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About us

The Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication was established in 1965 by Professor Michel Blanc, making us the first department in England to focus on the study of applied linguistics. We remain the only Department of Applied Linguistics in the University of London.

Our research focuses on the diverse phenomena of multilingualism, which we believe is the rule rather than the exception in today’s world. We adopt a very broad and interdisciplinary approach and believe that it is through a rigorous, critical examination of these phenomena that the nature and functions of language and communication can be understood more holistically.

We are an institutional member of the British Association of Applied Linguistics and IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) and an affiliated member of the International Association of Applied Linguistics. We also house the Centre for Multilingual and Multicultural Research.

A brief history of applied linguistics at Birkbeck 

In 1965, the Birkbeck Language Research Centre was founded by Michel Blanc with financial support from the Nuffield Foundation. This interdisciplinary group, drawing staff with expertise in various aspects of language learning and teaching from French, Spanish and Psychology, initiated a programme of research and teaching that was unique in the United Kingdom. For over five decades, our department has made significant contributions to the international academic and research community. This enterprise dates from the inception of the field of Applied Linguistics. We have been responsible for the teaching and training hundreds of students at undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral level. Our alumni have taken up leading positions throughout the world.

Our beginnings can be traced back to the mid-20th century, to the origin of modern interest in understanding human language. Our department has been distinctive in maintaining great breadth in teaching and cutting-edge research across the field. We have longstanding expertise in the social, cultural, political, educational, psychological and neurological aspects of language. From an early focus on second language learning and teaching, our pursuits now encompass multilingualism and intercultural communication.



  • 1959: The beginnings of the present department can trace their source to the appointment of Michel Blanc as Lecturer in French Language & Literature.
  • 1964: Michel Blanc develops innovation in the language learning curriculum, publishing Visages de la France contemporaine, which is a pedagogical application of lexicology to the study of civilization for advanced students of French culture.
  • 1965: The department also played a key role in the founding of the British Association for Applied Linguistics, and hosted its first planning meeting: “In July 1965, a preliminary meeting of interested parties was convened by Peter Strevens at Birkbeck College, and a working party was set up to formulate the aims of the proposed British Applied Linguistics Association [sic].” From the “Notes on the History of the British Association of Applied Linguistics 1967-1997.”
  • 1965: Blanc initiates an interdisciplinary Language Research Centre with colleagues Brian Dutton (Spanish language) and Brian Foss (Psychology). The “Programme of Research in Applied Linguistics and the Psychology of Learning Languages” is funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Staff appointments of Ormond Uren, part-time Lecturer in French language and research assistant; Alix Mullineaux, research assistant in Psychology, and Angel Garcia de Paredes research assistant in Spanish.
  • 1966: The BBC commission Michel Blanc to produce Suivez la Piste!, a series of 24 half-hour programs to teach French on TV, broadcast several times on BBC1 and BBC2 and sold to the USA and Australia. Following this success, Angel Garcia de Paredes and Brian Dutton were commissioned to produce Vamos a ver! for learning Spanish.
  • 1968: The Language Research Centre moves into premises on 15-16 Rathbone Place.


  • 1971: The Council of Europe Report on “The Role and Structure of University Language Centres in Europe.” [REPORT NO.CCC-ESR-711-72] by W. Grauberg singles out Birkbeck’s Language Research Centre as the only UK centre oriented towards teaching and research in Applied Linguistics, and only one of 3 in Europe, along with Utrecht and Paris: “The Language Research Centre at Birkbeck College… have been experimenting since 1966 with alternative approaches to French language learning within a traditional university framework. Their main project involves the development of a course in which students are encouraged, by improvisation and group work, to use language functionally. Research is also proceeding on the Programmed learning of French pronunciation.” p. 35.
  • 1972: Michel Blanc and Alix Mullineaux complete their groundbreaking sociolinguistic survey of varieties of spoken French in the city of Orléans in association with colleagues from University of Essex and Coventry Polytechnic, with funding from the Department of Education & Science (UK) and the French Embassy in London. The Sociolinguistic Survey of French (“The Orléans Project”) (1968-1972) analysed recorded samples spoken French in different situations and employed them in innovative teaching materials.
  • 1972: The Master of Birkbeck, Ronald Tress, transformed the Language Research Centre into the Department of Applied Linguistics, with Michel Blanc as Head. Ormond Uren and Alix Mullineaux were joined by a new colleague, Paul Meara. The first cohort of students was recruited for the MA in Second Language Learning & Teaching in 1972-73.


