Sample Linguistics Paper

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Survey the primary research literature—i.e., journal articles, and review the current research trends in one of the sub-disciplines of applied linguistics and communication that form the focus of research in this department. This will aid students in identifying the relevant sources of research in a particular area, and becoming aware of the current topical concerns of researchers.

Students will carry out a literature survey of recent research. This will acquaint you with the various types of research pursuits in a particular domain of applied linguistics and communication and will bring your own research interests into focus. At the same time, the skills acquired through this exercise will serve as a foundation for the detailed reading of the research literature you will be expected to do for your other modules.

In the process of this exercise students will develop information search skills and become familiar with the formal properties of research reported in journal articles. It will also provide an opportunity for the student to develop a focused area of interest from the range of topics currently being explored in applied linguistics and communication.

The research literature survey will require students to locate current articles from academic journals publishing research in their chosen topic area. You will inspect articles only from the last five years. Read only the abstracts of the articles (typically provided directly after the title and authors but sometimes at the end.) Reading of the actual articles is not necessary for this exercise. The objective is to become acquainted with the nature of research interests and domains in a particular domain of research in applied linguistics and communication rather than an understanding of the research findings.

While carrying out your survey, focus on details provided in the article abstracts referring to the Who, What, Why, When and How of the research investigations. Note any technical terms which are unfamiliar. The written presentation of your survey will have an introduction which sets out the topic. You should include a description of the procedures used to locate articles such as selection of keywords and databases or search engines as well as any inclusion/exclusion criteria. The body of the essay will present a summary of the emerging pattern of interests reflected in the commonalties found in the literature and a synthesis which gives a picture of current research concerns in your chosen topic.

This assessment will take the form of a 3,500-4,000 word report of your research literature survey findings.

All sources must be cited in the text and referenced in the bibliography. Direct quotes must be indicated with “…” in the text, and page number of the source provided. Details of bibliographic and referencing conventions can be found on MyBirkbeck at


Linguistics Research Literature Survey: TESOL


Introduction. 1

Issues of Training and Professional Standards for TESOL teachers. 2

Aspects of Social Preferences, Identity, and Bias in TESOL. 5

The Nature of TESOL Work. 8

Conclusion. 11

Works Cited. 13


The aim of this literature survey is to examine research in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). TESOL is a general term that refers to a field of teaching that also encompasses TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). The objective is to identify the current topical concerns of researchers in this area of study. The paper also provides a platform for the identification of the range of topics that are currently being explored in the field of TESOL.

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In terms of the inclusion/exclusion criteria, the factors that were considered in the choice sources included type of research studies, date of publication, and expert filters such as the use of the keywords “TESOL”, “TESL”, and “TEFL” and conceptual relevance to the discipline of applied linguistics and communication. Regarding the type of research, the literature survey focused exclusively on primary research studies, specifically peer-reviewed journal articles. It also restricted its scope to journal articles that were published within the last five years. The search engine that was relied on to search for these articles was Google Scholar ( Upon generating a list of journal articles, a final criterion was applied by reading the abstracts to ensure that the issues addressed are applicable to the literature survey on TESOL.

Issues of Training and Professional Standards for TESOL teachers         

A major trend that has emerged in recent years in TESOL research relates to the kind of training being provided in TESOL teacher education and its relevance in addressing learners’ needs. Numerous challenges continue to be encountered in efforts to determine whether TESOL teachers are providing quality to learners at the expense of quantity or vice versa (Sehlaoui and Shinge 115). This debate has triggered a flurry of suggestions on how to standardize the system through which the effectiveness of the approaches used by teachers is measured. Thibeault, Kuhlman and Day draw attention to the use of a new yardstick that blends elements of TESOL and NCATE (National Council on the Accreditation of Teacher Education) to measure teacher preparation standards (52).

Liyanage also contributes to the debate on professional standards by pointing out that conceptions of professionalism keep changing in TESOL (2). According to Liyanage, this is mainly because of the non-compulsory nature of this kind of education (2). In Australia, for example, these conceptions keep changing in tune with various facets of globalization, one of them being the booming Asian economies (Liyanage 4). There is a growing number of Australian international students from Asia, which has greatly contributed to a proportionate increase in enrolments to Teacher Education Programs (TEPs) as more teacher-candidates seek to acquire TESOL skills.

