Aston Centre for Applied Linguistics (ACAL) is an interdisciplinary, multilingual group of researchers – academic staff and research students – who work on language(s).

Formerly known as the Centre for Language Research at Aston (CLaRA), the Aston Centre for Applied Linguistics (ACAL) aims to build on Aston University’s longstanding expertise in research into language education, languages, and applied linguistics by promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and establishing national and international networks and partnerships.

Centre director: Dr Emmanuelle Labeau

Affiliated research groups

Aston Corpus Linguistics Research Group

Aston Corpus Linguistics Research Group is an interdisciplinary team of researchers based in the College of Business and Social Sciences. Drawing on Aston’s rich history in corpus linguistics research – spanning over half a century – our core expertise lies in the application of methods from corpus linguistics in a broad range of contexts including computational linguistics, digital linguistics, discourse analysis, forensic linguistics, language learning and teaching, literary linguistics, and sociolinguistics.

We host a monthly podcast series (CorpusCast) featuring interviews with leading corpus linguists from across the world, and we have hosted a number of research events. We have connections with professional societies including the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL) and the European Association of Computer Assisted Language Learning (EUROCALL).

For more information, please visit our website or contact the group’s co-leads:

Aston Language Education Research Group

The Aston Language Education Research Group (ALE) brings together researchers working in the areas of Content Language Integrated Learning, languages, TESOL and English education, including professional language education. Members of the group carry out research into areas that are of concern to wider society at regional, national and international level, for example, promoting widening access to languages to help address issues such as the losses for the economy due to lack of linguistic skills. Areas of specific interest include the learning and teaching of languages, language teacher education, language policy and planning, and language education for professional and intercultural communication.

The group is already involved in a number of high-level projects in collaboration with local, national and international partners. These include:

  • Coordination of a national consortium of universities, cultural and teachers associations, and lobbyists in Learning through Languages UK
  • Collaboration with Birmingham City Council on the promotion of languages in the city
  • Participation in two international Erasmus+ projects, IMPROvE-Agro and MultiEd, focusing on improving access to English language education at HE level.
  • Collaboration with AQA (the largest awarding body in the UK) to design a new A-level in English Language and Literature

We hold monthly meetings to support colleagues with publication and discuss relevant research. We also hold regular seminars and workshops. If you would like to join us, please contact the group's lead.

Aston Stylistics Research Group

The Aston Stylistics Research Group consists of researchers broadly interested in the application and development of theories and frameworks from linguistics in the service of textual analysis.

Members’ interests include:

  • Cognitive stylistics and poetics
  • Literary linguistics
  • Telecinematic stylistics
  • Literature and emotion
  • The empirical study of literature
  • Stylistics in education

We currently host a research seminar series with talks from leading stylisticians from across the world, and a monthly reading group where we discuss innovative and interesting papers in our discipline. We also run an annual Applied Stylistics conference. For more information, please contact the group’s co-leads.

Aston Research Group in Urban Multilingualism

This research group will be officially launched in 2023-24 to acknowledge recent research developments:

  • In 2022-23, interest in Urban Multilingualisn organically developed from two projects led by the ACAL’s director: the AHRC-funded project BRUM (Birmingham Research for Upholding Multilingualism) and a BVSC-funded project to overcome language barriers encountered by Ukrainian refugees in the City. These have led to the (re)launch of the Aston Interpreters Network (AIN) and collaborations with healthcare (NHS, BCHC) on overcoming language barriers in access to healthcare as well as with the NHS and Birmingham City Council on effective communication with the public.
  • In parallel, a reading group on Urban Multilingualism, co-led by Prof. Yaron Matras (formerly of Multilingual Manchester) and Prof. Gertrud Reershemius, was launched in January 2023. ACAL will host in 2024 the Multilingual Cities Conference.


Research projects

Current projects
Learning Through Languages UK

Learning Through Languages UK aims to increase the uptake in languages and raise achievement levels across all subjects in schools through bilingual education.

For more information visit:

English as a school subject in basic education: Influencing future policy directions

This project is funded by the British Council Future of English scheme and focuses on a key area in TESOL: English as a school subject (ESS) in basic education (BE).

There are two strands to the project, which will run from September 2022 to June 2025. First, in response to the British Council’s recent Future of English research, we will track keys trends in ESS in BE through a longitudinal set of surveys to span 5 years, completed by partners in forty countries. As well as British Council identified trends, the project will also examine how trends identified in other published research behave over the same period and will highlight any new and emerging trends.

