Skip to main content

Forging New Approaches to Language Learning

The Language Acquisition Research Colloquium series explores how to optimize course content to help students meet language goals.

Students participate in a conversational language-learning activity.


We all know that BYU offers numerous classes on diverse languages and that the university has the unofficial goal of becoming the “language capital of the world.” But it isn’t just the number of languages that are taught that matters—how they are taught matters too. The Language Acquisition Research Colloquium (LARC) gives researchers and teachers a venue to explore just that. This colloquium series, held several times a semester, convenes language acquisition researchers and teachers from all over campus to investigate how to best guide students in their language journeys.

The LARC features lectures, trainings, and workshops on a number of topics in language learning, from test design to gauging proficiency to language learning on the neurological level. These colloquia are tailored towards language professors and researchers looking to hone their language teaching skills.

For example, on February 15 colloquium organizer Associate Professor Troy Cox (Language Learning and Assessment) led a discussion on conducting a language domain analysis to help students set and meet practical goals. The lecture was titled “The Role of Content in a Proficiency-Based Curriculum.”

Troy Cox on Language Classroom Content

The lecture addressed a common failure in many classrooms in which there is a disconnect between the assignments students are asked to complete and real-world language use cases. In upper-level classes, for example, students are often tasked with writing argumentative essays. This genre of writing encourages critical thinking and adept use of the language, but unless it is rooted in what graduates would do in a real- world setting, it becomes an exercise in simply trying to guess what a professor wants.

Instead of focusing on rote pedagogical methods, Cox suggested that curricula and assessments be designed with practical goals rooted in real world situations. “We need to think about what students can do with the language, not what students know about the language,” he explained.

So how do we customize content to what students will need in the real world? The answer is research. Cox encouraged fellow professors and language instructors to show their students how to find the language responsibilities associated with future jobs (for example, a future nurse would look at medical vocabulary commonly used in interactions with patients). If students and professors both understand real-world language needs, they can more effectively focus their approaches to language teaching and learning.

Cox also encouraged having students self-assess and embrace lifelong learning through more flexible homework assignments. Allowing students to diverge from traditional homework exercises opens up possibilities for them to explore topics they are passionate about. Maybe that means discussing Taylor Swift or the latest Disney movie in class. Explaining to someone what it means to be a “Swiftie” might not seem suited for a formal classroom, but if it serves to motivate students to use the language, it will be more beneficial than completing rote homework tasks. “We’ve got to inspire students to want to do stuff in the language,” Cox stressed.

Get Involved with the LARC

Cox’s lecture exemplifies the research presented at the LARC, which are held biweekly. If you are a faculty member interested in getting involved in or attending the LARC, please send your name and email to or learn more here.