Towards a multimodal approach to Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) in Higher Education


This article seeks to highlight the need for a new approach to Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) in Higher Education. Essentially, it advocates the adoption of a multimodal approach to LSP learning and teaching, in order to enable learners to communicate effectively in the twenty-first century world of digital media and multimodalities, and to negotiate the complexities of a multimodal communicative landscape which has become deeply complex.

The article begins by clarifying the parameters of the concept of LSP in a Higher Education context in order to establish a clear theoretical framework for this study. It subsequently demonstrates the capacity of LSP learning and teaching to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of learners by highlighting how approaches to LSP have already evolved over time. The article then outlines the challenges facing LSP teaching and learning in today’s world in an effort to identify the type of approach required by learners today to prepare them to communicate effectively within the discourse communities of their relevant disciplines. It emphasises that the current communicative landscape is deeply complex with digital technologies mediating many of our daily interactions. As the rise in multimodality is a particularly striking feature of technologically mediated communication, it argues that LSP teaching and learning needs to incorporate a much wider range of semiotic resources in order to prepare learners to negotiate the communicate landscape of their occupational discourse community. The article thus advocates the use of a multimodal approach to LSP in Higher Education and examines how on a practical level this approach can be applied in the Higher Education classroom. It takes the example of digital video creation and explores the pedagogical potential of this multimodal teaching and learning tool and concludes by suggesting that LSP practitioners consider integrating other multimodal teaching and learning activities in the Higher Education classroom.


At this point, it is essential to clarify exactly what the term LSP refers to in a Higher Education context.  LSP is already a term with many applications, definitions and interpretations. Sager, Dungsworth and McDonald (1980, p.68) define it as ‘specialist-to-specialist’ communication. This ‘specialist’ dimension to LSP means that this term, by its nature, normally refers to teaching and learning languages within the context of Higher Education or professional development. However, Sager, Dungsworth and McDonald’s definition does not necessarily include the situation for the language learner who may not yet be a specialist in their domain, a factor which is particularly important when examining LSP within the sphere of Higher Education. Chambers (1996, p.233) emphasises the need to take into account that different levels of specialisation may exist amongst learners:

The view that special language can exist at any stage from popularisation level to the highest level of knowledge of the subject is particularly relevant to the situation of language learners, who may initially be non-specialists both in the language and in the subject which they are studying.

Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998, pp.4-5) provide a detailed definition of English for Specific Purposes (ESP), arguing that ESP is designed to meet specific needs of the learner, using the underlying methodology and activities of the disciplines it serves, and is centred on the language, skills, discourse and genres appropriate to these activities. This definition essentially highlights the core concepts of LSP, that it is driven by the need to respond to students’ specific linguistic needs, and uses the methodologies and activities needed to meet these needs. Particularly relevant in this context is the definition of LSP as the language used by a particular discourse community.  The term discourse community has been widely used over the last 30 years in applied language studies as a way of recognizing that communications operate within conventions and expectations established by communities of various kinds (Swales, 2016, p.5). In this context we are referring to professional or occupational discourse communities. This view of LSP is consolidated by Arnó-Macià (2014, p.5) who argues that ‘since LSP teaching aims at helping students enter particular discourse communities, its methodology draws on relevant activities and practices’. We will take this definition of LSP as a form of language teaching driven by students’ specific needs as our framework and we will view the LSP teacher’s role in Higher Education as one which aims to prepare students to eventually become part of, and communicate effectively within their relevant occupational discourse community, be it in the domain of medicine, law, science, business or other. Given that we are focussing on LSP within the Higher Education context, we will also be conscious that in many instances the learners are non-specialists both in terms of the language they are studying and their primary area of study. The definition of LSP as a form of language teaching driven by students’ specific needs necessarily implies that as students’ needs evolve, so too must approaches to language teaching and learning in this area.


The area of LSP has already undergone dramatic change since it first emerged as a teaching and research area in the 1960s.  As mentioned in the previous section, LSP by its nature is driven by the need to respond to students’ specific linguistic needs.  As learners’ needs have changed so too has LSP research and practice, in many instances in response to challenges posed by developments in language teaching research and external factors such as increasing globalisation and developments in communication and instructional technologies.

