility to deal with content as well as its expression? (103) Are we to demand that every ESP teacher be a polymath? (101). Otherwise, 
    – if the teacher uses a text appropriate to the level of knowledge of his students, he may well fail to understand it fully (101)
    – if the teacher uses a lower-level text, the student may resent its content and/or doubt the linguistic relevance of such material (102)
    – can he be relied upon to supply the precise means of expressing unambiguously a statement acceptable to his students’ professional English-speaker peers and supervisors? And precisely how does he organise such practice? (103)

Abbott (1978)

A provocative paraphrase in modern parlance might be

'forget ESP because learners are fickle 
and teachers prone to burnout'

2. Harnessing the ESP juggernaut (Kennedy 1980)

Approaching all ELT situations from an ESP viewpoint
Photo by Orlando Leon on Unsplash

Kennedy (1980) explicitly seeks to rebut Abbott’s (1978) arguments, and specifically his claim that “ESP is in danger of becoming a juggernaut,” consuming “vast resources” although “basic problems still remain” (Kennedy 1980: 118). For Kennedy, the real juggernaut is EFL, and ESP the plucky upstart poised to shake up a bloated and increasingly irrelevant status quo:

There would be much to be gained by discarding the confusing acronyms which are in use (eg TEFL, TESL, TESOL) and approaching all English language teaching situations from an ESP viewpoint

Kennedy 1980: 119

Kennedy discusses learner needs, motivation, common-core versus subject-specific materials, before concluding that team-teaching between subject-specialist and language teachers is the best way forward.

He views Abbott’s (1978) concerns about market influences as premature and unwarrantedly pessimistic:

The two sectors, public and private, are coming closer in outlook, which is a welcome trend and one which hopefully should lead to cross-fertilisation of ideas and more mobility of teaching and research staff between public and private institutions (123)

Kennedy (1980: 123).

While I have made Kennedy’s first argument myself (Sarré & Whyte 2016, Whyte 2013, 2016), his second rings rather ‘early Thatcher’ and sounds either painfully naive or totally disingenuous in 2019.

3. Sucking lemons: TENOR and ESP

Abbott’s (1980) response to Kennedy (1980), as noted, is not a paper but a letter to the editor. It is this piece which provides our original reference to Teaching English for No Obvious Reason. Abbott defends his position against poorly thought-through ESP with much quotable elegance. On his criticism of ESP rather than EFL he notes that

to say that one lemon is bitter is not to imply that other lemons are not

Abbott 1980: 122

while regarding learner needs he offers the following clarification:

I do not wish to suggest that the customer is always right: I do suggest that the supplier may in certain respects be wrong

Abbott 1980: 122

I particularly enjoyed this gentle remonstrance:

I would just like everyone is the ESP industry to be more ready to admit that its processes are full of uncertainties and to be less prone to constructing pseudo-scientific justifications

Abbott 1980: 123

Hence Abbott’s jocular pseudo-intellectual coinage TENOR, which comes towards the end of the piece:

Teaching English for No Obvious Reason
Abbott (1980: 123)

The parallels with my EFL teacher education context are clear: the French teenagers my pre-service teachers are working with have similarly nebulous and no doubt heterogeneous ‘needs’ and ‘wants.’ What is interesting is that Abbott (1978) argues that the ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ of ESP learners, even advanced graduate students or professionals, may be less clearly defined, strongly felt, and thus deserving of priority attention than ESP experts are happy to acknowledge.

Bitter lemon


Abbott, G. (1980). ESP and TENOR. ELT Documents, 107, 122–4.

Abbott, G. (1978). Motivation, materials, manpower and methods: some fundamental problems in ESP. ELT Documents, 103, 98–104.

Kennedy, C. (1980). Fundamental problems in ESP. ELT Documents, 106, 118–26.

Medgyes, P. (1986). Queries from a communicative teacher. ELT Journal40(2), 107-112. 

Phillips, M., & Shettlesworth, C. (1976). ESP materials: a comparative case study. Paper presented at British Council EAP seminar, London.

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.

Whyte, S. (2016). Who are the specialists? Teaching and learning specialised language in French educational contexts. Recherches et pratiques pédagogiques en langue de spécialité, 35(3)

Whyte, S. (2013). Teaching English for Specific Purposes: A task-based framework for French graduate courses. Asp 63 (9), 5-30.

Video in language teacher education: ELT research paper

This open access publication from the British Council is based on the VILTE project funded by Warwick University and led by Steve Mann. As the title of the project and the report suggest, the focus is on the use of video in the education of language teachers.

