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Continuing Professional Development

CIFLTE periodically offers workshops on research methodology, language acquisition, and/or best instructional practices.  

>>CIFLTE Guest Talk 2: BLC Theory: a heuristic for studying and explaining both commonalities and

differences in populations of first and second language speakers<<

Speaker: Dr. Jan Hulstijn (the University of Amsterdam)

Date and Time: November 19, 2020, 10:00am - 12:00pm (EST)

Location: Online via Zoom (register to receive meeting ID)

Registration Fee: 

To register:  Click the embedded link for under Registration Fees

Guest Talk Abstract:

I will begin this talk with a brief presentation of Sir Karl Popper’s (1957) views on the question of whether scientific inquiry can produce solid, robust knowledge (a matter often challenged by populists). Knowledge should be both evidence-based but can never be ‘certain’. I will argue that, in line with Popper’s views, the Darwinian framework of Language as a Complex Adaptive System (LCAS) (The Five Graces group, 2009) currently offers the best framework for theories of first and second language acquisition. I will then present BLC Theory (BLC: basic, or shared language cognition) as a heuristic framework, in line with LCAS, for the study of both the commonalities and the differences of the knowledge (proficiency) that first and second language users possess. In the light of Darwinian thinking and LCAS, unequal frequency distributions of linguistic elements in language production constitute  a necessary and defining characteristic of language use and language acquisition, which impact on individual differences. I argue that these differences emerge differently in the spoken vernacular and in the written standard language. Explaining individual differences also implies explaining commonalities (cognition shared by people) (Hulstijn, 2015, 2019, 2020). From a usage-based perspective, this means that the empirical domain of a theory of language acquisition and language use consists of observations of language production and language understanding/comprehension, more so than of observed grammaticality judgments. I will then address the crucial question to what extent, and with which methodological tools, we can establish the content and boundaries of shared linguistic cognition, in a population of language users as well as in individual language users, given the assumption (of usage-based linguistics and neural-network psychology) that cognition is fundamentally probabilistic. This daunting task will be illustrated with analyses of a corpus of spoken language, produced by 98 adult native speakers of Dutch, differing in age (18-76) and level of education and profession.


Hulstijn, J.H. (2015). Language proficiency in native and non-native speakers: Theory and research. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publ. Comp.

Hulstijn, J.H. (2019). An individual-differences framework for comparing nonnative with native speakers: Perspectives from BLC Theory. Language Learning, 69:S1, 157-183.

Hulstijn, J.H. (2020). Proximate and ultimate explanations of individual differences in language use and language acquisition. Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics. Published online 6 April 2020.

The Five Graces Group (Beckner, C., Blythe, R., Bybee, J., Christiansen, M. H., Croft, W., Ellis, N. C., Holland, J.,  Ke, J., Larsen-Freeman, D., Schoenemann, T.) (2009). Language is a complex adaptive system. Language Learning, 59(S1), 1-26. 


Dr. Jan Hulstijn is professor emeritus of second language acquisition at the Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication (ACLC) of the University of Amsterdam. He has been affiliated with this university (full professor) since 1998. Before that he held positions at Leiden University and the Free University of Amsterdam. He was associate postdoc researcher at the University of Toronto, Canada (1982-1983) and he was visiting professor at the University of Leuven, Belgium, (2002) and at Stockholm University (2005). His main research interests are concerned with (1) language proficiency in native and nonnative speakers; (2) explicit versus implicit accounts of first and second language learning and (3) theories of second language acquisition and philosophy of science. With others PIs, he received a number of research grants from the Netherlands Organisation of Scientific Research (NWO) between 1982 and 2007 (see webpage). In 2018 he received the 2018 distinguished scholar award from the European Second Language Association (EuroSLA). In 2015, he published a book presenting his theory of basic language cognition (BLC). His publication list can be downloaded from his webpage:

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Workshops offered in the past

- Guest talk: Six Decades of Research on Language Aptitude: A Systematic Review and Critique, Oct. 22nd 2020

Use of Technology in a Chinese Language Classroom, July/August 2020

- Complex Dynamic Systems: Putting the psychology of the learner into motion, Sep 2019 [Abstract: 2019 Sept Public Talk - All Info]

- Foreign Language Pedagogy Workshop Series, Feb. to May 2019

- Mobile Language Learning and Teaching: Know-How for A Smart Classroom, April 13, 2019 [Abstract: Rocca Workshop]

- Public talks: The Trade Effect of English as a Lingua Franca + Linguistic Distance, Language Learners’ Mother Tongue, and Chinese Acquisition, Oct. 5th, 2018 [Abstract: Public Talks 2018 - Zhang]

- Workshop: On-line methods in language and language learning research, Sep. 28th, 2018

- Public talk: First language influences on the real-time processing of tense-aspect in the second language, Sep. 26th, 2018

- CIFLTE + Yonkers Public Schools: Teacher Training Workshops, April 2018 [Event Report]

Eye-tracking and L2 Processing, Feb. 10th, 2017.