BAAL 2017

British Association of Applied Linguistics annual conference in Leeds 31 August to 2 September 2017.

Tweets are collected here

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 09.24.27

And other links


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Applied linguistics, linguistique appliquée

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

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

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

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

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

Linguistics applied and applied linguistics

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

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

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

Widdowson, 2000

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

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

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

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


The French alternatives: DDL/DLC and RAL

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

Didactique des langues – language didactics

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

Recherches en acquisition des langues – second language research

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


Overlapping terminology, intersecting interests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linn, 2011: 25

Read the full paper on ResearchGate.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in your head? Van Patten on language teaching

In his video lectures What everyone should know about second language acquisition, Bill VanPatten attacks a number of myths about language learning and teaching. He claims  foreign language teachers don’t know about second language research findings, and so are unable to make teaching decisions based on this research.

Following the adage there’s nothing more practical than a good theory, VanPatten gives an overview of theories about the nature of language with a view to dispelling some myths. Part 1 introduces the following, then develops the first point:

  1. What’s in your head is not what you think is there.
  2. Practice is not what it’s cracked up to be.
  3. Communication is distinct from mental representation.
  4. You cannot automatically blame the first language.
  5. Language acquisition isn’t always about aptitude.
  6. Acquisition is just too complex to reduce to simple ideas – there are no shortcuts to language acquisition.

What we know about language is an implicit, abstract representation, but the rules we know are not “the rules in your head” and the mental representation is nothing like pedagogical grammatical rules (in grammar books).

  1. re- means do again
    rerecord, remake, redo – to do these things again
    Possible with some verbs (resurface) but not others (*repet)
  2. ain’t isn’t good English
    I ain’t got none versus *I’aint have any
    Even if it’s not standard language, it still has a grammar (in your head)
  3. Y/N question formation
    Does Bill study second language acquisition?
    Does study Bill study second acquisition acquisition?
    Studies Bill second language acquisition?

What speakers have in their minds is an abstract system. But these cannot be stated simply; there are no rules to be learned.

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 14.28.55

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 14.28.30

Pedagogical rules describe the surface parts of the sentence but not the underlying information (features and operations) which are really inside your head. Much of the grammatical information is actually stored in words.

How about conjugation and declensions? What people have are networks of words with connections to meanings, inflections and grammatical information.

In our heads, we have information that governs what is possible and not possible, and also networks that encode meaning and grammatical information. We don’t have rules in the sense that we teach or discuss as language teachers.

How does this information get into our heads? VanPatten tackles this issue in the subsequent video clips.


In support of a developmental sequence model of second language acquisition: Ellis, 2015

Researching Acquisition Sequences: Idealization and De‐idealization in SLA
Ellis, R. (2015)., Language Learning Early view

DSC04473This paper examines Long’s claim regarding developmental sequences in second language acquisition, or what R. Ellis terms “Long’s law:”

“learners of different ages, with and without instruction, in foreign and second language settings, follow similar developmental sequences for such items as English negation”

Ellis develops an epistemological framework drawing on idealisation theory in the philosophy of science (Leszek Nowak, Cliff Hooker, Michael Weisberg) which he then applies to four successive studies of L2 negation in the same dataset, from 1978 to 2011. While retaining an interest in variation both at the level of learner language and theory development, he concludes that research generally supports the developmental sequence model of second language acquisition.

What follows is my own summary of Ellis’ argument in this 2015 Language Learning article.  The references are his; I haven’t included dates in the text.

Early, cognitive models of SLA (Corder) based on developmental stages have been challenged by socio-cognitive theory (Watson-Gegeo, Lantolf), discourse/conversation analysis (Firth & Wagner), and dynamic systems theory (Larsen-Freeman, de Bot et al.).  Ellis argues that we should therefore “reevaluate the long-held claim that the acquisition of L2 grammatical features involves predictable and universal stages of development” (p. 2).

