skip to primary navigation skip to content

Yongcan Liu


Senior Lecturer in Second Language 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 Applied Psycholinguistics (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), International Association of Applied Linguistics (AILA)
  • Treasurer and Executive Committee Member of the Language Policy SIG of BAAL
  • EAL Assessment Advisory Group: the Bell Foundation
  • 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

Back to top


Yongcan’s research interests mainly lie in two areas, one theoretical and one 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 'EAL Assessment Framework for Schools' for which he received a British Council ELTons Award in 2018. This work has been made an open-access tool to support planning and provision of EAL in primary and secondary schools across England. He is co-investigator of an interdisciplinary policy project on multilingualism (MEITS) funded by AHRC Open World Research Initiative, crossing the disciplines of arts, literature, linguistics, education, cognition and health.

Yongcan is founder convener of Cambridge Research in Community Language Education Network (CRiCLE-Net), a university-school-community partnership. He also serves as Associate Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement, leading the strand on language, heritage, migration.

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

Academic Area/Links

Back to top

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' integration, mobility and language maintenance

Doctoral projects: 'family language policy and linguistic capital', 'politics, practice and class experience in ESOL', 'pedagogical control in EMI language policy', 'Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) of EAL', 'mobility and transnationalism in heritage language maintenance', 'race and racism in language teaching', 'investment in African language learning and nation building'

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

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 (e.g. Social Network Analysis, mobile learning community, trajectory analysis across the life course).

Current Projects

Back to top

Course Involvement

Back to top

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.