How do Individual Differences in L1 Skills Impact L2 Achievement?

This month we published Exploring L1-L2 Relationships by Richard L. Sparks. In this post the author explains how he came to write the book.

My research has addressed L2 learning from a different angle, namely that first language (L1) and L2 learning are similar. Given my background, my approach to research for L2 learning described in the book may not be surprising. I am a L1 educator whose specialties are learning disabilities, reading disabilities (dyslexia), language learning, and assessment. My study of L2 learning, and later L2 aptitude, was serendipitous and began when I encountered US college students with difficulties fulfilling their L2 course requirement. For several years, I conducted studies with secondary level students with L2 learning difficulties, but soon expanded my research to include both high- and low-achieving L2 learners. I speculated that there would be strong connections between students’ L2 achievement and their L1 achievement, an intuition that was quickly validated by my research. These findings encouraged me to continue this line of investigation for the simple reason that despite longstanding research by L1 researchers that had revealed individual differences (IDs) in all aspects of students’ language development by preschool age, there had been little or no research on L1-L2 relationships.

The book brings a new and different approach to the study of L2 learning, one that has been largely neglected by L2 educators and researchers – how individual differences (IDs) in students’ L1 skills impact their L2 aptitude and subsequent L2 achievement. Early on, my late colleague, Leonore Ganschow, and I developed a hypothesis which claimed that L1 and L2 learning have a common foundation – language ability. My book takes the reader on a journey over 30+ years in which our studies, some lasting 3-10 years, provided strong support for our hypothesis about L1-L2 relationships by showing that:

  • L2 achievement is reflected in students’ levels of L1 achievement
  • L2 aptitude and L2 achievement run along a continuum of very strong to very weak learners, just like L1 achievement
  • L2 learning problems are, first and foremost, language learning problems
  • L2 aptitude (like L1 ability) is componential and comprised of different language skills
  • L2 aptitude and L2 achievement are constrained (moderated) by L1 achievement.
  • L2 anxiety is largely determined by students’ levels of L1 achievement, L2 aptitude, and L2 achievement

A valuable section of the book introduces the reader to evidence for the strong relationships between students’ L1 and L2 reading skills in alphabetic languages through the use of the Simple View of Reading model. This research supports L1-L2 connections for reading and demonstrates how to evaluate students’ L1 or L2 reading skills in English and Spanish through the use of accessible assessment tools. Another important contribution for L2 educators is the discussion throughout the book of the concepts of inter-individual and intra-individual differences, culminating in a new, heretofore unpublished chapter in which I review the extensive literature on IDs in L1 ability and provide a tutorial on how to understand IDs in, and the connections between, L1–L2 skills. The tutorial explains that there is variation – often substantial variation – between and within individual learners, and variation in IDs profiles across multiple characteristics. The tutorial also shows how learners’ inter- and intra-individual differences in L1 are manifested in their L2 aptitude and L2 achievement. The book concludes with presentation of my model of future directions for L2 research.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Explorations of Language Transfer by Terence Odlin. 

Summer 2022

Autumn seems to have well and truly set in here in Bristol, but in this blog post we have one last look back at the summer and what we all got up to…


We went to Cornwall early in the summer and really enjoyed walking some of the stunning coast path. Even more so, we enjoyed delicious Cornish cream teas with scones, clotted cream and jam. My daughter was definitely much heavier to carry toward the end of the holiday!



We had a very lazy fortnight in Kefalonia, reading books, swimming in the sea and eating and drinking!





Most of my summer was spent moving house and looking after adorable new kittens, but I managed a trip to Wales in May – finally rescheduled from March 2020! I also enjoyed a perfectly timed long weekend visiting family near Fort William. The weather was outstanding, so we made the most of it with trips to Arisaig and Mallaig, before cooling off with a dip in Loch Ness (pictured here without the usual drizzle).



It feels a long time ago now, but I went abroad for the first time in two and a half years in June for a little road trip around western France. We took the Eurostar to Paris, then headed to Versailles, the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and Hossegor, a famous surfing spot. This is a picture of me on the Dune du Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe!


