Professor Emma Marsden

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2018-to date: Professor, University of York

2011-2018: 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 science’ 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 Materials and Data for Research into Second Languages(Collaborators: Luke Plonsky, Laura Collins, Sophie Thompson, Alison Mackey, with international networks of researchers, journal editors & professional associations). In 2012 we established a large repository for materials and data used for research on language learning and teaching: IRIS. This free searchable resource facilitates collaboration and replication, enhances the transparency and scrutiny of research instruments and stimuli, and also helps research methods training. There have been over 25,000 downloads from students, language teachers and academics. IRIS contains over 4,000 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. Related to this open science initiative, we have conducted two methodological syntheses to investigate how specific data elicitation techniques (self-paced reading and acceptability judgement tests) have been used in published research. We documented their design features, the extent of their transparency of reporting and analysis, and how this affects our confidence in the findings from these measures. View the repository and further information.

Project: OASIS: Open Accessible Summaries in Language Studies (Collaborators: Sible Andringa, Volha Arkihpenka, Laura Collins, Carrie Jackson, Rowena Kasprowicz, Lisa-Maria Muller, Luke Plonsky, with a network of professional associations and journal editors). The OASIS initiative is establishing a systematic and sustainable culture of providing open, accessible summaries of research in the language sciences. The main aim is to address some of the long-attested challenges of communicating research beyond academia. In collaboration with journal editors, professional associations, and language educators, we have developed guidelines for writing a new genre ‘Accessible Summaries’. We are building a critical mass of 300 one-page non-technical summaries, that are searchable and freely available from We are also working with journal editors to establish procedures for routinely soliciting summaries from their accepted authors. We have a large network of collaborators who are writing, editing, and approving summaries in a wide range of research areas, including second and foreign language learning and teaching, multilingualism, language education, and testing. OASIS is funded by The British Academy and The Economic and Social Research Council IAA. If you wish to participate in the initiative, please contact

Project: Estimating the magnitude of sensitivity of morphosyntax and the influence of the first language: A meta-analysis of L2 self-paced reading. (Collaborator: Nick Avery). Despite extensive theoretical and empirical research, we do not have estimations of the magnitude of sensitivity to morphosyntax or of L1 influence during L2 online processing. This is largely due to reliance on null hypothesis significance testing rather than effect sizes. The current meta-analysis draws on reaction time data from one elicitation technique, self-paced reading, across 47 studies (N = 2,619), to estimate sensitivity to L2 morphosyntax and how far L1-L2 similarity modulates this. We found a reliable sensitivity to L2 morphosyntax at advanced proficiencies (d = 0.31, 95% CIs 0.24, 0.37), similar to that of native speakers and not meaningfully moderated by L1-L2 similarity, study design, linguistic feature, sentence region, or processing phenomenon. However, effects for native speakers’ anomaly detection (d = 0.50) were stronger than L2ers’ anomaly detection, and stronger than effects for ambiguity resolution among both native speakers and L2 learners. In order to contextualise these effect sizes, we also calculated general differences in speed between advanced L2 and native speakers, finding a grand effect of about half of a standard deviation unit.  Finding overall smaller effects than in other subdomains, we offer an initial framework of reference for L2 reaction time effect sizes.

Project: Learning French grammar through a digital game (Collaborators: Rowena Kasprowicz, Peter Cowling, Juliet Park, with software developers and networks of teachers). We have created and trialled a ‘serious digital game’ for school children aged 9 – 13 learning French. The games focused on inflectional verb morphology for person, tense and number, and S-V inversion for interrogatives. We varied the distribution of practice (30 minutes x 2 per week versus 60 minutes x 1 per week) to investigate whether longer or shorter spacing between practice sessions affected the outcomes. A battery of outcome measures was taken, and the accuracy and speed of responses during training was examined. The aim is to help grammar learning by incorporating task-essential form-function mapping within a motivational game-based environment. An additional aim is to evaluate the potential of such games for large-scale, remote, data collection. This work forms part of the activities of the Digital Creativity Hub, funded by a £4 million grant from the EPSRC.