Research in interlanguage variation (Ellis, Tarone) shows that such stages are an idealisation. Order of acquisition studies (Dulay & Burt), work on sequences of acquisition (Dulay, Burt & Krashen), and developmental sequence research (Pieneman & colleagues) have variously measured the emergence and stabilisation of morphemes and syntactic forms in learner language.  Variation in the production of these forms has been related to factors such as context (Tarone, Ellis), form-function mapping (Schachter), and creative speech versus formulaic chunks (N. Ellis).  This research appears to call into question “the existence of clearly delineated stages of acquisition and also emphasize the differences in the L2 development of individual learners.” The alternative term  “trajectories of learning” is preferred to “sequences of acquisition.”

Epistemological framework

To judge these different types of research, R. Ellis asks

  1. What exactly is a theory?
  2. What is the process by which theories are developed?
  3. What constitutes robust empirical evidence?

He reviews the investigation of developmental sequences in L2 acquisition by researchers using “set-of-laws theory,” or “research-then-theory” (as opposed to “axiomatic-causal theory,” or “theory-then-research”).  Following Long, this work has focused on selecting a phenomenon such as negation, examining samples of learner language to identify systematic patterns, and then proposing generalisations about the acquisition of this interlanguage feature.  These generalisation are idealisations, being accurate, though simplified, theoretically tenable, intelligible, and empirically verifiable (Hooker).  An idealisation neglects secondary factors (Nowak) and intentionally distorts, for pragmatic reasons, or as a minimalist model  (Weisberg). For Hooker, idealisation can have a positive effect (“simplifying,” when based on correctible quantitative error) or a negative effect (“degenerate,” based on conceptual error).

Weisberg argues for multiple models to achieve greater generality, accuracy, precision and simplicity and Ellis concurs, since “theories (and the idealizations that constitute them) can only be judged in terms of the specific domain they address.”  He takes a relativist stance, following Schumann’s position that “all knowledge is subjective and reality is multiple.”  He further argues that theories can be de-idealised without abandonment.

L2 negation studies

Applied to the question of acquisitional sequences, Ellis reviews four approaches to Cancino et al.’s 1978 data from six naturalistic learners of English in their first year after arrival in the US, involving both spontaneous and elicited oral production from two young, two adolescent and two adult Spanish speakers collected over a 10-month period.

  • Cancino et al’s original analysis discarded memorised chunks (e.g. I don’t know) and calculated frequency of types of negation over time to produce a universal developmental sequence.  Not all subjects had reached the end of the sequence by the end of the study, and one was considered to have stopped developing (fossilised; Alberto).
  • Schachter then reanalysed data from another of the six learners (Jorge) to relate different forms of negation to discourse function (e.g., rejection, affirmation).
  • In the third study, Berdan conducted a more sophisticated frequency analysis to show systematic use and development of negation in the learner originally considered to have fossilised.
  • Finally, Van Dijk et al took a dynamic systems approach and through statistical analysis highlighted the importance of interlearner variation which was related to age. This analysis also showed random variability in use of negation forms for one learner.

These results call into question Long’s claim that L2 learners follow similar developmental sequences.  They show it to be a simplifying idealisation which nonetheless holds up well in the four studies examined.  Ellis argues that these studies de-idealise the theory in helpful ways, particularly for those who seek to apply SLA research findings to instruction.  (In this respect, the dynamic systems analysis does not offer an improved model.)  Since the studies focused on untutored learners with the same L1/L2 pairing, the effects of instruction, and of other languages, must be verified.  In the meantime, however, R. Ellis suggests that his arguments drawn from the philosophy of science should militate against discarding Long’s developmental sequence “law.”

References (Ellis, 2015)

