Past Seminars

Following are the lecturers and topics of past seminars of the Distinguished Lecturer Series.


Dr. David Crabbe (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)

Understanding Language Course Design as a Problem-solving Process

Course design at its most basic is specifying learning goals, together with effective learning opportunities to achieve those goals. But it is more exciting than that. Course design in practice and in context is not static. It requires systematic and on-going problem-solving that starts with understanding the people concerned and the resources available. The understanding entails elements such as the potential roles of learners and teachers, their motivation and beliefs, the opportunities available in and out of the classroom for communicative performance, ways of enhancing that performance, ways of describing it for better metacognitive understanding, and any obstacles in taking up the opportunities.

This course will provide a framework for course design as informed problem-solving, drawing on what are seen as universals of human language learning and focussing on how those universals might be activated in context. The framework will raise questions about, for example: the role of the learners in the problem-solving; how their autonomy and motivation as members of a learning community might be fostered; how the impact of examinations could be managed productively; and how a bridge might be built between the classroom and the private domain of learning. Attention will be paid throughout to continually evaluating the impact of actions taken.

Dr. David Singleton (University of Pannonia, Hungary)

Age-related Factors in Second Language Learning

For most people the answer to the question of when it is best to begin learning a second language is self-evident. The cliché “the younger the better” would sum up the opinion delivered by the majority of respondents to such a question! We shall see in this course, however, that the facts of the matter are not so simple.

The maturational perspective or Critical Period Hypothesis has had its original theoretical postulates swept away by more recent research. While it is true that in naturalistic contexts younger second language beginners tend in the long run to do better than older beginners, there are plenty of examples of people who start their second language experience in adolescence or adulthood and who end up native-like in the second language in question. It turns out that the key to success at any age relates to the quality of interaction and the affective dimensions of interaction with the second language and its users.

With regard to the instructional context, the clear and consistent finding of more than forty years of research is that early schooling in a second language confers no lasting linguistic advantage over those whose second language exposure at school begins later. Recent findings suggest that in instructional settings too, quality of interaction, attitude and motivation are more important than starting age. These findings have unfortunately been ignored by governments and ministries of education around the world.

The course will explore all of these issues, and it will maintain a focus throughout on the educational implications of the research findings discussed. In particular, it will deliver the message that:

  • whatever the age of the learners, it is very important to provide a lively and engaging experience of input and interaction in the target language, because;
  • it is vital to maintain interest and motivation in regard to coming to grips with the target language, and;
  • this seems to be more of a challenge with learners who begin L2 learning young and whose language-learning experience lasts longer.