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Learning a first or second language involves generalization.

According to statistical learning approaches, generalization is driven by the input. For example, if a set of words occurs in the same set of linguistic environments, learners may use this as evidence that these words form a syntactic category within that language. Much of the evidence for this work comes from artificial language experiments which are generally conducted with adult learners (Reeder & Newport 2014), although the authors make inferences from these data as to the processes involved in child language acquisition. In contrast, there has been relatively little experimental work directly exploring children’s ability to use distributional statistics.

Dr Liz Wonnacott will present data from three different experiments in which primary school aged children (5-8years) are exposed to, and tested on, some new linguistic construction under experimental conditions. Specifically, she has explored: (1) learning a novel word order within the L1; (2) learning gender classes in an L2 (English children learning Italian); (3) learning preposition constructions in a L2 (English children learning Japanese). She finds evidence that, in some circumstances, children’s generalization depends upon witnessing sufficiently varied exemplars in their input, presumably because this allows them to dissociate the structures from the particular trained instances (Bybee 1995; Ramscar et al. 2010). However there are also important interactions with input complexity, so that input variability may actually decrease performance when learning from the relatively small amount of input which can be provided in an experiment (or, perhaps, a classroom).

About the speaker

Prior to coming to the Department of Education, Liz held positions as an Associate Professor in the Division of Language Sciences at UCL and an Assistant Professor in Psychology at Warwick.

She was previously at Oxford as a Junior Research Fellow housed in the Department of Experimental Psychology and Linacre College. Her degrees are in Linguistics and Artificial Intelligence (University of Edinburgh; MA Hons) and Brain and Cognitive Sciences (University of Rochester, USA; MSc & PhD). Between her degrees, she worked briefly as Teacher of English to students of other languages.

Find out more about Liz here

Prior to coming to the Department of Education Oxford, Liz held positions as an Associate Professor in the Division of Language Sciences at UCL and an Assistant Professor in Psychology at Warwick.

She was previously at Oxford as a Junior Research Fellow housed in the Department of Experimental Psychology and Linacre College. Her degrees are in Linguistics and Artificial Intelligence (University of Edinburgh;  MA Hons) and Brain and Cognitive Sciences (University of Rochester, USA; MSc & PhD). Between her degrees, she worked briefly as Teacher of English to students of other languages.

Broadly speaking, Liz is interested in human language learning. Her research explores the extent to which this rests on input-driven, statistical learning processes, both in the context of learning a first native language, and in learning further languages in later childhood or adulthood. She is interested in learning that occurs both in naturalistic contexts and in input-limited contexts (such as the classroom), as well in the educational implications of statistical learning approaches for modern foreign language instruction. She also has an interest in the development of literacy and in language processing.

From a theoretical perspective, Liz has recently become interested in whether human language may be understood in terms of discriminative learning — a well-understood theory of learning developed in the study of animal learning. This work is funded by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust.

