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Yongcan Liu


Senior Lecturer in Second Language Education

Director of Studies for Education, Downing College

Coordinator, MPhil/MEd in Research in Second Language Education

E-mail Address


+44 (0)1223 767638


  • PhD in Education (University of Cambridge)
  • MPhil in Second Language Education (University of Cambridge)
  • MA in Applied Psycholinguistics (Guangdong University of Foreign Studies)
  • BA in English Linguistics and Translation Studies (Guangdong University of Foreign Studies)

Membership of Professional Bodies/Associations

  • International Association of Applied Linguistics (AILA)
  • British Educational Research Association (BERA)
  • British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL)
  • Fellow of Higher Education Academy

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Yongcan trained as a linguist in China and completed his MPhil/PhD in education at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge where he was a Chevening Scholar and an ESRC Dorothy Hodgkin Scholar. Before taking up his current post, he was Lecturer in Language Education at the Graduate School of Education, University of Exeter and Lecturer in Linguistics at the Faculty of English of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. He has taught both English and Chinese as a foreign language, linguistics and applied linguistics, and educational studies in China, the UK and the United Arab Emirates. Broadly speaking, Yongcan’s research is based on two sociocultural theoretical frameworks: (1) Lave and Wenger's Community of Practice (CoP) theory, focusing on the ideas of participation, distributed cognition and situated practice; (2) Vygotsky's Sociocultural Theory (SCT) of mind, which deals with issues such as mediation, cognitive regulation and potential development. He brings together these two theoretical perspectives to understand the socio-cognitive nature of second language teaching, learning and teacher development. Yongcan also has a long-standing interest in combining linguistic and social analysis in research on bilingual education and bilingualism. He has been involved in a series of linked projects on bilingual EAL children's language development, social integration and educational achievement, funded by the Bell Foundation. In particular, the findings of the EAL Assessment Project have been published as 'The EAL Assessment Framework for Schools', which is made available for all primary and secondary schools in England to assess bilingual children and to support teaching, planning and monitoring in schools. He currently involves in a Norwegian Research Council project on Language, Integration and Media and is co-investigator of a flagship policy project on multilingualism funded by AHRC, crossing the disciplines of arts, literature, linguistics, education, cognition and health.

Yongcan is founder and convener of Cambridge Research in Community Language Education Network (CRiCLE-Net), a university-school-community research partnership specialising in language, heritage and migration. Yongcan works closely with local schools and communities; nationally he serves as Education Advisor to the UK Federation of Chinese Schools and as Treasurer of the Language Policy SIG of British Association of Applied Linguistics. Yongcan also sits on the editorial/advisory board of Language Learning Journal and Teacher Development and is founding series editor of Routledge Chinese Language Pedagogy, overseeing its research monograph and teacher development series.

Academic Area/Links

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Research Topics and Interests

Multilingualism in schools and communities

  • Languages of schooling and language-in-education policy
  • Community/heritage/minority language acquisition and education across the life span
  • Community/heritage/minority language teacher cognition and professional development
  • Bilingual EAL children's language development, social integration and educational achievement
  • Mobilising and releasing the potential of language heritage for education, integration and mobility

Doctoral supervision: 'family language policy and Bourdieu', 'critical ethnography of politics and practice of second language learning in migration contexts', 'teacher cognition of language across the curriculum', 'indexicality, situated cognition and heritage language socialisation'

Vygotsky's sociocultural theory of mind and the microgenesis of learning

  • Sociocultural theory of second language acquisition
  • Dynamic assessment for language development of disadvantaged children
  • The role of dialogic teaching and oracy in second language development
  • Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) for expansive learning and organisational change
  • Dialogic and digital mediation of language teachers' professional knowledge in school learning communities

Doctoral supervision: 'dynamic assessment for L2 reading development', 'dialogic mediation in Concept-Based Instruction of genre in L2 writing', 'activity theory and EMI language policy', 'transformative learning in ELF teacher education', 'rhetorical transfer in academic literacy', 'a realist impact evaluation of discourse and knowledge in NHS workplace learning'

I welcome proposals that draw on Community of Practice or Sociocultural Theory to look at SLA and heritage language learning. I am also interested in supervising projects on bilingualism and bilingual education based on innovative research methods. 