3.1 The evolution of LSP

While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of this domain, Gollin-Kies, Hall and Moore (2015, p.18) cite several examples of specialised goal-oriented courses as far back as 1907 when German as a Foreign Language was introduced into the curriculum of a medical school in Shanghai, China. They also mention the publication of a 1932 book to teach medical Arabic to medical workers in Syria and Palestine (2015, p.18). However, the emergence of LSP as a self-identified field is generally traced to the 1960s when Halliday, McIntosh and Strevens (1964) highlighted the lack of investigation into the specialised material required to teach English to groups with specific linguistic needs such as power station engineers in India or police inspectors in Nigeria. They argued for a specific approach to meet the linguistic needs of such learners:

Only the merest fraction of investigation has yet been carried out into just what parts of a conventional course in English are needed by, let us say, power station engineers in India, or police inspectors in Nigeria; even less is known about precisely what specialized material is required.  This is one of the tasks for which linguistics must be called in.  Every one of these specialized needs requires, before it can be met by appropriate teaching materials, detailed studies of restricted languages and special registers carried out on the basis of large samples of the language used by the particular persons concerned (1964, pp.189-190)

The need for a form of specialised language teaching to respond to students’ specific professional needs was thus born.  In today’s world, the goals of LSP remains similar with teachers and researchers in the field of LSP still developing specific approaches to respond to students’ specialised  linguistic needs.

Early approaches to LSP research were determined by the above-cited passage.  Swales (2000, p.59) describes this early LSP research as ‘descriptive’, ‘synchronic’ and ‘basically textual or transcriptal’, relying on ‘functional grammar’ (2000, p.59). These early studies tended to be largely, quantitative, lexicostatistical studies providing information on specialist terminology, and which syntactic structures occurred most frequently in scientific prose and they informed the design of many early LSP courses (Chambers, 1996, p.233).  However, while the goals of LSP teaching remain similar even today, the approaches to LSP have undergone considerable change from the initial descriptive, textual tradition of work in LSP.

Over time, there were challenges to the simplistic relationship between linguistic analysis and classroom activities (Widdowson, 1998; Hutchinson and Waters, 1987).  One of the major influences on theory and practice in LSP was the development of the communicative approach to language learning, which alongside developments in research in discourse analysis, changed the focus of LSP courses from the written language to the inclusion of the spoken language as well and established the fundamental importance of the communicative character and purpose of language (Chambers, 1996, pp.233-234).  Other influences such as the use of corpus linguistics in the design and delivery of LSP courses (Rodgers, Chambers and Le-Baron, 2011), and the development of the content and language integrated learning (CLIL) approach (Dalton-Puffer, Nikula and Smit, 2010, p.1) also changed the landscape of LSP research. The definition of LSP as the language used by a particular discourse community (Swales, 1990, p.24) also provided a key framework for the design and content of LSP courses from the 1990s on and mapped out a path for research in specialist language use.  As the language teacher’s role became one to prepare learners for membership of a particular discourse community, research was needed to identify the relevant discourse community and analyse its use of language (Chambers, 1996, p.234).

It is thus clear that while the initial goals of LSP remained to respond to students’ specific linguistic needs, the approaches used to do this evolved to become more varied, incorporating new methodologies with a greater focus on the communicative character and the need to prepare students to enter specific occupational discourse communities.

3.2 Current challenges to LSP

In recent years, the field of LSP has been further shaped by factors such as increasing globalisation,  the development of new communication technologies and advances in instructional technology.

Globalisation has led to an increased demand for the teaching of foreign languages for specific purposes (Gollin-Kies, Hall and Moore, 2015, p.35; Über-Grosse and Voght, 2012, p.191) and one of the challenges of LSP teaching is to prepare students for ‘globalized academic and professional contexts’ (Arnó-Macià, 2014, p.15). With rapid globalisation there has been a correspondingly increased demand for bilingual/multilingual education and training, business and travel, which has in turn necessitated language instruction directly relevant to those activities (Gollin-Kies, Hall and Moore, 2015, p.35). The need for students to be able to communicate effectively in globalised academic and professional contexts is thus greater than ever before and the manner in which  communication within discourse communities takes place has undergone considerable changes in recent years.

