Linguistics at Newcastle

Staff Profile

Dr Alan Firth

Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics



After graduating and completing an RSA TEFL diploma I taught English in the UK and Denmark, and published English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching materials - two 'Readers' ('The Bermuda Triangle Mystery' and 'The Loch Ness Mystery'), an English Language Teaching (ELT) textbook ('On Location'), videos for EFL teaching, and for 3 years was a regular columnist on the Danish FL teachers' magazine 'Sproglæreren' ('The Language Teacher'). I then embarked on an MA in Applied English Linguistics at the University of Birmingham, UK, and subsequently a PhD at Aalborg University, Denmark. As part of my PhD I spent a year at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the East-West Center, Honolulu. I worked at Aalborg University for a total of 21 years (1986-2007).

I have spent research sabbaticals at the University of York, UK (1994), the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia (1997), and The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (2011).

I moved to Newcastle University in March, 2007.

My research: 

I carry out research on human interaction, more specifically interaction transacted through talk, and have a particular interest in English as a 'global language', English as a 'lingua franca', second language use, intercultural communication, and interaction in institutional settings.

In order to carry out this research, I look at how spoken/embodied interaction is *micro-managed* and *socially-organised* - in an attempt to describe, in detail, how people together accomplish understanding, how they overcome (or fail to overcome) problems caused by differences - in communicative styles, in cultural backgrounds, in language proficiency, in competence, or differing interests and agendas.

Much of my research (both empirical and theoretical) has been concerned with interaction in English as a global language/ 'lingua franca' (a contact or auxilliary language between people who do not share a mother tongue). The theoretical and methodological implications of English as a 'lingua franca' are, I believe, wide-ranging and profoundly important for English-language studies, applied linguistics, L2 (Second Language) Education and L2 Acquisition, intercultural communication, and EFL/ESL research.

In terms of theory and methodology, I'm inspired by the fields of Ethnomethodology, Conversation Analysis, micro-ethnography, social constructivism, the phenomenology of everyday life, the learning theories of Lave & Wenger, and post-structural theory, and I attempt to bring these fields of knowledge to bear on my empirically-driven research. 

Roles and Responsibilities at Newcastle University:

Degree Programme Director, MA in Cross-Cultural Communication

Chair of Curriculum Review Committee, MA in Cross-Cultural Communication 

Committee member, Academic Audit Committee

Committee member, Equality and Diversity Committee

Committee member, Research Ethics Committee 


Ph.D. in Applied English Linguistics, Aalborg University, Denmark

M.A. in Applied English Linguistics, University of Birmingham, UK

B.Ed. (Hons.) with specialism in English language teaching, University of Bradford, UK

R.S.A. T.E.F.L. Diploma in 'Teaching English as a Foreign Language', The Bell School of Languages, Cambridge, UK

Previous Positions:

Associate Professor of Applied English Linguistics, Department of Culture and Languages, Aalborg University, Denmark

Director of the Post-Graduate programme on 'International and Intercultural Communication', Department of Culture and Languages, Aalborg University, Denmark


Fluent in Danish, very good knowledge of Swedish and Norwegian; working knowledge of Thai, Italian, German and French.

Esteem Indicators: 

My work (with Johannes Wagner) on reconceptualizing Second Language Acquisition research has been the focus of 2 'special issues' of Modern Language Journal - in 1997 (MLJ 81/3) and 2007 (MLJ 91/5: 'The Impact of Firth & Wagner: SLA Reconceptualised'). 

I was credited by Juliane House - in her introduction to a 'Special Issue' on 'The pragmatics of English as a 'lingua franca'', in the journal 'Intercultural Pragmatics - as founding a 'new research paradigm' (interactional studies of 'lingua franca' encounters). See 'Intercultural Pragmatics', vol. 6, no. 2, p. 141 (2009) 

My work on English as a 'lingua franca' has been featured in The Wall Street Journal (Barry Newman: 'Global Chatter', reproduced as:  Barry Newman (1996). Global chatter: the reality of ‘business English’. English Today, 12 (2), pp 16-20) and the Danish national newspaper Weekendavisen (Fri Dec 8, 2006). 