Current Projects

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Course Involvement

  • Education Tripos (Director of Studies)
  • Secondary PGCE (Chair of Examiners)
  • MPhil/MEd Research in Second Language Education (Coordinator)
  • MPhil/MEd Research Methods Strand
  • PhD/EdD Supervision

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Selected Publications

Wang, T., & Liu, Y. (2017). Dynamic L3 selves: A longitudinal study of five university L3 learners’ motivational trajectories in China. The Language Learning Journal. DOI:10.1080/09571736.2017.1375549

Liu, Y., Fisher, L., Forbes, K., & Evans, M. (2017). The knowledge base of teaching in linguistically diverse contexts: 10 grounded principles of multilingual classroom pedagogy for EAL. Language and Intercultural Communication, 17(4), 378-395. DOI:10.1080/14708477.2017.1368136 Download

Leung, C., Davidson, C., East, M., Evans, M. Green, T., Liu, Y., Hamp-Lyons, L., & Purpura, J. (2017). Using assessment to promote learning: Clarifying constructs, theories and practices. In J. Davies & J. Norris (eds.), Useful assessment and evaluation in language education. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

Evans, M., & Liu, Y. (2017). The unfamiliar and the indeterminate: Language, identity and social integration in the school experience of newly-arrived migrant children in England. Journal of Language, Identity and Education. DOI:

Duff, P., Liu, Y., & Li, D. (2017). Chinese heritage language learning: Negotiating identities, ideologies and institutionalisation. In O. Kagan, M. Carreira & C. Chik (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Heritage Language Education (pp. 409-422). London, New York: Routledge.

Chang, S., & Liu, Y. (2016). From problem-orientedness to goal-orientedness: Re-conceptualizing communication strategies as forms of intra-mental and inter-mental mediation. System: An International Journal of Educational Technology and Applied Linguistics, 61, 43-54.

Evans, M., Jones, N., Leung, C., & Liu, Y. (2016). EAL Assessment Framework for Schools. Cambridge: the Bell Foundation.

Liu, Y., & Evans, M. (2016). Multilingualism as legitimate shared repertoires in school communities of practice: Students' and teachers' discursive construction of languages in two schools in England. Cambridge Journal of Education, 46(4), 553-568.

Liu, Y. (2016). The emotional geographies of language teaching. Teacher Development, 20(4), 482-497. DOI:10.1080/13664530.2016.1161660

Evans, M. Schneider, C., Arnot, M., Fisher, L., Forbes, K. Hu, M., & Liu, Y. (2016). Language development and school achievement: Opportunities and challenges in the education of EAL students. Cambridge: the Bell Foundation.

Evans, M., Jones, N., Leung, C., & Liu, Y. (2015). EAL assessment and evaluation framework. NALDIC Quarterly, 15(4), 4-9.

Liu, Y. (2014). Book review of ‘Handbook of Conversation Analysis’. Discourse and Society, 25(3), 673-674.

Anot, M., Schneider, C., Evans, M., Liu, Y., Welply, O., & Davies-Tutt, D. (2014). School approaches to the education of EAL students: Language development, scoial integration and achievement. Cambridge: the Bell Foundation.

Liu, Y. (2013). The social organisation of talk-in-interaction at work in a language teacher professional community. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 2(3), 195-207.

Liu, Y. & Xu, Y. (2013). The trajectory of learning in a teacher community of practice. Research Papers in Education, 28(2), 176-195.

Liu, Y. & Xu, Y. (2011). Inclusion or exclusion?: A narrative inquiry of a language teacher’s identity experience in the ‘new work order’ of competing pedagogies. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27(3), 589-597.

Liu, Y., & Fisher, L. (2010). ‘What have we learnt after we had fun’: An activity theory perspective on the cultures of learning in pedagogical reforms. In V. Ellis, A. Edwards & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Cultural-historical perspectives on teacher education and development: Learning teaching (pp. 180-195). Oxon: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.

Xu, Y., & Liu, Y. (2009). Teacher assessment knowledge and practice. TESOL Quarterly, 43(3), 493-513.

Liu, Y. (2007). From teacher group to learning community: Towards an integrated framework for college English teachers’ professional development. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 30(5), 75-85.

Liu, Y., & Fisher, L. (2006). The development patterns of modern foreign language student teachers’ conceptions about self: Three cases. Teacher Development: An International Journal of Teachers’ Professional Development, 10(3), 339-355.

Liu, Y. (2005). Situated teacher learning in the community of practice: An ethnography. In M. Cooper (Ed.), Teacher education: Local and global (pp. 280-286). Queensland: Catholic University Press.