Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Education

Contact Details

Dr James Simpson

Senior Lecturer in Language Education; Academic Group Leader, Langauge Education Academic Group

I am an applied linguist specialising in the teaching and learning of languages in migration contexts and in the intersection of new technology, literacy, mobility and social justice. My work involves the critical analysis of linguistic practices relating to identity, language diversity, language pedagogy, language policy and literacy. Most of my research has taken place in the UK, but increasingly I am carrying out work in South Asia.

I have worked with a number of institutions and organisations on projects supporting the teaching and learning of English for adult migrants. With Melanie Cooke of King's College London I have written a book on this topic, ESOL: A Critical Guide (OUP, 2008). In Applied Linguistics more generally I am the editor of the Routledge Handbook of Applied Linguistics (Routledge, 2011) and have served on the committee of the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL). I am a frequent speaker at conferences on Applied Linguistics, TESOL, teaching with new technology, and related topics.

In my earlier career I worked as an English language teacher in Europe, the Middle East and in the FE sector in the UK. I studied for my MA in ELT at the University of Essex (1996), my PGCE at the University of Greenwich (1999), and my PhD at the University of Reading (2004). Upon its completion I joined the School of Education, University of Leeds, where I was first a Research Fellow and since 2010 a Senior Lecturer. I now lead the Language Education academic group within the School. I teach on Postgraduate and Undergraduate courses in language education, and from 2010 to 2013 coordinated the MA TESOL programme.

Research Interests

My research interests lie in the teaching and learning of English for Speakers of Other Languages in migration contexts, in language learning with new technology, and in the sociolinguistic study of urban multilingualism. I supervise a number of Doctoral students in these areas, and welcome applications.

I manage an email discussion list ESOL-Research, a forum for researchers and practitioners with an interest in teaching and learning ESOL.

In 2015 I was plenary speaker at the International Literacy Conference in Sheffield in June, and will be plenary speaker at the LESLLA conference in St Augustine, Florida, in November. Both events relate to my new book, edited with Anne Whiteside (City College San Francisco): Adult language education and migration: Challenging agendas in policy and practice (Routledge, 2015). I am also plenary speaker at the 11th International Language and Development Conference, New Delhi, India, in November. Here I will discuss linguistic superdiversity and translingual practices in urban areas.

Current and recent research projects

EITA: Education and ICT for Adolescents Research, monitoring and evaluation project (2015-2016) (British Council Bangladesh) (Co-investigator).

Translation and translanguaging: Investigating linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities (2014-2018) (AHRC) (Co-investigator).

MESH: Migrant English Support Hub and the Learning English in Leeds project (2013, ongoing) (Chair of steering committee).

Mobigam project (2012-13) (British Academy) (Applicant and lead researcher).

HENNA (Harehills ESOL Needs Neighbourhood Audit) project (2010-2011) (Leeds City Council) (Applicant and lead researcher).  

Identity Online project (2007-2010) (British Academy) and Teacher Identity project (Applicant and lead researcher).

Placement Practices Project (2006-2007) (NRDC/ESF) (Lead researcher).

PPA project (‘Motivating Skills for Life students to persist progress and achieve’) (2006-2007) (NRDC/QIA) (Researcher).

ESOL practitioner development project (2006-2007) (NRDC/ESF) (Researcher).

ESOL Effective Practice Project (2003-2006) (NRDC/ESF) (Researcher).

NRDC-funded practitioner-led action research project, Dewsbury College (2005-2006) (NRDC) (Academic advisor).

Practitioner-led action research project, Park Lane College, Leeds (2006-2008) (Academic advisor).

Other professional activities

Editor, The Routledge Handbook of Applied Linguistics (2011).

Member of the advisory board of the journal Language Issues and the editorial board of the Routledge Handbook of Linguistic Ethnography.

Member of the AILA Language and Migration Research Network and the UK Linguistic Ethnography Forum. 

Member of BAAL, NATECLA , UCU.


I am the module convenor, EDUC 3030 Language Learning Technology and Materials. I teach on the following modules: EDUC 5256M Technology Enhanced Language Learning, EDUC 5060M Research Methods for TESOL, EDUC 5927 Assessing Language Learning, EDUC 3007 Globalisation and Language Education.

I am a personal tutor for taught postgraduates on MA programmes in the school and undergraduates on the BA English, Language and Education programme. 

PhD Supervision

I welcome applications from potential doctoral students working in language education in migration contexts, particularly adult ESOL.

Key Publications


  • Simpson J (2011) The Routledge Handbook of Applied Linguistics. Taylor & Francis US.

  • Cooke M; Simpson J (2008) ESOL: A Critical Guide. Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers. Oxford University Press.

Journal Articles

  • Simpson J (2013) “Identity alignment on an ESOL class blog”, International Journal of Applied Linguistics. 23.2: 183-201.

