Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Education

Centre for Language Education Research

In this Section:

Our aims

Language Education at Leeds aims to achieve global recognition and impact for its research and teaching, providing cutting edge research and research-informed education for the next generation of leaders in language teaching worldwide.

To do this, we aim to ...

  • strategically grow our research capacity, building on our expertise in methodologies such as linguistic ethnography, discourse analysis and corpus linguistics
  • form strategic partnerships with language researchers across the university
  • interact with our participants and professional partners locally, nationally and internationally to create research communities of practice that build impact into our research planning, collaboratively identifying and investigating research problems
  • through the development of such partnerships, secure funding to pursue our research agenda in ways that combine the production of new knowledge with demonstrated social impact in the field of language teaching and learning
  • publish strongly in the top journals from this research and ensure that it achieves impact across professional networks locally, nationally and internationally
  • and exploit the potential of new media to disseminate our research.

Research strands

We organize our research around the following leading research strands.

Globalized language teachers and learners in a diversifying world

Flexibility and adaptability to new challenges is a characteristic both of the globalized professional language teacher and of language learners in a diverse and diversifying yet networked world. In our research, we focus on the connections between language, language learning, academic literacy, culture, identity and motivation; and on the contribution of teacher development/CPD and practitioner research to the formation of new professional and learner identities.

Globalisation, migration, communication and language education

Language education changes in nature and focus in response to changes associated with globalisation, particularly trans-national movement of people. Concomitant with globalisation is a growing diversity in the world’s towns and cities. Our research addresses how language education might respond to this diversity.

Digital technology, language education and social inclusion

Increasingly, communication is mediated via new technology, and this technology is – like the people who use it – ever more mobile. In our research, we ask how, in a technology-saturated world, mobile and wireless technology impacts upon both established and marginal educational contexts in the range of countries where we locate our work.

Research areas

We cover the following areas in relation to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), English as a Foreign Language (EFL), English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), EAL, and Modern Foreign Languages.

  • Academic literacies
  • Language teaching methodology
  • Metaphor
  • Corpus linguistics
  • Classroom-based language learning and discourse
  • Motivation
  • Language in primary education
  • Teaching English to young learners
  • Teaching and learning in multilingual classrooms
  • The roles and responsibilities of EAL specialist teachers
  • Adult ESOL
  • Language teacher education and development
  • Teacher cognition
  • Language and development
  • Educational change management
  • Language learning and ICT
  • Language teacher research

Curriculum change

Wedell’s work on curriculum change has made an important theoretical and professional contribution to the field of language education. It provides a framework for understanding the whole context within which TESOL occurs. Such an understanding is a necessary precursor to identifying the key interrelationships between the parts of and partners in any change context that are likely to influence the implementation of a particular TESOL change  initiative. An awareness of these relationships provides a necessary starting point for the task of implementing educational change more effectively.

The professional impact of this work is evident in its uptake by the British Council, particularly in the development of a handbook to provide guidance for the large numbers of local and institutional level change leaders tasked with implementing national/provincial change initiatives within their local areas. The work has also generated global interest as reflected in a series of plenary/keynote invitations

Teacher education

In many contexts, university-based pre-service language teacher education curricula consist of a series of separate, disconnected, modules offered by different staff from different university departments; Wedell’s work  reflects the need to view the content and teaching of such curricula more holistically. To date, work has focused on developing an ‘integrated curriculum’ for the language proficiency development strand of the curriculum. 

With colleagues in Chile, he has planned the practice and process of using topics and themes arising from other strands of the curriculum (learning, education and methdology), together with trainees’ prior life experience, as the main content/stimuli for trainees’ language development modules. The first programme incorporating such an ‘integrated curriculum’ began at two universities in 2011. Two further universities will start similar programmes in 2014.

Hanks’ pioneering work on Exploratory Practice has made significant theoretical and professional contributions to the field of language teacher education. Her work provides a framework for understanding how the integration of research and pedagogy may be achieved in a wide range of contexts in TESOL.

To date, work has focused on developing a set of principles for ‘fully integrated practitioner research’ in language learning and teaching, and Hanks’ contribution has focused particularly on the notions of puzzled inquiry, inclusivity and collegiality in classroom language learning research.

As a result of Hanks' work, Exploratory Practice is now being integrated into the practices of EAP practitioners in language centres in the Universities of Glasgow, Leeds, and Sheffield Hallam, and is being developed in others. The work has generated global interest, as reflected in invitations to give plenary and/or keynote addresses at conferences in Brazil, Japan, Portugal and Turkey, as well as a series of events in the UK (at IATEFL, and at University Language Centres around the UK).

Hanks gave a plenary address on Exploratory Practice at Kyoto University, Japan in May 2013.

Conclusion and question and answer section

In initial teacher education for primary teachers, Conteh’s work on English as an additional language has made a major contribution to raising the profile and importance of this aspect of teacher knowledge in mainstream schools in England, where the numbers of bilingual pupils, and the languages they speak, have risen rapidly in recent years, and currently stand at about 16%. She has been asked to speak at national and international conferences, and to contribute to policy discussions and developments.

