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Yongcan Liu


Senior Lecturer in Second Language Education

Bye-Fellow and 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 Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL)
  • Treasurer and Executive Committee Member of the Language Policy SIG of BAAL
  • Fellow of Higher Education Academy

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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 researching the education and schooling of bilingual migrant children in homes, schools and communities. He has been involved in a series of linked projects on EAL children's language development, social integration and educational achievement, funded by the Bell Foundation, and has served on its EAL Assessment Advisory Group. The findings of a recent assessment project have been published as 'The EAL Assessment Framework for Schools', which won a British Council award for innovation in ELT in 2018. The Framework has been made an open-access tool for primary and secondary schools in England to assess bilingual children and to support planning and monitoring in schools. He is currently co-investigator of an interdisciplinary policy project on multilingualism funded by AHRC under the Open World Research Initiative, 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. 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 sits on the editorial board of Language Learning Journal and Thinking Skills and Creavitity. He is also founding series editor of Routledge Chinese Language Pedagogy, overseeing its research monograph and teacher development series.

Yongcan trained in linguistics 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 University of Exeter and Lecturer in Linguistics at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. He has taught both English and Chinese as a foreign language, linguistics/applied linguistics and educational studies in China, the UK and the United Arab Emirates.

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
  • Evidence-based interventions in support of heritage speakers' education, integration and mobility

Doctoral supervision: 'family language policy and Bourdieu', 'critical ethnography of politics and practice of ESOL', 'Pedagogical Content Knowledge of language across the curriculum', 'mobility and transnationalism in heritage language maintenance'

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 oracy in second language acquisition and critical thinking development
  • Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) for expansive learning and organisational change
  • Dialogic and digital mediation of distributed knowledge in school and professional communities

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

I particularly welcome proposals that draw on Sociocultural Theory to look at SLA across the lifespan. I am also interested in supervising projects on community/heritage/refugee language education based on innovative mixed 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

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

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

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: 10.1080/15348458.2018.1433043

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. DOI: 10.1080/13664530600922203