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College of Arts and Letters | Michigan State University

In the Spotlight

On this page we feature a member of the Second Language Studies Program. Right now our spotlight is on Dr. Koen Van Gorp, the new Head of Foreign Language Assessment for CeLTA, and an SLS affiliate!

January 2016

Koen Van Gorp

Koen Van Gorp

From a young age, I wanted to become a teacher. A history teacher at first, but in my last year of high school I switched to Germanic Philology, which basically means studying the language and literature of two Germanic languages. I chose Dutch and English. Although I embarked on these studies out of an interest in literature, my passion for linguistics took over, especially for sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and applied linguistics; that is for a functional perspective on language. This was reflected in my MA thesis on Dutch as a second language. Every Wednesday morning, a fellow student and I went to a sixth grade elementary school classroom to try to teach children of mainly Moroccan and Turkish origins, the system behind verb families in Dutch.

After graduation and time served in the military, I worked as a linguist at a regional integration center in Flanders, Belgium. Together with an educator and a sociologist, I tried to resolve the unequal learning opportunities of migrant children in the Belgian educational system. One year later, I started to work as an academic specialist at the Centre for Language and Education (CLE), KU Leuven - University of Leuven, Belgium. This would be my workplace for the next 25 years. The Centre’s main goal is to raise the quality of (language) education, and in this way, to create (more) equal opportunities for all learners in education, and in society. I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Koen Jaspaert and Dr. Kris Van den Branden, two inspiring former directors of the CLE, before becoming an associate director of the CLE myself.

At the CLE, I developed and supervised task-based syllabi for both language and content teaching in primary school. I also provided teacher training on task-based language teaching (TBLT) for primary, secondary and higher education. TBLT has been one of the most influential language pedagogies since the early nineties and focuses on the use of authentic language through meaningful, challenging tasks. From the early ‘90s onwards I was involved in supporting the implementation of TBLT and the development of school language policies throughout the Flemish educational system; an exciting endeavour that brought me in contact with a lot of individual teachers and school teams.

From 2005 to 2010 I worked on my PhD which combined two of my main interests: second language development and knowledge construction. I wanted to see how well students at the end of primary school were able to learn abstract and complex knowledge (i.e., about DNA and genes) and acquire the academic register necessary to understand and produce this knowledge at the same time. I took a mixed-methods approach, combining both quantitative and qualitative techniques to answer these questions.

After my PhD, I assumed the position of co-director at the CLE and became the director of the Certificate Dutch as a Foreign Language (Certificaat Nederlands als Vreemde Taal) (CNaVT). The CNaVT is the international proficiency test for Dutch as a foreign language, similar to the Deutsch als Fremdsprache test for German. The CNaVT is administered worldwide every year to about 3000 candidates in 40-50 countries. My involvement with the CNaVT added task-based language assessment to my research interests, right next to task-based language teaching, second language development, and content-based instruction. One other research interest that I have pursued myself and together with my master and PhD students is multilingualism in education, specifically the role of language awareness and translanguaging practices in the classroom. I have been looking at how the L1 of students can be validated as a didactic resource and used to acknowledge the multilingual identities of second language learners. Together with European colleagues, I am currently editing a volume on language awareness for De Gruyter Mouton and a volume on promoting multilingualism in education for Palgrave.

I have been actively involved in international networks related to task-based language teaching and language testing. I was part of the organizing and scientific committees of two TBLT conferences, in 2005 and 2015. Currently, I am the Treasurer of the International Association of Task-Based Language Teaching (IATBLT). As director of the CNaVT, I was also a full member of the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) and chaired and co-chaired the Special Interest Groups ‘Language for Specific Purposes’ and ‘Young Learners’, respectively.

Following my heart, I embraced a new challenge on January 1st 2016 when I started working for the Center for Language Teaching Advancement (CeLTA), here at MSU. As Head of Foreign Language Assessment I am responsible for the proficiency testing that takes place at CeLTA. I am involved in the Language Proficiency Flagship Initiative and will work with Dr. Dan Reed, the Testing Director of the English Language Center, on proficiency testing. I am also a proud affiliate of the Second Language Studies program and currently teach LLT 808 section 2 ‘Assessment for Language Teaching and Research’. The dedication and positive energy of all the people here at MSU as well as the warm welcome from colleagues and students have already made me feel at home, and have made the transition to a colder winter (though probably not that cold for Michigan standards) a lot easier.

I look forward to getting involved in this vibrant research community. Working in a whole new context will deepen my understanding of language assessment. In return, I hope my experiences in task-based curriculum design, teacher training, and research can enrich the excellent work of the scholars working at CeLTA, at the ELC, in the SLS program, and at the College of Arts & Letters in general.

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