Growing up (in Northern Ireland) I’d had little if any exposure to other languages before I went for a French taster lesson at my prospective new secondary school. It was here I developed a passion for language learning that has never left me; I’m still fascinated by languages, how we learn them and how we might help people to learn them more effectively.
After studying French and German at St Andrews, I began my working life as a secondary school foreign language teacher. After ten enjoyable years, I moved to the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, where I am now based. Here I work on a variety of course related to second language education and research in the fields of teacher learning, foreign languages pedagogy and languages policy.
My chief research interest has been how people’s beliefs about their capacity for language learning influences their motivation and progression. In particular, the focus has been on how the sociocultural environment (influenced by everything from government policy to school culture) influences such beliefs, and how we might develop pedagogical approaches that benefit and sustain language learning. For the last few years I have been researching metaphor as a way of accessing and shaping beliefs to make them conducive to language learning. The Creative Multilingualism project offers an exciting opportunity to understand whether students’ literacy and motivation are developed when they deal with texts containing figurative language and are required to produce creative and personal responses. The role of metaphor in this process is a key focus, and offers opportunities for collaboration across other strands on this project and with experts worldwide.
Running in parallel with my ongoing attempts to get beyond beginners’ Spanish, I’m looking forward to learning a new language as part of the Creative Multilingualism team challenge.