Dr Emma Marsden



2011- to date: Senior Lecturer  

2004-2011: Lecturer, University of York

2004: ESRC post-doctoral research fellow (£25K) University of Southampton, Implicit learning of French grammar

2000-2004: ESRC funded PhD student, University of Southampton, Foreign language grammar teaching in secondary schools

2001-2002: Part time research assistant on ESRC “Linguistic Progression” project, University of Southampton

2000-2001: Part time research assistant on DfES “Action Research language teaching” projects, University of Southampton

1995-2000: Foreign language teacher (French, Spanish and English). Including: Head of Spanish, 11-18 school, Derby, Special Needs co-coordinator, Head of post 16 French; English teacher, Universidad Catolica, Santiago, Chile.

1998-1999: Masters in Applied Linguistics with ESRC funded studentship, University of Southampton

1994-1995: PGCE, French, Spanish & TESOL, Secondary Education, University of Manchester.

1990-1994: BA Joint Honours in French and Hispanic Studies, University of Nottingham

Departmental roles

  • Director of Research, Department of Education



I am interested in most aspects of second language teaching and learning, particularly three inter-connected areas: the learning and teaching of morphosyntax; how learners process the input; and the nature and roles of different types of knowledge. 

I also work on several projects related to methods, design and ‘open practice’ in research into second language learning and teaching.

I seek to engage with teachers, teacher educators and policy-makers to increase their awareness of and involvement in research, and to increase the relevance of my work to classroom teaching.  


Project: IRIS: The Repository of Instruments for Research into Second Languages. (Collaborators: Alison Mackey, Luke Plonsky, Julie Allinson, Frank Feng, David O’Reilly, Beth Bailey, Sophie Thompson, with international networks of researchers, journal editors & professional associations).   In 2012 we established a large repository for materials used to collect data for research into second language learning and teaching: IRIS. This free searchable resource facilitates collaboration and replication, enhances the scrutiny of research instruments and stimuli, and also helps research methods training. There have been over 14,000 downloads from students, language teachers and academics. IRIS contains over 2000 files of materials that have been used to collect data for peer reviewed publications. Initially funded by the ESRC, IRIS is now a British Academy Research Project, ensuring it as a sustainable and free resource in the long term.  View the repository and further information.

Project: Multi-site replication: The effects of attention to form on comprehension in L2 Spanish (Collaborators: Kara Morgan-Short, Jeanne Heil, Ron Leow, Roumyana Slabakova).  We are evaluating the feasibility and usefulness of large, international multi-site replication, using the Open Science Framework as the open access project infrastructure.  The study being replicated in the oral and written modalities investigates the effects on comprehension of having to notice particular forms in written and oral input (grammatical and lexical items). Funded by a Language Learning Small Grant.

Project: Learning French grammar through a digital game (Collaborators: Rowena Kasprowicz, Peter Cowling, Sam Devlin, Juliet Park, software developers, networks of teachers).  We are creating and trialling a ‘serious digital game’ for school children aged 9 – 13 learning French.  The aim is to help grammar learning by incorporating task-essential form-function mapping within a motivational game-based environment. This work forms part of the activities of the Digital Creativity Hub, funded by a £4 million grant from the EPSRC.

Project: Explicit instruction to help improve the speed and accuracy of processing morphosyntax.  (Collaborators: Alice Cruickshank, Leah Roberts, Yining Zhang). We are exploring the extent to which explicit information and intentional practice can alter how learners process grammar in the input. We are currently turning our attention to whether abstract and discourse constrained syntax (e.g. inversion in wh-questions among Chinese learners of English L2, verb 2nd amongst English learners of German L2) can be affected by explicit information about the distribution of features in the input, and by training learners’ expectations and co-indexation routines.  We use both online measures (e.g. self-paced reading and priming), providing a window into millisecond reaction times, and also offline measures that have greater ecological validity (e.g. interpretation and oral production).

Project: Can instruction about the grammar of the first language help the learning of a foreign language? (Lead: Kevin McManus).  I am collaborating with Kevin to investigate whether learning particular L2 grammar features that are different in the L1 (aspect marking in French for English L1 speakers), can benefit from explicit instruction and training in the first language.  Funded by a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship to Kevin McManus.

Project: Practitioner engagement with research (Collaborators: Rowena Kasprowicz, Abigail Parrish, Association for Language Learning).

We are investigating perceptions and engagement with research, via two surveys completed by teachers, CPD providers, and university-based teacher educators, in order to identify facilitators and barriers to consuming research.  We are also carrying out a systematic review of the documents that teachers read, to trace any links between those documents and peer-reviewed academic publications. As part of this project we hosted a workshop to help over 35 teachers and teacher educators to reflect on research and plan their own study (Primary Foreign Languages Event (PDF , 128kb)). Funded by a British Association of Applied Linguistics Applying Linguistics award.

