Language education in the tertiary sector: two reviews

I reviewed two recent edited volumes related to language teaching and learning in higher education, one focusing on telecollaboration or virtual exchange (O’Dowd & Lewis 2016), the other on languages for specific purposes (LSP), especially English and French (Sowa & Krajka 2017).

9781138932876Online intercultural exchange: policy, pedagogy and practice
Robert O’Dowd and Tim Lewis (eds.)
New York: Routledge, 2016
ISBN : 978-1-138-93287-6 (hardcover)
ISBN : 978-1-315-67893-1 (ebook)
308 pages




innovations-in-languages-for-specific-purposes-innovations-en-langues-sur-objectifs-specifiques_9783631719237_295Innovations in Languages for Specific PurposesInnovations en langues sur objectifs spécifiques. Present challenges and future promisesDéfis actuels et engagements à venir
Magdalena Sowa and Jaroslaw Krajka (eds.)
Bern: Peter Lang, 2017
ISBN 978-3631-71921-3
343 pages



The first collection focuses on different types of intercultural exchange made possible by technology:

“Online intercultural exchange: policy, pedagogy and practice, edited by Robert O’Dowd and Tim Lewis, deals with telecollaboration or virtual exchange at university level, including online exchange projects in foreign language education, research findings, pedagogical and technological guidelines, and practitioner case studies. Part of the Routledge series on language and intercultural communication under the direction of Zhu Hua and Claire Kramsch, the book includes three introductory and concluding chapters by the co-editors, and 14 chapters from 16 contributors both in Europe (UK, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain) and beyond (US, Canada, Australia, and Brazil)“. Alsic review

In my review I noted three interesting oppositions raised in several chapters

  • individual versus institutional initiatives: who is responsible for creating and maintaining online intercultural exchange?
  • actual versus virtual exchange: is study abroad necessarily preferable to telecollaboration?
  • successful versus conflictual exchanges: how can critical incidents shed light on important factors for effective teaching and learning?

The second volume gives an overview of teaching and learning French or English for specific purposes:

“The articles are organised into six sections: cross-linguistic dimensions, course design, tasks and skills, teaching resources, digital tools, and assessment. Each includes two to four chapters in French, English or both, for a total of seventeen articles (eight in French, nine in English) by twenty authors including practitioners, researchers, and teacher educators […] The authors in this collection are concerned with a variety of specific purpose domains, including business, law and social sciences, medicine and technical sciences, and academic or teacher preparation papers.” ASp review

In this review, too, I selected three common themes of interest to a wider readership

  • the essential role of the teacher in LSP, and the challenges of balancing language and content requirements;
  • a new focus on learner autonomy, particularly with respect to corpus linguistics approaches involving data-driven learning;
  • evaluation and assessment, which are important in course design and for institutional reasons, but also in LSP classroom practice.

Both books are recommended reading for those involved in language education at tertiary level for the wide range of practitioner voices which they include, and for their treatment of a broad spectrum of approaches, objectives and tools, raising interesting questions for colleagues working in different contexts and for stakeholders in this important area.




Teaching Academic Content through English: University of Bordeaux course

Last week I had the privilege of observing an English Medium Instruction (EMI) teacher education course run by the Department of Language and Culture (DLC) as part of the Défi international at Bordeaux University.


Official end-of-course group portrait with instructors and participants

Course overview

The course involved 14 academics from a range of disciplines (e.g., biology, sociology, material science) and 9 instructors (ESP teachers). It was organised over 3 consecutive days (Wednesday to Friday), 2 sessions per half-day (approximately 9-12h, 13-16h), with coffee breaks and lunch together and in English.

The team had the following broad course objectives:

  1. raise awareness of opportunities and challenges of EMI with respect to individual teachers, specific student populations, particular disciplinary content, pedagogical traditions, and institutional constraints;
  2. develop fluency, confidence, and motivation in the area of spoken English, and encourage participants to recognise their own strengths in mobilising existing competence for interaction in academic English, as well as offer avenues for future development;
  3. open debate on pedagogical practice in higher education and promote positive views of innovation and transformation.

Choices of resources and activities are motivated by research in various areas of applied linguistics and educational science:

  • Language (English) for Specific Purposes (LSP, ESP), EMI
  • Communicative language teaching (CLT) and task-based language teaching (TBLT)
  • Phonology and English as a lingua franca (ELF)
  • discourse analysis (scientific articles)
  • internationalisation and intercultural competence.