See also

  • Dong H, Clayards M, Brown H, Wonnacott E. 2019. The effects of high versus low talker variability and
    individual aptitude on phonetic training of Mandarin lexical tones. PeerJ 7:e7191
  • Sinkeviciute, R., Brown, H., Brekelmans, G., & Wonnacott, E. (2019) The role of input variability and learner
    age in second language vocabulary learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 1-26.
  • Samara, A., Singh, D., & Wonnacott, E. (2018) Statistical learning and spelling: Evidence from an incidental
    learning experiment with children. Cognition, 182, 25-30. DOI 10.1016
  • Amridge, B., Barak, L., Wonnacott, E., Bannard, C., & Sala, G. (2018) Effects of Both Preemption and Entrenchment in the Retreat from Verb Overgeneralization Errors: Four Reanalyses, an Extended Replication, and a Meta-Analytic Synthesis. Collabra: Psychology, 4(1), 23.
  • Giannakopoulou, A., Brown, H., Clayards, M., & Wonnacott, E. (2017) High or Low? Comparing high and low-variability phonetic training in adult and child second language learners. PeerJ 5:e3209; DOI 10.7717/peerj.3209
  • Wonnacott, E., Brown, H., & Nation, K. (2017) Skewing the evidence: The effect of input structure on child
    and adult learning of lexically-based patterns in an artificial language. Journal of Memory and Language, 95, 46-48. 10.1016/j.jml.2017.01.005 Rcode data
  • Samara, A. Smith, K., Brown, H., & Wonnacott, E. (2017) Acquiring variation in an artificial language:
    children and adults are sensitive to socially-conditioned linguistic variation. Cognitive Psychology, 94, 85-114
  • Smith, K., Perfors, A., Fehér, O., Samara, A., Swoboda, K., & Wonnacott, E. (2017) Language learning,
    language use and the evolution of linguistic variation. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 372(1711), 20160051.
  • Fehér, O., Wonnacott, E., & Smith, K. (2016) Structural priming in artificial languages and the regularisation
    of unpredictable variation. Journal of Memory and Language. 91, 158–180.
  • Wonnacott, E., Joseph, H. S. S. L., Adelman, J. S. and Nation, K. (2016) Is children’s reading “good
    enough”? Links between online processing and comprehension as children read syntactically ambiguous sentences. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69 (5). Pp. 855-879.
  • Joseph, H. S., Wonnacott, E., Forbes, P., & Nation, K. (2014) Becoming a written word: Eye movements
    reveal order of acquisition effects following incidental exposure to new words during silent reading. Cognition, 133(1), 238-248.
  • Wonnacott, E. (2013) Statistical Mechanisms in Language Acquisition. In P. Binder & K. Smith (eds.). The
    Language Phenomenon, Springer.
  • Wonnacott, E., Boyd, J.K, Thomson. J.J., & Goldberg, A.E. (2012) Input effects on the acquisition of a
    novel phrasal construction in 5 year olds. Journal of Memory and Language, 66, 458-478.
  • Wonnacott, E. (2011) Balancing generalization and lexical conservatism: An artificial language study with
    child learners. Journal of Memory and Language, 65, 1-14.
  • Perfors, A. & Wonnacott, E. (2011) Bayesian modelling of sources of constraint in language acquisition. In:
    Arnon, Inbal and Clarke, Eve V., (eds.) Experience, variation and generalization : learning a first language. Amsterdam ; Philadelphia: John Benjamins , pp. 277-294
  • Smith, K., & Wonnacott, E. (2010) Eliminating unpredictable variation through iterated learning. Cognition,
    116, 444-449.
  • Perfors, A., Tenenbaum, J.B., & Wonnacott, E. (2010) Variability, negative evidence, and the acquisition of
    verb argument constructions. Journal of Child Language, 37, 607-642.
  • Wonnacott, E., Newport, E.L., & Tanenhaus, M.K. (2008) Acquiring and processing verb argument
    structure: Distributional learning in a miniature language. Cognitive Psychology, 56, 165-209.
  • Wonnacott, E., & Watson, G. (2008) Acoustic emphasis in four year olds. Cognition, 107, 1093-101.

Ernesto Macaro is Emeritus Professor of Applied Linguistics and a Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, University of Oxford.

Ernesto was Director of the Department of Education from 2013 to 2016.

Before becoming a teacher educator and researcher Ernesto was a language teacher in secondary schools in the UK for 16 years during which time he obtained an MA in Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick. During this time he was asked by Warwickshire Education Authority to design and organise professional development courses for language teachers. This led to an interest in teacher education and he obtained a post at the University of York and subsequently at the University of Reading. It was at the latter that he obtained a PhD whilst teaching on that institution’s PGCE course.

Ernesto joined the Department of Education at Oxford in 1999 and soon after introduced the area of Applied Linguistics by designing the Masters in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition. A further, largely online course, aimed at practising language teachers followed a few years Later (Msc. in Applied Linguistics For Language Teaching).