Project: Research-based CPD workshops for foreign language teachers: Making grammar matter in the input (Collaborator: Rowena Kasprowicz).  In collaboration with teachers, we have developed and collected together many sets of “task-essential form-meaning mapping” grammar teaching materials in French, English, Spanish, Italian and German. One such project was funded by the Higher Education Academy’s subject centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies. Another, a series of CPD workshops and talks for teachers and teacher educators, was funded by the Innovation Unit at the University of York. Please get in touch if you are interested in such a workshop. 

Selected Previous Projects

Project: The perceived relevance of foreign languages amongst 13-14 year olds: An experimental intervention (Collaborator: Florentina Taylor).  In a randomised control trial, we investigated the effects of a panel of members of the public talking to children about their experience of learning and regrets about not learning foreign languages. We found that attitudes to foreign languages changed, but this did not affect the learners’ actual decision to study a language or not.  Funded by a British Academy Small Grant. 

Project: Linguistic development in L2 Spanish (SPLLOC) and L2 French (FLLOC): Creation and analysis of learner corpora (Collaborators: Rosamond Mitchell, Florence Myles, Sarah Rule, Laura Dominguez, Annabelle David).  We collected spoken data from a range of ages of learners, coded the morphosyntax of their productions, and made these large corpora freely available. I have carried out analyses of the development negation in French (with Rule) and progression in Spanish L2 lexical and inflectional morphology (with David). Funded by the ESRC.

Project: Priming of morphology amongst early-intermediate learners (Collaborators: John Williams, Jerry Altmann, Xierong Liu). I have used priming techniques (cross-modal and lexical decision) to investigate attentional constraints on the processing of L2 / novel inflectional morphology. Funded by the ESRC, a University of York Innovation and Research Priming Fund and an Anniversary Lectureship. 

Research group(s)

Centre for Research in Language Learning and Use



Sophie Thompson "Can we teach the online processing of syntax? Replications and extensions in classroom settings" (2016- )

Abigail Parrish "How do schools choose which foreign languages to teach? Does freedom of choice lead to a wider choice?" (2015- )

Emily Oxley “Word learning amongst primary school pupils with English as an Additional Language”(2015 - ) (co-supervisor, with Anna Weighall, University of Leeds, on the ESRC White Rose DTC Network).

Elizabeth Bailey “The potential of using pupils with English as an Additional Language as linguistic resources in the primary classroom” (2014 - )

David O'Reilly "Measuring metaphoric competence: Development and validation of a test battery” (2013 - )

Eman Alshammari "Language teachers' perceptions of error correction: Why do they correct in the way that they do?" (2013- )


Rowena Kasprovicz (née Hanan) "Explicit knowledge about language amongst primary school children: Is it useful for foreign language learning, and can it be trained?" 2011-15

Alaidde Berenice Villanueva Aguillera "Reading strategies in L1 and L2 learning in Mexico" 2009-13

Haifaa Faqueih  “The effects of error correction during oral production on learning English modals amongst Saudi learners" 2008-2012

Hsin-Ying Chen “What are the components of Processing Instruction and what are their roles?” 2005-2009

Laura Taylor "The progression of first-time ESL teachers in a South Korean private preschool." 2012-2013

Liviana Ferrari “A longitudinal study of motivation amongst adult foreign language learners” 2005-2006, part time, completed 2014.

External activities


  • Associate Editor of Language Learning, from January 2015
  • Member of the ESRC Peer Review College
  • Elected member and Secretary of the Committee for Linguistics in Education, a joint committee of the British Association of Applied Linguistics and the Linguistics Association of Great Britain. (2013- )
  • Invited member of the DfE 'Expert Subject Advisory Group: Foreign Languages': http://www.expertsubjectgroups.co.uk/index.html
  • Founding co-convenor of the British Association of Applied Linguistics “Language Learning and Teaching” Special Interest Group
  • Editorial Board: Language Teaching (2011-2014), Cambridge University Press
  • Editorial Board: International Review of Applied Linguistics (2011- ), Mouton-De-Gruyter
  • Editorial Board: Book series Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2010- ), Continuum
  • Editorial Board: Yearbook of the European Second Language Association, John Benjamins
  • Invited member of 'Languages Specialist Group' of HE Academy's Subject centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (2004-2007)
  • Advisory board member of the White Rose Network for the Inter-disciplinary Study of Language Learning:  http://www.nissll.org.uk/people (2013-14)
  • Advisory board member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Network “Meaning in Language Learning” (2014-15).
  • Associate Member of Centre for Multilingualism, University of Reading
  • Advisory role on the development of new assessment criteria for school foreign language learning (Macaro & Graham) (2011)

Invited talks and conferences


Marsden, E. (2016) Explicit knowledge and practice for learning abstract syntax in a low-exposure context. Knowledge and Usage in Second Language. 29th June - July 1st, Université de Nantes, France.