  • Berdan, R. (1996). Disentangling language acquisition from language variation. In R. Bayley & D. Preston (Eds.), Second language acquisition and linguistic variation (pp. 203244). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossRef
  • Cancino, H., Rosansky, E., & Schumann, J. H. (1978). The acquisition of English negatives and interrogatives by native Spanish speakers. In E. Hatch (Ed.), Second language acquisition (pp. 207230). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
  • Corder, S. P. (1967). The significance of learners’ errors. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 5, 161170. CrossRef,
  • de Bot, K., Lowie, W., & Verspoor, M. (2007). A dynamic systems theory approach to second language acquisition. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 10, 721. CrossRef,
  • Dulay, H., & Burt, M. (1973). Should we teach children syntax? Language Learning, 23, 245258.
  • Dulay, H., Burt, M., & Krashen, S. (1982). Language two. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Ellis, N. C. (2002). Frequency effects in language processing: A review with implications for theories of implicit and explicit language acquisition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 24, 143188. CrossRef
  • Ellis, R. (1984). Classroom second language development. Oxford, UK: Pergamon.
  • Ellis, R. (1985). Sources of variability in interlanguage. Applied Linguistics, 6, 118131. CrossRef,
  • Ellis, R. (1995). Appraising second language acquisition theory in relation to language pedagogy. In G. Cook & B. Seidlhofer (Eds.), Principle and practice in applied linguistics: Studies in honour of H. G. Widdowson (pp. 7389). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Firth, A., & Wagner, J. (2007). Second/Foreign language learning as a local accomplishment: Elaborations on a reconceptualized SLA. Modern Language Journal, 91, 757772.
  • Hooker, C. (1994). Idealization, naturalism, and rationality: Some lessons from minimal rationality. Synthese, 99, 181231.
  • Lantolf, J. P. (2011). The sociocultural approach to second language acquisition. In D. Atkinson (Ed.), Alternative approaches to second language acquisition (pp. 2447). London: Routledge.
  • Larsen-Freeman, D. (2011). A complexity theory approach to second language development/acquisition. In D. Atkinson (Ed.), Alternative approaches to second language acquisition (pp. 4872). London: Routledge.
  • Long, M. H. (1985). Input and second language acquisition theory. In S. Gass & C. Madden (Eds.), Input in second language acquisition (pp. 377393). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
  • Long, M. H. (1990). The least a second language acquisition theory needs to explain. TESOL Quarterly, 24, 649666.
  • Meisel, J., Clahsen, H., & Pienemann, M. (1981). On determining developmental stages in natural second language acquisition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 3, 109135. CrossRef
  • Nowak, L. (1992). The idealization approach to science: A new survey. Available at
  • Pienemann, M. (1984). Psychological constraints on the teachability of languages. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 6, 186214. CrossRef
  • Pienemann, M. (1998). Language processing and second language development: Processability theory. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. CrossRef
  • Reynolds, P. (1971). A primer in theory construction. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs Merrill.
  • Schachter, J. (1986). In search of systematicity in interlanguage production. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 8, 119134. CrossRef
  • Schumann, J. H. (1993). Some problems with falsification: An illustration from SLA research. Applied Linguistics, 14, 295306.
  • Tarone, E. (1983). On the variability of interlanguage systems. Applied Linguistics, 4, 143163.
  • Tarone, E. (1988). Variation in interlanguage. London: Edward Arnold.
  • Van Dijk, M., Verspoor, M., & Lowie, W. (2011). Variability and DST. In M. Verspoor, K. de Bot, & Lowie, W. (Eds.), A dynamic approach to second language development (pp. 8598). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Watson-Gegeo, K. (2004). Mind, language, and epistemology: Toward a language socialization paradigm for SLA. Modern Language Journal, 88, 331350.
  • Weisberg, M. (2007). Three kinds of idealization. Journal of Philosophy, 104, 639659.

Interactive whiteboards in foreign language education: the story so far

Over the past three years, my involvement in the EU lifelong learning project iTILT (interactive Technologies In Language Teaching) has provided an opportunity to investigate the potential of the interactive whiteboard (IWB) for language teaching and learning. As associate professor in the English department at the University of Nice in France, I teach EFL, train pre- and in-service primary and secondary language teachers, and research questions of second language acquisition and teaching.  Different aspects of this professional context have led to my interest in learning technologies in state school language classrooms, particularly in relation to interactional opportunities for learners, and professional development for their teachers.  Our project on the IWB for communicative language teaching has allowed me to research these issues from both learner and teacher perspectives.