The pedagogical format involves the orchestration of numerous activities for pair, group, and whole-class work in planned sequences which are common to each session:

  • warm-up activities
  • introductory activities
  • core activities
  • plenary summaries (task outcome), and
  • group reflection (meta-analysis).

The 18-hour course was organised in 12 sessions, two per half-day, and tackling four main strands. Components of EMI instruction were addressed in the sessions on academic reading, understanding lectures, and asking/answering questions: three key components of university teaching and learning. Only one course unit directly addressed language skills (two sessions on pronunciation). The flipped classroom and student outcome sessions, in contrast, focused on pedagogical issues from teacher and learner perspectives respectively. The final teaching task involved microteaching, which participants prepared over two preceding sessions. The last session was the only one where they took the role of teacher.

This course on English Medium Instruction for higher education instructors in international programmes is built on a strong local tradition of LSP teaching and research at Bordeaux, and it has already attracted well-deserved attention at national and European level. For me, its key strengths are these:

1. Course design

The course is well-designed at macro, meso, and micro levels. The overall objectives are clear and appear to be achieved (to varying degrees) for all participants. Each session is appropriate for course goals and well-constructed, generally using a common template which helps participants understand and anticipate goals and requirements and so benefit fully from each, but also incorporating enough variety to reduce the risk of fatigue and disengagement. Particular activities are also well-crafted to allow opportunities for interaction, reflection, and more extended presentations in a range of class situations (pair and group work; whole-class work as student or as teacher).

2. Course materials

The propositional content of most teaching and learning materials (such as video of an academic lecture and a sample academic publication) were oriented to relevant specific purpose contexts (often hard sciences) or LSP/EMI pedagogy. This helped with face validity for participants, allowing many to make links with their own practice, but also experience comprehension difficulties with unfamiliar topics, as of course their students are likely to do.

3. L2 immersion environment

English was used almost exclusively by both instructors and participants. This was achieved by

  • using contiguous rooms for teaching and breaks,
  • a low participant to teacher ratio,
  • a very experienced instructional team, and
  • (one imagines) careful pre-sessional preparation.

4. Course delivery

It is a very well-oiled machine – the instructors appear to enjoy the sessions, collaborate and communicative effectively with one another, and share a common vision of course objectives and means to attain them. The atmosphere is unfailingly good humoured and relaxed, with a good balance between a) structured activities with substantive input and clear objectives, on one hand, and b) time and space for participants to express their own views, reflect on task content and pedagogical issues, and also focus on their English (personal and disciplinary) needs on the other.

5. Orchestration of group work

The instructors are particularly skilled in launching and facilitating group activities, both in practical terms, and with respect to interpersonal factors. All were adept at

  • organising participants efficiently into teams, mixing and matching according to language level, disciplinary background, and even temperament;
  • providing clear instructions and effective input, creating a relaxed atmosphere conducive to risk-taking and creative thinking, and
  • avoiding or defusing incipient interpersonal conflict or emotional difficulties, and generally reducing stress for all participants.

At a time when pedagogical innovation often involves blended learning and heavy use of classroom technology, the low-tech approach involving coloured cards, paper slips, and A3 grids used by the instructional team seems particularly attractive. It certainly proved effective in maintaining attention levels, and an L2 immersion environment, even among participants who were professional colleagues with low English proficiency and presumably well-established L1 interactional habits. 

6. Time for reflection and meta-analysis

These periods seemed especially valuable for encouraging participants to make the most of the opportunities for exchanging ideas and developing particularly oral/aural skills. Debriefing sessions where participants seemed unforthcoming were counter-balanced by insightful reflections in other sessions, suggesting that frequent encouragement to analyse and reflect on pedagogical issues created a “slow-burn” effect which is perhaps conducive to deeper learning.

I had some questions regarding various aspects of the course, including the team’s treatment of these dimensions.

  1. language proficiency (little or no explicit language teaching)
  2. applied linguistics theory (some discourse analysis, phonology terms)
  3. the pedagogical model used (task-based, but not completely)
  4. language feedback (little or none)
  5. participant agency (participants were generally students, and offered few options)
  6. overall course structure (content and order of course components).

I have to say, however, that this is one of the best EMI teacher education courses I have seen in French higher education. I’m encouraging the team to share their practice as widely as possible and to consider how it can be maintained and perhaps extended, given the current emphasis on internationalisation in our universities.