Changes in conceptions of professional standards have also been changing in the United States as well. Many universities across the US routinely give professional credentials to students who want to become P-12 ESOL teachers (Thibeault, Kuhlman and Day 49). This trend has been contributed to by the growing population of English language learners (ELLs). However, professional requirements for ESOL instructors tend to vary from one state to the other (Thibeault, Kuhlman and Day 49). Similarly, teacher-education curricula for ESOL vary from one learning institution to the other (Thibeault, Kuhlman and Day 49).

In essence, changes in the level of student diversity has a profound impact on the nature of TESOL standards introduced and subsequent changes in the entire TESOL curriculum within a country vis-à-vis that of the rest of the world. As the world becomes increasingly globalized, issues of quality, professional identity, conceptual coherence, and accountability in second language acquisition contexts cannot be ignored. As this discourse takes shape, TESOL policymakers are compelled to strike a balance between growing student demands for TEPs and the clamor for the introduction of professional standards. The need to strike this balance should be considered both a national priority and a global imperative in TESOL education (Sehlaoui and Shinge 124).

            According to Thibeault, Kuhlman and Day, it is difficult to define who a highly qualified teacher is, meaning that there is a lack of clarity on whether the growing number of English learners in America and other parts of the world are being exposed to the best educational practices (48). As long as this question remains unanswered English language learners are likely to encounter situations where their full potential is not being exploited in an academic context. Fortunately, the TESOL/NCATE is increasingly being recognized across the United States. This observation is likely to trigger a debate on how policymakers in other parts of the world can introduce similar nationally recognized preparation standards that provide for flexibility in the way certified ESOL teachers are trained (Thibeault, Kuhlman and Day 53).

            The kind of training that pre-service teachers receive is said to have a huge impact on how they start their careers as TESOL teachers (Kiely and Askham 496). This impact can be felt even when those teachers are subjected to short training courses focusing on how to teach English in TESOL contexts. In applied linguistics discourse, this phenomenon is conceptualized through the idea of teacher learning. In this case, perceived achievements tend to be strongly related to the way in which teachers talk about their experiences in TESOL. According to Kiely and Askham, such an explanation can be anchored in sociocultural theories of learning such identity formation in the context of communities of practice as well as learning theory (504).

            Discourse on training also addresses ways of knowing whether teacher-candidates who are undergoing a pre-service course are ready for work in TESOL. To begin with, the teachers should establish confidence as well as an idea of TESOL entails. These objectives should be easily achieved during the first few months of training. Applied linguistics with an interest in TESOL can gather data on teachers’ performance during training sessions to construct an image of the typical combination of knowledge, dispositions, skills, procedural awareness, and identity that the teachers end up taking from pre-service courses. Kiely and Askham observe that this is an awesome research trend because it can shed light on the kind of conceptual toolkit that the pre-service teachers take to come up with for use in their future work in TESOL (504).

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            The kind of training that teachers receive determines the quality of education that they impart to second language learners. TESOL research on this issue of quality is ongoing. In most cases, the focus is on the comparison between the teaching methods of licensed in-service ESOL teachers and those of their non-licensed counterparts. According to Sehlaoui and Shinge, it is likely that quality is being compromised in favor of quantity due to the ever-creasing number of non-licensed ESOL teachers (111). Such teachers may provide too much linguistic content to learners without paying enough attention to the students’ ability to apply it to real-life situations. Similarly, lack of requisite teaching skills may render the non-licensed teachers incapable of successfully conducting participant and cooperative learning sessions (Sehlaoui and Shinge 112). At the same time, the reality of life creates circumstances where it is difficult to have a situation where every teacher working in ESOL contexts is licensed. Thus, the important thing is to find a balance between the quality and quantity of education being imparted on ESOL learners.

