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Psychology of Language & Language Learning - EDU00031M

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  • Department: Education
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Danijela Trenkic
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

This module is most suitable for those on language-related masters (MATESOL and MAALLT), as it requires good prior knowledge of linguistics.

Professional requirements

Students wanting to study this module should have already studied:

- Introduction to English Linguistics, or Language for Education.

Related modules

Pre-requisite modules

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Prohibited combinations

  • None

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

Although language use and language learning always occur in social contexts, they are, essentially, mental processes. The main aim of the module is, therefore, to explore the relationship between the human mind and language. More specific aims will be:

  • to understand better how language users (including language learners and bilingual speakers) process language.

  • to acquaint students with methods for studying the mental processes involved in language use and language learning.

  • to draw implications from research findings for how language comprehension, production and acquisition can be facilitated in educational and learning contexts.

Module learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete the module should:

  • be aware of the complexities of language processing and the reasons why it is often difficult to manipulate them by conscious will or explicit instruction

  • be familiar with the main methods used to investigate language comprehension, production and acquisition

  • be able to appreciate and discuss why certain things happen, or fail to happen in language processing and language learning

  • be able to evaluate the relevance of major research findings for language education

Module content

The module will consist of nine sessions of two hours. Each session will combine a presentation by the tutor, small group discussions and practical activities. Students will be given preliminary and / or follow-up exercises as homework, and will be expected to read a number of papers related to the topics introduced in the class.

The module will be assessed by an essay of 4000-5000 words on a topic related to the module content.

Course outline (week by week):

Week 2 - Overview of the course. An introduction to key themes of psychology of language and language learning

Week 3 - Mental representations of vocabulary and grammar

Week 4 - Reading: Visual word recognition

Week 5 - Listening: Spoken word recognition

Week 6 - Sentence processing and comprehension

Week 7 - Discourse comprehension

Week 8 - Language production: writing

Week 9 - Language development

Week 10 -Review of topics

Course details

Week 2 - Overview of the module. An introduction to key themes of psychology of language and language learning

This session will start by discussing what are and are not the concerns of psychology of language and language learning. It will offer an overview of the topics that will be covered and questions that will be asked, explaining why answers to these questions are relevant to those involved in language teaching and learning.

Week 3 - Mental representations of vocabulary and grammar

Despite the fact that language use is one of the most natural things we do, language is a very complex system. This session explores what we know (most often below the level of consciousness) about words and rules for combining them, and how such knowledge could be represented and stored in our mind. How is our mental lexicon organised, and how do we retrieve a word from it when we need it? And do bilinguals have two lexicons or one?

Week 4 - Reading: Visual word recognition

As skilled readers, we recognise words in texts, and access their meaning very quickly – in fact we cannot suppress recognising a word even if we wanted to. But how does it happen? Young children cannot do it, and school children find it difficult. This session explains how children learn to read, and explores differences between skilled and unskilled readers. How do we read words: do we read every letter, or do we read words as a whole (as we might name a picture)? Do we read every word? How do our eyes move in reading, and can it tell us anything about how we read?

Week 5 - Listening: Spoken word recognition

Unlike reading, listening is not something that we are taught how to do. Still, the process is not any less complex than reading. Speech comes as a continuous stream of sound, so how do we know where one word ends and the next begins? What strategies do babies use to extract words they still don’t know? What is the role of prosody, and how much does our listening depend on the context? How do bilinguals recognise words of their two languages?

Week 6 - Sentence processing and comprehension

In this session we move onto the comprehension of individual sentences. The session explores how our mind parses (analyses) the grammatical structure of a sentence and which cues we rely on to do that.,Do all languages rely on the same cues, and what happens in second language learning when they do not?

Week 7 - Discourse comprehension

In this session we consider the level of discourse comprehension. How do we create a coherent mental model of what is being spoken about and how do we work out subtle relationships between what people say and what they mean? We shall introduce the notions of cohesion, context, inferences and schemata and will consider what determines individual differences in discourse comprehension skills. Some educational implications will be considered.

Week 8 - Language production: writing

This session turns from language comprehension to language production, with emphasis on writing. What are the main differences between speech and writing? What are the stages of writing? What are the differences between skilled and less skilled writers? How could one become a better writer?

Week 9 - Language development

In this session we turn to the question of how we acquire languages. What can babies hear and learn before and after birth? Is there anything they already know? How do children get from speech perception, though babbling and one word stage, to the acquisition of complex grammar? What are the main differences between first and second language learning? We consider a range of inventive psycholinguistc experiments that shed some light on these questions.

Week 10 - Revision and assignment preparation

This session will begin by revising the module by pulling together the various threads that have been discussed. It will then open up into a workshop to help plan and prepare for the module assignment


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3500 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback in a range of ways throughout this module. This will include oral feedback in class, responses to posts on the VLE discussion board and written comments on work. You will have the chance to obtain feedback on your writing during the module, and you will have a short one-to-one meeting with a module tutor to discuss assessments.

You will be provided physical written feedback on assignment report sheets as well as them being readily available on the VLE. The feedback is returned to students in line with university policy. Please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

Indicative reading

Carroll, D. W. (2008). Psychology of language (5th ed.). London: Thomson Wadsworth.

Field, J. (2003). Psycholinguistics. A resource book for students. London: Routledge.

Harley, T. (2014). The psychology of language. From data to theory. (4th edition). Hove: Psychology Press.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.