Access to digital technology has increased exponentially.  New modes of online communication are proliferating personal and professional lives and learners are living in a society where the use of technology is an integral aspect of everyday living. In 1999, less than 5% of the world’s population had access to the internet; by 2018 this figure has grown to 55.1%[1]. Prensky (2001) distinguished between digital natives (born into the digital era) and digital immigrants (those who grew up in the pre-digital era). Our students are arguably digital natives (Prensky and Heppell, 2008) capable of dealing with multi-modal and digital texts which require non-sequential processing (Dal, 2010, p.2).  Our students freely participate on mobile devices in a wide range of social media, online forums, chat, blogs and personal websites. There is widespread ownership of mobile technologies such as media players, tablets and smartphones. There have also been improvements in connectivity, Bluetooth, GPRS, storage and processing (Duman, Orhon and Gedik, 2014, p.198).  In terms of Higher Education, courses can be delivered totally online or in blended formats and all of these factors have created a new dimension to how we communicate and how we learn languages.

Advances in instructional technology have also played a major role in reshaping education, and particularly language education by providing possibilities for learning in ways far beyond sitting in a traditional classroom (Duman, Orhon and Gedik, 2014, p.197). Most language classes (both general and LSP classes) are now taught using the support of computer-based multimedia in the form of audio, graphics or video and the internet is also a regular feature of language teaching and learning (Burston, 2016, p.3). Developments in computer assisted language learning (CALL), mobile assisted language learning (MALL) and computer-mediated communication (CMC) have transformed the language classroom and have enabled researchers and teachers to use it as a venue to test out technology-based projects aimed at empowering language learners (Dugartsyrenova and Sardegna, 2016, p.5). While the above-mentioned advances have changed the landscape of language learning in Higher Education in general, they have created particularly exciting and dynamic opportunities for language learning in an LSP context, by providing gateways to specialised discipline knowledge and students’ relevant discourse communities (Arnó-Macià, 2014, p.12).

While globalisation has increased the need for learners to communicate effectively in globalised discourse communities, advances in communication technology and instructional technology simultaneously offer exciting opportunities and pose challenges to LSP in Higher Education. Teaching and learning in this area must take account of how learners communicate in today’s world and how they will be required to communicate within their occupational discourse community.  As established in the section on “Languages for Specific Purposes in Higher Education”, we are viewing the LSP teacher’s role as to prepare students to communicate effectively in their relevant occupational discourse community, and teaching methodologies in this area must evolve in accordance with this goal.

3.3 Current approaches to LSP

LSP research has begun to take account of the above-mentioned changes in technology both in terms of advances in communication technology and instructional technology.  The role of IT in different areas of LSP research (Arnó-Macía, Soler and Rueda Ramos, 2006) and the design and implementation of online LSP materials (Gonzáles-Pueyo, Foz, Jaime and Luzón, 2009) have been studied.  Researchers acknowledge that developments in CALL, applied linguistics and the pervasive use of technology in communication have revolutionised LSP teaching (Arnó-Macià, 2012, p.89). Über-Grosse and Voght (2012, p.191) underline that technology gives LSP learners ‘instant access to current information about target languages and cultures’ and that the Internet has ‘made it possible for LSP teachers and learners to access instantly rich resources of authentic language materials in their content field’. Laborda (2011, p.106) also highlights that because of the internet, ‘LSP materials that were difficult to find until recently (…) are now readily accessible and usually free’. Similarly, Arnó-Macià (2012, p.89) outlines the ways in which emerging technologies have been integrated into the LSP classroom:

Through technology, LSP teachers and researchers can access discipline-specific materials and situations and compile corpora of specialized texts.  Computer-mediated communication provides learning tools and a gateway to the discourse community.  Technology also provides opportunities for collaborating, creating virtual environments and online courses, and fostering learner autonomy.