Role of research in language teacher's lives

Borg’s programme of research has made a significant theoretical and methodological contribution to the field in relation to the study of the role of research in language teachers’ lives. Theoretically, the work has, through a series of international projects, developed a framework for understanding the degree of research engagement that teachers’ exhibit; teachers’ conceptions of research and their perceptions of their institutional context are key elements in this framework.

This work has also highlighted tensions between institutional drives, often with a political agenda, to make teacher more research active, and teachers’ understanding of, and ability to respond to, such drives. Methodologically, this work is also important as it has involved the development of research designs and instruments that are being adopted by researchers elsewhere.

As a result of key research outputs in the leading journals Applied Linguistics, Language Teaching, and TESOL Quarterly, Borg is recognized as the leading figure in the study of language teacher research engagement, a position that will be strengthened by the publication early in 2013 of the monograph Teacher research and language teaching: a critical analysis (CUP). There is also a strong professional dimension to this work as it has clear implications for the design and delivery of initiatives aimed at supporting the development of teacher researchers.

Borg’s work in providing research methods training for university teachers of English in Pakistan is an example of the practical application of his research.

English as an additional language

Conteh’s research work in complementary and mainstream school settings, as well as her work in initial teacher education and continuing professional development over the years, has contributed to the theoretical and practical knowledge of teachers to meet the needs of learners on English as an additional language (EAL) in mainstream schools. In 2009-2010, she received funding from the Department for Education, in collaboration with the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC), to develop and trial modules for initial teacher education, and for ITE providers in EAL.

Since 2010, Conteh has continued the research strand of the work through internal funding and her ongoing, classroom-based research work with bilingual teachers, funded via a community organisation by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. This has led directly to the development of the part-time MA program in EAL and Education, launched in September 2013 with 14 students, all experienced practitioners in the emerging field of EAL.

Adult ESOL

Baynham and Simpson have led a sequence of research projects which has been influential both in setting the agenda for research into the learning and teaching of English for adult migrants in the UK, a hitherto largely unresearched area, and in establishing Leeds as a leading centre for research in this emergent area in the UK. The research has attracted a significant cohort of ESOL practitioners to doctoral study.

At national policy level, the team’s publications are repeatedly referred to in the Companion guide to the application of the Professional Standards for Teachers of English (Literacy and ESOL) and are used as core training materials in Level 5 ESOL training. Our work is also shaping current local government policy on English language provision for adult migrants in Leeds and beyond. Simpson leads the ESOL-Research email discussion group at www.jiscmail.ac.uk/ESOL-Research. This provides a unique critical national and international focus on ESOL research, policy, practice and activism, and played a central role in the organization of the Action for ESOL campaign. With nearly a thousand subscribers, it continues to be the key online forum for discussion of ESOL issues.

The reach of our research extends beyond England to other countries with similar migration profiles. Our research has been widely disseminated in the main TESOL professional journals and newsletters, also in the US, Canada and Australia. For instance, the Effective Teaching and Learning ESOL report is listed as a resource in the ESOL Scotland Curriculum Framework, and has so far been downloaded 555 times.

Key publications

The Language Education team has an impressive record of publication which marks it out as one of the leading teams internationally of its kind. Selected recent publications are listed here (please visit individual staff web pages for more details).

  • Badger, R., & MacDonald, M. (2010). Making it real: Authenticity, process and pedagogy. Applied Linguistics, 31, 578-582.
  • Baynham, M & Simpson, J. (2010). Onwards and upwards: Space, placement and liminality in Adult ESOL classes. TESOL Quarterly, 44(3), 420-440.
  • Borg, S. (2013). Teacher research in language teaching: A critical analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Chambers, G.N. (2012). Transition in modern languages from primary to secondary school: the challenge of change. Language Learning Journal. Available at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09571736.2012.708052
  • Conteh, J. (2012) Teaching bilingual and EAL learners in primary schools. Learning Matters/ Sage. (shortlisted for the UKLA academic book award)
  • Deignan, A., Littlemore, J. and Semino, E. (2013). Figurative language, genre and register. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Green, S. (2013) Novice ESL writers: A longitudinal case-study of the situated academic writing processes of three undergraduates in a TESOL context Journal of English for Academic Purposes 12, 180-191.
  • Hanks, J. (2013). Inclusivity and trust in Exploratory Practice: A case study of principles in practice. In E. Tarone & D. Soneson (Eds.), Expanding our Horizons: Language teacher education in the 21st century. Minneapolis: CARLA.
  • Lamb, M. (2013). 'Your mum and dad can't teach you!': Constraints on agency among rural learners of English in Indonesia. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 34, 14-29.
  • Robinson, P.J & Atkins, J. (2009). Evaluation of the BA Project. In Atkins, J., Lamb, M. & Wedell, M. (Eds.). International collaboration for educational change: The BA project (pp. 132-148). Ministry of Education, Sultanate of Oman.
  • Simpson, J. (ed.) (2011). The Routledge Handbook of Applied Linguistics. London: Routledge.
  • Wedell, M. & Malderez, A. (2013). Understanding language classroom contexts: The starting point for change. London: Bloomsbury.

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