Researching language
learning and teaching
beyond the classroom
Phil Benson
Dept. of Linguistics
Macquarie University
How important is learning beyond
• Think about a foreign language that you know
• What percentage of your knowledge and
ability would you attribute to
– learning and using the language in class
– learning and using the language outside class
Why is language learning beyond the
classroom important?
• Deconstruction of traditional classroom instruction –
self-access centres, distance learning, workplace
learning, learning for practical purposes, etc.
• Globalization and the shrinking world – media
technologies and mobility; access to ‘authentic’
language (Kramsch 2014)
• Learners often begin in the classroom and continue
• Pickard (1995) – learners attribute high levels of
proficiency to learning beyond the classroom
How much research is carried out in
Research articles on
language teaching and
learning published in MLJ
= 30
Not classroom-based = 7
= 37
Classroom research
Second language classroom research investigates
what happens in second language classrooms.
van Lier, L. (1990: 174)
…[a cover term for] a whole range of research studies
on classroom language learning and teaching. The
obvious unifying factor is that the emphasis is solidly
on trying to understand what goes on in the
classroom setting.
Allwright, D. & Bailey, K. M. (1991: 2)
Classroom-based studies of
language teaching and learning
Measurement of language learning
variables – participants enrolled in
language programmes
Measurement of language learning
variables – participants not enrolled
in language programmes
Studies of language learning beyond
the classroom
Measurement studies
• Focus on variables (e.g., strategy use, anxiety,
language or discourse competencies);
sometimes with experimental treatment
• Participants are enrolled in language classes at
the time of the research
• Typically the researchers’ own class or a class
in the researchers’ institution.
• How does this influence findings?
Studies of language learning beyond
the classroom (MLJ 2014)
Kääntä, et al. (2013)
Finnish reality TV contestants
talking about language and
language learning
Social interaction
Back (2013)
Symbolic competence of SpanishQuichua bilingual musicians in
Quichua community
Rampton (2013)
Discourse of adult migrant language Discursive stylization
learner in UK
Trentman (2013)
Use of Arabic in study abroad in
Egypt (n=18)
Language contact
Moore and MacDonald
Intergenerational language
learning in a native Canadian
Literacy as social
Spinning the ‘classroom norm’ around
If language learning beyond the
classroom were the norm…
• What kind of models of language learning
would we need?
• Where would the classroom fit in?
• Where would measurement studies fit in?
• What kinds of research would fill our journals?
A descriptive model
Refers to
Where the learning takes
place (setting)
out-of-class <-> out-ofclass
Degree of structure – role
of qualifications
informal <-> formal
The senses in which
teaching is involved
non-instructed <->
Locus of control
Who makes the major
decisions about learning
self-directed <-> otherdirected
(Benson 2011)
Other dimensions…?
• Mediation – texts, materials, technologies, resources
• Modality – form-focused, reading-based,
interactional, etc
• Socialty – alone or with others (social networks –
Palfreyman 2011)
• Linguistic – what kinds of language are involved –
creativity, complexity, etc.
• Trajectory – development over time (Chik 2014)
Where does the classroom fit in?
• Any setting can be described in terms of
formality, pedagogy, etc, etc
• The classroom is one setting among many that
are likely to be available as affordances for
– Horizontally - within a spatial environment (e.g., a
town or city, a school or university)
– Vertically – within a temporal environment (e.g.,
for an individual over a period of years)
Where would measurement
studies fit in?
• Two aptitude studies (MLJ 2013)
• Schools and classrooms as affordances for
measurement of variables
• Variables in learning beyond the classroom
Language aptitude studies
Thompson (2013)
79 Brazilian language learners attending classes
at a university-affiliated English language
program – foreign language aptitude test
(CANAL-FT) + interviews on language
Language aptitude studies
Dahlen, K., and Caldwell-Harris, C. (2013)
88 students taking Psychology at Boston
University (56 never mastered an L2; 25 early
bilingual; 7 learned an L2 for everyday
interaction) – aptitude test (MLAT) + initial
vocab learning under 4 conditions + recognition
and recall tests
Language aptitude studies
Thompson (2013)
Previous language experience has an effect on aptitude –
suggests that aptitude is ‘dynamic’.
Dahlen, K., and Caldwell-Harris, C. (2013)
Monolinguals scored higher than bilinguals on aptitude test
Authors speculate that, “the MLAT measures cognitive abilities
that help learn a FL in a classroom setting and thus may be most
valid for monolingual Englishspeakers…” (910)
Location and research findings
• Location influences sample; composition of
the sample influences findings
• Inclusion of ‘out-of-class’ learners reveals
instrument bias towards classroom learning
• Context in which research is conducted also
influences findings
The importance of context
“Time and time again when researchers conduct
experiments, they find that children’s abilities
differ from one experiment to another…. People
often show dissociations in their behavior,
seeming to know things when they are tested in
one way, while seemingly unaware of the same
information when they are tested in another
Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008: 131).
Schools and classrooms
• Measurement studies rely on samples >30
• Where do we easily find such samples?
• MLJ – 21 studies of intact classes or year
groups (one study of school district, 2
unenrolled samples)
• Ou-of-class studies tend to be ethnographic,
individual or collective case studies (though
some are classroom-based!)
Variables in learning beyond the
• Standard instruments designed for classroom
• Motivation, strategy use, anxiety, etc. tend to
‘present’ differently.
• Specific variables – e.g., ‘persistence’ in use of
broadcast materials (Umino 2005)
What kinds of studies will we find
in journals?
