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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 Language 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

  • Treasurer and Executive Committee: Language Policy SIG, British Association of Applied Linguistics
  • Academic Advisory Board: Learning Passport for Children on the Move (Cambridge/Unicef/Microsoft)
  • EAL Assessment Advisory Group: the Bell Foundation
  • Associate Director: Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement
  • Education Advisor: UK Federation of Chinese Schools
  • 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 lies in two areas, one theory-based and the other practice-oriented. On the theoretical side, he has a keen interest in theorising the social cognitive nature of second language learning and language teacher development. This is done through the lenses of Community of Practice (CoP) which focuses on the ideas of distributed cognition and situated practice, and Sociocultural Theory (SCT) of mind which deals with issues such as cognitive regulation and mediated development.

On practice, Yongcan's work focuses on finding the ways to mobilise 'linguistic capital' in homes, schools and communities to support bilingual children on the move. A prominent theme in this area concurs with his long-standing interest in combining linguistic and social analysis to examine the schooling experience of EAL students and the knowledge base for teaching in diverse contexts. 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 award-winning 'EAL Assessment Framework for Schools' which won a British Council ELTons Award in 2018. Version 2.0 of the Framework featuring a Digital Tracker has been launched as an open-access toolkit to support EAL assessment in primary and secondary schools across the UK.

A related theme in this field of scholarship is to understand the contributions of community/heritage language to the development of multilingual individuals and societies. Yongcan is founder and 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 co-investigator of an AHRC interdisciplinary policy project on multilingualism (MEITS), crossing the disciplines of arts, literature, linguistics, education, cognition and health. More recently, he joined the Academic Advisory Board and Literacy Working Group of the 'Learning Passport' project, a partnership between Cambridge, Unicef and Microsoft that seeks to develop a global curriculum framework for refugee/displaced children. 

Yongcan trained in linguistics in China and completed his MPhil and PhD 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

Contributions of multilingualism in the development of individuals and societies

  • 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 for heritage speakers' language learning and maintenance

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

Situated and sociocultural theories of learning

  • 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 teacher language awareness and professional knowledge in teacher education
  • Distributed knowledge and pedagogical innovations in school, workplace 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', 'discourses of workplace learning and impact evaluation', 'creativity through oracy in L2 talk'

Current Projects

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Course Involvement

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Selected Publications

Shao, J. & Liu, Y. (2020). Written corrective feedback, learner-internal cognitive processes, and the acquisition of regular past tense by Chinese L2 learners of English. Applied Linguistics Review. DOI: 10.1515/applirev-2019-0131.

Evans, M., Schneider, C., Arnot, M., Fisher, L., Forbes, K., Liu, Y. & Welply, O. (2020). Language development, social integration and academic achievement of EAL students. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Xie, Y. & Liu. Y. (2020). Who do you hand out with? How Chinese students' social networks relate to perceived oral proficiency gains during study abroad experiences. Study Abroad Research in Second Language Acquisition and International Education.

Guo, J., & Liu, Y. (in press). Navigating the complex landscape of cross-epistemic climates: The development of Chinese language teachers' beliefs about knowledge and learning in the UK. Teacher Development. DOI: 10.1080/13664530.2020.1794951

Choi, K., & Liu, Y. (in press). The challenges and strategies for ELF teaching and teacher development. The ELT Journal.

Chen, C. & Liu, Y. (2020). The role of vocabulary breath and depth in IELTS academic reading tests. Reading in a Foreign Language, 31(1), 1-27.

Davidson, R., & Liu, Y. (2020). Reaching the world outside: Cultural representation and perceptions of global citizenship in Japanese elementary school English textbooks. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 33(1), 32-49. DOI: 10.1080/07908318.2018.1560460

Wang, T., & Liu, Y. (2020). Dynamic L3 selves: A longitudinal study of five university L3 learners’ motivational trajectories in China. The Language Learning Journal, 48(2), 201-212. DOI:10.1080/09571736.2017.1375549

Liu, Y. (2019). Situated teacher learning as externalising and mobilising teachers' tacit knowledge through talk in a language teacher professional community. Research Papers in Education, 34(3), 330-351. DOI:10.1080/02671522.2018.1452956

Fisher, L., Evans, M., Forbes, K., Gayton, A., Liu, Y. (2019). Participative multilingual identity construction in the languages classroom: A multi-theoretical conceptualisation. International Journal of Multilingualism. DOI: 10.1080/14790718.2018.1524896

Evans, M., Fisher, L, Forbes, K., Liu, Y. (2019). The form and functions of newcomer EAL students’ speech in English: Patterns of progression and communication in semi-structured interview dialogue. Language and Education, 33(1), 18-34. DOI: 10.1080/09500782.2018.1445756

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.

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

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.