  • 1982: Peter Skehan is awarded the first PhD in the department under the supervision of Paul Meara. He has continued to become a world leader in second language acquisition research as an outcome of his work at Birkbeck. This has been recognized by making him an honorary research fellow within the department.
  • 1982: Josiane Hamers (1941-2008) comes to the department as an honorary research fellow to collaborate with Michel Blanc. They publish their groundbreaking book Bilingualism and Bilinguality first published in French in 1983, and later in English published by Cambridge University Press in 1989. Hamers and Blanc revised this in a later edition published in 2000.
  • 1983: Paul Meara publishes Vocabulary in a second language. London: CILT (Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research).
  • The early 1980s: The department moves into larger premises in 43 Gordon Square and acquires a language laboratory and recording studio with a dedicated technician, Rob Kennedy. This provision was expanded and Tony DeJong and Mansour Shabbak joined the team. One of the founding members of the department, Alix Mullineaux leaves and another, Ormond Uren retires.
  • 1983: The department enjoys major expansion with a number of new appointments.
  • 1983: Jenny Cheshire and Viv Edwards join the Department, sharing a single post, bringing expertise in variationist sociolinguistics, language in education, and literacy.
  • 1984: Viv Edwards (with Peter Trudgill and Bert Weltens) publish the results of their ESRC study The grammar of English dialect: A survey of research.
  • 1985: Viv Edwards publishes Language in a black community. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  • 1985: Malcolm Edwards joins the department bringing expertise in Arabic linguistics and translation, and Itesh Sachdev in Social Psychology of Language. Paul Meara develops teaching and research into the psycholinguistics of language learning and recruits Marjorie Lorch as a part-time lecturer and research officer.
  • 1986: Jenny Cheshire (with David Graddol and Joan Swann) publishes the textbook Describing language. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
  • 1987: Viv Edwards publishes Language in multicultural classrooms. London: Batsford.
  • 1988: Viv Edwards (with Angela Redfern) publishes the book At home in school: Parent participation in primary education. London: Routledge.
  • 1988: Penelope Gardner-Chloros is a founding member of the European Science Foundation Network on Code-switching and Language Contact.
  • 1989: Penelope Gardner-Chloros becomes a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow based at Birkbeck before she is appointed to a lectureship.
  • 1989: Jenny Cheshire and Viv Edwards (with Henk Münstermann and Bert Weltens) publish Dialect and education: Some European perspectives. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.


  • 1990: The founder of the department, Michel Blanc retires. He is now a Fellow of the College.
  • 1990: Viv Edwards completes her ESRC project on English dialects in the English counties and publishes (with Thomas J. Sienkewicz Oral cultures past and present: Rappin' and Homer. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, and (with Safder Alladina) Multilingualism in the British Isles. London: Longman.
  • 1990: The department institutes undergraduate teaching in applied linguistics with an introductory module in Linguistics on the BA Humanities programme. This programme provision is expanded in 1991/2 with the launch of the programme BA Linguistics and Languages, the first combined degree with Linguistics in Birkbeck.
  • 1991: Jenny Cheshire takes up an appointment at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland and Viv Edwards moves to the University of Reading.
  • 1991: Penelope Gardner-Chloros, an alumna of the MA Second Language Learning and Teaching (1979-81), is appointed as lecturer in Sociolinguistics continuing the department’s strong tradition in this area. Her monograph Language Selection & Switching in Strasbourg is published by Oxford University Press.
  • 1991: Founder member of the department Paul Meara resigns to take up a post at Swansea University. Marjorie Lorch is appointed full-time lecturer adding Neurolinguistics to the department’s portfolio.
  • 1991: Adam Jaworski joined the department for the academic year 1991-92 from the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland and taught an innovative course on Silence. He has had continuing connections with the department and is currently an honorary research fellow.
  • 1993: Larry Selinker arrives from the University of Michigan to become the first Professor of Applied Linguistics at Birkbeck. Selinker initiates teaching and research programmes in Interlanguage.
  • 1993: The student organization the Birkbeck College Applied Linguistics Society (BCALS) is founded with PhD student Isabelle Barriere as the first president.
  • 1993: Larry Selinker (with Susan Gass) publishes Second language acquisition: An introductory course. Hillsdale, N.J: L. Erlbaum Associates and (with Susan Gass and Terence Odlin) Language transfer: Cross-linguistic influence in language learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • The mid-1990s: The department changes the name of the Master's programme to MA in Applied Linguistics. The College restructuring creates a School of Languages, Linguistics and Culture with Itesh Sachdev as Head. Ronnie Geluykens joins the department bringing expertise in conversation analysis. Ignacio Vazquez Orta joins the department as a visiting lecturer from University of Zaragoza, Spain, bringing expertise in the Pragmatics of Politeness.
  • 1997: Larry Selinker co-edited (with Lynn Eubank and Michael Sharwood Smith) Rediscovering interlanguageLondon: Longman and The current state of interlanguage Amsterdam: John Benjamins, as a festschrift in honour of William E. Rutherford.
  • 1999: The Department of Applied Linguistics celebrates 25 years since the first MA graduates got their degrees in 1974 with a one-day conference entitled The Contribution of Cross-Linguistic Studies to our Understanding of Languageat which distinguished former staff members delivered talks, including Michel Blanc, Jenny Cheshire, Paul Meara, and Peter Skehan.