• Fewer measurement studies / more
qualitative, descriptive studies
• Studies of learning in specific settings
– Murray, Fujishima, Uzuku 2014 (space and place)
– Gao 2007; 2009
• Horizontal, ‘ecological’ studies
– Palfreyman 2014; Menezes, 2011
– Lamb, 2007; Lai 2014
What kinds of studies will we find
in journals?
• Vertical, ‘narrative’ studies of language
learning histories and experiences
– Barkhuizen et al 2013
– Benson & Nunan 2005; Chik 2014
• Learning in interaction studies
– Zimmermann 2011; Tudini 2007
• The roles of teachers and classroom teaching
– Ryan 1997; Chern & Dooley 2014
Back, M. (2013). “La Orquesta”: Symbolic Performance in a Multilingual Community of
Practice. The Modern Language Journal, 97 (2), pp. 383-396.
Barkhuizen, G., Benson, P., and Chik, A. (2013) Narrative inquiry in language teaching and
learning research. London: Routledge.
Benson, P. and Nunan, D. (Eds.), (2005). Learners’ stories: Difference and diversity in language
learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Benson, P. and Reinders, H. (Eds.). (2011). Beyond the language classroom. Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan.
Chern, C-L., and Dooley, K. (2014). Learning English by walking down the street. ELT Journal,
68 (2), 113-123.
Chik, A. (2014). Digital gaming and language learning: Autonomy and community. Language
Learning and Techonology, 18 (2), 85-100.
Dahlen, K., and Caldwell-Harris, C. (2013). The Modern Language Journal, 97 (4), pp. 902916.
Gao, X. (2007). A tale of Blue Rain Café: A study on the online narrative construction about a
community of English learners on the Chinese mainland. System, 35(2), 259-270.
Gao, X. (2009). ‘English corner’ as an out-of-class learning activity. English Language Teaching
Journal, 63(1), 60-67.
Gao, X. (2010). Autonomous language learning against all odds. System, 38, 580-590.
Kääntä, L., et al. (2013). Learning English Through Social Interaction: The Case of Big
Brother 2006, Finland. The Modern Language Journal, 97 (2), pp. 340-349.
Kramsch, C. (2014). Teaching foreign languages in an era of globalization: An introduction.
The Modern Language Journal, 98 (1), 296-311.
Lai, C. (2014). Perceiving and traversing in-class and out-of-class learning: accounts from
foreign language learners in Hong Kong. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching,
Lamb, M. (2004). “It depends on the students themselves”: Independent language learning at
an Indonesian state school. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 17(3), 229-245.
Larsen-Freeman, D., and Cameron, L. (2008). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Menezes, V. (2011). Affordances for language learning beyond the classroom. In P. Benson
and H. Reinders (Eds.), Beyond the language classroom (pp. 59-71). Basingstoke: Palgrave
Moore, D., and MacDonald, M. (2013). Language and Literacy Development in a Canadian
Native Community: Halq’émylem Revitalization in a Stó:lō Head Start Program in British
Columbia. The Modern Language Journal, 97 (3), pp. 702-719.
Murray, G. (Ed.) (2014). Social Dimensions of Autonomy in Language Learning. Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan.
Murray, G., Fujishima, N., and Uzuku, M. (2014). The semiotics of place: Autonomy and
space. In G. Murray (Ed.), Social Dimensions of Autonomy in Language Learning (pp. 81-99).
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Palfreyman, D. M. (2011). Family, friends, and learning beyond the classroom: Social
networks and social capital in language learning. In P. Benson and H. Reinders (Eds.), Beyond
the language classroom (pp. 17-34). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Palfreyman, D. M. (2014). The ecology of learner autonomy. In G. Murray (Ed.), Social
Dimensions of Autonomy in Language Learning (pp. 175-192). Basingstoke: Palgrave
Pickard, N. (1995). Out-of-class language learning strategies: Three case studies. Language
Learning Journal, 12, 35-37.
Rampton, B. (2013). Styling in a Language Learned Later in Life. The Modern Language
Journal, 97 (2), pp. 361-382.
Ryan, S. (1997). Preparing learners for independence: Resources beyond the classroom. In P.
Benson and P. Voller (Eds.), Autonomy and independence in language learning (pp. 215-224).
London: Longman.
Thompson, A. S. (2013). The Interface of Language Aptitude and Multilingualism:
Reconsidering the Bilingual/Multilingual Dichotomy. The Modern Language Journal, 97 (3),
pp. 685-701.
Trentman, E. (2013). Arabic and English During Study Abroad in Cairo, Egypt: Issues of Access
and Use. The Modern Language Journal, 97 (2), pp. 457-473.
Tudini, V. (2007). Negotiation and intercultural learning in Italian native speaker chat rooms.
The Modern Language Journal, 91 (4), 577-61.
Umino, T. (2005). Learning a second language with broadcast materials at home: Japanese
students’ long-term experiences. In P. Benson and D. Nunan (Eds.), Learners’ stories:
Difference and diversity in language learning (pp. 134-149). Cambridge: Cambridge University
van Lier, L. (1990). Classroom research in second language acquisition. Annual Review of
Applied Linguistics, 10, 173-186.
Zimmerman, E. (2011). Talk about language use: ‘I know a little about your language’. In P.
Benson and H. Reinders (Eds.), Beyond the language classroom (pp. 88-105). Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan.

Globalization, new media and English language learning