More recently Bárcena, Read and Arús’ (2014) edited volume looks at LSP in the digital era and examines the impact of developments in the use of technologies such as CALL, wikis, corpus-based approaches and natural language processing on LSP, while the Gollin-Kies, Hall and Moore (2015) volume also looks at the impact of new technologies on LSP teaching and learning in the 21st century in their volume on LSP. It is evident that the contemporary globalised world of technological advances is already impacting approaches to teaching and learning in this area with researchers exploring how the above-mentioned technologies can be integrated into LSP teaching.

Researchers in the field also underline the need to re-evaluate approaches to LSP.  Arnó-Macià (2014, p.3), for example, highlights the need to re-evaluate approaches to LSP within the context of technological advances:

Traditionally, LSP has been a multi-disciplinary activity involving collaboration, engagement with disciplinary knowledge, innovation and flexibility, and interaction in authentic situations with realistic materials.  Since LSP aims at helping students communicate successfully in academic and professional settings, it is necessary to explore how IT has affected specialized communication and how its potential can be harnessed for educational purposes.

Gollin-Kies, Hall and Moore (2015, p.45) have also highlighted that ‘the globalised twenty-first-century world of multimodalities and multiliteracies, not to mention multilinguality demands a rethinking of approaches to language and learning’. While this comment was made in the context of their discussion of newer pedagogies applied to LSP such as Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), Community Service Learning (CSL) and the trend towards constructivist approaches to LSP such as task-based and problem-based learning, it nevertheless highlights the need to rethink approaches to teaching in this area on the basis of the intersection of the aforementioned factors of globalisation, new technologies and new approaches to language and learning. It is not just a question of harnessing new technologies for LSP teaching and learning, but rather a question of how these technologies intersect with learners needs, and in what way they should be used to prepare them to communicate effectively.


What type of approach then is most suited to LSP learning and teaching in contemporary times?  This article advocates the adoption of a multimodal approach to respond to LSP learners needs in the 21st century for a number of reasons (see below). Before examining these reasons however, it is vital that we clarify exactly what is meant when using the terms “multimodality” or “a multimodal approach”. The concept of multimodality is underpinned by the idea that language is only one of many communicative resources through which meaning is created, conveyed and interpreted (Jewitt, 2008; Kress and van Leeuwen, 2001).  Kress and van Leeuwen (2001, p.20) define multimodality as follows:

the use of several semiotic modes in the design of a semiotic product or event, together with the particular way in which these modes are combined – they may for instance reinforce each other (…), fulfil complementary roles (…) or be hierarchically ordered.

A ‘mode’ can be defined as ‘the type of semiotic representation (textual, aural and visual) used to present information’ (Guichon and Cohen 2016, p.510) or ‘a regularised organised set of resources for meaning-making, including, image, gaze, gesture, movement, music, speech and sound-effect’ (Jewitt and Kress, 2003, p.1). ‘Modality’ on the other hand corresponds to ‘the semiotic realisation of one mode; for instance, the visual modality of videoconferencing is realised through the webcam image’ (Guichon and Cohen, 2016, p.510). Social semiotics emphasises the social context of communication and the way in which meaning is created and shaped through our choice of resources, whether image, text or a combination of resources (Marchetti and Cullen, 2016, p.41). The choice of modes is thus a key factor when shaping meaning.

The application of a multimodal approach to language teaching thus ‘focuses on the combination of text, audio and image as individual modes and how these can be creatively combined to produce meaning [and] encourage interaction and learning in the classroom’ (Marchetti and Cullen, 2016, p.39). Van Leeuwen (2014, p.281) also refers to multimodality as ‘the integrated use of different semiotic resources (e.g. language, image, sound and music) in texts and communicative events’.  A multimodal approach to language learning thus implies the use of a wide variety of semiotic resources in the language classroom through the use of a range of multimodal strategies in teaching and learning activities.  It can be argued that any learning activity, language or otherwise, is naturally multimodal as teachers use a variety of semiotic resources to convey information. These resources may include their voices, gestures, body language, written texts, powerpoint presentations, video, audio resources and others. It can further be argued that learning is more effective when information is presented in more than one mode. Mayer and Anderson (1992), for example, showed that when learners were studying the operation of a bicycle tire pump, their understanding was better when a dual coding model was used, i.e. animation presented concurrently with narration.