The second strand responds to a need identified in recent research into ESS in BE and will identify the characteristics of ESS in BS in ODA countries. Drawing on curriculum/syllabus documents, course books and interviews/observations with teachers in twenty ODA countries, it will establish a baseline core curriculum of language systems and skills (content) and classroom activities (pedagogy) for Years 1 – 7. An analysis of gender in the coursebooks will also be undertaken in order to identify if and how ELT materials are perpetrating gender stereotypes, potentially acting as negative input for young girls.

The project is led by Stirling University, with Aston as the second UK partner in an innovative hub and spoke model. There will be regional four hubs, representing different geographical areas and led by four co-investigators. The hubs will be in Africa (Malawi hub), Asia (Indonesia hub), Europe and Middle East (Turkey hub), and Latin America and the Caribbean (Mexico hub). Each hub lead will then work with nine expert collaborators (ECs) in nine ‘spoke’ countries in its region to deliver the research, so that each hub comprises ten countries in all. Hub leads will form a network with expert collaborators in the spokes, ensuring that the ECs understand the purpose of the research, are supported to carry out the data collection and analysis, and can contribute expertise and local knowledge about ESS in BE in their own countries. By taking a community of practice approach, the CIs will create networks that will be in place long after the end of the project.

The two strands will be developed as follows:

  • Tracking and identifying trends in ESS in BE This work package comprises six surveys to be completed by forty expert collaborators in forty countries (approximately 30 ODA and 10 non-ODA) over the three years of the project. The surveys will track around fifteen trends already identified in ESS in BE, and will also provide the opportunity for experts and CIs to identify new trends. These data will be combined with existing data sets, such as those held by PISA, UNICEF, UNESCO, to create state of the art country profiles of ESS in BE in the forty countries.
  • Developing a core curriculum for ESS in BE in ODA countries This work package aims to identify the characteristics of ESS in BE in ODA countries. To do so it will analyse curriculum and syllabus documents and state sanctioned course books (Years 1 -7) from 20 ODA countries to identify the topics, skills (speaking, listening, reading and writing), systems (syntax, lexis, discourse, phonology) and varieties of English which are taught at each stage of language learning. In addition to content, the analysis will identify both pedagogical approaches favoured in course books at each level and how gender is portrayed in the course books (e.g. through visuals, agency, and identity). Two teachers in each of the 20 countries will be interviewed and asked to talk through how they would teach a module of the course book. They will then be observed the teacher delivering the class they have described to give a snapshot of coursebook use.

These data will allow us to initially create country curricula. By then identifying common features, we will draw up regional curricula and finally, by comparing and coordinating the results from each hub we will develop a global core curriculum of topics, skills, systems and pedagogies in ESS in BE .

English as a school subject: learning effective practices from low level primary English language teachers

This project, funded by the British Council Widening Participation scheme, aims to identify, investigate, and share successful teaching practices of primary school teachers with low English levels, little training and limited resources and thus contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education. The project, led by the University of Stirling, involves partners from Aston University and from institutions in Bangladesh, Malawi, Mexico and Uzbekistan. The project team will work with teachers and children in primary schools in to explore local classroom practices and to understand how effective teaching is locally constructed by teachers and children and the affordances such practices bring to teaching English as a school subject in the state sector.

In the first phase of the project, ten teachers in different areas of each country (urban, semi-urban, rural) will be interviewed (n=40, at least two teachers in each area). The interviews will elicit information about their English language lives, from childhood to the present day. They will be asked about how they teach English, the challenges they face, their use of languages and views on translanguaging pedagogies.

Three focus groups of five children between 7 and 11 years old will be conducted in each country (12 focus groups, one each in urban, semi-urban and rural areas; n= 60 children). Children will be asked about their views of learning English, what the challenges are, what they like/don’t like about their English classes, the benefits they think English language learning brings and how they think knowing English will help them to reach their personal goals. Importantly, children will be asked what their ideal English language teacher would do in class. The children in the focus groups will also act as co-researchers, designing a child-friendly questionnaire on topics discussed in the focus groups for their peers, supporting its implementation in their classes, and assisting with the analysis.

In the second phase of the project, three teachers in each country will take part, one rural, one urban and one semi-rural (n=12). Around twenty hours of classroom teaching will be observed and video recorded in each country; teachers, students and local researchers will carry out the filming, and videos will be edited to create 3-5 hours of effective teaching. Three children in each country (n=12) will also make short ‘vox-pops’ style videos of their peers (and teachers) talking about learning English in their preferred language(s) and what they like/don’t like and what they find difficult.