I contributed to the project with some reflections on how I have used video in my career as a teacher educator: see my VILTE project interview, and my own blog post on Using video in the language classroom.

I also made a video about peer filming in pre-service EFL teacher education. The project had us contribute videos which are available on their YouTube channel and also provide supplementary written materials. My video and PDFs are available from this post and includes some of the rationale for encouraging an emphasis on task-based language teaching, peer collaboration, as well as the use of critical incidents in the education of new language teachers.

The VILTE project report runs to 48 pages covering a literature review, an outline of the case study method employed, a structured account of different uses of video for language teacher education, and some recommendations for teacher

Here’s the abstract:

The project Video in Language Teacher Education (ViLTE), funded by the British Council ELT Research Partnership Awards Scheme, was undertaken during 2017 and 2018. Its main aims were:

  • Aim1–to map the current use of video and visual media tools in language teacher education
  • Aim2–to build a community of practice among practitioners involved in teacher education in order to share good practice.

This report primarily concerns the first of these aims. The second aim is realised through the following
web resources:

ViLTE Project website (useful information, vignettes, transcripts of interviews, links, research team profiles)

ViLTE Video case studies (videos featuring various video-based practices).

The ViLTE Video case studies currently have 25 video contributions with more planned for the future. If you feel that you or one of your colleagues has a video contribution to make, we would be very interested in hearing from you. Please email here to contact us.

The project was conducted primarily through interviews with teacher educators supported by a literature review and document analysis. The literature review and document analysis were used to gather detailed information about video resources and practices. Semi-structured interviews were carried out both face-to-face and through computer- mediated communication with 45 teacher educators working in diverse educational settings.

There were two important ways that we established further interest in and contribution to the project:

  • A webinar held on 8 February 2018 through Adobe Connect, hosted by Tilly Harrison, featuring three speakers (Russell Stannard, Julia Huettner and Thom Kiddle).
  • A video-based resource with a growingnumber of video contributions. Andrew Davidson led the design and management of this resource.

The study uncovered considerable diversity in video use in language teacher education. The role that video plays in training is still primarily as input (to model, explain, prompt discussion), but there is growing evidence that digital media makes it possible for video to be used in increasingly active and reflective ways. The variety of possibilities that are now available to teacher educators can be explored on our ViLTE project video resource website where videos and supporting documents from a variety of contributors can be accessed.


Adopting open practices in schools: a CALL teacher education study

Webinar for Open Education Week 2019

Wed 6 March webinar facilitated by Teresa Mackinnon of Warwick University.

Jamboard here.


In CALL teacher education programmes, much effort is directed at helping new practitioners a) identify resources appropriate to their own teaching contexts, and b) design and implement activities appropriate to the techno-pedagogical affordances of the modern foreign language (MFL) classroom. The same is true of in-service workshops and teacher development projects, and in both cases, open practices may be encouraged to improve uptake and adoption of new practices (Zourou 2016). But what do we know of the effectiveness and durability of such training?

Our ongoing research seeks to investigate how teachers engage with open CALL practices outside formal teacher preparation programmes. It focuses on previous participants in CALL courses and workshops conducted by the author over the past 5-8 years in both pre- and in-service contexts. Pre-service training was conducted in graduate courses for future secondary school MFL teachers at a French university. In-service teachers at primary, secondary, and tertiary level were involved in occasional workshops, webinars or longer teacher development projects on CALL integration and/or open educational resources and practices in several European countries.

The research questions include:

  1. What kinds of practices and resources do language teachers typically use?
  2. What factors seem to influence teacher adoption of specific practices?
  3. What challenges and opportunities do these language teachers identify?


Webinar recording


Projects and programmes

  1. ITILT Interactive Technologies in Language Teaching
    28 month Lifelong Learning Project on language teaching with interactive whiteboards (2011-13)

    1. searchable repository of classroom video clips
    2. handbook for language teaching with the IWB
    3. selection of classroom clips linked to language teaching criteria
  2. ITILT 2 Interactive Teaching in Languages with Technology
    3 year project (2014-17)

    1. repository of language teaching tasks
    2. handbook on TBLT with technologies
    3. community of practice mini-guides on digital tools, resources, and networks
  3. Masters in Teaching English (University of Nice)
    1. Two-year programme
      1. M1: disciplinary courses (English studies – language and culture), classroom observation; national teaching entrance exams
      2. M2: teaching placements with tutors, teacher education courses; thesis
    2. types of research paper and popular topics
    3. classroom practice projects:
      1. peer filming project
      2. pragmatics
      3. telecollaboration
      4. YouTube You Teach
  4. In-service sessions on language teaching with technologies and open educational practices
    1. workshops and webinars
    2. research
      1. Whyte, S. (2016). From “solitary thinkers” to “social actors:” OER in multilingual CALL teacher education. Alsic, 19. [link]

      2. Whyte, S. (2014). Bridging gaps : Using social media to develop techno-pedagogical competences in pre-service language teacher education. Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité – Cahiers de l’APLIUT, 33(2):143-169.


