Exploring modern languages linguistics

Dr Federico Faloppa and Dr Chiara Ciarlo, School of Literature and Languages


12756The project successfully developed an introductory module in general linguistics, with a focus on foreign language specific issues for Part Two students who choose to do a single or joint honours language degree.  Providing a module for the teaching of linguistics to Modern Languages and European Studies students has had many benefits for the students, who report that the module has helped with their study of foreign languages.


  • To determine which linguistics topics Part Two students would have an interest in, and benefit most from, studying in-depth.
  • To design a linguistics course for Modern Languages and European Studies students.
  • Provide students with theoretical knowledge which they can transfer to the study and understanding of other languages.
  • Provide students with skills that will improve their employability.


Previously, the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies had offered only individual language tutorials or modules in the history of languages, and language in society, but little aimed at providing a general theoretical linguistic background of the languages that are taught.

Feedback on the language modules from previous years highlighted that a number of Modern Languages and European Studies students desired linguistics training. Although students were able to take courses offered by the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics, these were only of partial help to language students, as these courses mainly focus on the English language, and are not designed to have a supporting role in the study of foreign languages. As a result, it was necessary to design and pilot a linguistics course for Modern Languages and European Studies students, including core linguistic principles and more language-specific issues, with an eye to recurrent errors in the students’ language production on which they would be able to reflect.


The first six months of the project were devoted to the gathering and analysis of resources in order to carry out research activity on aspects of the teaching of linguistics in modern foreign languages degrees.

Research activity was conducted to compare the level of linguistics provision in modern foreign languages degrees in the UK, and to establish what areas of linguistics are given more prominence in modern foreign languages curricula. The results of this research contributed to the creation of a network of experts in the field of the linguistics of modern foreign languages, who were later invited to present their views on the topic in a workshop held at the University of Reading.

For the one-day workshop, experts in the field of the linguistics of modern foreign languages were invited to present their latest research. This event was addressed to all staff and students within Modern Languages and European Studies, English Language and Applied Linguistics, the International Study and Language Institute, and the Institute of Education, in order to generate a shared discussion on the integration between language study and the study of language.

These activities fed into the creation of a taster session for phonetics, phonology and syntax, to which Part One students were invited to attend. At the end of the event, students were asked to give their feedback on the relevance, usefulness, or difficulty of what was explained during the taster sessions. This feedback was valuable for helping finalise the pilot module description.

The pilot module description was then approved, and the new module was taught during the 2013-14 academic year.


The project was successful, as it achieved its principle aim of creating a module to teach linguistics for Modern Languages and European Studies students, with the course structure and content having been established through a consultative process in order to ensure that students are provided with a module that meets their expectations of a linguistics course, and is able to provide students with a theoretical understanding of linguistics that should support their learning of modern languages, and with skills that will more generally enhance their employability.

Teaching linguistics to Modern Languages and European Studies students has been of great benefit to the students. Teaching staff within the Department have noted that students taking linguistics modules have more confidence and accuracy in their pronunciation when speaking foreign languages, and generally make fewer errors.


Beyond its use to refine the module that would be taught, the taster session was beneficial as it highlighted the benefits that students receive from taster sessions with regard to their making module choices: as a result, the School explored the possibility of providing taster sessions for students to guide them in choosing their modules. Additionally, the provision of such taster sessions is valuable as it provides information on student expectations for module convenors, who can plan and design their modules so that they better meet these expectations.

The success of the project lead to the establishment of a Language and Linguistics Workgroup in order to investigate the implementation and coordination of linguistics teaching within the School.

Students have found the formal learning of linguistics very useful for their study of Modern Languages. With a better understanding of linguistic theory, students are better able to appreciate the errors they make within their own study. Students appreciate the challenge of learning linguistics, but some aspects, for example phonetics and syntax, are very technical, and students seemed to find these the most difficult. To help students meet the challenge, different approaches to teaching these topics have been utilised within the the module, such as creating visual representations of syntax, or using information technology in the teaching of phonetics.