In the final stage teacher training materials will be developed, piloted and made available online. Two types of material will be developed. First, ten short, dynamic videos (with explanations in local languages) aimed at practising teachers will be created. Video clips from the four countries will be included so that good practice can be shared. Videos will also include footage from the vox pops videos made by the children, and again translations in subtitles will be provided. They will be made freely available on the project website and on YouTube, for wide circulation. A 20 unit teacher education module will also be developed to be used in pre-service teacher education contexts in ODA countries where primary school teachers have low levels of English language and/or limited training. Materials will include videos, interview data, vox pops and wrap around activities. They will be professionally produced and include subtitles where necessary.

This is an 18-month project, running from 1st April 2021 to 31st August 2022.

Please see the project website for more information, working papers and briefing papers and follow us on Twitter at @EnglishSchSub·

For further information, please contact Professor Sue Garton (


Internationalizing Master Programmes in Agriculture via English Medium Instruction
(IMPROVE _AGRO) (2020-2023)

The Project

The goal of this project is to increase the quality and accessibility of higher education in Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia via internationalizing Master programmes in Agriculture and Forestry. This will be achieved by bringing the programmes in line with EU quality standards where appropriate, introducing English Medium Instruction (EMI) and promoting blended learning delivery.

The Consortium

Aston University is one of 11 consortium partners and the others are:

  • Freiburg University of Education, Germany (Coordinator)
  • Tyumen State University, Russia (Partner Country Coordinator)
  • Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
  • Greece Altai State Agricultural University
  • Russia Kazakh National Agrarian University, Almaty, Kazakhstan
  • Krasnoyarsk State Agrarian University, Russia
  • LLC “Centre for Molecular and Cellular Bioengineering”, Tyumen, Russia
  • Mongolian University of Life Sciences, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
  • National University of Mongolia, both in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
  • S. Toraighyrov Pavlodar State University, Kazakhstan
  • Tobolsk Complex Scientific Station, Russia

The Aston University team:

  • Dr Sue Garton (Aston Coordinator)
  • Dr Robbie Love
  • Dr Daniel McCauley
  • Dr Muna Morris Adams
  • Dr Elisabeth Wielander

Specific Project Objectives

  1. Contribute to development of a new model for internationalising Master programmes in the area of Agriculture and Forestry based on English Medium Instruction (EMI) and blended learning delivery.
  2. Enhance teaching capacities at the PC HEIs via re-training staff and modernising teaching resources using a multidisciplinary approach.
  3. Design a trans-institutional e-platform for master students to improve access to teaching/learning resources internationally.
  4. Create potential for internationalization via increasing international academic mobility.

Duration: 3 years

Grant: 997 611 Euros

Recent Project Activities

In spite of the pandemic, a number of project activities have been carried out on-line, particular in the form of training in key areas.

An online course for English language teachers in partner institutions on ‘English Medium Instruction and CLIL in Higher Education: Principles and Practices’ 29 June -03 July 2020 with 23 participants. The course was led by partners from Freiburg and Aston.

An online workshop 'Curriculum Development for English Medium Instruction’ 14 – 20 October 2020 with 29 participants. Sessions were led by Aston, Freiburg, Thessaloniki and Tyumen.

An International Online Workshop ‘Blended Learning and Flipped classroom’, 18-19 March 2021, Part I with 31 participants led by Freiburg and Aston.

International Online Workshop ‘Blended Learning and Flipped classroom’ Part II: Designing a flipped learning event, 07 April 2021 (27 participants)

Erasmus+ MultiEd
Erasmus+ cofundedMultilingual Education logo


Reference number: 610427-EE-2019-EPPKA2-CBHE-JP



The Project

The goal of this project is to increase the quality and accessibility of higher education in Ukraine (UA) via updating and internationalizing Bachelor and Master programmes in Foreign Language Teacher Training. This will be achieved by bringing the programmes in line with EU quality standards where appropriate, introducing Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and promoting blended learning delivery. Key processes are extensive curriculum reforms, continued professional development of in-service teachers and the development of multilingual education strategies for UA HEIs.