  • 2002: Larry Selinker retires.
  • 2005: Itesh Sachdev leaves the department to take up a post at SOAS.
  • 2006: Jean-Marc Dewaele moves from the French Department, where he had been a member since 1994, to join the staff in Applied Linguistics.
  • 2006: Malcolm Edwards, Jean-Marc Dewaele and Maria Elena Placencia found the online journal Birkbeck Studies in Applied Linguistics (BISAL) ISSN 1754-5366 which showcases staff and student research in annual and special issues. 
  • 2007: Li Wei and Zhu Hua join the department from the University of Newcastle. A new postgraduate programme is introduced in Intercultural Communication for Business and Professions. Jean-Marc Dewaele becomes President of the European Second Language Association (EUROSLA) 2007-2011.
  • 2007: The Centre for Multilingual and Multicultural Research (CMMR) was founded. It hosts the annual Bloomsbury Round Table on Communication, Cognition and Culture, and the Bloomsbury Applied Linguistics Seminars.
  • 2008: Li Wei (with Melissa Moyer) publishes The Blackwell guide to research methods in bilingualism and multilingualism.
  • 2008: Zhu Hua wins a three-year KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership) grant, funded by the ESRC/TSB in partnership with Raleigh International. The project is the first of its kind in Birkbeck. Brandon Charleston joins the Department as a KTP Associate.
  • 2009: Li Wei (with Vivian Cook) co-edits two multi-authored volumes of Contemporary applied linguistics, London: Continuum. Penelope Gardner-Chloros publishes Code-switching. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


  • 2010: The Department is renamed Applied Linguistics and Communication to reflect its expansion into the area of intercultural communication and expands with the appointment of Lisa McEntee-Atalianis from the University of Reading.
  • 2010: With the College restructuring the department joins the new School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy and moves to new premises in 26 Russell Square.
  • 2010: Penelope Gardner-Chloros, along with Jenny Cheshire from QMUL, is funded by a four-year grant from an ESRC/ANR bilateral scheme to compare developments in contemporary London English with those occurring in Paris French.  Maria Secova joins the team as Research Assistant.
  • 2010: Rosemary Wilson is appointed as the Academic Lead in English for Academic Purposes, sharing her time with ALC and the Department of Social Policy and Education. In the same year, the MA TESOL starts.
  • 2010: Jean-Marc Dewaele publishes Emotions in multiple languages, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • 2010: Marjorie Lorch was elected president of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN).
  • 2011: Penelope Gardner-Chloros wins a British Academy Small Grant in order to study 'Language in Strasbourg 30 years on'.
  • 2011: Zhu Hua edits The language and intercultural communication reader published by Routledge.
  • 2012: Rosemary Wilson retires.
  • 2012: The Department expands to include Higher Education Introductory Studies (HEIS) and appoints Kerry Harman as the Programme Director.
  • 2012: Li Wei was elected president of the University Council for General and Applied Linguistics (UCGAL).
  • 2013: All the members of the department collaborate to co-author the textbook Applied Linguistics edited by Li Wei for Wiley-Blackwell.
  • 2013: Tom Morton from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain is appointed to lead a new postgraduate programme in TESOL and language teaching.
  • 2014: Zhu Hua publishes Exploring intercultural communication: Language in action. London: Routledge.
  • 2014: Li Wei and Zhu Hua, along with colleagues from Birmingham, Leeds and Cardiff, are funded by a four-year AHRC large grant for the project Translation and Translanguaging: Investigating Linguistic and Cultural Transformations in Superdiverse Wards in Four UK Cities. Agnieszka Lyons is appointed as Research Fellow for the project.
  • 2015: Tom Morton leaves the department, however, remains part of the department as an Honorary Research Fellow.
  • 2015: Li Wei leaves the department to take up a Professorship at UCL Institute of Education, however, remains part of the Department as an Honorary Research Professor.
  • 2015: Bojana Petrić is appointed as Senior Lecturer in TESOL for the department.
  • 2014-15: The department celebrates 50 years of Applied Linguistics at Birkbeck.

Recordings and Blogs of our 50th Anniversary Events