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Hundreds of students around the world will be surveyed to help improve teaching of foreign languages.

University of Exeter research to help the teaching of foreign languages

Hundreds of students around the world will be surveyed as part of a University of Exeter study which could help to improve the teaching of foreign languages.

Academics hope to identify the skills needed to be an excellent learner of another tongue by discovering more about the experiences of those who have mastered a second language.

Project leader Dr Li Li, Senior Lecturer in Language Education at the University of Exeter’s Graduate School of Education, hopes the study will help teachers support learners to understand the learning process and thus become more successful in learning a foreign language.

Dr Li and her colleague Dr Shirley Larkin will survey 500 students in China, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and Iran learning English at universities. The aim of this survey will be to discover the potential links between knowledge about learning process and achievement in language learning.

Dr Li will then work closely with a smaller group of 40, which includes successful and unsuccessful language learners, to look at the strategies they use to learn English by asking them to complete reading and writing tasks. This will help Dr Li identify the exact knowledge and skills involved in reading and writing among the successful learners.

Including students from a range of different nations will ensure the patterns Dr Li hopes to find are not just explained by cultural influences.

Dr Li said: “We will examine metacognition, which is about people understanding their own thinking processes and using that knowledge to help them to learn better. It’s not something people are normally conscious of when they carry out tasks, but it affects the ability to identify and guess vocabulary, check understanding and identify context, culture and content.

“We hope the research will lead to clear strategies teachers of foreign languages can use to help their learners to develop.”

Dr Li, Director of the PG Cert, PG Dip, and MEd in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), will share her findings with the British Council and run workshops for teachers. She also hopes to attend conferences and workshops to share the strategies she hopes to develop with teachers.

The year-long project, the role of metacognition in the success of reading and writing tasks across cultures, is funded by the British Council.

Date: 27 January 2016

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