The Consortium

Aston University is one of 14 consortium partners and the others are:

  • University of Tartu, Estonia (Coordinator)
  • Zaporizhzhya National University, Ukraine (Partner Country Coordinator)
  • Pädagogische Hochschule Heidelberg, Germany
  • Interlink Academy for International Dialog and Journalism, Germany
  • V.O. Sukhomlynskyi National University of Mykolaiv, Ukraine
  • Bohdan Khmelnytsky National University of Cherkasy, Ukraine
  • Poltava V.G. Korolenko National Pedagogical University, Ukraine
  • Donbas State Pedagogical University, Ukraine
  • V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, Ukraine
  • Ternopil Volodymyr Hnatiuk National Pedagogical University, Ukraine
  • Vasyl Stefanyk Precarpathian National University, Ukraine
  • Ministry of Science and Education, Ukraine
  • English Teachers' Association “TESOL-Ukraine”, Ukraine

The Aston team (leading on Work Package 4):

  • Dr Sue Garton
  • Dr Elisabeth Wielander (Aston University Coordinator)
  • Dr Emmanuelle Labeau
  • Dr Muna Morris-Adams
  • Dr Chris Wilson

Specific Project Objectives

A 1. Curriculum development:

Initiating a curriculum reform process through a fundamental revision of existing programmes in alignment with the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) at UA universities, and modern teaching methodology application. 8 BA programmes, 8 MA programmes in 8 UA partner universities in the field of Education (Teacher of Foreign Languages) are to be assessed, reformed, piloted and run (with on average 14 courses revised and 8 new courses introduced in every partner HEI). National Guidelines for TFL curricula design will be produced.

A 2. Education of in-service teachers (both school and university teachers, academic staff):

Refresher training through seminars, workshops for educators and e-course “CLIL Methodology” for target groups is to provide the target groups with professional improvement on interactive teaching methods, student-centred learning, competence approach, and interdisciplinary teaching practices.

A3. Internationalization of education:

Launch of CLIL-based courses and development of multilingual education strategies for UA HEIs and National Recommendations on Multilingual Higher Education to enhance multilingual aptitude of university graduates, improve practices of teaching foreign languages and teaching in foreign languages at UA universities.

The project is to benefit the following target groups:

  • university students across Ukraine, through updated curricula with a focus on professional skills, knowledge of foreign languages and career-related skills;
  • in-service school and university teachers in Ukrainian HEIs, through international expertise in learning and teaching methodologies, modern pedagogical approaches and tools, progressive approaches in education and language teaching;
  • Ukrainian secondary schools’ and HEIs’ administration, regional and national policymakers, through a feasible model for the implementation of the national priorities;
  • general public, through wider access to open educational resources (e-course “CLIL Methodology”).


3 years


900,099 EUR

Recent Project Activities

n February 2020, all project teams met at the University of Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine for our two-day kick-off meeting.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, events planned for 2020-21 could not take place in person. Despite this, a number of project activities have been carried out on-line, particular in the form of training in key areas:

May-June 2020: ‘Content and Language Integrated Learning for Tertiary Education’ – Participants worked through six weeks of asynchronous online self-study tasks in preparation for a week of interactive synchronous online workshops during the week of June 22-26. These covered an introduction to CLIL, practical applications of CLIL, teacher collaborations in CLIL, material design in CLIL and assessment in CLIL.

May-June 2020: ‘Curriculum Development’ – Over five weeks, participants attended weekly webinars introducing general principles of curriculum design, good practice for the curriculum development process, approaches and methods in quality management and assurance, constructive alignment & assessment and the pedagogical approach and design of teacher training practicums.

December 2020: Over two days of webinars, participants presented micro-teaching units from their particular teaching contexts and received feedback from peers and European moderators.

April-May 2021: After Guidelines for e-course development were created and shared by AU and PHH, all partners met for a webinar on e-course development on May 12, where key decisions were taken about the extent, topics, frameworks and delivery formats of an e-course introducing CLIL to in-service teachers (primary, secondary and tertiary) in Ukraine. The six design teams were established and are meeting weekly to prepare tasks and materials for their unit in time for the follow-up webinar on June 9.

Global practices in teaching English to Young Learners: 10 years on

In 2009/10, Aston University led a highly successful British Council ELTRA project investigating global practices in teaching English to young learners. Just over ten years on, research in early English language learning (EELL) has grown exponentially. However, there is little evidence to show whether research findings are reflected in how early English language learning is practised, particularly with regard to teaching speaking, managing large classes, practising differentiation, enhancing motivation and maintaining effective discipline, five areas which emerged as challenges in the 2010 study. In this research project, therefore, Sue Garton (Aston University) and Fiona Copland (University of Stirling) have revisited the original project to investigate what has changed over the last ten years.