Indeed, the course seems particularly well-designed for its target audience and also very well implemented in all aspects. It covers an ambitious and wide-ranging programme in only 18 hours, and succeeds in establishing a highly effective and supportive immersion context for colleagues in a variety of disciplines and with a range of English proficiency profiles. Its particular strengths include active learning, language practice, and pedagogical reflection, which expose participants to many different examples of teaching practice and interactional styles and allow the team to address a number of issues, often in the course of a single session. The team is to be congratulated on the high quality of activity design, materials development, pedagogical collaboration, as well as on the sheer teaching craft and flexibility which are necessary to produce such a polished teacher education experience for all participants.


Some references that came up in discussion with the team.


Birch-Bécaas, S., & Hoskins, L. (2017). Designing and implementing ESP courses in French higher education: a case study. In Sarré, C., & Whyte, S. (Eds). New developments in ESP teaching and learning research,

Erlam, R. (2015). ‘I’m still not sure what a task is’: Teachers designing language tasks. Language Teaching Research.

Erlam, R. (2013). Listing and comparing tasks in the language classroom: Examples of Willis and Willis’s (2007) taxonomy in practice. The New Zealand Language Teacher, 39,7-14.

Jenkins, Jennifer (2000) The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, Jennifer (2002) A sociolinguistically based, empirically researched pronunciation syllabus for EIL. Applied Linguistics 23/1, 83-103.

Lightbown, P. M. (2003). SLA research in the classroom/SLA research for the classroom. Language Learning Journal, 28(1), 4-13.


Hancock, M. (1995). Pronunciation games. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Web links

ELF pronunciation:

UEFAP (Andy Gillet)

  • language functions (e.g., Spoken English functions)
  • language features (e.g., Hedging in Academic Writing)



And a seriously unflattering shot of me in seminar mode (see my talk)

Negotiating multimodal tasks with young EFL learners

Shona Whyte
Euline Cutrim Schmid

AILA World Congress, 27 July 2017, Rio de Janeira, Brazil


Workshop 14

  • B: Language teaching and learning
  • 9: Educational technology and language learning

Time: Thursday, 27/07/2017: 6:00pm – 7:00pm · Location: Queluz V

  • live video communication (VC) in English as a lingua franca in French and German primary schools
  • spoken interaction using interactive whiteboard (IWB), with large-scale class projection of an audio/video feed and screen-sharing of an IWB file containing movable objects
  • communication in small groups: one learner in each class interacted with a partner in the remote class, each supported by other learners in their own classroom
  • challenges of VC with young beginners: technical issues; materials and activity design; classroom implementation
  • frameworks for analysing classroom interaction and modelling technology integration which have implications for the language classroom and teacher education
  • analysing how learners exploit the communicative affordances of the multimodal VC environment multimodal discourse analysis: speech, gaze and gesture


Cognitive-interactionist approaches to instructed second language acquisition stress the role of meaningful exchanges in interlanguage development (Ortega, 2007); and in today’s highly connected world, such exchanges can occur via telecollaboration between classrooms in different countries. This study investigates the affordances of one such communicative opportunity: live video communication (VC) in English as a lingua franca in French and German primary schools. Spoken interaction between classes is supported through the technical affordances of the interactive whiteboard (IWB), with large-scale class projection of an audio/video feed and screen-sharing of an IWB file containing movable objects. The primary EFL classes communicated in small groups: one learner in each class interacted with a partner in the remote class, each supported by other learners in their own classroom. Previous research has highlighted the challenges of VC with young beginners in terms of (a) technical issues, (b) materials and activity design, and (c) classroom implementation; it has produced frameworks for analysing classroom interaction and modelling technology integration which have implications for the language classroom and teacher education (Cutrim Schmid & Whyte, 2014; Whyte, 2015). However, a close analysis of actual learner interaction is so far missing from this research programme, hence understanding of how learners orchestrate and exploit the communicative affordances of the multimodal VC environment remains limited. The present study seeks to address this shortcoming by investigating a series of short live exchanges between young learners in two VC tasks using multimodal discourse analysis (Collentine, 2009; Dooly & O’Dowd, 2012; Holt, Tellier & Guichon, 2015). Video recordings from each side of the exchange are combined and transcribed using multimodal annotation software. Analysis permits comparisons across learners, across tasks and over time of learners’ use of speech, gaze and gesture to harness different features of this environment in the negotiation of learning tasks.




iTILT-related publications

Cutrim Schmid, E. (2017). Teacher Education in Computer-Assisted Language Learning: A Sociocultural and Linguistic Perspective. London: Bloomsbury.