Aspects of Social Preferences, Identity, and Bias in TESOL

The TESOL debate also highlights various problems relating to cultural factors, social preferences, and attitudes towards the acquisition of a new language. In relation to this debate, Maggioli argues that the sociocultural learning theory provides insights into the social-cultural factors influencing language learning. For instance, it sheds light on how learners can overcome the habitus that pervades language learning contexts (Maggioli 191). According to Maggioli, native speakers of a language use habitus to individualize and internalize structures that enable them to judge their lived experience (194). This has led to the emergence of practical and theoretical traditions that have polarized TESOL teacher education and which are difficult to modify. According to Maggioli, the sociocultural perspective can enable both native and non-native teachers address the various challenges of teaching English to speakers of other languages (191).

A widely held view in recent research is that the conception of TESOL learning as a socially mediated activity is important in efforts to address problems relating to bias, cultural differences, as well as negative attitudes towards speakers of other languages who seek to learn English. To put this conception into perspective, one may look at non-native English-speaking (NNES) teachers who prepare well for lessons before venturing into the TESOL classroom to the point where their teaching methods are perceived admirable by their native English-speaking (NES) counterparts. This is an excellent demonstration of how a change of approach can transform teaching- and learning challenges for NNES teachers and students into cultural capital in the form of bilingual experience (Kang 30). According to Maggioli, the view of language acquisition as a socially mediated activity may help to offset the status quo, thereby jumpstarting the process of resolving the numerous conundrums that are being experienced by TESOL professionals (192).

The issue of language identity is also emerging as an area of profound interest in TESOL research. As learners grapple with problems relating to cultural identity, their teachers are also confronted with challenges of professional identities during their participation in TESOL programs. According to Ilieva, language instruction research has been dominated by the question of professional identity of teachers during the last decade (347). Non-native English-speaking (NNES) teachers have been encountering many challenges in their efforts to develop positive professional identities using existing teacher education programs.

Like Maggioli (191), Ilieva (347) supports the idea of social-cultural understandings of language acquisition for speakers of other languages who want to learn English. Ilieva goes a step further to highlight the importance of a post-structural understanding of identity; he points out that the manner in which learners demarcate authoritative discourses through dialogue and negotiation goes a long way to shed light on their cultural identities (Ilieva 353). The knowledge that professional TESOL teachers acquire through this expression of cultural identities may have wide-reaching implications for TESOL programs in Western universities.

To appreciate the need for TESOL learners and teachers to construct their own identity, one must first understand that many textbooks contain cultural bias and nativism. Consequently, non-native speakers of English tend to be deprived of socially-prominent positions in linguistic situations (Sherman 271). Many non-native English teachers who participate in TESOL programs understand this problem since they may have also fallen victim to it at one point in their careers. This explains their willingness to highlight it in contemporary scholarly discourse.

Sherman observes that non-native characters (both teachers and learners) tend to be treated with bias in TESOL course books (267). Sherman observes that the issue of gender bias has been given a lot of attention while that of speaker bias, also known in applied linguistics as nativism, has been ignored (268). For example, in many situations where conversations are presented for purposes of illustration, non-native speakers are often portrayed as individuals who speak fewer words, take fewer turns, and rarely take the initiative to start conversations. More importantly, they are treated as people who occupy inferior positions in society. These observations can be relied on to reorient the language acquisition discourse in TESOL course books with a view to avoiding any kind of bias. 

As the debate on bias against non-native ESOL students and teachers rages on, research interest in the multiplicity of perspectives being adopted in TESOL continues to increase. This research shows that there is a divide between native and non-native TESOL teachers in terms of the way language learning takes place in both contexts. However, little research has been done on the perspectives of NES (native-English-speaking) candidates on the divide between NNES and NNES in relation to TESOL (Kang 30). NNES teachers are said to be in the perpetual pursuit of perfection in the desire to master the linguistic norms of their NES counterparts. The converse may not be true because NES teachers would ordinarily be expected to promote the cultural identity that comes with being native speakers of a language. This multiplicity of perspectives may be considered a hindrance to standardization in relation to the training of TESOL teachers and the assessment of TESOL learners. However, all is not lost because the multicultural, bilingual experience of NNES can act as the cultural capital for preparation for the teaching career (Kang 30). Kang refers to this phenomenon as a language barrier compensation (34).