4.1 Why a multimodal approach?

This article advocates the adoption of a multimodal approach to LSP learning for four main reasons: to prepare LSP learners to negotiate the complexity of the communicative landscape of their relevant occupational discourse community; to enhance their LSP language learning experience; to assist in the acquisition of professional and social competences; to keep pace with this rise in multimodality afforded by digital media.

As already mentioned, the current communicative landscape is complex with digital technologies mediating many of our daily interactions.  The rise in multimodality is a particularly striking trend in technologically-mediated communication with oral, written and visual channels of communication converging all of the time.  If we consider, for example, the multimodal ways in which meanings are made on the World Wide Web or in interactive multimedia, the convergence of all kinds of media together with the proliferation of new media increases the need to develop pedagogies which “empower learners of all kinds to engage critically and effectively with them” (Gollin-Kies, Hall and Moore, 2015, p.44).  These changes in communication have strong implications for approaches to language learning and teaching:

Changes in communication inevitably lead to changes in language and require the language teacher to be aware of and contemplate the implications of these complex phenomena.  (Marchetti and Cullen, 2016, p.41)

Early, Kendrick and Potts (2015, p.448) also draw attention to the key argument of scholars of multimodality, that the full range of semiotic resources must be addressed when making sense of today’s complex communicative landscape:

Scholars of multimodality (…) have long argued that understanding the contemporary communicative landscape requires addressing the full range of semiotic resources used within a community and/ or society.  That landscape includes the constantly shifting digital technologies that mediate many of our daily interactions (…).

While Early, Kendrick and Potts (2015) and Marchetti and Cullen (2016) were referring to language learners in general, it is particularly important for LSP learners to keep pace with changes in communication as it is a central tenet of LSP teaching and learning that their language learning be realistic (García Laborda, 2011, pp.104), that they use ‘real world’ language in ‘real life situations’ (Secules, Herron and Tomasello, 1992), that they keep pace with how “technology is used in real-life professional practices” (Arnó-Macía, 2014, pp.15-16).  Communication in the 21st century is complex, proliferated by digital technologies which blend a variety of modes to create meaning and LSP learners must be able to negotiate this multimodal communicative landscape in order to enter their relevant occupational discourse community and communicate effectively within it.  In their learning, they must therefore address all semiotic resources to keep pace with the complexity of communication in contemporary society.

The use of a multimodal approach also enhances the language learning experience of the LSP learner. Firstly, it enables LSP teachers and students engage with large amounts of multimodal data which provide excellent opportunities for language learning (Gollin-Kies, Hall and Moore, 2015, p.43). It is also clear that while a multimodal approach to learning in general is effective, it is particularly effective when it comes to language.  If anything, the notion of multimodality enables us to address the richness of human communication which involves the use different modes of communication to convey meaning (Marchetti and Valente, 2017, p.260). Vigliocco, Perniss and Vinson (2014) highlight for example that language learning cannot exclusively focus on the dual categories of text and speech, that other elements such as gestures must also be considered as channels of expression. Learners must engage with different semiotic resources in the course of their language learning as other modes can play a critical role in the language acquisition trajectory.  While several of the above-mentioned arguments can be applied to language learning in general, they are particularly relevant for LSP learners as they are aiming to enter very specific discourse communities. They must thus be equipped with the competencies necessary to engage with all of the semiotic resources which form part of the communicative fabric of that discourse community.

Martínez Lirola (2016, p.77) further highlights the role of a multimodal approach in the acquisition of social competences, arguing that that the use of multimodal activities and resources in the foreign language classroom enables students to ‘increase their motivation and acquire different social competences that will be useful for the labour market such as communication, cooperation, leadership or conflict management’. While Lirola is referring to general language learners, this factor is particularly important for the LSP learner who is preparing to enter a professional discourse community. Arnó-Macía (2014, p.9) also highlights the role played by LSP courses in the development of professional communication skills. A multimodal approach helps LSP learners to acquire social and professional skills vital for communication within their discourse community.