Cutrim Schmid, E. (2015). Bridging the gap between school and university in CALL teacher education. In Reis, C., & Santos, W. (Eds.). Formação de Professores de Línguas em Múltiplos Contextos: Construindo Pontes de Saberes e Agenciamentos. Coleção Educação e Linguagem. Campinas: Editora Pontes, 76-101.

Cutrim Schmid, E., & Whyte, S. (2015). Teaching young learners with technology. In Bland, J. (Ed.). Teaching English to Young Learners. Critical Issues in Language Teaching with 3-12 year olds. London: Bloomsbury.

Cutrim Schmid, E., & Whyte, S. (Eds.) (2014a). Teaching languages with technology: communicative approaches to interactive whiteboard use. A resource book for teacher development. London: Bloomsbury. [link]

Cutrim Schmid, E. & Whyte, S. (2014b). Ongoing professional development in IWB mediated language teaching: evening up the odds. In Cutrim Schmid, E., & Whyte, S. (Eds.) Teaching languages with technology: communicative approaches to interactive whiteboard use. A resource book for teacher development. London: Bloomsbury. [link

Cutrim Schmid, E. & Whyte, S. (2012). Interactive Whiteboards in State School Settings: Teacher Responses to Socio-constructivist Hegemonies. Language Learning and Technology, 16(2): 65-86.

Hillier, E., Beauchamp, G., & Whyte, S. (2013). A study of self-efficacy in the use of interactive whiteboards across educational settings: a European perspective from the iTILT project. Educational Futures, 5 (2), 3-22 [PDF]

Whyte, S. (2015). Implementing and Researching Technological Innovation in Language Teaching: The Case of Interactive Whiteboards for EFL in French Schools. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. [link]

Whyte, S. (2015). Capítulo 5 – Aprendendo a ensinar com a vídeo conferência em salas de aula de língua estrangeira do ensino primário (Learning to teach with videoconferencing in primary foreign language classrooms). In Reis, C., & Santos, W. (Eds.). Formação de Professores de línguas em múltiplos contextos: construindo pontes de saberes e agenciamentos. Coleção Educação e Linguagem. Campinas: Editora Pontes.

Whyte, S. (2014). Theory and practice in second language teaching with interactive technologies. In Cutrim Schmid, E., & Whyte, S. (Eds.) Teaching languages with technology: communicative approaches to interactive whiteboard use. A resource book for teacher development. Bloomsbury. [link]

Whyte, S., & Cutrim Schmid, E. (to appear). Classroom technology for young learners. In Garton, S., & Copland, F. (Eds.) Routledge Handbook of Teaching English to Young Learners. Routledge.

Whyte, S., & Cutrim Schmid, E. (2014).  A task-based approach to video communication with the IWB: a French-German primary EFL class exchange.  In Cutrim Schmid, E., & Whyte, S. (Eds.). Teaching languages with technology: communicative approaches to interactive whiteboard use. A resource book for teacher development. London: Bloomsbury. [link]

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., Cutrim Schmid, E., & Beauchamp, G. (2014). Second language interaction with interactive technologies: the IWB in state school foreign language classrooms. AILA World Congress, 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

Whyte, S. (2013). Orchestrating learning in the language classroom: the IWB as digital dashboard. Babylonia, 2013(3), 55-61. [link]

Whyte, S. (2011). Learning to teach with videoconferencing in primary foreign language classrooms. ReCALL, 23(3), 271-293.


CALL and CMC references

Caws, C., & Hamel, M. J. (2017). Learner Computer Interactions: New insights on CALL theories and applications. Philadelphia, PA: Benjamins.

Chapelle, C. (1998). Multimedia CALL: Lessons to be learned from research on instructed SLA. Language Learning & Technology, 2(1), 21-39. PDF

Chun, D., Kern, R., & Smith, B. (2016). Technology in language use, language teaching, and language learning. The Modern Language Journal, 100(S1), 64-80. PDF 

Collentine, K. (2009). Learner use of holistic language units in multimodal, task-based synchronous computer-mediated communication. Language Learning and Technology, 13(2), 68-87. PDF

Corona, V. (2017). An ethnographic approach to the study of linguistic varieties used by young Latin Americans in Barcelona. Qualitative approaches to research on plurilingual education, 170-188. PDF

Doughty, C., & Long, M. (2003). Optimal psycholinguistic environments for distance foreign language learning. Language Learning & Technology, 7(3), 50-80.

