Professor Leo van Lier

Professor Leo van Lier

Monterey Institute Community Mourns Loss of Longtime Professor Leo van Lier

January 3, 2013

The Monterey Institute community was sad to learn over the holiday break of the passing of longtime professor Leo van Lier on December 23. A professor of educational linguistics, Leo joined the Institute faculty in 1986.

“We all loved him for his wit, insightfulness and kindness and we marveled at his immense knowledge and exquisite vision,” shares Professor Peter Shaw. Leo authored several notable books in the field of language learning, served as editor-in-chief of The Modern Language Journal and on the editorial boards of a number of different journals. Before joining the Monterey Institute in 1986, Leo taught at the University of Northern Iowa and in Britain, Peru, Mexico, Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

“Leo was one of the most creative thinkers in our profession in recent years,” says Professor Kathleen (Kathi) Bailey. “His research and writing influenced language teaching worldwide. In particular, his ideas about second language acquisition, oral proficiency interviewing, action research, chaos theory, ecological linguistics influenced the ways in which the profession has developed since the publication of his first book in 1988.”

Leo is remembered as “a great human being” and for his “unique combination of intellectual brilliance and empathetic compassion.” In the words of Kathi Bailey: “I liked to think of Leo as our resident “modelologist,” since he so often thought by drawing figures that represented concepts. Often in a TESOL-TFL faculty meeting when we were trying to hash out a complex issue, Leo would sit quietly and listen to the discussion while he sketched. Then he would show us what he had drawn and how the relationship among the issues we were debating could be better understood. He was a great scholar and a wonderful friend, and I miss him.”

You can honor Leo's memory by making a donation to the Leo van Lier Lecture Series Fund.  Give online or mail your checks to: MIIS Institutional Advancement Office 460 Pierce St. Monterey, CA 93940.


adam (not verified)

remember him

He was a great professor and a person. He was a role model for us. We will remember him always.

January 22, 2014 @ 12:47 am

Jesus (not verified)


All the colleagues of Leo in Spain are deeply sad . We has inpsired our work over years. Leo, we will always miss you!

January 16, 2014 @ 6:57 am

netten para kazanma (not verified)


Professor Leo van Lier is a role model for me as an educator, and as a person. Words cannot express how sad I am and how much I miss him. May him rest in peace.

December 23, 2013 @ 5:08 am

tyler (not verified)


sorry to hear this news. he was a great professor. we will remember him always.

December 13, 2013 @ 1:15 am

james coburn (not verified)

My Guru

Unfortunately, I never met Leo Van Lier, but in all the years I was struggling with my Masters TESOL studies, his books impressed me in a way that was completely different from all other writers in the field. Others have commented on his originality of mind. Talking with my wife, I consistently used to refer to Dr. Van Lier as my Guru - in the best sense of the word.

James Coburn .

October 21, 2013 @ 8:37 am

Mostafa Pourhaji; PhD candidate (not verified)


The other day I was discussing the concept of agency with my supervisor. As soon as I said, according to van Lier, my supervisor said, "May God rest his soul". I just got shocked. I couldn't believe my ears that he's gone. However, I am sure that his insightful books and articles are eternal.

October 13, 2013 @ 8:51 am

Sepatu Futsal (not verified)


Professor Leo van Lier is a role model for me as an educator, and as a person. Words cannot express how sad I am and how much I miss him. May him rest in peace.

June 03, 2013 @ 6:25 pm

Anonymous (not verified)


That was very sad. R.I.P LEO.


Sepatu Futsal

March 13, 2013 @ 6:06 am

Mia (not verified)

Leo helped me view a class with a thousand eyes!

My deepest sorrow for the loss of Leo. I will remember you and your class for a very long time. I was a student of his "Classroom Observation" class in 2007 autumn. He helped me to learn that there are many different but useful perspectives to view the dynamics in a class. R.I.P.!
From Mia

March 04, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

Marlene Buchnik (not verified)

Leo van Lier

I was chocked to hear about Leo's passing. I had the privilege to be his student and to "take home with me" some of his brilliant ideas. He was a great scholar and a brave thinker who trully taught how to "think out of the box" and made it easy to tie it with our familiar "box" for better understanding. He was a good man and an excellent teacher.

February 10, 2013 @ 11:39 am

Leo Yoffe (not verified)

Leo - it was an honor to know you

I was shocked to hear the news. He was still so young and with so much yet to give to the world, to the profession and to his many students and colleagues.

My condolences to his family and I share in the grief of all his freinds.

February 02, 2013 @ 7:09 am

Christiane Dalton-Puffer (not verified)


I'm speaking for the whole Vienna applied linguistics and teacher education group when I say how deeply shocked we are at this sad news! We had Leo with us for a term not so long ago and got to know him as the kind and caring person he was. His intellectual achievements will continue to be of influence but the person will be greatly missed. Our empathy is with his family.

