Past Seminars

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


Dr. David Wood (Carleton University, Canada)

Formulaic Language in Applied Linguistics and TESOL

A considerable amount of research of various types has been conducted around formulaic language (FL)—multiword units with unitary meanings or functions that appear to be prefabricated, mentally stored, and processed as if single words. As the nature of FL and its use and acquisition have been studied for many years, it is remarkable that there have been so few investigations into how to actually teach this essential element of language to second language (L2) learners. We know that only very advanced learners reach a near-native ability to process and produce FL rapidly and appropriately (e.g., Forsberg 2010; Laufer & Waldman, 2011). L2 learners are very challenged by FL and develop facility with it very slowly. This course is an introduction to the phenomenon of FL and its relevance to applied linguistics, specifically language production, language acquisition and teaching, and discourse. We will survey the state of knowledge about FL in L2 acquisition and production, and its role in constructing discourse, with reference to some actual language data. We will explore the ways that FL can be integrated into language teaching methods and materials. By the end of the course participants should have a strong understanding of FL and its importance, and a sense of how to employ this understanding in the language classroom.

Seminar Outline

Day 1 (Saturday)

  • First Session (3 hrs)
    • Introduction to formulaic language (FL) and research on FL
      Reading: Wood, 2015 Ch. 1
    • Identification and Categories of FL
      Reading: Wood, 2015 Ch. 2 and 3
  • Second Session (3 hrs)
    • Mental processing of FL
      Reading: Wood, 2015 Ch. 4
    • Acquisition of FL
    • Wrap-up and reflection
      Reading: Wood, 2015, Ch. 5

Day 2 (Sunday)

  • Third Session (3 hrs)
    • FL and spoken language
      Reading: Wood, 2015, Ch. 6
    • Lexical bundles
      Reading: Wood, 2015, Ch. 8
  • Fourth Session (3 hrs)
    • Teaching FL
      Reading: Wood, 2015, Ch. 9
    • Teaching FL
    • Wrap-up and assignment plans

Required Textbook:

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.