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Professor Brian Richards

Professor Brian Richards






Postgraduate supervision

PhD supervision: Supervision of seven PhD students working on:

  • early literacy;
  • communication and IT;
  • modes of mental imagery in music;
  • learner autonomy in English as a Foreign Language in China;
  • learner strategy training for writing in English as a Foreign Language in Sri Lanka;
  • lexical richness in the writing of English as a Foreign Language learners in Cyprus;
  • grammatical processing in second language learners of Greek.


  • Research Methods Programme for higher degree by research students; four modules of the MA in English and Language in Education; supervision of masters dissertations.

Research projects


  • Early child language;
  • Individual differences in language development;
  • Teaching and learning Modern Foreign Languages, including English as a Foreign Language;
  • First and second language vocabulary development;
  • Educational assessment;
  • Oral language assessment;
  • Diagnostic language testing;
  • Vocabulary testing;
  • Computerised analysis of vocabulary;
  • Mathematically modelling vocabulary usage;
  • Quantitative research methods and data analysis;
  • Voice problems in trainee teachers.

Current research:

The project Assessment for Learning in Teacher Education: the Development of a Diagnostic Language Test for Trainee Teachers of French responds to concern about the standard of subject knowledge among postgraduate trainee teachers of modern languages. This relates to trainees' overall language proficiency, and to key areas of grammar, lexis and orthography. It also concerns the depth of explicit knowledge of both native and non-native speakers that is needed to teach rules and explain and correct pupils' errors. The project is funded by the Higher Education Academy's Pedagogic Research Fund and will develop a diagnostic language test for trainee teachers of French as part of a programme of formative assessment during the one-year PGCE course. This follows the successful implementation and evaluation of a similar programme for German that was first piloted in 2004. At present the French test is being subjected to a full-scale trial run involving undergraduates, postgraduates and native speakers.

Jointly with a speech therapist colleague from the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences Brian Richards is investigating voice problems in trainee teachers and developing appropriate methods of assessment.

With colleagues at the University of Reading, University of the West of England, Bristol and the University of Swansea he has recently organised a series of international seminars funded by the ESRC Seminar Competition on the theme of Models and Measures of Vocabulary Acquisition. In 2007-2008 he will co-edit a selection of the papers presented in special issues of Language Learning Journal and Journal of French Language Studies. He is also lead editor for a volume of contributions to the seminar series to be published by Palgrave/Macmillan in 2009 under the title: Vocabulary Studies in First and Second Language Acquisition: The Interface Between Theory and Application. A further proposal for an authored monograph on vocabulary for Palgrave/Macmillan is in preparation.

Recently completed research:

Two projects funded by the ESRC, A New Research Tool: Mathematical Modelling in the Measurement of Vocabulary Diversity and Mathematically Modelling Vocabulary Diversity and Lexical Style, and one funded by the Research Endowment Trust Fund, of the University of Reading, Providing normative data on vocabulary diversity have developed innovative ways of assessing vocabulary deployment in speech and writing using mathematical modelling procedures implemented in dedicated software. Indicative norms have been established and the model has been extended to provide research tools for investigating the development of inflectional morphology in language learners, lexical style and the usage of rare or difficult words.

The project "Strategy training in year 12 French" (jointly with Oxford University) was funded by the ESRC and involved pupils in 15 schools over the course of one academic year to investigate the effect of introducing a programme of strategy training in year 12 French classes.


Brian Richards is a former teacher of modern languages in British schools and of English as a Foreign Language abroad. He completed his PhD on individual differences in first language acquisition at the University of Bristol in 1987 and joined the University of Reading as a modern languages PGCE tutor in the same year. Since then he has acted as Departmental Research Convenor, Director of the Research Training Programme for higher degree by research students and has directed a series of internally and externally funded research projects on aspects of language and education.

He is currently Professor of Education in the Institute of Education and co-leader of the Language and Literacy Research Group with additional responsibilities for admissions to the MPhil/PhD programme and to the PGCE course in Modern Languages.

Professional bodies/affiliations

  • Member of the "M4 Applied Linguistics Network" jointly with the University of the West of England and the University of Swansea.
  • Reviewer for a wide range of academic journals dealing with education, language development, language impairment and applied linguistics; reviewer and rapporteur for funding agencies; adviser and consultant to numerous language research projects nationally and internationally.

Selected publications

Chipere, N., Malvern, D. D., Richards, B. J., & Durán, P. (2001). Using a corpus of school children's writing to investigate the development of lexical diversity. In P. Rayson, A. Wilson, T. McEnery, A. Hardie, & S. Khoja (Eds.), Proceedings of the Corpus Linguistics 2001 Conference (pp. 126-133). Lancaster: University Centre for Computer Corpus Research on Language.

Chipere, N., Malvern, D. D., & Richards, B. J. (2004). Using a corpus of children's writing to test a solution to the sample size problem affecting Type-Token Ratios. In G. Aston, S. Bernadini, & D. Stewart (Eds.), Corpora and language learners (pp. 139-147). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. (Studies in corpus linguistics, 17).

Durán, P., Malvern, D., Richards, B. J., & Chipere, N. (2004). Developmental trends in lexical diversity. Applied Linguistics, 25, 220-242.

Fairfield, C., & Richards, B. J. (2007). Reported voice difficulties in student teachers: a questionnaire survey. British Journal of Educational Studies, 55, 409-425.

Hunt, G., & Richards, B. J. (2001). Beyond the words on the page: the reading conference as a forum for language development. In P. G. Smith (Ed.), Talking classrooms: Shaping children's learning through oral language instruction (pp. 105-120).

Malvern, D. D., & Richards, B. J. (2002). Investigating accommodation in language proficiency interviews using a new measure of lexical diversity. Language Testing, 19, 85-104.

Malvern, D. D., Richards, B. J., Chipere, N., & Durán, P. (2004). Lexical diversity and language development: quantification and assessment. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Richards, B. J. (1990/2005). Language development and individual differences: a study of auxiliary verb learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, B. J., & Malvern, D. (2000). Accommodation in oral interviews between foreign language learners and teachers who are not native speakers. Studia Linguistica, 54, 260-271.

Richards, B. J., & Malvern, D. D. (2004). Investigating the validity of a new measure of lexical diversity for root and inflected forms. In K. Trott, S. Dobbinson, & P. Griffiths (Eds.), The child language reader (pp. 81-89). London: Routledge.

Richards, B. J., & Malvern, D. D. (2007). Validity and threats to the validity of vocabulary assessment. In H. Daller, J. Milton, & J. Treffers-Daller (Eds.), Modelling and assessing lexical knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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