Sara and I flew to Durham, North Carolina to visit my brother and his family. We spent a lovely long weekend with Sami, Jenni, Lilia and Adeline. After a few years of not being able to see each other it was just special to spend time together. Sara and I then visited Boston, New York and the Blue Mountains together, highlights being the Theatre of Electricity at Boston’s Museum of Science, Visiting the Dog Pond in prospect park to see all the dogs playing in the water, and some hiking at Chimney Rock, the Hickory Nut Falls and the Wild Cat Overlook in Hickory Nut Gorge. Finally we returned to Durham for another weekend with our lovely nieces and spent many happy hours eating delicious food, splashing about in the warm Eno river and exploring the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail. Although it sometimes seems sad to live so far away from my nieces, who are growing up really fast, the distance means that when we do get together it’s really special!


I enjoyed a couple of child-free breakfasts and pre-dinner Cavas on the terrace during my family holiday in Majorca, followed by lots of sea cave-exploring and rock-pooling while Youth Hostelling on the Pembrokeshire coast.





I had a fantastic time in the Lake District and at Glastonbury – Paul McCartney was incredible! I also got to enjoy lots of wild swimming and my birthday which, somehow, stretched into a week of cakes, dinners and daytrips.





I had a very busy summer fitting several trips into the school holidays but the highlight had to be a trip to France with family. It was the first time I’d been abroad for several years and it was lovely to spend time with lots of family. The children loved the ferry, the swimming pool and croissants for breakfast every day!


As I’m lucky to live in a seaside town there doesn’t seem to be a pressing need for a summer holiday! So my photo is from a mini-break in Ireland post-ATLAS conference. I stayed with my friends in Broadford, County Clare and had a fun day out at Bunratty Castle – a great place to pretend that you’re living hundreds of years ago!

Issues with the Current State of the ELT Industry: Why This is the Right Time for My Book

This month we published Antisocial Language Teaching by JPB Gerald. In this post, the author explains why the time is ripe for his book to be released.

Anyone who is affiliated with language education in some capacity is likely aware that there are issues in the field. Depending on your vantage point and level of progressiveness, those issues generally include hierarchical and exclusionary practices such as native-speakerism, so-called “accent reduction”, and the policies that descend from raciolinguistic ideologies, or the association of deficient language with marginalized racial groups. We language scholars and practitioners have, in articles and presentations and books, been trying to address these issues for decades now, and yet many of these barriers remain firmly in place. In my new book, Antisocial Language Teaching: English and the Pervasive Pathology of Whiteness, I make the argument for why we seem to be so ideologically stubborn.

Simply put, all of the issues above – to which you can add the ravages of capitalism and the way that colonialism continues to shape our field – are tied to the belief that certain people and groups are inherently disordered and in need of correction. My own research is based around the intersection of race, disability, and language, but, though it does not factor into my book, you can add religion and gender and other axes of oppression to this as well. Unfortunately, we have been forced to reform our field inch by inch, focusing on intertwined issues separately and thus leaving the overall harmful structure in place. As a rhetorical device, I use the diagnostic criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (aka DSM-5) to make the point that the way our field was built and is currently maintained could be classified as deeply disordered and only isn’t because of who currently benefits from the system as is; more specifically, I map the seven criteria of antisocial personality disorder onto the connection between whiteness, colonialism, capitalism, and ableism and how these and other -isms harm the vast majority of the students – and educators – in the field of language teaching. Whether you end up agreeing with my argument or not, I do hope you give the book a chance to both inform and entertain you, for I believe that our discipline’s conversation has yet to feature the particular angle I am putting forth, and I also believe that we will never get out of our current cycles if we don’t try something radically different, a vision I put forth towards the end of the work.

The book has just been released, and if you are interested, you can order it here. If you’d like to have a good faith conversation with me about the issues, feel free to find me on twitter: @JPBGerald.

JPB Gerald, EdD, is a graduate of the Instructional Leadership program from CUNY – Hunter College in New York, USA. He works in professional development for a not-for-profit organization.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Bilingualism for All? edited by Nelson Flores, Amelia Tseng and Nicholas Subtirelu.

Welcome Back Laura!

We recently welcomed Laura back from her year of maternity leave, in which she’s been very busy not only looking after her baby, Elizabeth, but also getting married! Here’s a little insight into her time away and her feelings about returning to work.

