London Second Language Acquisition Research Forum (L-SLARF) Colloquium

London Second Language Acquisition Research Forum (L-SLARF) members, including Andrea Révész, Ana Pellicer-Sanchez & Kazuya Saito, will share ongoing research projects with students, researchers & the general public. The event will take place face-to-face & online. The event is free and open to all. 

Saturday May 21st 10:00-17:00
Room B35, Birkbeck, University London (Malet St, London WC1E 7HX)

Livestream @ YouTube:

In memory of John Norrish, by Catherine Wallace

John Norrish (1936-2022)

One memory I have of John is his arriving at the Institute of Education at the same time each morning, always carrying his fold- up bike. Rod Ellis also recalls the fact that he always came to work on his bicycle. It was unusual then, though more common these days. He was ahead of his time.

John Norrish lectured at the Institute of Education from 1977 to 2001, and I worked at the IOE with John for eleven of those years.  He was a delightful colleague:  charming, urbane, with a dry and understated sense of humour.  As Anita Pincas, who worked with John for even longer than I did, said, he was ‘one of those people who everyone liked, but who managed to be not at all dull’. Supremely tactful,  unflappable, skilled  at  pouring oil on troubled waters, he was perfect in the role of Head of the Languages in Education Group, which he held from 1998 to 2000, when the structure of the department changed.

Never one to talk about his achievements, John revealed little about his time working for the British Council in Ghana, his fluent Mandarin, or his love of music.  A colleague, Peter Skehan, recalls attending a concert with John: ‘either he was a Paul Simon fan or he disguised it well – we went to a Paul Simon concert together in Barcelona. The concert also had Ladysmith Black Mombasa, and I vividly remember John (who had serious African experience) being transported when they sang’.

John was a major player in key professional organisations linked to English language teaching.  He was the Chief Examiner for the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) Diploma, and Chair of  IELTDHE, Institute of English Language Teacher Development in Higher Education.  I recall long discussions about how to simplify the cumbersome acronym until John came up with the crisper ‘QuiTE’, or Quality in Teacher Education, an organisation which John went on to lead for some years.

While contributing to our profession in myriad, often unheralded ways, John played a major role in the academic life of the English Language Teaching Group at IOE.  He wrote a superb, accessible book for language teachers, ‘Language Learners and their Errors’, which, over the years, helped many English language teachers improve their professional understanding and practice. He also led an impressive number of students through to PhD, including major figures in the world of English Language Teaching, such as Professor Jennifer Jenkins and Professor Rod Ellis.  Rod, who was supervised by John from 1978 to 1982, remembers ‘his calm conviviality and always helpful advice’.  Jennifer Jenkins recalls how John came to the rescue with a PhD she had been working on for a few years prior to choosing John as her supervisor.

‘John supervised my PhD for only two years, but what a difference those two years made. Up till then, I’d struggled elsewhere for four years to find a supervisor willing to step outside their own research area and take on my project which, admittedly, must have seemed rather bizarre at the time. John was different. He happily started working with me, showed a keen interest in an area that was new to him, and didn’t mind in the least admitting when he wasn’t familiar with any of the concepts involved. Because of his open and receptive mind, by the end of the second year, it was all over. 

Jenny also remembers John’s interpersonal skills: ‘As well as the academic side, John was a lovely person to meet up with for supervisions. He always offered coffee at the start – and a really good quality coffee at that. And because of our shared love of choral music, we often found ourselves discussing what we were currently singing in our respective choirs. I will always have very fond memories of my time with John’.

Finally, it will be as a wonderful colleague and teacher that John will be remembered. Guy Cook, who worked with John for some years at the Institute, recalls,

‘He was one of the best colleagues of my whole forty years in academia: kind, decent, thoughtful, companionable, a superb raconteur, and an excellent teacher.  Never vindictive or self-aggrandising (like some academics!) and with a wonderful sense of humour and the warmest of personalities.  It is a great loss to everyone who knew him’.

Katy Salisbury’s testimony is typical of many of John’s Masters and PGCE students. Katy writes, 

‘I was first taught by John in 1983 on the PGCE in ESOL at the Institute, and it was largely because of John that I then applied to do my MA there in 1988. He helped create a very positive, egalitarian atmosphere in the department and made us young teachers feel more like colleagues than students.  He was part of the team who came out to Madrid to supervise our practicum and then our training as teacher educators.  His feedback was always constructive, with a fine practical eye for what was workable in an under-resourced classroom of 40 teenagers. He was a great communicator and I often recall the excellent advice he gave and the way he helped me advance in the profession I love”.

