Generative AI (GenAI) and language learning: A view from recent literature

Although ChatGPT is a significant development in our relationship to Artificial Intelligence, giving an easy to access interface, many other related AI tools have been around in the language teaching world for a long time. A search for relevant articles reveals material that predates the launch of ChatGPT, as well as offering a range of very recent articles that have picked up quickly on different aspects of ways that ChatGPT itself can be useful, often combining existing tools with ChatGPT.

People who are language teachers have been exploring the use of computers in their various guises since the 1950s, and while people have looked for solutions that have offered independent computer-based training, the vast majority of work in this area has looked at how computers can assist the learning of languages with the teacher still playing a significant role in the process. My impression of the articles that I have reviewed leaves me thinking that so far, for the most part, Generative AI had not significantly changed this perspective.

Most of the academic articles that I reviewed fell into three topic areas: writing, speaking, and teacher support in designing and managing learning.


There are several ways that GenAI can support writing, and this may have implications for how publishers might modify existing tools to keep them competitive, or to start creating new tools that can be taken to market.

Reviewing written texts (marking) is a time-consuming task for all teachers and providing useful feedback that will help learners develop is challenging. This is as true for teachers working in the private language school sector where class numbers are quite low, but in many parts of the world, class sizes can exceed a hundred children and teachers will have more than one class to manage.

In an article that explores the potential role of ChatGPT in Automatic Essay Scoring (AES), Mizumoto and Eguchi (2023) argue that:

Employing AES with ChatGPT has several benefits, including shorter rating times and increased consistency of scoring. As such, this approach is an attractive alternative for teachers and researchers.” (p. 9)

It can also support teachers whose level of language may not be up to the task of providing effective feedback, as, “Language models such as GPT can best be understood as an ever-present, logical assistant.” (p. 11). In many parts of the world where English is taught, teachers’ language is very low level and GenAI tools may help to solve this problem.

Another area presented in articles was that of support to learners in their writing. Su, Lin and Lai (2023) explore the role of ChatGPT in supporting the writing of argumentative essays. This article explores some of the earlier tools that also played a role in second language writing and point out that tools like chatbots were very limited in their responses, these often being “pre-set” (p. 2) and often respond with the same answer to multiple questions. ChatGPT can be responsive and ‘learns’ as it ‘engages’ with people. However, as we are aware, ChatGPT can give biased, or inaccurate responses. I used ChatGPT when I first started exploring this topic area and spent a while pursuing an article that had a very tempting title, by key writers whose names I recognised, but which I eventually realised had been made up. Su, Lin and Lai (2023) argue:

ChatGPT can serve as both a writing evaluator that provides feedback to scaffold the structural and language aspects of argumentative essays, and a virtual peer that engages in conversation around the writing topic, troubleshoots the writing process, and offers tips to strengthen the dialogic aspect of argumentative writing. (p. 2)


This fits well with one of the current ELT methodologies for writing, what is termed ‘process writing’ in which writing is not seen simply as a one-off product, but an iterative process of refining ideas over time and coming to editing at the end before submission.

Su, Lin and Lai (2023) say that in order to avoid students over-relying on GenAI to produce texts, they are asked to create an outline of their essay independently, discussing the ideas before feeding them into ChatGPT to get feedback and further ideas. In order to review the essays ChatGPT can be fed with specific rubrics for evaluation: claim-evidence-reasoning (CER) or Task/ Topic, Audience, Purpose (claim, data, warrant, qualifier, rebuttal and backing). In the study ChatGPT was not consistent on language use and would need to be interrogated a number of times to get different outputs, which the students could then decide what sentences they preferred. However, ChatGPT is good at proofreading, checking grammar, etc.

Interrogating ChatGPT in this way allowed a dialogue to be built up that could be exported and become part of a reflective diary, so that students could see progress in their writing.

Working with ChatGPT in this interactive way and not simply asking it to produce an argumentative essay on a particular topic was seen as being very helpful and developing an important new digital literacy skill.

A more technical approach to writing involved teaching students to create their own text generating tools using the programming language Python (Woo, Guo & Susanto, 2023). The students created these on a tool called Hugging Face. The text generators could produce various output to support the writing of short stories, in the case reported. Students learned about how machines could produce natural language. The study found that the students used the tools to overcome writer’s block and to improve their stories.


There appears to currently be less written about spoken language, although dialogue systems have become more common in daily life. A systematic literature by Zhao and Wibowo (2023) and which focuses on higher education suggests that such systems can provide positive improvements, particularly with students who are less confident. It is interesting to note that almost all of the studies cited are not from Europe or North America and don’t focus on activity post ChatGPT.