How has your year of maternity leave been?

It’s quite hard to sum up a year in a few lines! I feel very fortunate to have had a year to spend with our daughter, Elizabeth, especially as I know that many parents the world over don’t have that luxury. However, I would be lying if I said that there weren’t many times when I was desperate for my old life back. Getting used to our ‘new normal’ has been a long journey!

How does it feel coming back to work after a year away?

Wonderful! Especially coming into the office having spent the year before that working from home because of Covid. I think that it does me the world of good to cycle to work each day, to have the stimulation of the city and to spend the working day in a different environment. Work itself is challenging – I seem to be unable to retain any recent information yet can still recall things from several years ago. It’s as though I’m stuck in a strange mental time-warp…useful occasionally (like when someone wants to know the ISBN of a book published in 2011!), but most of the time I am very reliant on my notepad!

What have you missed and what are you looking forward to most about being back at work?

I have missed my colleagues and the wider circle of work contacts enormously. It is nice to have conversations again that aren’t either with or about Elizabeth! I’m looking forward to getting stuck into using the new reporting systems we’ll be using for sales and being back in touch with all my old contacts. I’m returning under a new name, so it’s very handy to have a good cover-up when I’ve forgotten something I ought to know!

What will you miss about maternity leave?

My husband works shifts so it was fantastic to have a year of not working Mon-Fri, 9-5 (even if I was in fact working 24/7!) as it meant that when he was off on a random day, I was usually at home too. It was nice to be able to do things when most people were working. We’re going to have to get used to juggling all our commitments and making sure that there are at least a few days a year when we’re all at home together!

Why Should Forced Migration be Considered in Research on Language Learning?

This month we published Language Learning and Forced Migration edited by Marte Monsen and Guri Bordal Steien. In this post the editors explain why it’s important to consider forced migration in language learning research.

When you listen to debates about migration in some European countries, you might get the impression that the rest of the world spend their life waiting for an opportunity to pack their bags and penetrate the European borders. As academics living in Norway, we are used to a discourse where adult language learners are portrayed as people who came to Norway voluntarily and need to meet strict Norwegian language requirements to prevent too many others taking the same journey. Researchers on second language acquisition also tend to view second language learning for adults as voluntary, and of course, many people both move across borders and learn new languages voluntarily for work, for studies or even just for the sake of new experiences.

However, many people experience that they are moved across borders with force. In Norway, the immigration policies are strict, so migrants coming to Norway from outside the EU will not be able to settle in Norway unless they are in special need of protection, such as UN resettlement refugees. Adult second language learners in Norway are thus usually forced migrants. In our work, we have met people who have been forced from their homes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, often by means of cruelty beyond our imagination. They have fled on foot to Uganda, where they have lived a rough life in a sort of limbo, as they know their life in Uganda is only temporary. Under these circumstances, many of them have learned new languages through communicating with people “in the streets”, and many of them have large language repertoires. After years in transit, sometimes decades, they have been resettled in Norway, where few or none of their current language resources are valued. Entering many countries in the Global North entails forced attendance of classes to learn the host language, as is also the case for Norway.

The language courses and language tests that the migrants will come up against in Norway and other European countries are based upon the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). A well-known critique of this framework is that it allows policymakers to easily use language proficiency levels as standards and gatekeepers, while the empirical foundation for these standards is weak, and while the descriptions of language proficiency in CEFR initially was developed to measure foreign language learning by students. Well used concepts within SLA that might further guide the language courses, like Selinker’s theories on interlanguage or various models of motivation or investment in language learning, are also based upon knowledge from students or voluntary migrants. This means that a large number of people that attend language classes in the Global North enter a system that lacks knowledge of their language backgrounds, their needs and their lived experience.

Because of the unique situation of refugees and other forced migrants, we believe we need a research agenda that takes into consideration the experiences of people who have been forced to cross borders. That is what we hope to initiate with our book Language Learning and Forced Migration.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Crossing Borders, Writing Texts, Being Evaluated edited by Anne Golden, Lars Anders Kulbrandstad and Lawrence Jun Zhang.

Reconceptualizing ELT Around the Globe

We recently published Reconceptualizing English for International Business Contexts by Elma Dedović-Atilla and Vildana Dubravac. In this post the authors explain why current English teaching is unhelpful for modern BELF users.

On the one hand, we face the omnipresence of English in international business contexts worldwide, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on the other hand, an inappropriate approach used in preparing the workforce for such settings. The role of English is constantly changing but its teaching seems not to follow those trends. Firstly, there is a strong focus on native varieties, particularly British, due to its immense presence in educational institutions, and American, thanks to its dominance in informal learning contexts. Consequently, not being familiar with the other varieties of English used worldwide, teachers do not deem them acceptable, and do not promote diversity. Instead of broadening their students’ horizons, they are often restricted to teaching materials they are using or being imposed to use.

Thus, we come to the second issue, namely the one of appropriate teaching materials and overall teaching methods applied. Current teaching materials are based on British, and to some extent American English, while other varieties are disregarded. Moreover, students are not taught skills such as suitable discourse skills, strategic skills, non-verbal communication strategies, which have proved to be crucially important for effective communication in international business contexts. Much time is spent on grammar and not enough on suitable vocabulary development. Students are also not encouraged to explore the current trends in the use of English worldwide, are not taught to respect diversity and to stream towards multicompetence rather than native-like competence in the target language.

However, the present-day labor market rather requires multicompetence, appropriate vocabulary knowledge, high level of tolerance and a mastery in additional extralinguistic skills. Thus, the reconceptualization of teaching approach comes out as a necessity. A careful analysis of the marketplace is required and then the introduction of adjusted teaching methods and materials is expected. That is exactly what this book offers, and what, thanks to Multilingual Matters, becomes available to a wide readership around the globe. We hope educators, students and business people will find it useful in shaping their way to a successful career and effective practice.

For more information about this book please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Global TESOL for the 21st Century by Heath Rose, Mona Syrbe, Anuchaya Montakantiwong and Natsuno Funada.

The ‘Face’ Notion and Patient-centred Communication

We recently published Patient-centred Communication by Kayo Kondo. In this post the author explains how face and politeness theory interact with patient-centred communication.

The notion of ‘face’ is central to patient-centred communication. It is very important for healthcare professionals to be able to elicit a patient’s thoughts and concerns and to understand their specific experience of symptoms. Patients have their own ‘life-worlds’, and doctors have their own professional frame of mind. Teasing out clues as to the onset and ongoing manifestation of illness requires trust and rapport; otherwise, the patient would probably swallow their words.

In daily communication, the concept of ‘face’ arises in expressions such as ‘losing face’ (losing the respect of others) or ‘saving face’ (preventing someone from feeling embarrassed). According to Canadian-born sociologist Erving Goffman, ‘face’ as an interactional identity is an East Asian-originated concept introduced by Chinese anthropologist Hu Hsien Chin in 1944. Face has multiple sides, each of which is an ‘image’ the person projects, and it is mutual work. Its role in interactions can be observed in much of Goffman’s study of ‘face-work’. In a similar vein, Japanese philosopher Shinzo Mori powerfully stated: ‘Our whole life is a kind of “face-making” of who we are, so to speak. We spend our whole life finishing the only “face” we have.’

The patient-doctor relationship may be subject to the image that the professional projects and that the patient perceives, and vice versa. Attentive listening can meet the patient’s needs and can avoid the potential for emotional harm to the patient. When the patient feels that the doctor is interested in them as a person and trusts the relationship, the relationship can become a partnership. It can be fair to say that patient-centred communication is well intentioned and materialises when mutual face-needs are supported or when an actual ‘face-threat’ is avoided.

The doctors in this book discuss their ‘inner-self’ as a professional and person. I interviewed them about how and why their communication style with patients has changed. They may try to protect the patient’s face (prevent them from feeling embarrassed), enhance the patient’s face (by acknowledging and accepting), or preserve the patient’s face (by respecting their privacy and preserving the patient’s wish to be independent). The older patients in this book displayed their ‘patient’s face’ in their desire to live independently and demonstrate competence in their daily life through activities such as making meals, gardening, and decision-making. There is a thread that connects the health professional’s and the patient’s respective ‘desires’. Carefully identifying the patient’s face-needs links with acts that seek to establish how much they want to be involved in discussion and decision-making regarding care.

This study is based on fieldwork and concerns face and politeness issues in authentic medical consultations with older patients in Tokyo, and draws attention to cultural variations in Western theories of patient-centred communication. I hope that this book can facilitate communication training for all health professionals and students and increase awareness of the issues of face and politeness in a way that will enhance the experiences of older adults receiving health care and social services.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Providing Health Care in the Context of Language Barriers edited by Elizabeth A. Jacobs and Lisa C. Diamond.

Language Learning in Primary School: Positive in Theory, Negative in Practice?

This month we published Early Language Learning in Context by David Hayes. In this post the author explains the inspiration behind the book. 

This book has its origins in my experience as a teacher, teacher-trainer and researcher in a variety of countries in Asia during my career and is also influenced by my own childhood educational experiences. Research tells us that access to high quality education, particularly basic education, offers one of the most important routes out of poverty for children born into poor and/or marginalized communities. That education ideally includes the opportunity to learn another language which has many potential benefits for children. For example, it can have a positive impact on children’s general educational achievement, it can help to develop intercultural competence through learning how the new language views the world as well as helping learners to reflect on their own language and culture from a different perspective and, when children leave school, it can even provide a competitive advantage in gaining employment in certain sectors of the economy.

The language that most children are offered in schools across the globe is English, which is closely linked to national economic needs in an era of globalization. However, the English as a foreign language education that many children receive (and the largest proportion of these will be the urban and rural poor) is often very far from high quality and demotivates rather than motivates them to learn. So there is a conundrum, one which I’ve had to face in much of my work: learning another language in primary school is good for children in theory but often a negative experience in practice.

I have been involved in several projects in different countries over the years designed to improve the learning of English in state education systems which, without exception, focus on ‘improving’ teachers’ pedagogical skills and ‘upgrading’ their English language competence. Though these projects have been well-designed and have had admirable objectives, the factors involved in successful language teaching usually extend beyond ‘improving’ English teachers to those which impact education more generally. It is difficult to provide high quality English language teaching without high quality education as a whole. Hence, this book discusses foreign – primarily English – language teaching in its wider socioeducational contexts to try to understand the place of languages in those contexts and the factors that either promote successful foreign language learning or hinder it.

The book also questions the wisdom of focusing so much on a powerful international language, English, when other languages may be available locally or regionally which would carry more meaning for children in school and then perhaps be easier for them to learn. If children develop a liking for languages closer to their experience early in their schooling, this might help the learning of an international language such as English later on. My main professional concern is with the education of the children of the poor and disadvantaged and a goal of the book is to encourage reflection on more equitable provision of language learning opportunities across educational systems, as a prelude to change in those systems. Without change at the system level, (English) language learning will just be one more obstacle to achievement for the world’s poor rather than an opportunity for their advancement.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Assessment for Learning in Primary Language Learning and Teaching by Maria Britton.

Why Do British Businesses Need a Language Strategy?

This month we published Language Management by Natalie Victoria Wilmot. In this post she explains why it’s important for British businesses to implement a language strategy.

Studies have shown that a lack of language skills in the UK costs the economy around 3.5% of total GDP due to missed business opportunities. Many businesses in the UK rely on the global dominance of English to be able to conduct business internationally, and therefore do not invest in developing language capabilities. This is particularly true for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) who may not have the resources to develop a language strategy for their business.

However, there are still many options available to SMEs to be able to operate in a language-sensitive way, enabling them to take advantage of some of these missed business opportunities, and there are many benefits to doing so. In particular, being able to communicate in languages other than English can be especially important in the development of trusting relationships with overseas customers, as it demonstrates a commitment to the relationship.

One of the most frequent methods small companies use to work multilingually is Google Translate. However, care needs to be taken with this – while it is fine for making sense of an email as part of an existing relationship, it should not be used to translate marketing materials intended for a public audience, as there will be errors which may damage the professional reputation of the company.