Guichon, N. , & Cohen, C. (2016). Multimodality and CALL. In F. Farr & L. Murray (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of language learning and technology (pp. 509 – 521). Abingdon, UK : Routledge.

Guichon, N. , & Wigham, C. R. (2016). A semiotic perspective on webconferencing supported language teaching. ReCALL , 28 (1), 62 – 82.

Helm, F., & Dooly, M. (2017). Challenges in transcribing multimodal data: a case study. Language learning & technology, 21(1), 166-185.

Holt, B.,  Tellier, M., & Guichon, N. (2015). The use of teaching gestures in an online multimodal environment: the case of incomprehension sequences. Gesture and Speech in Interaction 4th Edition, Sep 2015, Nantes, France.

Moore, E., & Dooly, M. (Eds.). (2017). Qualitative approaches to research on plurilingual education/Enfocaments qualitatius per a la recerca en educació plurilingüe/Enfoques cualitativos para la investigación en educación plurilingüe. PDF

Smith, B. (2017). Methodological innovation in call research and its role in SLA. Language Learning and Technology, 21(1), 1-3.




Innovation in language learning/teaching research in France (1964-2013)

Applied linguistics versus linguistique appliquée : innovation in language learning/teaching research in France (1964-2013)
Research Network 2
Tuesday, 25/Jul/2017: 10:15am – 7:00pm
Location: Queluz II
Richard Smith (University of Warwick), Giovanni Iamartino (University of Milan)