Our first three research questions focus on changes to practice:

  1. What are the main learning and teaching activities that teachers use in their day-to-day practices and have they changed over the last ten years?
  2. How do teachers teach speaking, manage large classes, practise differentiation, enhance motivation and maintain effective discipline?
  3. What are TEYL teachers’ perceptions of their roles and responsibilities, including the challenges they face? Have these changed over the last ten years?
    Our fourth question aims to investigate commonalities amongst contexts and to focus on local effective practice:
  4. Which local solutions to pedagogical issues have potential for global relevance?
    Two further research questions have developed from recent interest in EELL:
  5. Who is teaching young learners and what training do they receive?
  6. Are recent research findings reflected in how EELL is practised?

Originally a 10-month project starting in May 2019, the project has been extended to 30th August 2021 because of the pandemic.

We have adopted a mixed methods study:

  1. a survey of perceived TEYL practices of a global sample of teachers of English, conducted in five different languages (English, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish);
  2. detailed case studies of the contexts, practices and perceptions of teachers in different countries in diverse contexts.

Case studies

Case studies have been carried out in Argentina, China, Colombia, Italy, Japan, Malawi, Mexico, Palestine, Portugal Russia, Tanzania and Turkey. We are currently analysing the data to identify common themes as well as differences, and to carry out the comparison with the data from 10 years ago.

Corpus of French as spoken in Brussels

The Corpus de Français Parlé Bruxellois (CFPB) (Corpus of French as spoken in Brussels) is a project funded by the British Academy (2013-2015). Co-led by PI Emmanuelle Labeau (Aston University) and CI Anne Dister (Université St Louis), the initiative has benefited from the advice of the Corpus de Français Parlé Parisien’s (CFPP2000) team made of Sonia Branca-Rosoff, Serge Fleury, Florence Lefeuvre and Mat Pires.

The ultimate aims of the project are to parallel the work done in Paris by the Corpus du français parlé parisien

The constitution of a large open access online French database with search tools The development of variationist analyses of common oral communicative French in Brussels (see Branca-Rosoff et al. 2011 for Paris), to contribute to the CFPP2000’s planned variationist grammar of French.


Van Parijs, P. (2007) ‘Bruxelles capitale de l’Europe: Nouveaux défis linguistiques’. Brussels Studies 6.

Von Busekist, A. (1998) La Belgique: Politique des langues et construction de l'État de 1780 à nos jours. Bruxelles: Duculot.

Witte, E. & Baetens Beardsmore, H. (eds) (1987) The Study of Urban Bilingualism in Brussels (pp. 195–231). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Belgium became independent in 1830 - with international support led by England - to establish a buffer state against further French invasions. Belgium is split from West to East by a linguistic border that has remained roughly unchanged since the 6th century. The Northern part of the country, Flanders, hosts a population speaking a variety of Germanic dialects despite attempts since the mid twentieth century to unify them under a koinê used in education and official situations. The Southern part, known as Wallonia, is a long-standing Romance territory where French is spoken; a small Germanic enclave in the East, attached to Belgium in the wake of the First World War, is included in the Walloon region. The third region is made of Brussels, the capital city that enjoys for historic reasons an official bilingual status.

The exact distribution of languages in Brussels is unknown for a number of reasons. Indeed, the linguistic census was outlawed in the early 1960s upon the request of Dutch-speaking mayors who feared that the French ‘oil slick’ would contaminate further Dutch-speaking areas around Brussels and create a corridor joining Brussels and Wallonia. In addition, the balance between Dutch and French depends on the criteria chosen: Brussels is known to be more Dutch-speaking in day time than at night due to the numbers of Flemish public servants commuting to work in Flemish governmental departments located in Brussels. Finally, Brussels is in fact a multilingual city due on the one hand to the presence of international organisations such as the EU or NATO that promote the use of English as a lingua franca, and on the other hand to immigrant communities.