Designing IWB-mediated teaching activities

The IWB is a sophisticated piece of technology which can be used fairly intuitively by technologically fluent teachers and is compatible with any teaching style (cf Gray, 2010, for modern foreign languages).  Yet its potential for interactive teaching is often under-exploited in the classroom, because

IWBs are deceptively complex and to fully utilise the interactive aspects of the technology, teachers must invest time to build confidence, design resources, adapt practices and learn to harness their power.

(Hennessy & London, 2013, p. 66)

In order to train our teachers in the iTILT project, we designed task-based materials to support communicative activities at the IWB for learners at a variety of different levels and ages. We created IWB files to support complete teaching units, based on a series of communicatively oriented activities to promote interaction in the target language as well as reflection on language in a meaningful context, all with respect to a final task in accordance with the principles of task-based language teaching (TBLT).  Each file included teacher notes with guidance on pedagogical objectives as well as technical information, to encourage a focus on good teaching practice rather than on narrower technological issues.  We then used these materials to train our project teachers to exploit the IWB in their own teaching contexts (Whyte, Cutrim Schmid & van Hazebrouck, 2011; see sample materials).

When we collected classroom examples of teaching activities using the IWB, however, we found that many of our teachers did not follow this pedagogical approach, and that many sample activities showed neither communicative nor task-oriented intent. Among the nine French teachers whose lessons were video-recorded for the project, for example,

only two teachers designed and implemented a significant proportion of task-oriented activities. The majority of video examples of IWB-supported classroom language teaching more closely resembled pedagogical exercises with a focus on decontextualised language practice and error correction.

(Whyte & Alexander, 2014, p. 22)

Using the IWB in the language classroom

A closer look at the activities selected by teachers for the iTILT project website – some 267 three-minute video clips from 44 language classrooms in 7 European countries – gave us further insights into their IWB-mediated teaching practice.  In terms of language teaching objectives, for example, we found a balance across different countries, languages, and proficiency/age levels between the teaching of the four main linguistic competences (listening, speaking, reading and writing) and subskills (grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation).  We also found

a greater focus on listening, speaking, reading and writing (but also vocabulary) with younger learners in Wales, France and Spain, as opposed to more attention to sub-skills and culture with older, university learners (grammar and culture in Belgium and the Netherlands, and grammar and vocabulary in Turkish universities).

(Whyte, Beauchamp & Alexander, 2014, p. 43)

In fact the single most common teaching objective among the primary teachers in the project was vocabulary (seen in 25% of Welsh clips, and 26% of French).  For secondary teachers in Spain and Germany speaking was the preferred objective (24% and 34% respectively), with grammar for the secondary and university teachers in Belgium and the Netherlands (27%) and Turkey (49%).  Many iTILT project teachers were therefore using the IWB for somewhat conservative teaching objectives involving the learning of the words and rules of the target language, as opposed to broader, interactional objectives such as understanding spoken language or producing written texts, for example.

In a similar vein, we found that many teachers used a restricted set of IWB tools and features in their lessons.  Specific IWB features include tools like the pen, eraser, spotlight or curtain, and functionalities such as drag and drop, hide and reveal, or embedding multimedia resources.  Many video examples featured images or links to websites, and basic actions like drag and drop to rearrange objects on the display.

A third aspect of IWB use which we investigated was participant access, or who controlled the IWB.  Critics of the IWB often cite its potential for encouraging teacher-fronted pedagogy:

In the classroom, there will generally be specific learning goals, devised by the teacher, and this can result in the teacher exerting complete control over the board in its role as classroom hub, leading to the conclusion that the board can be a ‘teacher-centric’ tool (Wall et al. 2005) which encourages teachers to teach ‘from the front’ (Smith 2001).

(Beauchamp & Kennewell, 2013, pp. 180-1)

In our project, however, three quarters of the video examples of IWB-mediated language teaching selected for the iTILT website showed learners using the IWB, rather than teachers.  Only in Belgium and the Netherlands was the balance of examples in favour of teacher-led activities.

This finding confirms an earlier analysis of pre-training questionnaires administered to all project teachers.  In that study, we compared teachers’ reports of their confidence in using the IWB (and ICT in general) with their reported practice. (We use the term self-efficacy, of which more below).