Project: To what extent can instruction about the grammar of the first language help the learning of a foreign language? (Lead: Kevin McManus). We investigated whether learning particular L2 grammar features that are expressed differently in the L1 (tense and aspect marking in French for English L1 speakers) benefitted from explicit instruction about, and practice in, the L1. We found evidence that providing explicit information about the L1 helped L2 online processing in terms of faster and more accurate reactions during sentence interpretation, and more than just L2 and L1 practice alone. We also found evidence it helped L2 oral production and yielded signatures of ‘automatisation’ as learners undertook the training. Funded by a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship to Kevin McManus.

Project: Replication in the second language research. A Synthesis of Replication Effort and a Multi-Site Replication (Collaborators: Kara Morgan-Short, Sophie Thompson, Jeanne Heil, David Abugaber, and multi-site collaborators). This project has two main parts. One consists of systematic and narrative reviews of the state of replication research in the field of L2 research. In published journal articles to date, we found 67 self-labeled L2 replication studies. We estimated a mean rate of 1 published replication study for every 400 articles, with a mean of 6.64 years between initial and replication studies and a mean of 117 citations of the initial study before a replication was published. Replication studies had an annual mean of 7.3 citations, much higher than averages in linguistics and education. Overlap in authorship between initial and replication studies and the availability of the initial materials both increased the likelihood of a replication supporting the initial findings. Our sample contained no direct (exact) replication attempts, and changes made to initial studies were numerous and wide ranging, which likely obscured, if not undermined, the interpretability of replication studies. To improve the amount and quality of L2 replication research, we propose 16 recommendations relating to rationale, nomenclature, design, infrastructure, and incentivization for collaboration and publication.

The other part of the project involved evaluating the feasibility and usefulness of pre-registered multi-site replication, using the Open Science Framework as the project infrastructure. The studies were conceptual and exact replications, across seven sites, of previous studies investigating the effects on L2 Spanish listening and reading comprehension of noticing particular forms (grammatical and lexical items). We generally replicated the previous findings that attending to lexical items (sol) and grammatical forms (la and -n) did not really affect comprehension, though we found some site-specific evidence that spotting the verb inflection -n did challenge  comprehension. Funded by a Language Learning Small Grant.

An outcome of both these projects was the introduction of the article type ‘Registered Reports’ at Language Learning.

Project: Explicit instruction to help improve the speed and accuracy of processing morphosyntax. (Collaborators: Heather Marsden, Sophie Thompson, Xiaoran Niu, Carrie Jackson, Holger Hopp, Vivienne Rogers). We are exploring the extent to which explicit information and intentional practice can alter how learners process grammar in the input. We are currently investigating whether abstract and discourse constrained syntax (e.g. inversion and non-inversion in wh-clauses; SO case marking in L2 German; relative clauses; passive) 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, eye-tracking), providing a window into millisecond reaction times, and also offline measures that have greater ecological validity (e.g. interpretation and oral production). Funded by a University of York Priming Fund.

Project: Creating and analysing an oral corpus of L2 English (Collaborators: Phillipa Bell, Laura Collins). To document linguistic development across five years of schooling, we administered a series of oral production tasks to elicit a wide range of morpho-syntactic features. We will examine the development of inflectional verb morphology, the syntax of negation, adjectivals, and interrogatives, as well as discourse features. The corpus will be morphosyntactically tagged, using bespoke ‘error’ codes, using CHAT. Funded by the SSHRC.

Research group(s)



Xiaoran Niu "Instruction for online role assignment: Teaching co-indexation in English relative clauses" (2017- )

Sophie Thompson "Can we teach the online processing of morphosyntax? Teaching morphosyntactic sensitivity to help anticipate passive/active voice" (2016- )

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).

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


Abigail Parrish "How do schools choose which foreign languages to teach? Does freedom of choice lead to a wider choice?" (2015-17)

Elizabeth Bailey “The potential of using pupils with English as an Additional Language as linguistic resources in the primary classroom” (2014-17)

David O'Reilly "Measuring metaphoric competence: Development and validation of a test battery” (2013-17)

Rowena Kasprowicz (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':
  • 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: (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