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The University of Southampton
Centre for Linguistics, Language Education and Acquisition Research

CLLEAR Research Projects

An overview of current and recently completed CLLEAR projects.


Aptis in China: Exploring Stakeholders’ Perceptions of its Validity and Practicality

Researcher: Dr. Ying Zheng

This British Council funded project (2014-15) is a collaboration with Dr. Yanyan Zhang, Associate Professor from Wuhan University aims to investigate Aptis test takers’ perceptions of its validity and the test practicality in China. The Aptis test is a newly launched test developed by the British Council. The funding is from the British Council East Asia Assessment Research Grants.


Internationalization of Higher Education in bilingual degrees: Analysis of the linguistic, cultural and academic challenges

Researcher: Dr. Julia Hüttner

This is a three year project (2014-2016) led by Prof. Emma Dafouz of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and is funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (MINECO).


Investigating the Practice of the CEFR outside Europe: A Case Study on English Writing Assessment in China

Researcher: Dr. Ying Zheng

This project is funded by a British Council ELT Partnership Research Award and investigates the practice of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) outside Europe. Dr. Zheng will develop a case study on English writing assessment in China in collaboration with Dr. Yanyan Zhang from Wuhan University.


AHRC Network Grant

Dr. Heather Marsden and Professor Roumyana Slabakova have secured funding of 42,853.95 GBP from the AHRC for the Meaning in Language Learning Network. The aim is to create a new forum for dialogue among language learning experts and stakeholders from a range of perspectives, who would not typically come into contact with each other. The theme of the dialogue will be the most fundamental aspect of cross-cultural communication: transmission of meaning from one language to another. The focus on meaning, or semantics, comes out of state-of-the-art theoretical linguistic research into the role that grammar plays in the multiple ways that different languages express meaning. Two key goals are to develop collaborative research projects that differ from existing research by incorporating insights from both theoretical linguistics and classroom practice; and to communicate linguistic findings about language learning to a wider audience. The network includes 7 core and 11 associate members in the UK, as well as 4 international members from Europe and the US. The programme includes 3 workshops, focus groups, a conference colloquium, and outreach activities. The first workshop of the network will take place in Southampton on 23-24 January 2015.

For more information, please visit:



ESRC Network Grant

Dr. Laura Domínguez and Prof. Roumyana Slabakova are part of an international network of researchers led by Monika Schmid (Essex) which has been successful in securing an ESRC network grant (£30,000) to fund a series of seminars on the topic of First Language Attrition - the process by which the first language of a speaker who uses another language predominantly (e.g. migrants) becomes compromised and shows signs of crosslinguistic interference. The grant will fund 9 seminars and conferences (from 2015-2017) which will take place in various universities in the UK, the Netherlands, and Turkey.


“Without English this is just not possible…”: studies of language policy and practice in international universities from Europe and Asia

Researchers: Will Baker and Julia Hüttner

Summary: This study will take a post-normative approach in which second language users of English, or rather users of English as a lingua franca, will be seen as successful communicators within their disciplinary domains, rather than ‘deficient native speakers’; the linguistic practices and policy will be investigated holistically and related to wider sociocultural practices and issues.

Funding: Adventures in Research, University of Southampton, 2014-15.



Incorporating Feedback into an Online Assessment Module: Exploring Its Potential

Researcher: Ying Zheng

Summary: This is a collaborative project with Pearson ELT (David Booth, Test Development Director; Shaida Mohammadi, Test Development Manager). The aim of the project is to examine the extent of the impact that different modes of feedback can have on language learners’ interlanguage or intake in the context of online learning and assessment modules.

Funding: Adventures in Research, University of Southampton, 2014-15.


Crosslinguistic effects on the L2 acquisition of functional categories: The case of Chinese learners of English, Spanish and French

The proposed study will investigate the status of the functional category Tense (i.e., syntactic features, its morphological expression and attended meanings) in the grammars of Chinese speakers of English, French and Spanish. The project‘s main objectives are:

1. To provide a comprehensive analysis of knowledge and use of verbal inflectional morphology by Chinese speakers acquiring typologically different languages.

2. To re-examine current hypotheses of L2 acquisition with regard to the status of functional categories (i.e. finiteness-related syntactic and semantic features as well and their morphological expression) at advanced levels of proficiency.

3. To create a new corpus of L1 Chinese interlanguage oral data in French, Spanish and English which will be made fully available to the wider second language acquisition (SLA) research community.

4. To advise managers of internationalisation programmes (e.g. pre-sessional university courses) on how to improve language support and teaching curricula for Chinese speakers who intend to study in the UK, France and Spain.

We will examine data from a group of advanced Chinese speakers of French, Spanish and English. The data will be elicited using a mixed-method approach that will provide us with semi-spontaneous oral data, on-line processing and comprehension data. The analysis of the data collected via these three types of tasks will allow us to make a substantial contribution to our understanding of what causes advanced L2 speakers to use verbal morphology only optionally. The corpus of oral data will be made available to the research community through a designated project website to promote and support further L2 Spanish, French and English acquisition research.

Researchers: Dr. Laura Domínguez (PI), Professor Florence Myles (University of Essex), Professor Roumyana Slabakova


Optionality and pseudo optionality in native and non-native grammars (Funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MICINN).

The main objective of this project is to study the factors causing optionality and pseudo-optionality in the non-native grammars of L2 learners of English (L1 Spanish) and L2 learners of Spanish (L1 English) at different proficiency levels. Our starting assumption is that optionality in non-native grammars is a particular case of variation in developing grammars. Within this context, we examine the validity of the following hypotheses:

1. Optionality is in part determined by competition between L1 and L2 forms (intermediate stages) and by competition between two L2 forms in apparently free variation in the input which yield different discursive interpretations (advanced and near native states);

2. At different proficiency levels variation is located in different areas of the grammar (the computational system or syntax at beginner and intermediate stages and the interfaces at advanced and near native stages)

3. Advanced learners exhibit residual optionality in the syntax-discourse interface, as argued by Sorace (2000, 2004, 2005), but this optionality is due to syntactic deficits, rather than pragmatic deficits, contrary to what is claimed by this linguist.

Data have been extracted from L2 English and L2 Spanish corpora, as well as native corpora, and have been analysed along with data elicited through experimental techniques, such as magnitude estimation, which yields subtler judgements than classical acceptability tasks. The objective is to obtain converging evidence on which to base our results.

Researchers: Professor Amaya Mendikoetxea (PI, Universidad Autonóma de Madrid), Dr. Gema Chocano (UAM), Dr. Paul Rollinson (UAM), Ivan Teomiro García (UAM), Esther Ferrandis (UAM), Dr. Laura Domínguez (University of Southampton), Dr. Cristóbal Lozano (University of Granada)



Learning French from ages 5, 7 and 11

There is a widespread popular belief, that as far as language learning is concerned, it’s a case of ‘the younger the better’. But is this true in typical classroom settings? This project is investigating the language learning of primary school children starting French at different ages, and tracks their development in terms of grammar and vocabulary. Preliminary results have shown that while the youngest children are the most enthusiastic, they at first learn both vocabulary and grammar more slowly than older children, in normal classroom conditions. (Though they catch up later!) The relative cognitive maturity of the 11 year old group put them at an advantage as concerns grammar learning, and compensated for their less positive attitudes.

Researchers: Professor Ros Mitchell, Professor Florence Myles (University of Essex)



Social networking and language learning during residence abroad

Work and study placements abroad are well known to contribute substantially to foreign language learning, and are a key feature of British degrees in modern languages. However, while most students make substantial progress when abroad, their achievement varies significantly. In this research project, we have tracked 57 students of French and Spanish before, during and after residence abroad, to trace in detail their language development, but also to study their social networks while abroad, and how these may impact on language learning success. The project data will be shared with other researchers through a public website, and we will also be producing guidance for language learners and other stakeholders about how to make the most of language learning opportunities during residence abroad.

Researchers: Ros Mitchell, Patricia Romero, and Laurence Richard (with Kevin McManus, University of York, and Nicole Tracy-Ventura, University of South Florida)


Volver a México: Linguistic landscapes and cultural capital

This research investigates the cultural and linguistic issues of returning migrants, specifically Mexicans returning from the US. Thinking outside the outmoded paradigm of nation-states, this project explores the world of returnees in a transnational context. It investigates, in particular, how language shapes the identities of returnees, what cultural practices returning migrants bring with them, and how these complement and collide with those they find back home. Through fieldwork in Mexico (principally San Luís Potosí) and the US, we have interviewed and observed migrants of different ages, gender and social backgrounds who have returned or are planning to return, as well as policy makers, employers and families from the ‘home’ receiving society.