            The literature on TESOL also contains insights into a problem called the classic double-blind. According to Brandt, the classic double is characterized by the tendency for TESOL learners to compete for limited distinction positions because of conflict between the demands of the group and individual assessment (12). In most TESOL programs, students are expected to participate in group work. They are also expected to compete with their colleagues, including members of their groups, in individual assessment. In essence, students are being compelled to compete in some areas and to collaborate in others. This creates a phenomenon that Brandt refers to as the double-blind (12). This problem can be solved by deemphasizing competition and promoting the supremacy of the concept of the learning community in all TESOL assessments. The issue that arises at this point is whether TESOL assessments should be recalibrated to create a nationally recognized standard similar to the teacher preparation standards suggested by Thibeault, Kuhlman and Day (53).

The Nature of TESOL Work

            A fundamental question in TESOL research today is about the nature of TESOL work itself. Cho examines the nature of writing tasks that TESOL professors require (255); in his view, TESOL writing tasks are comparable to those of other disciplines in social science. In this regard, the most common TESOL tasks include library research paper, article review, summary, and report on experiment. All these tasks play important role in preparing learners for various communicative contexts of the English language. To arrive at these findings, researchers use various methodologies, for example, the analysis of information on various writing assignments gathered from TESOL professors (Cho 261). Other approaches include the exploration of various writing tasks that are frequently assigned to postgraduate students pursuing TESOL-oriented courses, and direct comparison between TESOL assignments with the ones that are routinely assigned to students pursuing studies in arts, humanities, and social sciences.

            The question of the TESOL practicum is also being discussed, and many things need to be done before it can be said to have been fully explored (Canh 202). According to Canh, most studies have examined how novice learners engage with the TESOL practicum in Asia and North America, leaving the rest of the world unaddressed (223). In these studies, preference is for cooperating teachers’ models rather than the theories they have already been taught as well as engagement in critical reflection (Canh 223).

            In the United States, the practicum is a critical component of all graduate TESOL programs. In these programs, the practicum gives students an opportunity to acquire most of the practical skills they need to operate efficiently as language teachers. These skills are normally applied in public schools or in specialized contexts such as adult education, bilingual education, and teaching English overseas. Some of the courses in which students are exposed to the practicum include phonology, contrastive analysis, second language acquisition, structural linguistics, and transformational grammar. The nature of the practicum varies depending on the specific elements that need to be emphasized in each of these courses.

            Novice teachers may get practicum experience either directly or indirectly. Direct experience is obtained through real teaching situations while indirect experience is obtained by watching other people teach. In both cases, learners may depend on a specially constituted class or a real class. Direct teaching experience may be supervised or unsupervised. In many cases, teacher candidates gain experience by teaching an unsupervised class on a regular basis. This is a reflection of the long-held idea that a teacher can only acquire most teaching skills by participating in actual classroom teaching. Some of the skills that can be acquired using this approach include developing rapport with students, handling classroom routines, and learning strategies of managing the classroom. Similarly, practicum compels the teacher candidate to confront the practical realities of day-to-day classroom activities by putting theory into practice.

            During classroom teaching, TESOL teachers are confronted with the reality of English language variation. This variation tends to persist even within mainstream varieties. Unfortunately, most TESOL models assume that English exists as a monolithic linguistic variety (Wolfram 15). It is only through actual classroom experiences that teachers are compelled to confront a new reality where even the vernacular varieties of everyday-life usage can vary from one individual to the other. This kind of variation tends to be replicated even among SLA (Second Language Acquisition) students, who excel in different aspects throughout the learning process.

            Wolfram argues that regardless of social valuation of the English language, instructors have a responsibility to make learners understand the systematic nature that ties all its varieties into a single linguistic norm (20). At the same time, efforts can be made at the applied level by helping learners to understand local norms as well as vernacular community models spoken within the neighborhood. This approach exposes students to various attitudes towards language variation and the role it plays in the construction of linguistic identities. In other words, the current debate focuses on both theoretical and practical aspects of language acquisition and teaching.