The concept of multimodality in language learning is not a revolutionary one.  It can be argued that language has always been multimodal and it has always been ‘a mixture of sound, words, images created in the mind, and gestures used in contexts full of objects, sounds, actions and interactions’ (Gee and Hayes, 2011, p.1). It can further be argued that while multimodal perspectives on teaching and learning languages are only appearing in literature on language learning in recent years, many teachers were already intuitively incorporating multimodal practices and elements to their teaching (Knox, 2008, p.140). However, what has changed and continues to evolve, is communication in contemporary society. For the LSP learner, it is particularly important to keep pace with the rise in multimodality afforded by digital media as it is a central tenet of LSP that their language learning must be both contextualised and authentic (see Section on ‘Digital Video Creation in LSP’).


On a practical level, how can a multimodal approach be applied to LSP in Higher Education? Here we take the example of digital video creation as a multimodal teaching and learning tool. Digital video creation provides an ideal example of a multimodal language learning activity as it uniquely enables learners to engage with a very wide range of modes including text, audio, still and moving images, music, speech and gesture to create meaning. While the area of video creation in LSP is largely unexplored, research in the related fields of LSP and video in the language classroom in general, point to video creation as a particularly appropriate multimodal teaching and learning tool in LSP.

5.1 Video in the language classroom

In terms of video in the language classroom, video-based methodologies are well-established in second language teaching. According to Goldstein and Driver (2015, p.1), the earliest paper on the subject dates back to 1947 and was an article by J.E. Travis on ‘The Use of the Film in Language Teaching and Learning’. In 1983, Willis established key roles for video in the classroom such as language focus, skills practice, stimulus and resource material (Willis, 1983, pp.29-42) and during the 1980s and 1990s, a vast quantity of video materials were specifically developed for use in the foreign language classroom, and language methodologists encouraged teachers to integrate video into foreign language teaching (Allan, 1985; Cooper, Lavery and Rinvolucri, 1991). However, during the 1980s and 1990s, video was largely used as a static resource with classroom activities centred around viewing and listening to the video, or teaching the culture of the target language (Gardner, 1994; Nikitina, 2010). Video was often seen as a type of reward or light relief, often shown on a Friday afternoon or at the end of term.

However, in recent years, advances in digital technology have created exciting opportunities for using video in language teaching and learning. Video digital technology has made it easier to produce and edit video in a classroom setting as it is highly accessible with much of the technology already existing on students’ mobile phones, ipods and ipads.  On the internet, video editing software such as Windows Movie Maker can be downloaded for free and students can edit their videos easily. Research on video production as a tool for language learning and teaching has thus started to emerge with researchers examining the potential of digital video creation as a tool to enhance language learning.  (Dal, 2010; Goldstein and Driver, 2015; Hafner and Miller, 2011; Shrosbee, 2008). Several case studies have been carried out in which researchers evaluated the effectiveness of video-making projects conducted in their own language classrooms (Goulah, 2007; Gromik, 2012; Kearney, Jones and Roberts 2012; Naqvi and Mahrooqi, 2016; Nikitina, 2010; Reyes, Pich and Garcia, 2012).  Between 2008 and 2010, the European funded Divis project (Digital video streaming and multilingualism) also aimed to encourage, motivate and equip language teachers to include video production in their teaching[2]. The abovementioned studies demonstrate that digital video creation is not a new idea, and indicate that it is becoming an increasingly popular practice amongst researchers and teachers. However, it is also clear that very little research has been conducted on the integration of digital video creation in language teaching, and even less on its implications for developing language skills and other skills such as critical thinking, social and collaborative skills (Naqvi and Mahrooqi, 2016, p.51). Caws and Heift (2016, p.129) further argue that ‘the current culture of CALL, and, more specifically, the growing role of digital media in the daily life of learners, cannot be ignored’.

