Ways of Understanding Meaning in Language Learning

University of Southampton
January 24 2015

This event brought together language teachers who were interested in sharing experiences and ideas, and hearing views from both research and teaching perspectives, on how we understand meaning in the language classroom. Copies of the presentation slides from the guest speakers can be accessed below.


Welcome and introduction
(Roumyana Slabakova, University of Southampton)

Ways of understanding meaning in the language classroom
Heather Marsden 
– University of York
Melinda Whong – University of Leeds
Kook-Hee Gil – University of Sheffield

This presentation focuses on how context (discourse context, sentence-level context) affects grammar, in the creation of meaning. Three case-studies of theoretical second language acquisition research in this area are presented, and then we consider how the findings of such studies might be useful to language teachers and learners.

Teaching grammar in a meaningful way
Tanya Riordan
– University of Portsmouth

This presentation reviews approaches to grammar teaching through the ages and gives the teacher the opportunity to analyse three different approaches to teaching grammar and to select the one that they feel is the most meaningful to them and their students


The centrality of meaning in language acquisition and teaching
Bill VanPatten – Michigan State University

In this talk we will explore how language acquisition happens only in the presence of meaning. That is, language acquisition occurs as a byproduct of the communicative events in which a learner is engaged. In our exploration, we will touch on the different natures of mental representation (underlying implicit knowledge) and skill (communicative ability), as well as the differential roles of input and output.  What we will see is that meaning and meaning making are at the center of acquisition. Because they are at the center of acquisition, they must also be at the center of language teaching. In short, classroom and on-line events should be meaning based from the very beginning of the learner’s experience with another language.


Meaning seekers/meaning makers: Possibilities for a paradigm shift in language learning through policy reform
Bernadette Holmes

September 2014 – to July 2025 demarcates a key period in the history of language learning in England. For the first time, learning a language in primary schools becomes a statutory requirement from the age of seven, a new, minimalist but challenging curriculum has been introduced for learners in Key Stages 2 and 3, and the principles of the new curriculum are further elaborated in the assessment criteria for the new GCSE and in the subject content criteria for the new AS and A levels, developed for first teaching from 2016.

This session will discuss the philosophy for reform and reveal the underpinning rationale. We will examine the language used to define the new national policy and its expectations in an attempt to locate languages within a broader humanities framework, showing how language learning can play a pivotal role in the personal, intellectual, linguistic and cultural development of the learner. The focus will be on the opportunities presented by the new GCSE and A level for enhanced interaction with spoken and written language, enabling learners to become independent meaning seekers and meaning makers.


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