Follow up

The pilot year of teaching the module was greatly successful, and as a result the opportunity to learn linguistics was opened up to all students within the School of Modern Languages and European Studies. Whereas the pilot module was a Part Two module, the module has now been redesigned to allow its provision at Part One. By having the module provided at Part One, students are now able to obtain a strong foundation in the linguistic theory that underpins their study of a modern language before they go on to more in-depth study in Parts Two and Three. Additionally, while teaching linguistics at Part One requires some aspects of the module to be simplified, it is able to contribute to a pathway in Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading, building up students’ linguistic knowledge over the course of their undergraduate study.

The project has also opened up the possibility for interdisciplinary cooperation: bilingual students from Modern Languages and European Studies collaborated on a project with Neurolinguistics students from the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences.

LS1TAL Techniques and Skills for Applied Linguistics: Improving the student experience

Professor Jane Setter, School of Literature and Languages
Year of activity: 2014-15


12759 (1)Students and staff worked together during 2014-15 to develop the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics’ new compulsory Part One module Techniques and Skills for Applied Linguistics (LS1TAL), run for the first time in 2014-15, to make it more interesting, useful and relevant to 21st Century undergraduate students. The project sought, among other things, to address the University Board for Teaching and Learning Enhancement Priority to evolve our approaches to teaching and learning, with a specific focus on using Technology Enhanced Learning in class and in assessment.


  • An improved module following input from students which addresses their needs more closely in the development of the study of our discipline and transition to Higher Education.
  • Better use of Technology Enhanced Learning elements in content, delivery and assessment.
  • Enhanced use of the formative assignment English Language and Applied Linguistics students are asked to prepare, and of the feedback given.
  • The development of good practice which can be shared across our modules and with others in the University and across the sector.


The module convenor had produced a new compulsory module for 2014-15 which addressed many of the issues arising for students in the first year of study, such as general transition to Higher Education; how to do tertiary-level academic writing; how to use and get the best out of tools such as Turnitin; how to present yourself effectively online with a jobs-market orientation; how to do assessments using Technology Enhanced Learning approaches, such as blogging and short videos. Student involvement in the development of the module was desired to make it particularly relevant and useful to them.


Students taking the module were recruited during the Autumn term 2014-15 to be leaders and participants in the development of the module; four came forward. PLanT funding was applied for and received. Subsequently, focus groups were held at four points during the year between students and staff to review module content and suggest ways to develop it. Finally, with the agreement of the students, a new weekly schedule for the module (which runs in the Autumn and Spring terms) was drawn up.

Specifically, students asked for more concise and focussed input on transitions to Higher Education and online presence, including a specific session on building a LinkedIn profile, a more hands-on approach to library skills training, input from students at Parts Two and Three, and sessions from Student Counselling and Wellbeing.


Students and staff involved felt that the outcomes had been very positive. Students valued having the chance to develop a new module, and staff enjoyed working with students, finding out what they already knew and what needed further development, and understanding their viewpoint on their needs as new entrants to Higher Education in the UK. The real test for the module, however, will be the revised module running in the 2015-16 academic year, during which data will be collected from the new cohort using module evaluation forms to compare with last year’s evaluations and see whether student satisfaction has improved.

We were delighted that students had no issues with the Technology Enhanced Learning elements in the module content or assessment. In fact, they thought they were very useful and well-integrated.

An unexpected outcome has been the Director of English Language and Applied Linguistics’ Postgraduate taught programmes’ interest in the module to see whether it could be adapted for MA students.


The activity was made successful by the involvement of students in developing this module. Teaching and Learning Dean Dr David Carter had commented that it seemed like a very well-designed module; the decision about how to develop the module could have been made by an individual based solely on student feedback questionnaires, but it seemed much better to have the hands-on involvement of students, as the module is aimed at supporting students through Part One. Their involvement enabled students to have input into their degree which resulted in real change, to see first-hand the issues involved in module development, and also to appreciate the Department’s attention to teaching, learning, the development of transferable skills, and supporting students to get the best from their university study and beyond.