Another option is for companies to use language skills that they may already have, but that they might not know about. 39% of people in the UK are able to converse in a language other than their mother tongue and so many organisations already have employees with linguistic capabilities. My research found that where these individuals are already in customer-facing roles, such as a sales team, it can be highly effective to target markets where this language is spoken, even if it was not originally part of a strategic plan to do so.

However, whilst such ad-hoc solutions are useful, particularly for SMEs, it’s important for organisations to give consideration to what happens if key individuals leave and these language skills are no longer available. As export markets become more important, companies need a language strategy in order to plan their communications with key customers. As part of this, they may move away from informal solutions such as Google Translate and using language skills they already have, to a more structured system which may involve approaches such as targeted recruitment, where individuals are specifically hired because of their language skills. At times however, this can be challenging to do depending on the availability of such skills in the local workforce.

Although English is currently the undisputed language of international business, having a language strategy enables companies to unlock potential overseas markets and customers to which they would otherwise not have access. In these turbulent economic times, having access to a variety of markets is more important than ever to mitigate risk, and so it’s important that British companies have a language strategy in order to facilitate this.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Exploring Politeness in Business Emails by Vera Freytag.

Criando Niños Etiquetados: Discapacidad y bilingüismo en la vida de madres latinxs

In this post María Cioè-Peña, the author of our 2021 book (M)othering Labeled Children, writes about the recently-finished Spanish translation of her book. 

In Eric Alvarez’s 2021 review of my book, (M)othering Labeled Children (MLC), they wrote that MLC “will undoubtedly be an asset to researchers, policymakers, and teachers interested in bilingual education, disability studies, and special education.” I happily read on as Alvarez noted something that was important to me throughout the development of this manuscript: I wanted to produce a rich, complex, and jargon-free book accessible to teachers and service providers who may not be familiar with these mothers’ experiences and, simultaneously, had the capacity to enact change within their classrooms and institutions. However, Alvarez also noted that while MLC was accessible to some, by being available in English only, it ultimately alienated the families whose stories it tells adding that:

“to expand the book’s reach to the very people to whom it gives a voice, a future translation project into Spanish could be considered. If not, it seems that it will only perpetuate the marginalization of Latinx mothers…”

This perpetuation of marginalization through scholarship is an issue that I have raised in my own work, most notably in From Pedagogies to Research where I put forth a need to engage in culturally sustaining research practices that included “ensuring that participant communities have access to the knowledge they helped produce [… and] that the work is published in modes that are accessible and available to participants.” Within that piece I also shared that we should not “place fault solely on researchers, particularly researchers of color, who are bound to the ideology of ‘publish or perish’ to advance their careers.[…] experience[ing] pressure to disseminate their research products in prestigious venues over those that might directly benefit the communities they work alongside.” Which brings me to a guarded, but important, truth: I wrote MLC because my advisors demanded it of me, for the sake of my career and this content. I wrote MLC for professional growth, both mine and that of Emergent Bilingual Learners Labeled as Dis/abled (EBLAD)s’ teachers and service providers. Still, I knew that I wanted a translation to exist for the women who shared their stories, the parents navigating schooling experiences with their EBLADs today, and for the people who poured into me throughout my life (i.e. my Spanish-using aunts, uncles, and cousins) but especially, my own mother.

In late 2020, once the final manuscript for MLC was submitted, I identified and hired a translator, Pedro Guzmán. As much as we wanted the Spanish release to coincide with the English one, that wasn’t possible as we continued navigating work/life amid a pandemic. Alvarez’s review did not reach me until June 2022 but I am grateful for it because it motivated us to finish and on July 1st Criando Niños Etiquetados: Discapacidad y bilingüismo en la vida de madres latinxs became available for FREE. Parents can download a PDF, EPUB, or MOBI version straight from their phones. Ultimately, this translation was a labor of love: my amazing translator Pedro Guzmán refused to take payment, which removed all overhead costs, and the first reader was my mother who, while undergoing cancer treatment at the time, said she felt like it reflected so much of her experience. Her reading it and feeling seen was/is a gift.

I hope Criando Niños Etiquetados will help other parents and families of EBLADs feel seen.

You can access Criando Niños Etiquetados here.

The original English language text (M)othering Labeled Children is available on our website.