I have been invited to be keynote or plenary speaker at international conferences on several occasions; recent invites include: 

Plenary speaker at the international conference 'Ethnographies of Diagnostic Work', Lancaster University, April, 2007. See: 

Plenary speaker at the SLRF 2008 conference (Exploring SLA: Perspectives, Positions, and Practices), Honolulu, Hawaii, USA (17-19 October 2008). See 

Plenary speaker at the conference 'Living, working and studying in (a) vehicular language(s): Language, discourse, hybridity and identities', Turku, Finland, 26-28 September, 2008. 

March-April 2008: invited to give lectures and lead workshops at Brazilian universities, sponsored by a Brazilian government grant (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sol, Porto Alegre, Universidade do Unisinos, Port Alegre, and PUC, University of Rio de Janeiro).  

Keynote speaker at the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL) Intercultural Communication 'Special Interest Group's' inaugural meeting, Nottingham Trent University, 27-28 May 2010. For further details, see: 

Keynote speaker: ‘Towards a metatheory of English as a lingua franca.’ The Third Annual Language and Society Centre Roundtable, Theme: Language learning in the “global economy”, Monash University, 17 February, 2011  

Keynote speaker: ‘Conversation Analysis, competence, and L2 interaction: Why, how and to what end?’ Nordand 10: Conference on Nordic languages as a second and foreign language, hosted by University of Iceland, Reykjavík: 10-conference-nordic-languages-second-and-foreign-language-reykjavik-iceland (26-30 May, 2011)

Plenary speaker, 17th Conference of International Association for World Englishes, Hosted by Monash University, Australia, November 23-25, 2011 – see: 

Plenary speaker, Business English Special Interest Group, 2012 IATEFL Conference, Glasgow, 19 March, 2012

Keynote speaker, Japanese Association of Language Teaching (JALT) conference, Hamamatsu, Japan, 12-15 October, 2012 

Keynote speaker: Organizational Communications Conference, Newcastle University Business School, March 2015


Undergraduate Teaching

Undergraduate courses I have taught:

Introduction to the English Language * English as a Global Language * Introduction to Sociolinguistics * Introduction to Pragmatics * Introduction to Micro-Ethnography * Introduction to Discourse Analysis * Introduction to Conversation Analysis * Introduction to Applied Linguistics * Introduction to Second Language Acquisition * Introduction to Intercultural and International Communication * Communication at Work: Social Interaction in Institutional Contexts * Ethnography of Speaking * Teaching English as a Foreign Language * Qualitative Research Methods * Academic Composition Writing * Translation (English-Danish) * Oral Proficiency in English

Postgraduate Teaching

Graduate Courses I have taught:

Applied Conversation Analysis * Themes in Discourse Analysis * Micro-analysis and ethnography * Spoken Narrative Analysis * Anthropological Linguistics * Research Methods in Intercultural Communication * Theories in Intercultural Communication * Workplace Communication: Methods, Theories and Findings * Controversies in Applied Linguistics * The Discourse of Negotiation * Work Talk: Studying Institutional Interaction * Second/Foreign Language Pedagogy * Calling for Help: Discourse and Social Interaction in Telephone Helplines * Discourse and Identity * Talk and Chalk: Analysing the Language of Classroom Interaction * Reconceptualising Second Language Acquisition Research * Talking Global: English as a 'lingua franca'

PhD seminars and courses I have led:

Analyzing English as a Global Language * Second Language Acquisition Reconceptualised * Conversation Analysis * Spoken discourse and social interaction * The discourse of negotiation: Methods and Approaches * Sociolinguistic Metatheory * Intercultural Communication * English as an International Language

Update October 2009: Students following my MA module 'English in the World' should consult the module website at:

My teaching blog is located at: