Research

Overview

My research attempts to answer applied questions related to first and second language education. In the sections below, I’ve set out my work to date under thematic headings.

Themes

English for Academic Purposes

Most of my professional teaching career was spent as a teacher of English for Academic Purposes, helping students prepare for English-medium university study.  This has left me with a strong interest in doing research that can inform EAP practice. My work in this area has been particularly concerned with describing the key vocabulary and formulaic language of academic writing and with understanding how these things vary across disciplinary areas. See here for a list of my EAP-related publications.

Collocation

Collocations are pairs of words which seem to be ‘attracted’ to each other in one way or another. Examples include: true feelings; shrug your shoulders; face the consequences; curry favour; black coffee. The idea of collocation has fascinated me since my first encounter with it as a student on a TESOL training course, partly because it is such an obviously useful and important part of learning a foreign language; partly because analysing collocations can bring to light new layers of meaning in texts; and partly because I’m intrigued by how native speakers’ linguistic systems are able to find just the right collocation to fit the context.

Because of this early interest, I did my PhD on the topic of collocations in second language learning. Since then, I’ve published a number of studies on how collocations are learned, used and mentally processed. See here for a list of relevant work.

Child writing

Thanks to colleagues at the University of Exeter, I’ve recently had the opportunity to broaden my horizons beyond foreign language learning to research the developing written language of first language speakers as they progress through their schooling. Since 2015, I have been leading the ESRC-funded Growth in Grammar project – a corpus study of how the syntax, vocabulary and phraseology of English children’s writing develops from age six to sixteen. A number of publications based on this are in the pipeline and I will post them here as they become available.

Corpus linguistic methods

Since my first encounter with corpus linguistics, I have been fascinated by its potential for answering applied linguistic questions. The relationship between the data we can derive from a corpus and the applied questions we want to answer is rarely a straightforward one, however. This has led to an ongoing interest in trying to understand corpus linguistics as a methodology and what we can and cannot infer from corpus research. See here for a list of publications related to corpus linguistics as a methodology.