Pedagogy Pop-up: What 10 things do you need in order to learn a language?

Last summer, inspired by the innovative format of a 10-minute plenary presentation that I gave at a conference in Spain earlier that year, I decided to hold a series of mini-events to share key insights from applied linguistics research with my colleagues (I work for an ELT publisher). I called these short presentations “Pedagogy Pop-ups”, and the principles were simple:

  • just 10 minutes long, easy to fit into a coffee break;
  • purpose is to show how research findings might apply to ELT practice;
  • no audience participation required;
  • no slides.

There were five pop-ups in the series, of which three were video recorded. The third one featured my personal list of the top 10 things (linguistic + pedagogical) that an adult learner needs in order to learn a second language. They’re not in any particular priority order; together they simply represent the sum of the conclusions I’ve drawn from all the research that I’m aware of — limited to a list of 10 key things.

A recording of this pop-up presentation is now available to watch here (

The other Pedagogy Pop-ups in this series were:

Videos are available for the first two – just follow the links.

Note that the original audience for these events was largely composed of ELT publishers and editors, so I may make reference to materials and coursebooks, etc. – but everything I talk about is relevant to teachers and trainers, too.

Enjoy, please share, and feel free to comment below!

This post is part of my “ELT Research In Practice” series.


P.S. Some of the research I referred to when compiling this pop-up:

Aitchison, J. (2003). Words in the Mind: An Introduction to the Mental Lexicon (3rd edn). Oxford: Blackwell.

Alcaraz-Mármol, G. (2010). The role of frequency in the foreign language classroom. Malaysian Journal of ELT Research, 6, pp. 167-194.

Cruse, A. (2004). Meaning in Language: An Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics (2nd edn). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dewaele, J.-M. and Wei, L. (2012). Is multilingualism linked to a higher tolerance of ambiguity?, Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 16(1), pp. 231–240.

Dörnyei, Z. & Csizér, K. (1998). Ten commandments for motivating language learners: Results of an empirical study. Language Teaching Research, 2(3), pp. 203-229.

Dörnyei, Z., & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second language learning. In C. J. Doughty, & M. H. Long (Eds.), The handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 589-630). Oxford: Blackwell.

Gass, S. M., & Varonis, E. M. (1994). Input, interaction, and second language production. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 16(3), pp. 283-302.

Kornell, N., Bjork, R. A. & Garcia, M. A. (2011). Why tests appear to prevent forgetting: A distribution-based bifurcation model. Journal of Memory and Language, 65, pp. 85-97.

Kornell, N., Hays, M. J., & Bjork, R. A. (2009). Unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhance subsequent learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 35, pp. 989–998.

Lightbown, P. M. & Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mackey, A. (2009). Feedback, noticing and instructed second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 27(3), pp. 405-430.

Nagy, W. (1997). ‘On the role of context in first- and second-language vocabulary learning.’ in Schmitt, N. & M. McCarthy (eds.) Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Saito, K. (2012). ‘Effects of instruction on L2 pronunciation development: A synthesis of 15 quasi-experimental intervention studies.’ TESOL Quarterly, 46/4, pp. 842-854.

Schmidt, R. (2010). Attention, awareness, and individual differences in language learning. In W. M. Chan, S. Chi, K. N. Cin, J. Istanto, M. Nagami, J. W. Sew, T. Suthiwan, & I. Walker, Proceedings of CLaSIC 2010, Singapore, December 2-4 (pp. 721-737). Singapore: National University of Singapore, Centre for Language Studies.

Ushioda, E. & Dörnyei, Z.. (2009). ‘Motivation, language identities and the L2 self: A theoretical overview.’ In Ushioda, E. & Dörnyei, Z. (eds.). Motivation, language identity and the L2 self. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.


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