Researcher: Prof. Clare Mar-Molinero


Social networking and language learning during residence abroad

Work and study placements abroad are well known to contribute substantially to foreign language learning, and are a key feature of British degrees in modern languages. However, while most students make substantial progress when abroad, their achievement varies significantly. In this research project, we have tracked 57 students of French and Spanish before, during and after residence abroad, to trace in detail their language development, but also to study their social networks while abroad, and how these may impact on language learning success. The project data will be shared with other researchers through a public website, and we will also be producing guidance for language learners and other stakeholders about how to make the most of language learning opportunities during residence abroad.

Researchers: Ros Mitchell, Patricia Romero, and Laurence Richard (with Kevin McManus, University of York, and Nicole Tracy-Ventura, University of South Florida)


Pronouns in the second language

Pronoun reference (which participant in the discourse they refer to) should not be hard to acquire in a second language, since all languages have pronouns in one form or another. However, child language acquisition studies strongly suggest that pronoun reference is acquired late, hence it is difficult for learners. In addition, children are much more adultlike on sentences such as Every boy liked him versus John liked him. This asymmetry is not expected but can successfully be explained by linguistic theory. Our project looks at the accuracy of French learners of English on object pronouns where the subject is either a referential noun such as John or a quantified noun such as every boy. Preliminary results are in line with the child language findings and point to processing difficulty with pronouns for beginning proficiency learners. The pedagogical implication is that L2 pronouns should be explicitly taught and practiced in language classrooms.

Researcher: Prof. Roumyana Slabakova and Professor Lydia White (McGill University)


Second Language Pragmatic Implicatures

Intended meaning differs from literal meaning: when a speaker says: “Some professors are smart,” she usually means that not all professors are smart. The some-but-not-all implicature is encoded in the meaning of the word some. English-speaking children do not acquire this pragmatic implicature until at least 6 years of age, indicating that it is a complex meaning to acquire. Spanish has two words for some: while algunos encodes the implicature, unos does not. This contrast between Spanish and other languages led us to wonder how English learners of Spanish will fare with the implicature, and especially with the pragmatic feature re-assembly necessitated in the second language. Our experimental study includes videos and sentence descriptions rated by native and L2 speakers.

Researchers: David Giancaspro (Rutgers), David Miller (U. of Florida), Professor Jason Rothman (Reading), Professor Roumyana Slabakova


Processing of Regular and Novel Metonymy

Metonymic pattern such as AUTHOR-FOR-PRODUCT (e.g. Shakespeare is on the top shelf) are considered regular. Other patterns are less regular, or even novel: the meaning of latter has to be computed in each situation where they arise. A famous example is the utterance spoken by one waitress to another in a diner: “The ham sandwich in the corner wants another coffee.” There is research evidence that native speakers process these two types of metonymy in a different manner. There is also evidence that non-native speakers studying at higher education institutions have difficulty comprehending figurative meaning. Our project is aimed at uncovering where exactly the processing difficulties for both types of metonymy lie, and how they can be ameliorated by instruction in second language classrooms.

Researchers: Professor Roumyana Slabakova and Dr. Jennifer Cabrelli-Amaro (US Air Force Academy)


Raters’ Experience of Rating of Different Linguistic Features

This project investigates a rating session which forms part of the field testing process for new items for a high stakes English proficiency test. To maintain high standards, this test adopts a series of quality control measures. Measures include regular monitoring of raters; double rating, whereby each response is rated by two independent raters; and adjudication, where an adjudicator gives a third rating when there is disagreement between two raters. The project aims to investigate the relationship, if any, between rating behaviour and two sets of characteristics individual to each rater: their experience prior to rating and their experience of the rating process itself. The implication of this study is that recognizing identifiable patterns at the linguistic feature level in the relationships between rating behaviour, rater background, and raters’ experience of the rating process, can contribute to the development of future face-to-face and/or online rater training to help ensure fair rating behaviours.

Researchers: Dr. Ying Zheng, Melanie Colley (Pearson), and Jeremy Hancock (Pearson)

Calibrating self-beliefs: International students’ perceptions of assessment genres in the field of Applied Linguistics

Universities in English-speaking countries are attended by an increasingly multicultural student body. While most universities offer pre-sessional courses in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and on-going academic writing supports particular academic practices, conventions and genres are largely taken for granted. As a consequence, non-native English-speaking students are often left to their own devices when it comes to making the transition between academic practices in their home context and those of the new English-speaking institutional environment. This research project pursues the question how students a) form or refine their self-beliefs, i.e. perceptions about their self-efficacy and their abilities in this situation of transition and b) how these self-beliefs (e.g. under- or over-confidence) affect their performance.