In such a context of languages in contact, the French spoken in Brussels may possess specific features resulting both from its historical developments and contemporary contacts. Yet, attempts at describing that variety have been limited, notwithstanding the now dated study by Baetens Beardsmore (1971), and a detailed description of the contemporary situation is overdue:

Quant au français pratiqué par la grande majorité des Bruxellois, il reste à décrire; tout porte à croire néanmoins qu'il manifeste une grande diversité idiolectale, sans témoigner d'une spécificité régionale particulièrement marquée — il partage de nombreux traits avec le français en Wallonie — ni d'une standardisation à l'échelle de la capitale du royaume. (Francard 1998 :16) [As for the French spoken by the vast majority of Brussels inhabitants, it is still to be described; every evidence leads to believe nonetheless that it shows significant idiolectal variety, without demonstrating any marked regional specificity – it shares many features with French in Wallonia – or a standardisation at the level of the kingdom’s capital city (our translation)]

The constitution of a corpus of authentic conversation will help identify what those features may be.

The emergence of French in Brussels

As a glance at the map of Belgium would show, Brussels is landlocked within the Dutch-speaking territory. It was indeed originally a wholly Germanic territory, as witnessed by all historic toponyms. Brussels itself is thought to derive from the Old Dutch words "broec" and "saal", broadly meaning "settlement in the marsh" (de Ridder, p.2). From around 1000AD, the hamlet started expanding thanks to its position at the crossroads of two major trade routes; the one linking England to Germany and the other joining Northern Europe to the South. Brussels was part of the duchy of Brabant, a principality under the suzerainty of the German Empire. At the time, Brabant spread not only over the two contemporary provinces of Flemish and Walloon Brabant but also included Antwerp and the Dutch province of North Brabant. The Duchy encompassed mainly Germanic territories except for the agricultural ‘Roman pays de Brabant’ around the Abbey-town of Nivelles, but administration was carried out in Latin as was the case throughout Europe at the time. From 1290 onwards, vernaculars increasingly entered administrative documents and French was used in the Southern part of the duchy whereas Dutch was used in the Northern part.

Brussels steadily expanded throughout the 14th century thanks to its prosperous textile industry, and developed its own political culture:

By 1422 Brabant had acquired a form of government that was beginning closely to resemble a parliamentary regime, in which the dukes were to some extent answerable to a kind of people's representation. Furthermore, long before the French Revolution of 1789, the citizens of Brabant had secured the right to depose their prince should he fail to honour his engagements. This "Privilegium Brabantinum" was to become a beacon for future liberation movements (and also for the drafters of the American constitution). (De Ridder, p.2)

In 1430, Brussels came under the rule of the House of Burgundy, whose French-speaking dukes brought some French influence among the ruling classes during their stay in Brussels. With the extinction of the Burgundian dynasty in 1482, the Low Countries (i.e. roughly modern-day Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg) came under the domination of the Habsburgs whose far-reaching empire’s administration settled in Brussels from 1531 under Emperor Charles V. His successor Philip II waged a war against Reformation that created much resentment in Brussels that was home to many Calvinists. Brussels therefore took part in the rebellion against Philip II and welcomed William of Orange as king. Alexander Farnese managed a partial reconquest of the Low Countries on behalf of Philip II and Brussels remained under Spanish Habsburg domination until 1713 when it passed to the Austrian branch of the dynasty. In 1793/94, the French invaded Brussels and the rest of the southern Low Countries, so the whole territory was incorporated into the French Republic in 1795. From 1793 until 1815 a policy of systematic "gallicisation" was enforced in the southern Low Countries. After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815 the Allies, particularly England, resolved to establish a buffer state against France and the southern and northern Low Countries, separated since 1585, were reunited under King William I of the Netherlands. The zealous reforms he introduced in the Southern Low Countries were not well received both by the clergy who distrusted a protestant monarch and by the Gallicised local administrators. A revolt against the king of Holland in 1830 revived French hopes of re-annexing the Southern Low countries, but they were squashed by international powers led by England through the creation of an independent state.

The creation of a Belgian state favoured French in Brussels for a number of reasons. First, French, then the language of élites throughout Europe, was the only official language of the country until 1898 (McRae, 1986:25). The situation was reinforced by the fact that education implied the knowledge of French, especially in Brussels where primary education was only available in French until the end of the 19th century (Treffers-Daller 2002:51). At the national level university education remained available only in French until Ghent became a Dutch-speaking institution in 1930.

The international prestige of French contrasted greatly with the position of the Germanic dialects spoken in the Northern parts of the country. That inequality was further reinforced by the economic backwardness of agricultural Flanders compared with the prosperous heavy industry of the South until it collapsed in the mid-20th century.

French in Brussels in the 21st century

Map of Belgium

Since the creation of a linguistic border in 1932, the borders between Flanders and Wallonia could be altered according to the results of the linguistic census due to the existence of borderline communities where both Germanic and Romance idioms were used.