AI dialogue systems can be used to assist students in finding information, or providing feedback, and this allows teachers to focus on other important areas of development like critical thinking, or problem solving. AI systems can help to provide materials to the students that they are more interested in, thus promoting motivation. This provides a “more effective and engaging learning experience for each student.” (p. 22) At the same time, these systems can help develop a better understanding of learners’ needs and lead to better personalisation of the curriculum, something that mass systems fail to do.

Teacher support

Although in essence a good deal of what we have talked about already is about teacher support, there are quite a few articles that explore this topic specifically. Bonner, Lege and Frazier (2023) do a good job of showing the variety of ways that Large Language Models (LLMs) can support teachers, providing concrete examples. A summary of the topics they cover is:

  • “Summarise and level texts for learners
  • Automatically correct grammar and sentence mechanics
  • Compose narrative writing prompts
  • Create presentation notes
  • Generate lesson ideas
  • Level texts for testing or reading practice” (p.25)

They talk about the way that “LLMs allow for the off-loading of more mundane tasks (Pokrivcakova, 2019)”.

A lot of emphasis is put again on the value that such tools have in providing support for individualised learning.

LLMs […] can support the teacher in processing vast amounts of information about the students and their learning process, then use this information to support the creation of adaptive learning environments that are catered to the needs of the individual.”

For references to the full articles and other resources see here:








English Language Teaching for Sustainability

 Photo by Artem Podrez from PexelsWe have been witnessing a growth in interest in the focus on sustainability in English Language Teaching in recent years, and there are a lot of materials available online. There was a growth in activity around CoP26, but also at Cop27.

Global Issues Special Interest Group

One of the earliest groups that have focused on producing materials in this area is the Global Issues Special Interest Group of IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (GISIG). The SIG has been developing materials for some time and their remit in terms of issues is wider than a simple green agenda. There are lots of useful links to other resources on the website.

Cambridge University Press & Assessment

Alongside a larger organisational move to being sustainable, CUP&A are putting effort into exploring ways of brining more awareness of sustainability for teachers and learners, as well as re-visiting their materials. There are some good background materials as well as materials themselves.

Activity cards for Young Learners, Teens, Adults

The British Council Climate Connection

The British Council have also been working to develop a range of materials and resources related to climate and environmentalism with their web pages called The Climate Connection. The resources include information for teachers, as well as learning materials for students. There is an accompanying MOOC which provides background knowledge and also a MOOC wrapped around CoP26.

Adult ESOL
Adult English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provides English language education in the further and informal education sectors in the UK working mostly with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. A range of materials is available from different sources.

National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults (NATECLA) is a professional organisation for Adult ESOL teachers and have produced a Padlet of useful links to resources and materials connected to sustainability.

National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults

The Education and Training Foundation (EFT) have produced a range of materials focusing on English for Sustainability. As well as lesson plans for direct teaching, this includes an audit document, as well as creating a Green Week.

Other interesting websites
set of English language materials, called Renewable English, created by Harry Waters and other that take an activist approach.

A post from the Global Partnership on Education looking at Climate Change education.


Goulah, J. & Katunich, J. (Eds.) (2020) TESOL and sustainability: English language teaching in the Anthropocene era. London: Bloomsbury.

Harry Waters — Cultivating young change makers — talk given at the IATEFL Young Learners conference, January 2023

These are notes I took from Harry Waters’ keynote while attending the IATEFL Young Learners Special Interest Group conference, 2023.

See Harry Water’s website:

HW defines a ‘changemaker’ as someone who is taking creative action to solve a problem.

They are:

  • Tenacious about the greater good
  • Deeply connected
  • Team players
  • Intentional about solving a problem
  • Motivated to act
  • Creative

Changemakers are not born, but need to be developed/ supported, following the three e’s:

  • Engage
  • Empower
  • Enact

A great place to start is the Sustainable Development Goals. These can be linked to many lessons we teach. These can provide an interest, and we can link out to people in the world who are engaging in various relevant activities.

Look for influencers who the students might relate to, for example:

You are looking for social media case studies of people trying to make a difference.

You might also explore stories like:

Greta and the giants — Zoe Tucker

Here we are — Oliver Jeffers

Think also about ‘proximity’. Consider: 

  • Local issues — What is happening in your local neighbourhood — take pictures from around the school and the local area. Find local environmental or social issues
  • Issues in the school, e.g. Bullying, children missing school, children not eating before they come to school, etc.
  •  Local flora and fauna

Think about ‘connection’. Is the topic interesting for the students, does it try to include all of them, how important a topic is it? Good things in life aren’t just about making money.