John will be greatly missed by all of us whose lives he touched.

Professor Catherine Wallace

9th Explorations in Ethnography, Language and Communication conference, 3-4 April 2023, at the Institute of Education, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, University College London

The theme of the 9th Explorations in Ethnography, Language and Communication conference is the following:

‘Language, inequality and the everyday (un)making of alliances’ 

The ninth EELC conference follows a series of global crises epitomised by moments of spectacular disruption such as the so-called ‘2008 economic crisis’ or the ‘COVID-19 pandemic’. But far from representing isolated events, these build on long-standing processes, practices and experiences of inequality which are increasingly at the centre of more and more people’s daily lives. The conference aims to provide a platform to reflect on the types of alliances that ethnographic and language scholarship might be able to generate in the (un)making of such inequalities.

Explorations in Ethnography, Language and Communication is the biannual conference of the Linguistic Ethnography Forum (LEF), a special interest group of the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL). The conference was first inspired by a research training programme previously run at King’s College London and the Institute of Education. Hosted by Julia Snell, Sara Shaw and Fiona Copland, the first conference took place in 2008 at Aston University to offer further opportunities to exchange knowledge around ethnography, language and communication. Since then, the conference has aimed to:

  • Provide a dedicated cross-disciplinary forum for researchers who combine ethnographic and linguistic approaches;
  • Facilitate high quality debate on contemporary issues across health, education, social policy and cultural studies;
  • Establish a stimulating programme combining plenary lectures, data workshops and presentations;
  • Facilitate international dialogue between linguistic ethnography and linguistic anthropology.

The event will include individual papers, colloquia and three featured data analysis workshops. The confirmed keynote speakers and featured workshop organisers are:

  • Dr Julia Snell, University of Leeds (UK)
  • Dr Daniel Silva, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (Brazil)
  • Dr Beatriz Lorente, University of Bern (Switzerland)
  • Dr Lian Malai Madsen, University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • Dr Jackie Jia Lou, Birkbeck University of London (UK)

In order to make it as affordable as possible, the organisation of this conference will be fully arranged by the local organising committee with no outsourcing to third parties other than catering services. This means that we will need to keep it small in size in accordance with previous EELC conferences. More information on the event will be announced shortly.

Best regards,

Miguel Pérez-Milans, Andrea Sunyol and Emma Brooks

Local organising committee

UCL Centre for Applied Linguistics, University College London

International Mother Tongue Day (21 Feb) – a reflection by Dina Mehmedbegovic-Smith

To commemorate International Mother Tongue Day this year (21 Feb 2022), Dr Dina Mehmedbegovic-Smith posted on her Healthy Linguistic Diet blog a reflection on a lecture she gave for a new MA Literacy programme focusing on development of pluriliteracies. The students’ engagement inspired the post, which you can read here:

MA Literacy colleagues reported that the post, in turn, inspired the students, so there was mutual inspiration all around!

Welcoming Prof. Zhu Hua to UCL!

We are very excited to announce the welcome of Prof. Zhu Hua to UCL Centre for Applied Linguistics! Zhu Hua is Professor of Language Learning and Intercultural Communication, and she will be contributing mainly to our new MA in Intercultural Communication starting 2022-23.

Prof. Zhu Hua previously held professorships at the University of Birmingham and Birkbeck, University of London, and has held visiting and honorary professorships in several Australian and Chinese universities. Her research focuses on cross-linguistic studies of child language acquisition, speech and language discorders of young children, pragmatics, multilingualism, and intercultural communication. Zhu Hua is the first Chinese-born woman linguist to be made a full professor in a British university, and she became a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, UK, in 2019.

You can read more about Zhu Hua in this 2020 interview with the late Prof Jan Blommaert in Diggit Magazine.

Welcome to UCL, Zhu Hua!

Ruanni Tupas chosen as ‘Best of 2021’ by IOE’s Research for the Real World

Ruanni Tupas has been chosen by IOE’s Research for the Real World as one of the ‘Best of 2021’ for his work on multilingualism and Pinoy Pop. Ruanni’s segment Overcoming inequalities in multilingualism through education and experience is one of the five featured podcasts in RFTRW Season 12 Episode 04: “Highlights: Five things we learned in 2021”. Read more about it on UCL IOE news, which includes links to the podcasts:

Congratulations, Ruanni!