Despite low levels of IWB self-efficacy, the teachers indicated that they still allowed their learners to use the IWB. This suggests that a perceived lack of self-efficacy in IWB technical skills does not necessarily prevent them from conceptualising the importance of the IWB for teaching and learning, or deter them from allowing learners to use the IWB.

(Hillier, Beauchamp & Whyte, 2013, p. 17)

Nevertheless, in the Whyte, Beauchamp & Alexander (2014) study, we also note that almost four out of five of the frequently observed learner-centred examples of IWB teaching involved a single learner or series of individual learners at the IWB (160/201 video clips).  This means that instead of organising pair or group work at the IWB, for example, the teachers maintained control of IWB access in whole-class teaching by designating individual learners to manipulate the IWB.

Generally speaking, these findings tend to confirm the results of another preliminary report on the IWB in language teaching, based on our analysis of early data from a subset of iTILT teachers.  This study involved eight French and Welsh primary practitioners and compared video examples of those teachers’ IWB-mediated practice with secondary data including participant commentary and questionnaire responses regarding ICT and IWB use. The paper concludes thus:

First, teachers are not particularly comfortable using the different tools and features of the board, irrespective of length of experience with the IWB and in spite of confidence in general ICT skills.  Second, it shows a somewhat conservative or cautious approach to IWB use for language teaching, with teachers  focusing on a limited repertoire of basic functions such as dragging and dropping images to fulfil relatively circumscribed language learning objectives (vocabularly, pronunciation, receptive skills), often with a teaching method involving an individual learner working at the IWB before the class.

(Whyte, Beauchamp & Hillier, 2012, p. 325)

More details regarding these findings are given in Whyte, Beauchamp and Alexander (2014), and examples of the different types of IWB use in language teaching can be accessed via the iTILT website’s quick search feature.

Pedagogical innovation and teacher development

One explanation of our findings regarding teachers’ choice of teaching activities, and use of the IWB in general, can be found in the literature on the integration of interactive technologies in education.  A number of studies have traced the different stages of teacher development from a novice approach to the IWB as a “blackboard substitute” with little interactivity, to “synergistic” levels of “enhanced,” “conceptual” interactivity, as shown in this graphic (Whyte, Cutrim Schmid, & Beauchamp, 2014; see also Whyte, 2014).

TargetLanguageInteraction.001 TargetLanguageInteraction.002

(Whyte, Cutrim Schmid & Beauchamp, 2014)

On these scales, many of the teachers in the iTILT project would place in earlier stages of development near the bottom of the charts.  More interactive use of the IWB might involve, for example, the accommodation of greater spontaneity: Hennessy and London (2013) quote Gillen et al. (2007) thus:

the effective use of IWBs involves striking a balance between providing a clear structure for a well-resourced lesson and retaining the capacity for more spontaneous adaptation of the lesson as it proceeds.

(Hennessy & London, 2013, p. 66)

This brings us to the question of pedagogical innovation, since exploiting the full potential of the IWB seems to require the language teachers in our studies to change the way they design and implement teaching and learning activities in the classroom.  Teachers may be influenced in their approach to integrating interactive technologies by their own beliefs about teaching and learning with technology, and by other elements of their professional contexts.

Teacher beliefs

One approach to studying the influence of people’s beliefs on their behaviour involves Bandura’s notion of self-efficacy.


Self-efficacy is described as:

people’s beliefs about their capabilities to exercise control over
their own level of functioning and over events that affect their lives

(Bandura, 1993, p. 118).

Among the nine French teachers who participated in the iTILT project, some showed high levels of confidence in their ability to use the IWB to improve learning, and declared their intentions to further explore the potential of the tool.  In interviews with researchers, different practitioners said:

  • I like technology and so it’s true it’s something that naturally attracts me. I find that it does offer tools and can enrich all our classes a lot and open up opportunities for variety and for creating interactive situations. There are still lots of possibilities that I still have to explore because it’s true that you learn progressively and extend your range.
  • English is the only subject where I do workstations. When I use the board in French or mathematics it is collective. It’s interactive but whole-class. And I am thinking for next year – because every year I change something – and perhaps in mathematics one day every week I’ll do work stations in mathematics.