Ernesto’s current research focuses on second language learning strategies and on the interaction between teachers and learners in second language classrooms and in those where English is the medium of instruction (EMI). He has published widely in these areas and is now considered one of the leading experts on EMI. His 2018 book published by Oxford University Press is considered a landmark publication in the field.

Ernesto continues to be highly research active and is frequently called upon to give keynotes, plenary lectures and workshops in many parts of the world as well as providing consultancies on language policy. The following are a selection of research projects that he has recently been involved in or are on-going:


The research investigated the extent to which it is feasible and beneficial for English language specialists in Turkish universities to collaborate with academic subject specialists teaching through the medium of English in the preparation and delivery of content lessons or lectures.
Funding body: part funded by Oxford University Press


This research involved EMI content teachers audio-recording their classes. These were subsequently analysed by a language specialist according to pre-defined language features. The aim was to encourage the content teachers to reflect on their teaching (particularly on their interaction with students) and subsequently modify their pedagogy.


The study sought to establish the feasibility of certifying the teaching competence of teachers teaching academic subjects through the medium of English in non-anglophone contexts. Specifically, it investigated teacher attitudes towards the kinds of competencies needed and whether it was possible and/or beneficial for the certification to be awarded at an institutional, national, or international level.
Funding Body: Fell Fund (University of Oxford)


The research investigated the challenges faced by students transitioning from an upper secondary school CLIL classroom to EMI in Universities. Specifically, it measured the lexical knowledge needed to adequately understand lectures in the L2 (English) and the strategies that students might use to compensate for lexical deficiencies.
Funding Body: The British Council


Hamish is the Course Director of the MSc Applied Linguistics for Language Teaching (ALLT). He lectures and supervises on the MSc Applied Linguistics & Second Language Acquisition (ALSLA) and the MSc Applied Linguistics for Language Teaching (ALLT).

He is director of the International Database of Education Systematic Reviews (, a database of published systematic reviews in Education and a clearinghouse for protocol registration of ongoing and planned systematic reviews. He convenes the REAL (research in EAL) group at the Department. He is co-director of the Oxford Education Deanery.

Hamish’s research interest centres on evaluation of pedagogical approaches to teaching children who use English as an Additional Language (EAL). In particular, his research focuses on the use of the first language as a pedagogical tool for multilingual learners in English medium classrooms. His methodological interest is in randomised trials and systematic reviews. He is also an advocate for user engagement in research and public understanding of science.

Hamish welcomes expressions of interest for doctoral study in the field of EAL, bilingualism and bilingual schooling, international schooling, and instructed language learning. He is particularly keen to hear from prospective students wishing to conduct systematic reviews and experiments in these areas.



Journal articles

Book Chapters

  • Chalmers, H. & Murphy, V. (2022). Multilingual Learners, linguistic pluralism and implications for education and research. In Macaro, E., & Woore, R. (Eds.) Debates in Second Language Education. Abingdon: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781003008361-6.
  • Murphy, V. & Chalmers, H. (2022) The impact of language learning on wider academic outcomes. In K. McManus & M. Schmid (eds.), How special are early birds?: Foreign language teaching and learning, pp. 165-188. Berlin: Language Science Press. Doi: 10.5218/zenodo.6811470


Faidra is a Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the Department of Education, University of Oxford. She teaches and supervises on the MSc in Applied Linguistics & Second Language Acquisition and on the MSc in Applied Linguistics for Language Teaching. Faidra is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA), and serves on the Executive Board of ELLMEnet, an international network of researchers and practitioners working in the field of early language learning and multilingual education for children between 0-7 years.

Prior to joining the Department as a Lecturer, Faidra received a BA in Linguistics from UCL, as well as an MSc in Applied Linguistics & Second Language Acquisition and a DPhil in Education from the University of Oxford.  Furthermore, she has a CELTA from UCL’s Centre for Languages and International Education and possesses substantial experience of teaching English to adults and children in diverse academic settings.