    Author URL [www.education.leeds.ac.uk]

    Repository URL [eprints.whiterose.ac.uk]

    This paper concerns a multilingual adult learner of English, Shahedah, and her written interaction on the class blog of her English anguage course. Lesson observations revealed that the pedagogic use of the blog did not enable the development of new learner identity positions for students in Shahedah’s class, often cited as an affordance of electronic media in language learning contexts. Moreover onventional classroom hierarchies were reproduced in interaction on the blog. Comprising an analysis of online written discourse, spoken interaction and life history interview, this study examines how blog interaction displays identity alignment – that is, identity positions offered and claimed online align with those in other learning contexts. Shahedah aspires to further study, and the paper points to implications of electronic media for academic literacy.

  • Simpson J; Whiteside A (2012) “Politics, policy and practice: ESOL in the UK and the USA”, King’s College London Working Papers in Urban Language & Literacies. 87: 1-22.

  • Simpson J (2011) “Telling Tales: Discursive space and narratives in ESOL classrooms”, Linguistics and Education. 22.1: 10-22.

  • Baynham M; Simpson J (2010) “Onwards and Upwards: Space, Placement, and Liminality in Adult ESOL Classes”, TESOL QUARTERLY. 44.3: 420-440.

    Author URL [gateway.webofknowledge.com]

  • Simpson J; Cooke M (2010) “Movement and loss: progression in tertiary education for migrant students”, Language and Education. 24.1: 57-73.

  • Baynham MJ; Simpson J (2010) “Onwards and Upwards: space, placement and liminality in adult ESOL classes”, TESOL Quarterly Roberts C; Burns A (eds.). 44.3: 420-440.

    This is the leading international peer reviewed journal in the field of TESOL

    Author URL [www.education.leeds.ac.uk]

    The extensive literature on classroom-based second language learning makes little attempt to situate the classroom itself in social and multilingual sociolinguistic space, in the complex and iterative networks of encounters and interactions that make up daily life. Daily life is routinely evoked and "brought into" the classroom as a pedagogic and testing strategy, but how can we understand the classroom as just one of the sites in which daily life, including language learning and use, is played out? In this article we outline an approach to researching the spaces of language learning, and the identity positions that are routinely made available to English speakers of other languages (ESOL) learners, drawing on approaches from cultural geography and linguistic ethnography. We illustrate the discussion with data from a study investigating the placement practices by which ESOL students in England are placed and place themselves in particular types of educational provision (Simpson, Cooke, & Baynham, 2008), investigating why some may choose the identity of second language learner and others orient toward mainstream education opportunities. We conclude with a discussion of new identity positions, understood as spaces of becoming created by the levels and progressions of curriculum frameworks, drawing on Bernstein's (1999) notion of vertical and horizontal discourses.

  • Woulds S; Simpson J (2010) “‘Dead on the page no more! The case for authentic, locally appropriate ESOL materials.’”, Language Issues. 21.1: 4-20.

  • Simpson J (2009) “A Critical Stance in Language Education: A Reply to Alan Waters”, Applied Linguistics. 30.3: 428-434.

    In his recent Forum article on ideology in applied linguistics, Alan Waters (2009) takes up arms against what he perceives as a damaging critical tendency. Ideas about language teaching, he claims, are promoted (e.g. learner centredness) or proscribed (e.g. artificial texts) 'on the basis of ideological belief rather than pedagogical value'. By making this distinction, Waters fails to recognize that the relationship between ideology and pedagogy is inextricable: ideologies are constructed, reproduced, and made manifest in social practices, such as language teaching. Furthermore, in certain language learning and teaching situations, an uncritical stance-one which views language teaching as a neutral and value-free activity-is incompatible with students' language learning and broader life concerns. In this response article, I maintain that in such contexts, the field of applied linguistics has an obligation to mediate in a way that is both critical and pedagogically relevant.

  • Cooke M; Simpson J (2009) “Challenging agendas in ESOL: Skills, employability and social cohesion”, Language Issues. 20.1: 19-30.

  • Simpson J; White G (2008) “Teaching and learning listening in ESOL classes: “The rock we build the house on””, Language Issues. 19.2: 4-19.

  • Roberts C; Baynham M; Cooke M; Simpson J (2007) “Adult ESOL in the UK: Policy and research”, Prospect. 22.3: 18-31.

  • Simpson J (2006) “Differing expectations in the assessment of the speaking skills of ESOL learners”, Linguistics and Education. 17.1: 40-55.

    received RSO

  • Simpson J (2005) “Learning electronic literacy skills in an online language learning community”, Computer Assisted Language Learning. 18.4: 327-345.

    received by RSO

  • Simpson J (2005) “Conversational floors in synchronous text-based CMC discourse”, DISCOURSE STUD. 7.3: 337-361.


  • Cooke M; Simpson J (2012) “Discourses about linguistic diversity”, In: Martin-Jones M; Blackledge A; Creese A (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Multilingualism. Routledge Handbooks in Applied Linguistics. London: Routledge. 116-130

Media Contact Areas

The teaching and learning of English for adult migrants to the UK (English for Speakers of Other Languages - ESOL)

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