5.2 Digital video creation in LSP

Research in the field of LSP also points to digital video creation as a very appropriate multimodal teaching and learning activity in this domain. Firstly, LSP is traditionally a multidisciplinary activity which requires the learner to engage not just with the target language but also with disciplinary knowledge. Digital video creation enables language learners to link the learning of the target language with the learning of other content linked to their discipline. It further enables them to do this within a realistic context, reinforcing the principle that tasks for LSP learners should be as realistic for the learners’ language goals as possible (Laborda, 2011, p.104) and use ‘real-world’ language in ‘real-life’ situations (Secules, Herron and Tomasello, 1992). LSP learners can thus blend language learning with disciplinary learning in a ‘real-world’ multimodal context through video production.

LSP teaching must also move with developments in new technologies as it is vital that ‘LSP methodologies should be rooted in how technology is used in real-life professional practices’ (Arnó-Macià, 2014, pp.15-16). Video creation also assists the LSP learner in the acquisition of a wider range of professional and social skills. Arnó-Macià (2014, p.9) draws attention to the centrality of social and critical skills for the LSP learner, arguing that LSP courses play a vital role in the integration of professional communication skills with key social and critical competences that students need to participate in society. It is particularly important that LSP learners acquire those communication skills necessary to participate in 21st century society. Goldstein and Driver (2015, p.117) cite the acquisition of ‘21st century skills’ as amongst the goals of any digital video creation project:

The primary goals are situating language through practical engagement in the creation of digital artefacts. This is achieved through the process of guided reflection, critical thinking, performance, debate, design, creativity and other competences often referred to as ‘21st century skills’.

Video production enables LSP learners to think critically about the topic they have chosen to present, to express their ideas and opinions, to debate, to perform and above all to be creative.  It gives learners choices, not only about what to say, but also how to say it and how to present a point of view (Dal, 2010, p.5).  The development of these skills is vital for the LSP learner, and the use of this tool further enables them to do so in a multimodal context, allowing them the choice to select particular modes to shape the meaning they wish to create (see Section on ‘Towards a multimodal approach to LSP’).

The task-based nature of digital video creation is equally advantageous for the LSP learner. Video production is very much a learner-centred, practical, hands-on, creative project. It is essentially a form of task-based learning which embraces the social constructivist view of constructing knowledge and meaning in a social context through practice (Arnó-Macià, 2014, p.14; Goldstein and Driver, 2015, p.118). Nikitina (2010, p.22) argues video-making projects include all the core elements of progressive language pedagogy.

(…) involving language learners in the production of digital video in the target language follows constructivist perspectives on teaching and learning since the main tenets of progressive language pedagogy, such as learner-centeredness, activity-based learning, and a communicative approach, put emphasis on the active involvement of the learners in the teaching/learning process and call for collaboration between learners.  All these elements are present in the video-making activity.

Through video creation LSP learners learn to negotiate meaning through the creation of a digital artefact. Students become ‘producers’ of language (Dal, 2010, p.3; Shrosbee, 2008, p.75).  This is vital in language learning as every human is both a producer and a consumer of language and digital media enable learners to be both producers and consumers of language (Gee and Hayes, 2011, pp. 2-3).  By producing videos on subject areas relevant to their discipline, they produce language, negotiate meaning, communicate and collaborate and thus engage in a multimodal language learning activity which is both meaningful and pedagogically effective.

