MA International Education (Curriculum and Pedagogy)

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Psychology of Language Learning

Course unit fact file
Unit code EDUC70091
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This unit introduces a range of psychological theories to explain L2 language learning, and asks participants to use one theory to understand a real-world psychology of language learning issue. 


The unit aims to:

  • provide an overview of currently relevant research and theory in psychology of language learning and to  examine its implications for language education.
  • provide opportunities for the in-depth study of one specific issue/puzzle, and associated theory, in the psychology of language learning.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of the unit, students should be able to:


  • the contribution of psychology and psycholinguistics, and other parallel disciplines, to the development of recent thinking and practice in language education;
  • individual differences in language learning, including: age, aptitude, intelligence, personality, cognitive and learning styles, learning strategies;
  • motivation in language learning and teaching, including: instrumental and integrative motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic factors, general determinants of motivation in educational settings;
  • how language is processed (including: issues of input and intake; the role of declarative, procedural and episodic knowledge in the comprehension and production of language; the role of working and long-term memory in language learning);
  • second language acquisition (including: models of the language learning process, recent research developments such as the role of formulaic language in language learning and form-focused instruction); and
  • social processes in language development (including: social construction of language; mediation; ZPD; interpersonal and affective factors in language learning; ecological perspectives on language development).

Teaching and learning methods

The onsite course is presented in two parts:

  1. An introduction to a variety of historical and contemporary theories of language learning.
  2. An enquiry-based learning stage, where students identify an issue/puzzle of concern in their own practice and/or past language learning experience and use one theory to develop new understanding of this issue/puzzle.

The enquiry-based learning stage is supported by a tutorial and culminates in a poster presentation session where each student presents on their issue/puzzle, the theory used, and their new understanding. This is assessed formatively by the course unit tutor(s). 

Knowledge and understanding

  • demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of theory in a chosen area of psychology relevant to language learning
  • assess how different contexts (e.g. institutional, societal, technological, methodological, physical versus virtual)  affect the relevance of theoretical insights  

Intellectual skills

  • critically use theory and research in the field of language learning, and assess its relevance to language teaching and  learning
  • problematise language learning situations in the light of research, theory, practice and current issues of debate.

Practical skills

  • identify an issue/puzzle from their own practice/experience that may be  understood drawing on existing r theory in psychology and/or psycholinguistics;
  • present new understanding through presentation; organise and carry out a presentation of their work.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Use appropriate academic conventions in writing

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 80%
Oral assessment/presentation 20%

Feedback methods

Via Blackboard

Recommended reading

Indicative reading list is as follows. More specific readings will be assigned each week of the semester.

Dornyei, Z. (2010). Teaching and Researching Motivation (2nd Edition). Harlow: Longman. [This is a significant update on the 2001 edition].

Ellis, R. (1997). Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hummel, K. M. (2020). Introducing Second Language Acquisition: Perspectives and Practices (2nd Edition). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2021). How Languages Are Learned (5th Edition). Oxford University Press. [Earlier editions will be useful as well].

Lantolf, J.P. & Thorne, S.L. (2006). Sociocultural Theory and the Genesis of Second Language Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mitchell, R., Myles, F., & Marsden, E. (2019). Second Language Learning Theories (4th Edition). New York: Routledge.

Stelma, J., & Kostoulas, A. (2021). The Intentional Dynamics of TESOL. Boston/Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Tutorials 2
Independent study hours
Independent study 126

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Juurd Stelma Unit coordinator

Additional notes

This is an optional course unit for MA TESOL students and an elective course unit for other MA programmes.


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