            The issue of teacher preparation in TESOL context is considered more important for NNES teachers than for NES teachers (Kang 32). This is because the former have to work extra hard to improve their English variety lest they be accused of posing a communication barrier by their NES counterparts. Obviously, the NNES teachers have to prepare on many other wide-ranging issues, including interaction with students, personal qualities, preparation of feedback to students, material presentation, and cultural awareness. This may explain why Kang’s study on a comparison of NNES and NES in terms of the aforementioned attributes did not identify any meaningful variations. Although one may not rule out any possible methodological problems in the research design and their impact on the findings, those findings may as well indicate that NNES teachers may indeed have excelled in the adoption of strategies aimed at compensating for their poor mastery of the English language. In fact, many of those strategies for classroom preparation are being perceived admirably by NES teachers (Kang 32).


            This literature survey has focused on the issue of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). The objective was to identify current topical concerns of TESOL researchers as well as the main topics that are being explored in this area of study. The inclusion/exclusion criteria outlined in the introduction led to the identification of twelve scholarly articles, which were analyzed in terms of commonalities, emerging patterns of interests, and differences of opinion regarding various aspects of TESOL as an area of study within applied linguistics.

            This analysis led to the identification of three current topical areas: training and professional standards for TESOL teachers, social preferences, identity, and bias in TESOL, and the nature of TESOL work. It is evident that numerous challenges are being encountered in efforts to develop professional standards for TESOL teachers. This is because of the dynamism of the today’s globalized world as well as the non-compulsory nature of TESOL education. Regarding problems relating to social preferences, identity, and bias in TESOL education, research recommend the adoption of the view of language learning as a socially mediated activity. This approach can even help NNES teachers and students to transform their cultural challenges into cultural capital in the form of bilingual experience. Lastly, the main issues addressed in relation to the nature of TESOL work include the types of writing tasks being used in TESOL classrooms, the TESOL practicum, and the mistaken view of English as a monolithic linguistic variety.

Works Cited

Brandt, Caroline. “Competition and Collaboration in Initial Teacher Education in TESOL: A Case of a Classic Double Bind.” Asian EFL Quarterly Journal, 12.3(2010): 8-39.

Canh, Le. “Great Expectations: The TESOL Practicum as a Professional Learning Experience.” TESOL Journal, 5.2 (2014): 199–224.

Cho, Hyonsuk. “What Writing Tasks Do TESOL Professors Require?” TESOL Journal, 5.2 (2014): 247–264.

Ilieva, Roumi. “Non-native English–Speaking Teachers’ Negotiations of Program Discourses in Their Construction of Professional Identities within a TESOL Program.” The Canadian Modern Language Review, 66.3 (2010): 343-369.

Kang, Hyun-Sook. Teacher Candidates’ Perceptions of Nonnative-English-Speaking Teacher Educators in a TESOL Program: “Is There a Language Barrier Compensation?” TESOL Journal, 5.4 (2014): 29-37.

Kiely, Richard and Askham, Jim.“Furnished Imagination: The Impact of Preservice Teacher Training on Early Career Work in TESOL.” TESOL Quarterly, 46.3 (2012): 496–518.

Liyanage, Indika., “Walker, Tony and Singh, Parlo. TESOL professional standards in the “Asian century”: Dilemmas facing Australian TESOL teacher education.” Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 3.1 (2013): 1-8.

Maggioli, Gabriel. “Tradition and Habitus in Tesol Teacher Education.” Language and Linguistics Compass, 8.5 (2014): 188–196.

Sehlaoui, Abdelilah and Shinge, Manjula. “The Pursuit of Quality over Quantity in TESOL Teacher Education: Coursework versus Test Only.” TESOL Journal, 4.1 (2013): 106–128.

Sherman, John. “Multiple Levels of Cultural Bias in TESOL Course Books.” RELC Journal, 41.3 (2010): 267-281.

Thibeault, Connie., Kuhlman, Natalie and Day, Cathy. “ESL Teacher-Education Programs: Measuring Up to the TESOL/NCATE Yardstick.” The CATESOL Journal, 22.1 (2010): 48-59.

Wolfram, Walt. “Integrating Language Variation into TESOL: Challenges from English Globalization.” Englishes in Multilingual Contexts, 10 (2014): 15-31.

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