Faidra’s research explores the linguistic, experiential and socioemotional factors that underpin (pre)school-aged children’s acquisition of English as a second language, with a particular focus on how children’s knowledge of a first language affects their development in the second language. She is also interested in how children’s second language knowledge is measured and can be improved. To this end, Faidra is currently engaged in designing and implementing arts-based interventions aimed at developing children’s oral language and soft skills. The role that the arts play in supporting language teaching, learning, and maintenance is a topic that she explores through the Creative Approaches to Teaching English (CreATE) Group.

Faidra accepts DPhil applications, and welcomes informal contacts from students who are interested in one or more of the following broad topics:

  • Crosslinguistic transfer in bilingual and second language acquisition
  • Language teaching, learning and maintenance through creative/performance arts
  • Learning of additional/foreign languages among (pre-)primary school children.


Research Funding 

  • ‘Oral language development through drama: Practitioner needs and perspectives’ (£2,754.00). Funding Scheme: Department of Education Small Grants. Role: Principal Investigator (Co-Investigator: V.A. Murphy). Funding Period: January 2024 – July 2024
  • ‘Improving the oral language skills of children with English as an Additional Language through a drama-based intervention’ (£44,676.39). Funding Scheme: John Fell Fund. Role: Principal Investigator (Co-Investigator: V.A. Murphy). Funding Period: September 2022 – August 2023.
  • ‘Setting Research Priorities for English as an Additional Language’ (£3,870). Funding Scheme: BAAL Applying Linguistics Fund. Role: Research Assistant (Co-Principal Investigator: V.A. Murphy, Co-Principal Investigator: H. Chalmers). Funding Period: August 2020 – July 2021.
  • ‘From the page to the stage: A feasibility study on using theatre to improve EAL children’s communicative skills’ (£2,996). Funding Scheme: TORCH Theatres Seed Fund 2019-2020. Role: Co-Investigator (Principal Investigator: V.A. Murphy). Funding Period: January 2020 – March 2020 (Interrupted due to COVID-19).



  • Liggins, S. & Faitaki, F. (under review). Introducing the ‘Lex15’: An adaptation of the Lex30 productive vocabulary test for young learners.
  • Faitaki, F., Liggins, S., Li, J., & Murphy, V.A. (under review). Developing young second language learners’ oral language through drama-based activities: A systematic review.
  • Faitaki, F., Liggins, S., & Murphy, V.A. (under review). The effectiveness of a drama-based intervention in developing young children’s oral language and communication skills.
  • Faitaki, F. (2023). Developing Oral Language through a Drama-Based Intervention. Oxford Education Deanery Digests.
  • Chalmers, H., Faitaki, F., Murphy, V.A. (2023). Setting Research Priorities for English as an Additional Language: What do research users want from EAL research?. Language Teaching for Young Learners, 6(1), 1-20.
  • Faitaki, F. & Murphy, V.A. (2023). Subject realization in Greek preschool learners of English. Second Language Research. 00(0), 1-23.
  • Faitaki, F. (2023). Review of Performative Language Teaching in Early Education: Language Learning through Drama and the Arts for Children 3-7, by Joe Winston. Language Teaching for Young Learners, 5(2), 245-251.
  • Faitaki, F. & Murphy, V.A. (2022). “Using theatre to improve English as an Additional Language learners’ communication skills”, in B. Cortina-Pérez, A. Andúgar, A. Álvarez, S. Corral, N. Martínez & A. Otto (Coord.). Addressing Future Challenges in Early Language Learning and Multilingual Education. Madrid: Dykinson.
  • Faitaki, F., Hessel, A.K. & Murphy, V.A. (2022). “Vocabulary and grammar development in young learners of English as an Additional Language”, in M. Schwartz (Ed.). Handbook of Early Language Education (pp. 428-444). Cham: Springer.
  • Faitaki, F., & Nation, K., Murphy, V.A. (2021). Immersion in the Early Years: The future of education and children’s key to success. Proceedings of the Yidan Prize Doctoral Conference, 1, 125-136.
  • Faitaki, F. (2021). Using theatre to improve children’s communication skills: Reflections on the project and plans for the future. TORCH Blog.
  • Faitaki, F. & Murphy, V.A. (2020). “Oral elicitation tasks in language acquisition research”, in H. Rose and J. McKinley (Eds.). The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in Applied Linguistics (pp. 360-369). London: Routledge.
  • Tawell, A., Davison, K., Faitaki, F. & Oldaç, Y.I. (Eds.). (2019). Proceedings of the 2018 STORIES Conference. Department of Education, University of Oxford, Oxford: STORIES Conference.
  • Faitaki, F. (2018). Becoming bilingual at preschool: Greek children’s acquisition of subject pronouns in English. EAL Journal.