Others expressed some frustration:

  • The problem is to find enough time to create IWB files and to try new ideas.

We readily understand that those teachers who value the affordances of the IWB and who are keen to develop their IWB skills are more likely to make changes in the way they teach.  Conversely, teachers who doubt the value of the IWB – or technology in general – for language teaching are less likely to pursue opportunities for pedagogical change, as the examples in the following section show.


In work in teacher education in EFL, Borg has documented the influence on teaching practice of teacher cognition:

the beliefs, knowledge, theories, assumptions, and attitudes
about all aspects of their work which teachers have

(Borg, 1999, p. 22)

A number of the French iTILT teachers expressed reticence about the role of ICT in general, or the IWB in particular.  These comments are illustrative:

  • I think that, you know, the kids of today with all these screens, I think we should have a bit of perspective. A ‘screen’ is also, you know, something you don’t want to see, right? You hide behind a screen. We have to be very careful.
  • It’s obviously a very big defeat for the classical idea of learning by rote, learning pattern drills.
  • It’s a fabulous tool but I feel it’s more a toy for me and the children than something that’s really essential.

Contrast with the following, very different type of caveat:

  • The IWB isn’t the most important thing, it’s the notion you want to get across. And the IWB is a tool. You should start with ‘What do I need to do pedagogically?’ and then ‘Now I’ll use the IWB.’ Don’t say, ‘I’m using the IWB and I’ll throw in some activities.’ It’s a tool, not a end in itself.

Teachers’ beliefs may be developed individually based on previous experience, but may also change through collaboration.  One approach to studying collaborative development is based on Lave and Wenger’s (1991) notions of situated learning in communities of practice.

Situated learning

Situated learning can be defined as:

the acquisition of practical skills and knowledge in the context in which they are used, from members of the group concerned, and without intentional, formal instruction in abstract terms

(Whyte, in press)

Through their involvement in the iTILT project, the French teachers formed a community of practice in the sense of a rather informal group with a shared purpose and task, allowing for peer-to-peer rather than hierarchical exchanges, and the possibility for differing levels of engagement, and involving learning in context, yet also in informal settings (Whyte, in press, Chapter 4).

Asked in group discussion how the project had influenced their practice, the teachers responded thus:

T1:  I think it’s helped us to get a lot of perspective on how we teach. To do with our class organisation, teacher-centred delivery, all that. And that has made us think.
R:  So nothing to do with the tool, it’s the pedagogy?
T1:  It’s having worked in this project.
T2:  You could have come and filmed us and we could have analysed our teaching practice. But here it was in a project with a website, so it was less demanding.
T3:  That wasn’t what we thought at the beginning. We didn’t say ‘OK this is going to  help me analyse my teaching.’ Not at all. That came after.
T1:  Yes, and we were able to put it into context to because there were lots of us, different nationalities, different people to see, different ways of teaching. Something that in our professional careers we don’t have to chance to see.

This exchange hints at the value of informal learning in encouraging innovative teaching in relation to technology adoption.

Teacher education research in the CALL classroom

A final dimension to consider in the present overview of this longitudinal research project on the integration of the IWB into teaching practice involves the wider implications for research in technology-mediated language teaching, and perhaps for applied linguistics more generally, teacher education, and educational technology.  A number of conclusions can be advanced:

First, as the discussion above might predict, we found that those teachers with greater technological fluency and self-efficacy beliefs, and who were ready to set their own professional development agenda, were more likely to implement pedagogical innovation in their technology-mediated teaching (Whyte, in press).

Second, as other studies have shown (e.g., Guichon & Hauck, 2011), pedagogical concerns need to take precedence over technological questions. Indeed, the pedagogical issues related to IWB use discussed here share many common features with other tools and devices, such as task design, materials preparation, and the implementation of activities. These questions go beyond the specificities of the IWB, and are of direct relevance to the classroom use of tablets and smartphones, for example.