Aubin S. (2016). Bibliographie récapitulative de Robert Galisson. In Ferrao Tavares, C., & Cortès, J. (2016). Synergies Portugal, Revue du GERFLINT, 4: 195-9.
Ayoun, D. (Ed.). (2007). French applied linguistics. John Benjamins Publishing.
Chiss, J-L., (2010). Linguistique française et enseignement du français (de l’EPPFE à l’UFR DFLE) : l’épreuve de l’étranger, Documents pour l’histoire du français langue étrangère ou seconde, 44: 129-140.
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.
Berthet, M. (2010). De l’IPFE à l’UFR de didactique du français langue étrangère. Enjeux disciplinaires et institutionnels (1960-2000) », Documents pour l’histoire du français langue étrangère ou seconde
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.
Cultures de recherche en linguistique appliquée. (2013). Colloque CRELA, Nancy, France. Appel à communication. PDF
Culioli, A. (2000). La théorie des opérations énonciatives. Conférence Université Toulouse 2 Le Mirail.
Davies, A (2004). Corder, Stephen Pit (1918–1990). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press
De Bot, K. (2015). A history of applied linguistics: From 1980 to the present. Routledge.
Ferrao Tavares, C., & Cortès, J. (2016). Avec Robert Galisson, réhabiliter la Culture comme discipline universitaire à part entière. Synergies Portugal, Revue du GERFLINT, 4.
Fries, C. C. (1955). American Linguistics and the teaching of English, Language Learning 6 (1), 1-22.
Galisson, R. (1985). Didactologies et idéologies, Études de linguistique appliquée 60, 5-16.
Galisson, R.  (1988). La didactique des langues secondes : une discipline autonome ? Bulletin de l’ACLA 10 / 2, 99-106.
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]
Galisson, R.  (1997). Les concepts fondateurs de la didactologie sont-ils passeurs de gué légitimes ? Etudes de linguistique appliquée 105, 73-92.
Galisson, R.  (1998). A la recherche de l’éthique dans les disciplines d’intervention. De l’éthique en didactique des langues étrangères », Etudes de linguistique appliquée109, 83-127.
Germain, C. (2010). Didactique générale, didactique des langues et linguistique appliquée. Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics/Revue canadienne de linguistique appliquée, 3(1-2), 23-33.
Gregg, K. (1996). Taking explanation seriously: Or, let a couple of flowers bloom. Applied linguistics, 14: 276-94.
Gregg, K. R. (1989). Second language acquisition theory: the case for a generative perspective . In S. M. Gass and J. Schachter (eds), Linguistic Perspectives on Second Language Acquisition, 15-40. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Histoire Épistémologie Langage, 33(1) 2011. Linguistique appliquée et disciplinarisation. [open access]
Lantolf, J. P. (1996). SLA theory building:“Letting all the flowers bloom!”. Language Learning, 46(4), 713-749.
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.
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.
Linn, A. R. (2008). The birth of applied linguistics: The Anglo-Scandinavian school as  ‘discourse community’. Historiographia Linguistica, 35(3), 342-384.
Linn, A. (2011). Impact: Linguistics in the real world. Histoire Épistémologie Langage, 33(1), 15-27.
Linn, A., Candel, D., & Léon, J. (2011). Présentation: Linguistique appliquée et disciplinarisation. Histoire Épistémologie Langage, 33(1), 7-14.
Long, M. (2017). Instructed second language acquisition (ISLA): geopolitics, methodological issues, and some major research questions. Instructed second language acquisition, 1 (1): 7-44.  PDF
Moulin, M., Odin, H., & Bouscaren, J. (1996). Pratique raisonnée de la langue: initiation à une grammaire de l’énonciation pour l’étude et l’enseignement de l’anglais. Editions OPHRYS.
Research cultures in applied linguistics. (2013). Colloque CRELA, Nancy, France. Call for papers. PDF
Schwerdtfeger, Inge C. (2003): „Der europäische Referenzrahmen – oder: Das Ende der Erforschung des Sprachenlernens?“, in: Bausch, Karl-Richard et al. (eds.), pp. 173-179. Der Gemeinsame Europäische Referenzrahmen für Sprachen in der Diskussion.
Smith, R. (2015). Building ‘Applied Linguistic Historiography’: Rationale, Scope, and Methods. Applied Linguistics.
Smith, R., & McLelland, N. (2014). An interview with John Trim (1924–2013) on the history of modern language learning and teaching. Language & History, 57(1), 10-25.
Tarone, E. (2015). Second language acquisition in applied linguistics: 1925–2015 and beyond. Applied Linguistics, 36(4), 444-453.
Valdman, A. (2004). Reflexions sur L’histoire de l’AILA. AILA Review, 17(1), 2-5.
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.
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.
Widdowson, H. G. (2000). On the limitations of linguistics applied. Applied linguistics, 21(1), 3-25.
Widdowson, H. (1990). In memoriam Pit Corder. Applied Linguistics,11 (4): 321-s-321. doi: 10.1093/applin/11.4.321-s
Widdowson, H. G. (1980). Models and fictions. Applied Linguistics, 1(2), 165-170.
Wyss, A. (2002). Présentation de M. Antoine Culioli. Dies academicus, Université de Lausanne.
Zarate, G., & Liddicoat, A. (2009). La circulation internationale des idées en didactique des langues. Recherches et Applications / Le Français dans le Monde PDF

The task of teaching

I was at the American University of Paris yesterday on a beautiful day in a beautiful part of the city.

FullSizeRender 49

I was invited to talk about pedagogical innovation by integrating technology in the language class; AUP is a liberal arts college with an international study body and students learn French as the host language and academic English for their studies.

I ran a workshop in French taking an OER perspective on task-based language teaching with technologies, with activities focusing on both specific teaching ideas and particular digital tools.

More interesting for me were subsequent discussions with AUP and visiting faculty on more general issues concerning pedagogy and the changing roles of teachers and students in university teaching. Two themes emerged for me: motivation for learning, and general objectives for teaching.

Delayed gratification?

Who is responsible for student motivation and learning?

Some faculty feel quite strongly that it is up to students to find a way into the course content that is presented to them. The consensus among those discussing this yesterday was that instructors have some responsibility in this both in the way they present material and the assignments they set their students.

I was reminded of A.N. Whitehead’s three-stage model of learning, where he recommends teachers try to keep three balls in the air at all times: a “romantic” or big-picture reminder of what a class is trying to achieve and why it matters, “precision” or practice activities that help students develop essential skills and understanding, and a “generalisation” phrase where their attention is drawn to how these new skills are already bringing them closer to their big-picture goals.

I have applied this model to language teaching in a talk on “digital pencil sharpening” (see slides 20 through 36 for the section on general teaching and learning). I believe Whitehead was on to something when he complained that too much teaching spends too long on low-level information, skills and practice, and does so in isolation from what we might term pre- and post-practice reflection, which would help learners make sense of the drudgery.