Ideas should be student led, but teacher (school) supported, e.g. refillable glue sticks, biodegradable flower pots; refillable water bottles. Meat free Mondays — the idea comes from the students, but the teacher presents it to other staff, or the head teacher.

Project ideas can be presented to others via public speaking, or making videos about the topic. These could be presented at assemblies, or parent teacher meetings as ‘good news stories’.

Set the children a homework of finding TikTok videos about deforestation. This helps them do something meaningful with social media, helps to reset their algorithm.

Set up an Eco club and clean up the local park, area surrounding the school, etc. Litter picking is always a good starter activity.

Listen to what the students say to you about their lives and make suggestions back about what they can do.

Encourage students to tell others about what they are doing in different ways, give a presentation, make a video, write a blog post, make art, write poetry.

Go on protests with your students.

Clothes swap/ present swap/ letter writing campaigns/ invite in the local councillor.


Developing language teacher quality and resilience in fragile contexts through inquiry-led practice

 This is a summary of a paper given at the 2022 Africa ELT conference

 Gary Motteram, Kouadio Appia and Susan Dawson[1]


This paper reports on a two-year project that explored the potential role of inquiry-led practice in four schools in a small rural town in Côte d’Ivoire. The project started just before the Covid-19 pandemic and while there was a period when schools were closed, and there was no activity, once schools re-opened in Côte d’Ivoire the project was brought to a successful conclusion and the groups of teachers presented the inquiry-led projects they worked on at an online conference.

The paper will describe our model of inquiry-led practice and show how the teachers interacted with the model to begin to work on their inquiries. It will show how the teachers got to grips with inquiry-led practice and how the remote mentors worked to help shape the activities in the schools. It will talk about the choice of topics and why these were important to the teachers, and present the teachers’ solutions alongside of feedback from the students (as reported by the teachers). It will also present the views of the teachers at the end of the project and show whether there had been an impact on their practice and their thoughts about how such practice might be maintained. Finally, it will present a document which models the practice, and which can be used by other teacher groups to introduce inquiry-led practice into their own contexts.

Keywords: inquiry-led practice, digital tools, teacher education

Developing language teacher quality and resilience in fragile contexts through inquiry-led practice

The work described in this paper has developed out of a number of projects, each one building on the last. It represents a search for the effective and efficient ways of providing teacher education in what are often referred to as challenging circumstances (Kuchah & Shamin, 2018)), or fragile contexts. The activity often takes places in low- and mid-income countries, although in one case the project took place in Manchester, UK. In this case the difficult circumstance talked about was that of students who are refugees trying to learn English during the pandemic.

The earlier work had focused on teacher development that made use of what can be described as low-tech applications (apps), and they focused on the feasibility and possibilities for using these tools. An assumption in all these projects was access to a compatible mobile and internet data. The apps we are talking here about instant messaging systems like WhatsApp, or Telegram and video conference tools like Zoom. Inquiry-led practice was an additional focus of this project, as we felt that we had shown that using these apps was a possibility and had also shown that teacher development was occurring (Motteram, Dawson & Al Masri, 2020; Motteram, Al-Masri, Hamouda & Omarali) and we wanted to explore a particular way of conducing teacher education.



The original plan for this project was a mixture of face-to-face meetings with online support, making use mostly of WhatsApp online, as we experienced it in previous studies (Motteram, Dawson & Al Masri, 2020; Motteram, Al-Masri, Hamouda & Omarali,), but with the addition of Zoom. Following on from the results of the work we had undertaken in Jordan, we also asked in the bid document for funding to cover the costs of online data both for the face-to-face meetings, as well as for when the teachers were working independently. We also included costs for a mobile router which was used during the face-to-face sessions. However, the plans were interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and while we did have an initial visit, subsequent interaction was conducted online.


There were three teacher educators from Côte d’Ivoire. One who headed up the English language teacher education team for the Ministry of Education, the local head of teacher English education in the town where the project was based and a colleague from a local education college with a particular interest in learning technologies. They worked in conjunction with the three teacher educators from the Manchester Institute of Education (MIE). The plan had been to work with the English language teachers at the different schools in this small rural town, situated to the west of Abidjan, working both face-to-face and online. All the English teachers were invited to participate. We were also joined by local trainees in some sessions. Numbers of teachers engaging in the process varied, but when we restarted in January 2021, there were 18 teachers spread across 4 schools. The majority of the teachers were male, reflecting the dominance of men in ELT in Côte d’Ivoire. Each colleague from Côte d’Ivoire paired up with a colleague from MIE and worked as joint mentors to different schools.