In places where 30% of the population spoke the other national language, the linguistic minority became entitled to administrative services in their mother tongue. Should the minority language be used by half of the population, the town was compelled to offer services in the minority language, alongside the regional language. Brussels, as a historically Flemish territory with a strong French influence, was particularly exposed. The first official census held in 1846 reveals that the population of Brussels already used French much more frequently than those of other Flemish cities: 37% compared to 5% in Ghent and 1.9% in Antwerp. Between the 1866 language census and that of 1947, the number of Dutch monolinguals went from 46.2% to 9.5%, while French monolinguals rose from 19.3% to 37%. In 1947 24.4% of the Brussels population was registered as using Dutch exclusively or primarily, and 70.6% as using French only or mainly (McRae, 1986: 295).The 1947 census (results published in 1954) proved detrimental to the Flemish region. Indeed, Flanders has benefited from a more lenient treatment from Nazi Germany due to their common Germanic origins and collaboration had been far more widespread in the North of the country. At the end of the war, a concerted rejection of that bleak period led a number of census respondents to minimise their links with Flemish dialects that were associated to the Reich. This would have had important consequences on the linguistic border, especially around Brussels and it led a group of 300 Flemish mayors to ask for the withdrawal of linguistic questions from the census to prevent the French ‘oil slick’ to further expand on Flemish territory. In 1963, the boundaries of the Brussels agglomeration were officially established and confined to 19 municipalities. Six neighbouring municipalities, located in the Dutch-speaking part of the province of Brabant, obtained a special status with so-called facilities for Francophones: Drogenbos, Kraainem, Linkebeek,Sint-Genesius-Rode,Wemmel and Wezembeek-Oppem (Witte, 1993: 12).

Map of France

Without a linguistic census, estimations on language usage have had to rely on indirect evidence, such as enrolment in French- or Dutch-speaking schools or use of languages in the health services. Yet, those figures are far from reliable as it does not account for multilingual families or families who sent their children to schools in the other language to increase their chances in Brussels’ mostly bilingual job market. The language used in the application for registration plates currently seems to be one of the most accurate indicators of language use in the capital city. Recent sociological studies by Janssens and colleagues have nonetheless indicated the overwhelming predominance of French in Brussels, based on interviews of a sample (2,500 people aged 18-70) of the capital’s population. Their results show a wide range of types of use going from monolingual French and Dutch speakers, French-Dutch bilinguals; French-immigration language bilinguals and speakers of other languages. Their results confirm the findings of a study dated 1999 (quoted in Van Parijs 2007) that showed that native speakers of French as their only mother tongue represented just over half of Brussels population. If the people who had French as one of their mother tongues were taken into account, the proportion raised to nearly three quarters. If finally, people who claimed to have a good or very good mastery of French were included, it could be claimed that Brussels was Francophone at about 95%.

In recent decades, Brussels has welcomed an increasing number of international immigrants who can be split in two very distinct categories. On the one hand, economic migrants among which a significant proportion of North Africans already familiar with French have tended towards a diglossia where the mother tongue is spoken at home and French outside; such pattern tends to evolve towards of frenchification from the second generation. On the other hand, highly skilled migrants have been brought to Brussels by international organisations such as NATO or the European Commission. That group tends to remain segregated in rich areas and to send their offspring to European and International Schools and to adopt English as a lingua Franca. That influence, combined with the convenience of English, the most Romance of all Germanic languages, as a communication tool between Dutch- and French-speakers, is likely to affect the balance of languages in the Belgian capital.

The variety of French spoken in Brussels should not be confused with Bruxellois, a hybrid idiom attested from the late 16th century (Bernard 1997:242) and common until the late 20th century in the popular area of the Marolles that is characterised by Flemish features especially at lexical and phonetic level into a French morphosyntactic mould.

Treffers-Dallers (1999) showed that French in Brussels showed more structural influence from Brussels Dutch than lexical borrowings from that language. As for Francard (2010), he studied the Germanic influences in the lexicon used in Brussels and came to the conclusion that most Germanic words used in Brussels were understood in Wallonia even if they were not actively used. He suggested that words from immigrant languages may also play a role in the specific making of the French spoken in Brussels.

More information can be found here.


Baetens Beardsmore, H. (1971) Le Français Régional de Bruxelles. Université Libre de Bruxelles, Institut de Phonétique, conférences et travaux 3. Bruxelles: Presses Universitaires de Bruxelles.