Other university educators have taken a similar stance. The mathematician Paul Halmos provided the pencil-sharpening metaphor to refer to our tendency to procrastinate in order to avoid intellectually challenging work. I think this also applies to classroom contexts when we fill our syllabus with basic texts and boilerplate assignments to provide “background” which we see as an essential preliminary to the “real” content. But the “good stuff” keeps receding over the horizon.

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Robert Duke makes this point in his excellent 2008 talk Why Students Don’t Learn What We Think We Teach. He is especially good on conflicting student/instructor agendas and agrees with Whitehead on the importance of the “here and now,” as this little extract shows:

I wrote about this in a paper on technology and learner autonomy in language education. The more I discuss pedagogy with teachers of subjects other than languages, the more I feel task-based language teaching has a lot to offer the wider educational community.

A second area of my discussions with AUP colleagues is perhaps more related to education in its broader sense than to the specifics of what happens at the chalkface.

What role do we in humanities or liberal arts play in teaching students to think?

Thinking about things that matter

Perhaps inevitably in the current political context, our discussions turned to some of the bigger issues of our times: climate change, immigration policy, electoral discourse. How should we address these with our students?

In the run-up to the US presidential campaign I came across the work of cognitive linguist George Lakoff on political discourse.  Lakoff uses frame theory and metaphor to explain how political thought is shaped (and thus manipulated).

He applies this theory to the Trump campaign on his website, and you can read more here for example. I decided to take this theme as our topic for an undergraduate translation course in our media and communication strand: the science of framing political debate. While we need to be careful about political bias in our teaching, I feel we also have some responsibility to take on issues like these when relevant to our classes.

Here’s my take on Lakoff’s contrast between strict father and nurturing family frames in a presentation I prepared for my students:

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Translation classes, perhaps more than other foreign language classes, allow discussion of issues in a somewhat impartial and unemotional manner. It’s a good opportunity to tackle the meaning and implications of texts in a neutral way: does this expression in language A mean that same as that one in language B? Why did the writer use this particular expression, and how can we render it faithfully yet idiomatically? We’re not discussing what we think about a particular argument or line of thinking. We’re focusing on what the intended meaning seems to be, and how different translations render different aspects of that meaning salient.

The framing comes, of course, from our selection of texts to translate.

What do I take from all this?

Perhaps that it’s stimulating to talk about teaching and learning with colleagues in other disciplines in different university contexts.

Perhaps that language education might have some approaches and ideas for addressing pedagogical issues that are relevant to other university disciplines.

Or simply that the “here and now” can shift depending on both the focus of your attention and your vantage point.


Duke, R. (2008). «Why Students Don’t Learn What We Think We Teach» [lecture; online]. (2013-06-01).

Halmos, P. (1985). I Want to Be a Mathematician. New York: Springer Verlag.

Halmos, P. (1975). «The Problem of Learning to Teach». American Mathematical Monthly, 82, pp. 466-476.

Whitehead, A.N. ([1917] 1932). «The Aims of Education». In: Whitehead, A.N. The Aims of Education and Other Essays. London: Ernest Benn.

Whyte, S. (2014). Digital pencil sharpening: technology integration and language learning autonomy. EL.LE, 3(1): 31-53. Università Ca’ Foscari, Venezia. [PDF]


Resources, tools, and training: Open educational practices for language teaching

Open educational practice: taking care in the design and creation of digital materials with a view to future sharing and repurposing, working towards a goal of sustainable development for (language) teachers.

I ran a workshop for language teachers at the University of Limerick covering a range of resources, tools, and networks to try and answer some of these questions.
  • How can teachers best select teaching and learning materials and adapt them to their own particular needs?
  • Which digital tools are most versatile, and how can they be integrated into learning activities?
  • And what can teachers do as their careers progress to try and keep up with technological innovation?

From open resources to open practices

We talked about the Paris Declaration on Open Educational Resources, and how open resources lead to open practices. My own epiphany about openness came when teaching a course on technology in language education to a group of teachers of several European languages. The course encouraged participants to share teaching resources publicly, and some of my students’ selections – for languages I don’t speak – were picked up by colleagues at other universities.

work that would otherwise be invisible or lost to the wider community once a course assignment is completed here can be recovered and exploited by others

Read the full paper

I used Google forms for a background questionnaire to gauge participants’ interests and knowledge, then we used Padlet to share open resources collected by myself and others using the curation platform (See the resources.)