  • Commonwealth of Learning (2017). Open Educational Resources: From Commitment to Action. Burnaby: COL.
  • Farr, F. (2010). How can corpora be used in teacher education. Routledge Handbook of Corpus Linguistics, London and New York: Routledge, 620-632.
  • Little, D., & Thorne, S. L. (2017). From Learner Autonomy to Rewilding: A Discussion. In M. Cappellini, T. Lewis, and A. R. Mompean (Eds.), Learner Autonomy and Web 2.0 (pp. 12-35). Sheffield, UK: Equinox.
  • Reinhardt, J. (2016). Preparing teachers for open L2TL: Frameworks for critical awareness and transformation, Alsic, 19: 1.
  • Whyte, S. (2016). From “solitary thinkers” to “social actors:” OER in multilingual CALL teacher education. Alsic, 19. [link]
  • Whyte, S. (2015). Implementing and Researching Technological Innovation in Language Teaching: The Case of Interactive Whiteboards for EFL in French Schools. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Whyte, S. (2014). Bridging gaps : Using social media to develop techno-pedagogical competences in pre-service language teacher education. Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité – Cahiers de l’APLIUT, 33(2):143-169.
  • 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. PDF
  • Whyte, S., Beauchamp, G., & Alexander, J. (2014). Researching interactive whiteboard use from primary school to university settings across Europe: an analytical framework for foreign language teaching. University of Wales Journal of Education, 17, 30-52. [link]
  • Whyte, S., Beauchamp, G., & Hillier, E. (2012). Perceptions of the IWB for second language teaching and learning: the iTILT project. In L. Bradley & S. Thouësny (Eds.), CALL: Using, Learning, Knowing, EUROCALL Conference, Gothenburg, Sweden, 22-25 August 2012, Proceedings (pp. 320-6). © Dublin 2012. doi: 10.14705/rpnet.2012.000074
  • Whyte, S., Cutrim Schmid, E., & Beauchamp, G. (2014). Second language interaction with interactive technologies: the IWB in state school foreign language classrooms. AILA, Brisbane.
  • Whyte, S., Cutrim Schmid, E., van Hazebrouck, S., & Oberhofer, M. (2014). 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
  • Zourou, K. (2016). (Ed). Social dynamics in open educational language practice. Alsic, 19: 1.

Quick and dirty e-mail lists: when your LMS can’t give you the group you need

You know the paradox: technology is everywhere, you want to update your students with information relating to your classes, your institution wants you to use an official platform, your students want access to course resources, they’re fact-checking you live during lectures on their smartphones, and yet … you can’t find an up-to-date list of e-mail addresses that your students actually check.

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Here’s my work around.

1. Create a sign-up form.

Here’s an example using Google Forms which anyone can edit and use. If you access the menu from the three vertical dots beside your account image (top right) you can duplicate it then edit your own copy.

2. Get the Link to Share.

Once your form is complete, you need the link to communicate to the students in front of you in your class. From the Send button get the Link to Share.

3. Shorten the link.

This link will be too long for your students to type accurately, so go to and use the orange Create button (top right) to get an automatically generated shortcode. You can even suggest your own:

4. Invite students to sign up.

Now you can share the link with your students in class and they can sign up directly using their phones. Tell them to open any browser on their phone, type in the shortcode and then fill out the form (carefully).

It will take less than 2 minutes for the first students to submit the form depending on their connection speed and general tech fluency, by 5 minutes you will have most and the stragglers will come in by the end of class or shortly after.

5. Access addresses

Back in your form in Edit mode, you can access the Responses in real time or after class. Use the green Sheet icon to open a spreadsheet where all the data is recorded in rows and columns. Now you can copy the column of e-mail addresses and e-mail the group.

Use the spreadsheet functions to alphabetise the list and delete doubles. You can also highlight typos in addresses (which bounce when you e-mail) to flag to the group next class meeting.

6. Update

Don’t forget to give out the address for the form in subsequent classes to add late arrivals to your list. I try to leave it top right on my whiteboard throughout class.