Marsden, E., Morgan-Short, K., Heille, J., Oliver, C. (2016) The potential, pitfalls and process of multi-site replication: The case of investigating attention to form during comprehension in Spanish L2. Lexical Studies Research Network Conference. Cardiff University, 9-11 March.

Marsden, E. (2016) Applying the implicit/explicit debate to instructed sentence processing. End of project conference for the AHRC Network for the Inter-disciplinary Study of Language Learning: ‘The implicit/explicit nature of knowledge during SLA’. 22 January, University of York.

Marsden, E. (2014) Language Learning Roundtable at the European Second Language Association’s Annual Conference. 3rd September, University of York.

Marsden, E. (2014) Getting meaning and function from morphosyntax in the input: Some of the problems, which classroom activities help, and what's learnt? Cognitive Approaches to Instructed Second Language Acquisition 24 April, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium.

Marsden, E. (2014) Classroom language learning research.  In honour of the work of Professor Rosamond Mitchell, June 18th, University of Southampton.

Marsden, E. & Mackey, A. (2012) Introducing IRIS. The British Association of Applied Linguistics Language Learning and Teaching Special Interest Group, University of Oxford, 4-5 July.

Marsden, E. (2011) Invited Discussant at “Younger = better? Comparing 5, 7 and 11 year olds learning French in the classroom”, 14-15 July, 2011.  Conference for ESRC funded project RES-062-23-1545. Attended by national and international researchers and teachers.


Marsden, E. (2016) Knowledge and progression in grammar and vocabulary in primary school aged pupils. 18-19 March. Establishing a research network in primary foreign languages in England. University of Essex

Marsden, E., Kasprowicz, R., Parrish, A. (2016) Practitioner engagement with research: Perceptions, problems and priorities. University of Leeds.

Marsden, E. (2016) Explicit knowledge and practice for learning abstract syntax in a low-exposure context. Institute of Education, University College London. 7 June.


Marsden, E., Kasprowicz, R. (2016) Making grammar matter in the input. CPD to teachers, school mentors and teacher educators. School of Education, University of Portsmouth 11th May.

Marsden, E., Kasprowicz, R., Parrish, A. (2016) Practitioner engagement with research: Perceptions, problems and priorities. The Westminster Professional Language Centre, University of Westminster, 28th January.

Marsden, E. (2015) Using IRIS to do action research. Invited Webinar leader for the SEETA International Project on Teacher Research. 17 November 2015.

Marsden, E. (2015) Teaching grammar through the input.  Teacher Educator and Trainers (ITET) annual conference. Association for Language Learning. St Mary’s University. Twickenham 8th July 2015. Attended by 50 teacher trainers.

Marsden, E. & Hanan R. (2015) Using input to teach grammar.  Teacher CPD. Harrogate Grammar School. 3rd June 2015.

Marsden, E. & Hanan R. (2015) Map the Meaning. Making grammar matter for progression KS2-4. The Association for Language Learning, South Yorkshire Branch, Feb 26th, 2015.

Marsden, E. & Hanan R. (2015) Map the meaning: Form-function mapping for making grammar matter. CPD workshop for teachers and teacher educators. University of York. 10 February. 

Marsden, E. (2014) Classroom based SLA research. The Inaugural Meeting of the White Rose Network for Inter-disciplinary study of Language Learning. 13 February, University of Sheffield.

Marsden, E. & Hanan, R. (2014) Making grammar matter in the input: The 'Processing Instruction' approach. Annual Conference Network for Languages London. 28th June. University of Westminster. 

Marsden, E. (2014) Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching: 4th Annual Conference of UK Higher Education teachers of MFLs, May 16th, University of Leeds.

Marsden, E. (2013). IRIS: A new online resource for doing research into second language learning and teaching. The 8th Annual E-learning Symposium, Language, Linguistics and Area Studies, University of Southampton, UK.

Marsden, E. (2013). IRIS: A resource for teacher researchers. Language World 2013, Nottingham Conference Centre, UK.

Marsden, E. (2012). Introducing IRIS: A resource for teacher research. ALL Special Interest Group for Initial Teacher Education and Training, Teaching Agency, Manchester, UK.

Marsden, E. (2003) Teaching grammar from the input: Making grammar matter. Workshop for teachers in Hampshire County Council.


Contact details

Department of Education
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: +44 (0)1904 323335