One of the difficulties in supporting language teachers in integrating technology is the vast array of digital tools at our disposal. Conventional wisdom suggests focusing on pedagogical objectives rather than the affordances of tools, so we looked at a task I used with one of my undergraduate EFL students: a story slam based on the Moth format.

A storytelling task

In my university EFL class, I used the open resources from the Moth website to set the task and provide examples for my students. I think this makes a decent task because it meets most of the criteria for task-based language teaching: it’s a real-world activity (target language speakers do it), there’s a clear outcome (a story that meets certain pre-determined standards), and learners have freedom in the language they choose to use.

There are also opportunities for reflection and collaboration, because the Moth also has a transcription system where volunteers can check and correct automatic transcriptions of existing stories. Students used the audio platform SoundCloud and Google forms to allow students to record their own stories as they performed in class, upload and safeguard their recordings, and share with the teacher. I used the canned response gadget in the Labs section of Gmail to provide individual feedback to students, together with a link to a blogpost with ideas for work on pronunciation. I tried to encourage reflection with a post-task activity where students were asked to react to this feedback.

Incidentally, as I prepared my introductory lesson for my students using a specific Moth story, I cleaned up the machine transcription of the story so that my students could analyse the storyteller’s technique and language. In so doing, I made my own small contribution to the Moth project by leaving a full, correct transcription for others to use (either native-speaking storytellers or L2 learners). This provides an argument for openness in itself, and one which also suggests another type of task where learners perform this transcription checking task themselves, to work on listening and writing skills.

Most of the links to the activities and tools for this storytelling task are here.

Playing safe and playing fair

Of course, open education also imposes some particular requirements on teachers and learners. It’s important to respect learners’ privacy and make sure we have permission to share their work. With adults this can often be done simply using the following suggestions:

  • ask learners to create their own accounts on free platforms
  • allow learners to choose pseudonyms if work is shared publicly
  • offer the chance to share only with specific individuals (e.g., the teacher) or a restricted group of learners
  • remind learners to hide or remove files, or delete their accounts once the course is completed.

Similarly, both teachers and learners need to respect the intellectual property of others. Gosia Kurek and Anna Skowron produced a very useful guide to help language teachers understand what can be shared and how, as part of the LangOER project. This guide also has up-to-date references to places to find images that can be used freely without attribution, for example.

Going further for language teachers

The last section of my presentation (see slides above) includes telecollaborative platforms and some reflection on my experience in teacher education in this area. We didn’t get that far in Limerick, but in the interests of openness it’s still there.

It was great to hear about work in languages at the University of Limerick with Catherine Jeanneau, including a French-language debating team (another real-world task) and a very active Facebook page.

And as a quick coda to the session, we looked at Plickers, a paper-based clicker app that allows learners to respond to multiple choice questions by holding up QR codes which the teacher records using the app on their phone. Results can be displayed in a browser at and projected for the class to see. I like this tool for myself because I don’t always have internet access in class. For the secondary school teachers I train, it can be used in schools where pupils are not allowed to use phones in class. In Limerick, however, the teachers were working with adult learners who all had smartphones with wifi access: they showed me Kahoot, which offers similar opportunities for their teaching context.


Kurek, M. & Skowron, A. (2015). Going open with LangOER. PDF

Paris Declaration on Open Educational Resources PDF

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.


Technology integration in the collaborative language classroom

In the VISIR project, “seven major European networks are working to collect, analyse and share micro innovation practices in the field of ICT for learning, and to propose, in a multistakeholder and collaborative fashion, a new vision for ICT for learning in Europe.”

Micro-innovation practices are defined as:

a) high impact, meaning that they have or have had an impact in building digital and other key competences. The impact is not necessarily on a large scale, it can also be limited to small scale like a classroom within one school or a company within a value chain.

b) bottom-up nature, meaning that they shall not simply respond to a policy but they  derive from the idea of an individual or a community/company/university. They could also be unexpected results of a policy or initiative.

c) innovative applications of ICT for learning, meaning that it should “do something new” either in the way they use ICT or in other pedagogical, organisational, economic way.

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At a seminar “e-Learning micro-innovation matters!” on 25 Mar 14 in Brussels, contributors meet to discuss the wider implications of their projects.

My project concerned a hybrid course in English for undergraduate students of translation.


An overview.