Bernard, B. & Javeau, C. (1997) ‘Le français dans la région bruxelloise’. In: Blampain, D. et al. (ed.) Le français en Belgique, pp.239-250.

De Ridder, P. (n.d) History of Brussels: Linguistic Usages in Brussels before 1794. Available at:

Francard, M. (1998) ‘La légitimité linguistique passé-t-elle par la reconnaissance du statut de variété “nationale”? Le cas de la communauté française Wallonie-Bruxelles’, Revue québécoise de linguistique, vol. 26, n° 2:13-23.

Francard, M. (2010) ‘L’influence de Bruxelles sur le français en Belgique: le lexique d’origine flamande ou néerlandaise’. Brussels Studies 45.

Janssens, R. ‘LanguageuseinBrussels andthepositionof Dutch. Somerecentfindings’. Brussels Studies13.

Janssens, R., Carlier, D. & P. Van de Craen (2009) ‘ Education in Brussels ’. Brussels Studies, Synopsis.5.

Mettewie, L. & Janssens, R. (2007)Language attitudes and multilingualism in Brussels. In: Lagabaster D. & Huguet A. (eds) Multilingualism in European Bilingual Contexts, language Use and Attitudes. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 117-143.

McRae, K.D. (1986) Conflict and Compromise in Multilingual Societies. Belgium. Waterloo (Ontario): Wilfried Laurier Press.

Murphy, A. (1988) A regional dynamics of language differentiation in Belgium: A study in cultural-political geography. University of Chicago, Committee on Geographical Studies.

Treffers-Daller, J. (2002) ‘Language Use and Language Contact in Brussels’, Journal of Multilingual and multicultural Development. Vol. 23, Nos. 1&2:50-64.

Treffers-Daller, J. (1999) ‘Borrowing and shift-induced interference: Contrasting patterns in French-Germanic contact in Brussels and Strasbourg’. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 2, 1–22.

The specific aims of the present pilot study are to emulate and refine the experience acquired in the Parisian project. Specifically, it will comprise:

The establishment of a collection protocol to gather a corpus of French as it is spoken in Brussels’ 19 municipalities. The sampling of informants will be based on Labovian variationist principles (Tagliamonte 2006). The semi-directed interview will follow the CFPP2000 guidelines and focus on discourse on the City The collection, orthographic transcription and tagging of a pilot corpus; The development of metadata: online interrogation tools, concordancers and textometric programmes The open-access publication of data on mirror websites at the 3 co-leading universities (Aston, Paris 3, St Louis).
Past projects
TEMPUS Project

Developing the Teaching of European Languages: Modernising Language Teaching through the Development of Blended Masters Programmes - DeTEL (2013-2016) 

This 3-year project focuses on improving the learning and teaching of European languages in Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan (PCs).  There are 11 project partners, four from Russia, two from Uzbekistan, two from Ukraine and one each from the UK, France and Germany. The central activity is the development of a blended master’s programme for current and prospective teachers of European languages (English, French and German), which will introduce innovative learner-centred methodologies, tuned to EU standards but with a close eye on the needs of the local context where appropriate. The project will be a based on collaborative development and initial delivery of the MA with a gradual handover to trainers in PCs, making delivery fully sustainable beyond the life of the project. 

Investigating NEST schemes

This joint project between Aston University and University of Warwick is sponsored by the British Council as part of its English Language Teaching Research partnership Scheme. 

Project Summary 

Despite a strong focus in recent years on the value of NNESTs (non-native English speaking teachers) and the essential contribution they make to language learning, many governments still seek out and employ NESTs (native English speaking teachers) to participate in learning and teaching in state schools, colleges and universities throughout the world. The hiring of NESTs may be through national schemes such as NET in Hong Kong, or through NGOs such as VSO.  While previous research has examined practices on individual programmes, to date there is no global overview of how they operate and the experiences of both NESTs and NNESTs taking part. What is more, there is a lack of widely available resources to support those considering or preparing for such schemes. 

This project will bring together an international team of partners to investigate NEST schemes around the world. Detailed information will be collected through document analysis, interviews with NESTs and NNESTs and classroom observations. This information will be used to prepare an audit document which will give details about the schemes, and which will be of value to both policymakers and teachers. Importantly, classroom and interview data will be used in the preparation of training resources to support both teachers and teacher trainers. A final preliminary report will also be produced.