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Curriculum, Teaching  & Learning
Nina Spada

Nina Spada
Professor Emerita

phone: (416) 978-0270

Curriculum, Teaching and Learning

Centre for Educational Research on Languages and Literacies

Research Overview

Dr. Nina Spada is Professor Emerita in the Language and Literacies Education (LLE) program at the University of Toronto. She joined the faculty of the University of Toronto in 2000 after 15 years at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Dr. Spada is a leading international expert on the role of instruction in second language acquisition (SLA). Her large-scale research on the contributions of form-focused instruction in classroom SLA has received national and international funding for over 30 years and has had a significant impact on the conceptualization and design of research investigating the teaching and learning of second/foreign languages in classroom settings.

Included in Dr. Spada’s publications are over 100 articles in journals and collected editions and 5 books/edited volumes. Particularly noteworthy is the recognition Dr. Spada has received as a co-author of the book How Languages are Learned published by Oxford University Press and used as a standard text on second language learning internationally.

Dr. Spada is regularly invited as a keynote speaker at conferences throughout the world. She has also made significant contributions to international projects related to the teaching and learning of second and foreign languages including those sponsored by the World Bank and the European Commission on the Teaching and Learning of Second/Foreign languages. She has given workshops and presentations to a broad range of audiences in Canada, US, Europe, South America, Australia, Asia and the Middle East. In 2015 she was a Visiting Professor in the Department of Foreign Language Education at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey.

Dr. Spada is co-editor of the Language Learning and Language Teaching book series with John Benjamins and the Key Concepts for the Language Classroom series published by Oxford University Press. She is Past President of the American Association for Applied Linguistics.

Curriculum Vitae

Academic History

Ph.D. University of Toronto, 1984
M.A. Concordia University, 1979
B.A. University of British Columbia, 1975

Teaching Overview

Dr. Spada has taught the following LLE graduate courses:

• CTL 3010: Second language learning
• CTL 3805: Research methods in language and literacies education
• CTL 3808: The role of instruction in second language acquisition

Representative Publications


Christison, M.A. Christian, D., Duff, P. & Spada, N. (Eds). (2015). Research on teaching and learning English grammar. New York: Routledge.

Lightbown, P. M. & Spada, N. (2013). How languages are learned (4th edition) Oxford: Oxford University Press (257 pages).


Spada, N, (in press). Balancing methodological rigor and pedagogical relevance. In R. DeKeyser & G.Prieto Botana (Eds.), Doing SLA research with implications for the classroom:  Reconciling methodological demands and pedagogical applicability. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Spada, N. (in press). Classroom observational research. In J. Schwieter & A. Benati (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of language learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spada, N. (2019). Classroom research. In C. Chapelle (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.


Spada, N., & Lightbown, P.M. (in press). Teaching and learning in the L2 classroom: It’s about time. Language Teaching.

Spada, N. (2018). Isolating or integrating attention to form in communicative instruction: A dilemma? Babel, 7-12.

Shiu, L.J., Yalçın, S. & Spada, N. (2018). Exploring second language learners’ grammaticality judgment performance in relation to task design features. System, 215-225.

Spada, N., Shiu, L.J. & Tomita, Y. (2015). Valiating an elicited imitation task as a measure of implicit knowledge: Comparisons with other validation studies. Language Learning, doi:10.1111/lang.12129.

Valeo, A. & Spada, N. (2015). Is there a better time to focus on grammar? Teacher and learner views. TESOL Quarterly, 314-339. doi:10.1002tesq.222.

Spada, N. (2013). SLA Research and L2 Pedagogy: Misapplications and Questions of Relevance. Language Teaching, Cambridge University Press

Spada, N., & Tomita, Y. (2010). Interactions between type of instruction and type of language feature: A meta-analysis. Language Learning, 60:2 1-46.

Research Grants and Contracts

2017-2022 SSHRC Partnership Grant
Canadian refugee child, youth and family research coalition

2012-2014 Ministry of Education Catalunya, Spain
English instruction in Catalunya primary schools: An enrichment program of self-directed reading/listening

2009-2013 SSHRC Standard Research Grant
A validation study of implicit measures of second language knowledge

Honours and Awards

• First Prize in the Applied Linguistics section of the Duke of Edinburgh Book Competition for How Languages are Learned (co-author, P.M. Lightbown) published by Oxford University Press. Award presented by Prince Philip (Duke of Edinburgh) at Buckingham Palace, November, 1993.

Professional Activities

Dr. Spada has held the following Executive Positions:

Past President, American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) 2009-2010
President, AAAL 2008-2009

Plenary and Keynote Addresses:

Reflecting on TBLT from an instructed SLA perspective. Plenary to be presented at the 8th International Conference on Task-based Language Teaching (TBLT). Ottawa, Ontario, August 2019.

Effects of form-focused instruction on L2 learning: The story so far. Plenary to be presented at the Language in Focus conference, Dubrovnik, Croatia, May 2019.

In it together: Teachers, Researchers, and Classroom SLA. Plenary to be presented with P.M. Lightbown at the AAAL conference. Atlanta, Georgia, March 2019.

The relationship between SLA research and language education. Plenary presented at the Exploring Language Education (ELE) conference. Stockholm, June 2018.

Integrating or isolating attention to language form in communicative instruction: A dilemma? Plenary presented at the International Conference of the Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations (AFMLTA), Gold Coast, Australia, July 2017.

Focusing on language in meaning/content-based instruction: A delicate balance. Plenary presented at the Japan Association of College English teachers (JACET), Sapporo, Japan, August 2016.

Questions about instructional time and instructional content in early second/foreign language learning. Plenary presented at the Young Language Learner conference. Oxford University, Oxford, UK July 2016.

Exploring relationships between different types of instruction and L2 knowledge. Plenary presented at the 5th International Conference on Foreign Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, International Burch University, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, May 2015.

Other Information


Developmental complexity and the effectiveness of explicit and implicit instruction: A meta-analysis. Paper presented at AAAL, Chicago, March 2018 (Co-presenters: Y. Tomita & A. Housen, B. De Clercq, E.Koch & K.Lochtman.

Is there a role for target structure difficulty as a design feature in GJTs? Paper presented at AAAL, Chicago, March 2018 (Co-presenters: S. Yalcin & J.Shiu)

Reconciling methodological demands and pedagogical applicability in ISLA research: Rigor and relevance. Paper presented as discussant in colloquium: Reconciling methodological demands and pedagogical applicability in SLA research, AAAL, 2016, Orlando, Florida, April, 2016.

Research and Teaching: Bridging the gap. Paper presented at IATEFL, Manchester, UK, April 2015. (Co-presenter: Patsy Lightbown).

Grammaticality Judgment Tests as Measures of Implicit and Explicit Knowledge: Influences of Task Stimuli, Time Constraints and Modality. Paper presented at AAAL, Toronto, March, 2015. (Co-presenters: J-L. Shiu, S. Yalçin, Y. Tomita).

Investigating the contributions of instruction to different types of L2 knowledge. Paper presented in the colloquium ‘New directions in the measurement of implicit and explicit L2 knowledge’ AAAL, Portland Oregon, March 2014.

Incorporating structural priming into an oral production test to elicit the English passive construction. Paper presented at AAAL, Portland Oregon, March 2014. (Co-presenter: P. Quinn)