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Yongcan Liu


Reader in Applied Linguistics and Languages Education

Bye-Fellow and Director of Studies in Education, Downing College

E-mail Address


+44 (0)1223 767638


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

Professional Bodies/Associations

  • British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL)
  • Treasurer and Executive Committee Member: BAAL Language Policy SIG
  • Academic Advisory Board: Learning Passports for Children on the Move (UNICEF)
  • EAL Assessment Advisory Group: the Bell Foundation
  • Education Advisor: UK Federation of Chinese Schools
  • Associate Director: Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement
  • Series Editor: Routledge Chinese Language Pedagogy; Editorial Board: Language and Education, Language Learning Journal, Thinking Skills and Creativity, Beijing International Review of Education

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Yongcan’s scholarship mainly lie in two areas, one theoretical and the other more practical. On the theoretical side, he is keen to push the boundaries of knowledge to theorise the social cognitive nature of second language learning and teaching. This is done through two theoretical lenses: (1) Community of Practice (CoP) theory, which focuses on the ideas of participation, distributed cognition and situated practice; and (2) Sociocultural Theory (SCT) of mind, which deals with issues such as mediation, cognitive regulation and potential development.

On the more practical side, Yongcan's work focuses on finding the ways to mobilise 'linguistic capital' in homes, schools and communities to support bilingual children on the move. He has a long-standing interest in combining linguistic and social analysis to examine the schooling experience of EAL students and the professional knowledge base for teaching them. He has worked on a series of linked projects on EAL children's language development, social integration and educational achievement, funded by the Bell Foundation. He is co-author of the Bell 'EAL Assessment Framework for Schools' which won a British Council ELTons Award in 2018. Version 2.0 of the Framework and a digital tracker have been launched as an open-access tool to support EAL planning and assessment in primary and secondary schools across England and Wales. More recently, he joined the Academic Advisory Board and the Curriculum Working Group of the Unicef/Cambridge programme on 'Learning Passports for Children on the Move' which aims to develop a Global Curriculum Framework for displaced/refugee children.  

Yongcan is founder convener of Cambridge Research in Community Language Education Network (CRiCLE-Net) and leads the Language, Heritage, Migration cluster in the Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement. He is also co-investigator of an interdisciplinary project on multilingualism (MEITS) funded by AHRC Open World Research Initiative, crossing the disciplines of arts, literature, linguistics, education, cognition and health.

Yongcan trained in linguistics in China. A Chevening and Dorothy Hodgkin Scholar, he completed his MPhil and PhD in Education at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. He has taught English/Chinese as a foreign language and linguistics/applied linguistics in China, the UK and the United Arab Emirates.

Academic Area/Links

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Research Topics and Interests

Multilingualism and language learning in schools and communities

  • Language policy, medium of instruction and learning outcomes in multilingual contexts
  • Community/heritage/minority language acquisition and education across the life span
  • Language teacher cognition and professional knowledge base in linguistically diverse contexts
  • Bilingual EAL children's language development, social integration and educational achievement
  • Evidence-based interventions in support of heritage speakers' language learning and wellbeing

Doctoral supervision: 'parental mediation in family language policy', 'politics, practice and class in ESOL', 'pedagogical control in EMI language policy', 'Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) of EAL', 'transnationalism in heritage language maintenance', 'race, racism and racialisation in language teaching', 'investment in African languages and nation building', 'heritage language and wellbeing of Asian immigrant children'

Situated cognition and sociocultural theory of mind

  • Sociocultural theory in second language acquisition and education
  • Dynamic assessment for language development of disadvantaged children
  • The role of oracy in second language acquisition and thinking development
  • Mediation of teachers' metalinguistic and professional knowledge in teacher learning
  • Distributed knowledge and pedagogical innovations in school and digital learning communities

Doctoral supervision: 'dynamic assessment for L2 reading development', 'mediation in concept-based instruction of genre in L2 writing', 'transformative Global-Englishes teacher education', 'rhetorical transfer in academic literacy', 'realist impact evaluation of NHS workplace learning', 'creativity through oracy in L2 talk'

I particularly welcome proposals that draw on Sociocultural Theory and Community of Practice to look at SLA. I am also interested in supervising projects on language, heritage and migration based on innovative methods.

Current Projects

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Course Involvement

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Selected Publications

Davidson, R., & Liu, Y. (2018). Reaching the world outside: Cultural representation and perceptions of global citizenship in Japanese elementary school English textbooks. Language, Culture and Curriculum. DOI: 10.1080/07908318.2018.1560460

Fisher, L., Evans, M., Forbes, K., Gayton, A., Liu, Y. (2018). Participative multilingual identity construction in the languages classroom: A multi-theoretical conceptualisation. International Journal of Multilingualism. DOI: 10.1080/14790718.2018.1524896

Liu, Y. (2018). Situated teacher learning as externalising and mobilising teachers' tacit knowledge through talk in a language teacher professional community. Research Papers in Education. DOI:10.1080/02671522.2018.1452956

Evans, M., Fisher, L, Forbes, K., Liu, Y. (2018). The form and functions of newcomer EAL students’ speech in English: Patterns of progression and communication in semi-structured interview dialogue. Language and Education. DOI: 10.1080/09500782.2018.1445756

Wang, T., & Liu, Y. (2018). 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

Leung, C., Davidson, C., East, M., Evans, M. Green, T., Liu, Y., Hamp-Lyons, L., & Purpura, J. (2018). 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. (2018). 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, 17(3), 152-167. DOI: 10.1080/15348458.2018.1433043

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

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.

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.