5.3 Digital video creation in the LSP classroom; a case study[3]

In 2017, a study was carried out with students in the National University of Ireland, Galway.  The study was based on a digital video creation project carried out with a group of second year undergraduate students on the BSc in Biotechnology programme, who also studied French as part of their programme. The students were asked to create short videos in French on areas of contemporary Biotechnology research of their choice, and produced videos on a variety of topics including hybrid embryos, genetically modified foods, the Zika, animal testing in Biotechnology research etc. The effectiveness of this multimodal teaching and learning tool was subsequently evaluated through an investigation of student perceptions of the usefulness of this activity, and a subsequent comparison of this data with an analysis of the digital artefacts created. The quantitative and qualitative data gathered was indicative of an overwhelmingly positive response to the use of this tool in LSP. The participants in this study found it to be a very helpful means of improving their language skills, especially in the domain of the acquisition of specialised vocabulary. In particular, the usefulness of this project to improve their pronunciation, accent and general speaking skills was highlighted, and participants explained that digital video creation gives learners the unique opportunity to see and hear themselves and to self-correct before submitting the final product. Teamwork, organisational, communication and video production skills were all identified as key competencies acquired during the course of this project, thus demonstrating that video creation can play a key role in the acquisition of professional and social skills, a factor identified as a key tenet of LSP courses (see section of ‘Why adopt a multimodal approach’). ‘Fun’ was a frequent term used by students in feedback gathered, and responses showed that that students appreciated the opportunities to creative and to engage in task-based learning that this project gave them. Students thus perceived digital video creation as more than just a means to improve their language skills, but also as a means to acquire other key social and professional skills in a creative and fun way. The analysis of the videos indicated that these findings could be substantiated, and the high quality of the videos produced demonstrated that engaging in digital video production had had a strong impact on these learners.  The analysis also revealed that the students had engaged with a variety of modes when creating the videos including moving images, still images, speech, audio, music, gestures and text. They had chosen particular semiotic modes and combined them in specific ways to create meaning (see Section on ‘Towards a multimodal approach to LSP’).

This study corroborated studies which point to video creation as a pedagogically useful tool for language learning and teaching and highlighted the pedagogical potential of this multimodal teaching and learning tool in the LSP classroom. Above all, it gives a very practical example as to how a multimodal approach can be integrated into LSP courses in Higher Education. It demonstrates that digital video creation enables learners to keep pace with the multimodality afforded by digital media and means that their language learning is both contextualised and authentic. The application of this multimodal tool also assists LSP learners in the acquisition of those professional, social and communication skills deemed necessary to participate in 21st century society (see section on ‘Digital video creation in LSP’).


LSP learners in Higher Education are in a unique situation in the sense that they are non-specialists both in terms of the language they are studying and their primary area of study.  They are, however, seeking to enter the discourse community of their discipline and as language teachers, our role is to use the methodologies and activities necessary to help them to achieve this goal. The field of LSP is thus, by its nature, driven by the need to respond to students’ linguistic needs. This article demonstrated how LSP has evolved over the years in response to the changing needs of learners (Sections 1 and 2.2) and in recent years factors such as increasing globalisation and the development of new communication technologies have transformed LSP teaching and learning (Section 2.3).  However, several researchers have highlighted the need to rethink approaches to LSP in light of the complexity of today’s communicative landscape (Section 3).  Digital technologies mediate many of our daily interactions and the rise in multimodalities is a strong feature of technologically-mediated communication. This article advocates the application of a multimodal approach to LSP learning in Higher Education so that learners can engage with a wide range of semiotic resources when studying a language.  Learners must be able to keep pace with the complexity of communication in today’s society and to negotiate the multimodalities that permeate it.   In this article, digital video creation was taken as a practical example of how a multimodal approach can be taken to LSP in Higher Education (Sections 4.1 and 4.2). This multimodal tool enables learners to blend language learning with disciplinary learning and simultaneously develop other professional skills such as critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, organisational skills and other 21st century competences.  It further provides them with an opportunity to produce language and create meaning in a multimodal way using a wide variety of semiotic resources.

This article seeks simply to highlight the need to consider a multimodal approach to LSP teaching in Higher Education, and digital video creation is but one of many multimodal tools that can be used. Going forward, LSP researchers should consider examining the integration of other multimodal teaching and learning activities in the Higher Education classroom in order to prepare learners for the complex communicative landscape that awaits them in the discourse communities of their relevant disciplines.

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[3] For a full account of this study see Rodgers, Ornaith & Ní Dhonnchadha, Labhaoise.  2018. Digital Video Creation in the LSP Classroom.  The EuroCALL Review 26(1), pp.43-58.