Researcher: Dr. Karin Zotzmann


ITALLO: Improving cultural awareness and employability

In response to a clear need for flexible, subject-specific materials to support advanced learners of Italian, the ITALLO project has created a suite of online learning resources using the LOC tool (Learning Object Creator) created by the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Areas Studies in collaboration with eLanguages in Modern Languages at University of Southampton. The 12 Learning Objects (LOs) are interactive online learning resources embedded in a pedagogical template offering structure and guidance. Designed for post-A level students, they can be used as stand-alone learning units, or linked to activities undertaken in face-to-face teaching and place special emphasis on developing skills and knowledge that enhance students’ employability.

Researcher: Alessia Plutino


Teletandem: Implemetation and observations of teletandem as a tool for culture and learning language

This project aims to develop the use of tandem learning with students at the Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP) in Brasil and the University of Southampton. Students of Portuguese at Stages 4 and 5 at Southampton participate in weekly sessions of 50 minutes for a period of 8 weeks, dividing the sessions between Portuguese and English with partner students in Applied Linguistics at UNESP. This project considers the role of this method in a range of learning outcomes encompassing cultural awareness, production of language, skills and independent learning

Researcher: Frances Goodingham


FAVOR Project

LLAS project coordinated in ML by Julie Watson and aimed in particular to involve part-time language tutors at the University of Southampton in the repurposing their own teaching materials for French, German, Italian and ESL using new technologies. These resources were then shared freely with other teachers through the LanguageBox repository.

Researcher: Julie Watson and part-time colleagues


Ab initio Accelerated Language Learning Experience in Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Southampton

With increasing numbers of university students taking a language ab initio as part of their degrees, this project, initiated by Patricia Romero de Mills and Julia Kelly in collaboration, set out to find evidence for the assumption that students can achieve AS/A level in a year because of previous language knowledge. Through a series of focus groups, the aim was to ascertain how students used their existing knowledge/language learning skills, using this information as the basis for a ‘study skills’ resource for new students based on what current students had identified as being successful. The first phase of this resource was provided for new students of Portuguese in October 2013 in the form of an interactive presentation on Blackboard about what to expect from an accelerated course and other resources will be rolled out during the year covering specific aspects of language learning.

Researcher: Julia Kelly


Complexity in Language

Complexity in language is a cross-disciplinary project funded by the University of Southampton’s Research and Innovation Service (July 2010 to December 2011). The project examines the implications of viewing the grammatical systems of

natural languages as 'complex adaptive systems', of the type widely found in the natural world. The project explores the extent to which grammars can be considered to bear the 'hallmarks' of complex systems, including self-organisation, emergent behaviour, and adaptivity, and examines whether

such an approach could mesh with new conceptions of Universal Grammar within theoretical linguistics (Minimalism/biolinguistics). It is hoped that this project will thereby identify entirely new avenues for linguistic research within complexity science

Researchers: Dr Glyn Hicks and Dr Matthew Reeve


Fluency in oral proficiency examinations

The term ‘fluency’ is used frequently among language educators to describe and assess the foreign language proficiency of learners, but there is as yet no clear understanding of what precisely teachers and assessors are measuring when they label a candidate as more or less fluent. Given the fact that the grades learners get in high stakes oral examinations have real-life consequences, a clearer understanding of the constructs underpinning professional assessments is vital. This research sets out to investigate the subjective theories that teachers hold about fluency and which they apply in their practice, and links these to their assessment of an existing database of oral proficiency interviews with high-level learners of English. This will help our understanding of assessment practices and also provide a much needed link between existing research on the construct of fluency, and its professional application.

Researcher: Dr. Julia Huettner


Special Interest Group in Language Testing and Assessment

SIGLTA is a Faculty of Humanities-funded postgraduate student-led interest group, created in 2017. The purpose of the group is to enable Postgraduate students and members of staff to share their interests in the field of Language Testing and Assessment and Quantitative Research Methodologies.

The aims of SIGLTA are:


If you would like to be part of this group, either as a member or a presenter, please send an email to Ricardo de la Garza-Cano


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