Third, our work has shown the advantages of a collaborative action research approach where teachers are actors rather than subjects of classroom research (Burns, 2005).  It has also developed a number of research instruments for the investigation of technology use in the classroom (Whyte, Cutrim Schmid, van Hazebrouck & Oberhofer, 2013; Whyte, Beauchamp & Alexander, 2014; Whyte, in press).  In this way, research from the iTILT project prepares the ground for further research into the interactional opportunities which different interactive technologies can provide in the hands of committed practitioners in a supportive environment.


Bandura, A. (1993) Perceived Self-Efficacy in Cognitive Development and Functioning. Educational Psychologist, 28(2), 117-148.

Beauchamp, G. (2004). Teacher use of the interactive whiteboard (IWB) in primary schools – towards an effective transition framework. Technology. Pedagogy and Education, 13, (3), 327-348.

Beauchamp, G. and Kennewell, S. (2010). Interactivity in the classroom and its impact on learning. Computers & Education, 54, 759-766.

Beauchamp, G., & Kennewell, S. (2013). Transition in pedagogical orchestration using the interactive whiteboard. Education and Information Technologies, 18(2), 179-191.

Borg, S. 2009. Teacher cognition and language education. London: Continuum.

Burns, A. (2005). Action research: An evolving paradigm? Language Teaching, 38(2), 57–74.

Gillen, J., Kleine Staarman, J., Littleton, K., Mercer, N., & Twiner, A. (2007), A Learning Revolution? Investigating Pedagogic Practice Around Interactive Whiteboards in British Primary Schools, Learning, Media and Technology, 32(3). 243-256.

Glover, D., Miller, D., Averis, D. and Door, V. (2007). The evolution of an effective pedagogy for teachers using the interactive whiteboard in mathematics and modern languages: an empirical analysis from the secondary sector’, Learning, Media and Technology, 32, (1), 5-20.

Gray, C. (2010). Meeting Teachers’ Real Needs: New Tools in the Secondary Modern Foreign Languages Classroom. In Thomas, M. & Cutrim Schmid, E. (Eds.), Interactive Whiteboards for Education: Theory, Research and Practice. Information Science Reference, Hershey, NY, 69–85.

Guichon, N. & Hauck, M. (2011). Teacher education research in CALL and CMC: more in demand than ever. ReCALL, 23(3): 187-199.

Hennessy, S., & London, L. (2013). Learning from International Experiences with Interactive Whiteboards: The Role of Professional Development in Integrating the Technology (No. 89). OECD Publishing. PDF

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) [PDF]

Jewitt, C., Moss, G. and Cardini, A. (2007), ‘Pace, interactivity and multimodality in teachers’ design of texts for interactive whiteboards in the secondary school classroom’, Learning, Media and Technology, 32, (3), 303-317.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, H. (2001). Smartboard evaluation: final report. Kent County Council.

Wall, K., Higgins, S., & Smith, H. (2005). ‘The visual helps me understand the complicated things’: pupil views of teaching and learning with interactive whiteboards. British Journal Of Educational Technology, 36(5), 851–867.

Whyte, S. (in press). Implementing and researching technological innovation in language teaching: a case study of interactive whiteboards for EFL in French schools. New language learning and teaching environments (Series editor: Hayo Reinders.) Palgrave Macmillan, April 2015.

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., & 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). Analysing target language interaction in IWB-mediated activities: from drills to tasks in state secondary EFL classes. EuroCALL Groningen. slides

Whyte, S., Cutrim Schmid, E., & van Hazebrouck, S. (2011). Designing IWB Resources for Language Teaching: the iTILT Project. International Conference on ICT for Language Learning, 4th Edition. Simonelli Editore  [Download PDF]

iTILT project


Cutrim Schmid, E., & Whyte, S. (Eds.) (2014). 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. [link] table of contents

Linguapolis, University of Antwerp
  • Euline Cutrim Schmid, Pädagogische Hochschule Schwäbisch-Gmünd, Germany
  • Sanderin van Hazebrouck, Pädagogische Hochschule Heidelberg, Germany
  • Julie Alexander, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, Nice
  • Shona Whyte, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, Nice
  • Gary Beauchamp, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Wales
  • Emily Hillier, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Wales.