Project process

We started off by introducing Inquiry-led Practice (ILP). ILP means that the teaching and learning that happens in our classrooms is informed by the research we do as teachers. We call it ‘inquiry-led practice’ because we believe that exploring our classrooms and investigating what happens there is important for our own professional development and for helping to make our classrooms “pleasant and productive” (Allwright, 2003). It means that we are continually looking at our practice and working hard to understand it better through inquiry. One of the outputs from the project is a workbook that people can use to do their own projects:–RnqTce62JiDLtlq9pTMx4aFQPFsqZA/edit?usp=sharing.

The teachers then worked on their own projects, going through different phases of identifying the issue that they were going to focus on, considering how to collect initial data. They mostly used questionnaires, but also observation and student feedback gathered in the class as a part of the lesson. They analysed this data to try to get a better understanding on what was happening in their classrooms. They then designed an intervention which they introduced, collected and analysed further data. At the end of the project they presented their work to the local teacher community and representatives from the Ministry of Education. You can view the presentations here:

Data collection

While the teachers were conducting their ILP projects, the teacher educators were also collecting data. Data included interactions from the online tools, so the WhatsApp discussions, Zoom meetings, teacher produced materials, diaries kept by the teacher educators and also end of project focus groups and interviews with the participants. At the time of writing, the data set has not been fully analysed and what is presented next are some initial descriptive results.


Each group working in a school learned the basics of how the ILP process works and underwent a round of ILP. They were all able to agree an issue to focus on, collect data to understand their puzzle and introduce an intervention. There were four groups and they explored: why the students didn’t see the importance of English; whether how the teachers monitored the students in class made a difference; learners’ motivation to study English, and why students need to make use of translation. All the groups were able to bring the findings of the process together in a presentation, so in essence there are two levels of results in this article. The presentations are on the project blog:

Feedback that we got from the translation group was as follows:

Our project teachers found something interesting. Firstly, they began to think more about how they used L1 in the classroom (rather than just thinking about translation) and whether there might be times when L1 was useful and helpful. They thought it would be good to continue to try to reduce the amount of L1 used by everyone, but they also recognised, “that we can’t have zero translation or zero use of L1 as we are in a French-speaking country.” They also observed that it seemed easier to reduce the amount of L1 in the literary classes rather than in the science classes. They have a new question: How can we motivate the science students more?

We got some very useful feedback from the participants as a part of the interview process.

“[Doing teacher research helps] you becoming an honest teacher. You’re realizing that we’re not perfect, and you understand that you must question yourself about what is really going on in the classroom” (C)

“… because this project helped me have a new way, a new vision of the job I have chosen to do all my life, because really, putting, as I can say, the student in the centre of my work, in the centre of my teaching” (Morris)

“… for this project we had the opportunity to work together, and know each other more deeply” (D)

“… with my students the project has changed something, because it allowed the students to be more confident, to have self-confidence” (G)

While we made use of WhatsApp, in this project it became a management tool and discussions around pedagogy occurred in the hybrid spaces when the teachers met with their local mentors face-to-face and with the Manchester mentors online. There were larger group meetings, which the local mentors attended, as well as small support group meetings with the teachers in their schools; these occurred during the working day. This latter type of meeting proved an effective way of working. The groups would gather around one mobile phone to discuss their ongoing projects with the mentors who in these meetings were all remote.


Even though the project was interrupted by the pandemic, we were still able to complete it and the teachers remained motivated throughout. They managed to engage effectively with the ILP process and reported positive experiences from their classrooms and new understandings related to the issues that they had explored. In this project Zoom proved more valuable enabling the mentoring support, although both WhatsApp and Padlet were also used.

We managed to produce a guide for other teachers on ILP, the link is above and we hope that other teachers will be able to make use of this.


Allwright, D. (2003). Exploratory Practice: rethinking practitioner research in language teaching. Language Teaching Research, 7(2), 113–141.

Kuchah K., & Shamim, F. (2018). International Perspectives on Teaching English in Difficult Circumstances Contexts, Challenges and Possibilities. Palgrave Macmillan.

Motteram, G., Al-Masri, N., Hamouda, H. and Omarali, S. (2020). Exploring Mobile Support for English Language Teachers in a Context of Conflict: Syrian Refugee Teachers in Jordan. In Fassetta, G., Al-Masri, N. and Phipps, A. (Eds.). Multilingual Online Academic Collaborations as Resistance: Crossing Impassable Borders. Multilingual Matters.

Motteram, G., Dawson, S., & Al-Masri, N. (2020). WhatsApp supported language teacher development: A case study in the Zataari refugee camp. Education and Information Technologies, 1–21.


[1] We would like to acknowledge the work of the other local mentors: Adi Aubain and Fofana Mamadou, as well as all of the teachers who engaged in the research process.