In this project, I have investigated how 16 – 17-year-old students enrolled in the obligatory subject social studies in Norwegian Upper Secondary school perceive and relate to the concepts of ‘democracy’ and ‘politics’, and how they view the role of social studies in terms of preparing them for citizenship. This is a mixed methods study, utilising individual and group interviews, as well as a quantitative survey.

In this presentation, I will focus on the second sub-study, namely students’ perceptions of the concept of politics and their conceptions of the relationship between people and politics. This study has implications for citizenship education, particularly in view of research from the UK and other Western democracies raising concern about young people’s levels of political interest and participation.


After obtaining a degree and PhD in chemistry at the University of Birmingham, Ann Childs taught science in secondary schools in the UK and West Africa for eleven years, seven of these as a head of chemistry and head of science.

Since 1995 she has been involved in science teacher education at Oxford University where she is a fellow of Lady Margaret Hall.

Ann would welcome informal contacts from prospective doctoral students interested in the following topics:

  • Explaining science/chemistry in secondary science classrooms – what makes an effective explanation?
  • Interaction between teachers and students in second language classrooms in science where English is the medium of instruction
  • Developing teacher education in science of both pre and in-service science teachers
  • Educating the teacher educators – what is the knowledge base of a teacher educator in mathematics and science?

Convener: Anne Watson
Speaker: Professor John Mason Open University and University of Oxford

The conjecture is put forward that theories in mathematics education consist of collections of frames or frameworks, which themselves consist of labels for distinctions. Alongside these distinctions there are assumptions and values which, combined with the distinctions, suggest actions which might be taken.

Convener: John Furlong
Speakers: Geoff Whitty Institute of Education, University of London and Tim Brighouse previously Schools Commissioner for London.
This Seminar is the second in the Cities Seminar Series on Educational Improvement and Equity.
The seminar will be preceded by tea at 4.30 and followed by a drinks reception at 6.30.
Further information: Will Baker

Geoff Whitty and Tim Brighouse will draw on evidence from London and other cities including Hull and Bristol to consider if there are any essential ingredients that will ensure that more children enjoy more success in city schooling systems: they will reflect on the impact of various initiatives such as City Challenges in this country and comparable efforts internationally. They will conclude by drawing out some lessons for the future.

Geoff Whitty is Director of the Institute of Education and Professor of Education, University of London. His main areas of research and scholarship are the sociology of the school curriculum, education policy and teacher education. He has directed ESRC-funded research projects on the impact of education policies, such as the assisted places scheme, city technology colleges, Education Action Zones, and changes in initial teacher education. His most recent research includes a study of school councils for the Department for Children, Schools and Families and a series of projects on school-university links for the Sutton Trust.

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse has spent his entire career working in education. Most recently he has served as London Schools Commissioner, working to improve education in the capital. Before that his career started in the classroom and has taken in the role or Professor of Education at Keele University, as well as Chief Education Officer in both Oxfordshire and Birmingham Local Authorities.