Talia Isaacs working on improving communication about vaccines within ethnic minority groups

A recent UCL press release has highlighted the work of our own Talia Isaacs on a project investigating factors influencing vaccine uptake in ethnic minority groups. Mistrust is a key factor, and research shows that these groups require more than a single intervention, but rather the involvement of a trusted messenger who can help to improve communication. Read the press release here:

A review of Language x Power x Activism: A masterclass with Jan Blommaert (by Philip Seargeant)

Prof Philip Seargeant (The Open University), graduate of the Institute of Education, has reviewed Language x Power x Activism: A masterclass with Jan Blommaert (Woord x Macht x Strijd, documentaire met Jan Blommaert, 2021). The late Prof Blommaert was Professor and Chair at the Institute of Education, 2005-2008.

A new documentary about the sociolinguist Jan Blommaert makes a powerful and eloquent case for why language lies at the core of social inequalities – and why the study of language can be at the forefront of social change.

Films-about-academics isn’t perhaps the most prominent or lucrative of cinematic genres. The occasional public intellectual – Slavoj Žižek springs to mind – may get a documentary made about their life and work. But one senses this is as much to do with their idiosyncratic public persona as with general interest in their ideas. French intellectuals – or male ones, at least – once they attain the status of a cultural brand (e.g. Derrida, Bourdieu), also occasionally find themselves the focus of feature-length documentaries. And then there are examples, such as the intellectual biography of Stuart Hall, where friends and former students commemorate their colleague by way of a film about his life.

Jan Blommaert didn’t have quite the profile – at least not on the international stage – of a Žižek or a Derrida. Within his own field, however, and in his native Belgium, he was a hugely influential scholar. And when he revealed, in early 2020, that he’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer, a group of friends and colleagues decided they wanted to find a way of recording the impact that he’d had on their lives and thinking.

Spearheaded by his colleague and former student Ico Maly, and beautifully realised by the film director Pieter De Vos, the result is Language x Power x Activism, an hour-long discussion with Jan, filmed a few months before his death. The documentary is centred around a long-form interview, which ranges widely over topics that were at the centre of both Jan’s intellectual and activist life.

Social engagement and the role of the educator and public intellectual are at the core of all these topics, and Jan talks with typical analytical insight of the threat of far-right discourse in Belgium, particularly in relation to the so-called ‘debates over immigration’; of the Black Lives Matter protests and the history of a colonial ideology that permeates the education system; and of the current worrying state of academia and the societal constraints on academic culture.

In agreeing to be filmed, Jan apparently insisted that he didn’t want the result to be a video overview of his CV, simply recounting the highlights of his career and the influence he’s had on the discipline of sociolinguistics. And although the documentary does include a little biographical information, particularly around his interventions in the fight against the anti-immigration ideologies that infected society in 1980s Belgium, the film is, in many ways, more of a manifesto than a retrospective.

The reason it gives this impression is that it focuses on Jan’s beliefs and values as much as on his theoretical work. He does, of course, make the case for seeing the study of language as central to an understanding of all social relations, and he outlines his vision of sociolinguistics as the exploration not merely of diversity but of discrimination. The study of language, for him, is the study of social inequality, and thus education about the role that language plays in our lives can be a powerful tool for social change tice.

But what comes across most strongly are Jan’s thoughts about the status and nature of education, about the role and responsibilities of the educator, and about what it means to be an academic in the twenty-first century. From recollections of how his own schooling and university study occurred in a system that was still very much informed by colonialism, to his conviction that teaching and learning is not about diplomas but about human development, the lasting message of the film is the power that educators – and indeed, the individual educator – can have on the community around them.  

The great advantage of watching him talk about these things on film is in the simple fact of seeing the ideas spoken by someone who has very cleared lived them. It’s in no way a sentimental film – although the edit creates space for a few moments of silence as Jan collects his thoughts before reflecting on how he approaches the idea of evaluating a life cut short. But it’s a profoundly human film, telling the story of how the world of ideas is always rooted, very directly, in the world of real experience, real issues and real people.

Language x Power x Activism: A masterclass with Jan Blommaert is available on YouTube:

Presitgious TIRF doctoral dissertation grant awarded to Yeonwoo Jung

We are very pleased to share that doctoral student Yeonwoo Jung, supervised by Andrea Révész and Ana Pellicer-Sánchez, has been awarded a prestigious doctoral dissertation grant from The International Foundation for English Language Teaching (TIRF). Yeonwoo’s doctoral work examines the effects of multimodal digital feedback on second language development in the context of video-conferencing tasks. Previously, Yeonwoo was also a recipient of the Language Learning Dissertation Grant, and as an MA student, she was the runner-up to the British Council ELT dissertation award. Yeonwoo will use the funding to support data collection for her main study.

Many congratulations to Yeonwoo Jung!