January 15, 2013 @ 11:36 pm

Laura Curran (not verified)


Leo van Lier was a gem of a faculty member. He is sorely missed. Laura Curran

January 15, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

Olga Esteve (not verified)

From Spain

All the colleagues of Leo in Spain are deeply sad . We has inpsired our work over years. Leo, we will always miss you!

January 15, 2013 @ 4:42 am

GM (not verified)


A great scientist and a great man. R.I.P.

January 13, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

Olga Esteve (not verified)

In Spain we'll never forget

In Spain we'll never forget Leo. His work has really influenced our teaching practices and our view of teaching. Thank you, Leo!

January 11, 2013 @ 10:05 am

Mike Breen (not verified)

Leo van Lier

I have known Leo since he was at Lancaster University in the Uk studying towards his Ph.D.
Even then he revealed his originality of mind. He is a great loss to the profession.
Such a kind and thoughtful man will be missed by all who knew him.

January 09, 2013 @ 10:09 am

Michael Noonan (not verified)

Leo van Lier

What I loved most about Leo was that in conversation on nearly any topic, it was always immediately clear that you were in the presence of a mind far greater than your own, and yet his kindness and humility were so genuine that he would never make you feel small. I've had a copy of his book on Language Awareness on my desk for nearly two decades, and I refer to it often. Leo was truly one of the guiding lights in my life, and I am very glad to have known him.

January 07, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

Mary Lucido Budris (not verified)

Dr. van Lier

It is strange; a few weeks ago I was just looking at some of the texts I used in his classes (2000) and thinking what a great professor he was! On occasion the class tried to get him off task if it was a particularly daunting subject that day, or if a few of us hadn't completed all the reading.

A timid soul would say something negative about Mac computers, and we were guaranteed an explosive 10 minute lecture about Mac's virtues! Well, it only took him twice to realize our game, after which we behaved!

Professor, you are sorely missed by the community who loved and respected you so much. My deepest condolences to your family.

Mary Louise

January 06, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

Judy Zhu (not verified)

A Role Model

Professor Leo van Lier is a role model for me as an educator, and as a person. Words cannot express how sad I am and how much I miss him. May him rest in peace.

January 06, 2013 @ 9:55 am

Audrey Roe Gutierrez (not verified)


During my time at MIIS, I never had a class with Professor van Lier, and yet, I found his work and his person deeply inspiring. He changed the way I look at the world, and I am very sorry that we have lost him.

January 06, 2013 @ 3:19 am

Audrey Roe Gutierrez (not verified)

Saddened by our loss

I never had a class with Professor van Lier, and yet, I found his work and his person incredibly inspiring. He changed the way that I look at the world, and I am deeply saddened to learn that we have lost him.

January 05, 2013 @ 5:56 pm

Natasha Fleischman (not verified)

My epiphany

Leo's class my first semester at MIIS was eye opening for me. Most surprisingly was learning that I spoke "Minnesotan" instead of regular, standard American English. Having a drink with him in Minneapolis when he was visiting for a dissertation defense was also a delight years later. A great man gone too soon.

January 04, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

M.Clemente (not verified)

Always Remembered Never Forgotten

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me.
The Carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality
~Emily Dickinson

My thoughts are with Leo's family and friends.

January 04, 2013 @ 5:09 pm

Randi Freeman (not verified)


I was very sad to hear of Leo's passing. He was a great inspiration to me during my time at MIIS. I always think of him saying, in response to the question of how long of a paper I should write, "As long as it takes." I often say that to my current students because I believe that the message is much more important than the length. My thoughts are with Leo's colleagues and family.

Randi Freeman

January 04, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

Marie Klein (not verified)

Very sad

I am deeply saddened by the Dr. van Lier departure. I absolutely loved his classes and was impressed with his knowledge in second language acquisition (that seemed to be endless). Dr. van Lier has inspired me in so many different projects. What I also admire about Leo is that I never felt intimidated by him, or his knowledge. He was a very non-judgmental, friendly and passionate about his subject person that 1) it felt very energizing and inspiring being around him, and 2) his passion for the second language acquisition was contagious. Every time after I left his class I had a desire to learn/research as much as I could about the subject.
I feel very grateful and fortunate that he was my professor.

January 04, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

Anonymous (not verified)

We will miss you Professor

Leo was one of the best professors on campus. His dedication and consistent work to improve the skills of his students is really amazing.

January 04, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

Larry Selinker (not verified)

Leo van Lier

We will sorely miss the sharp intellect of Leo van Lier!

January 04, 2013 @ 7:19 am

Anonymous (not verified)


Thats very sad .
we will always remember him :)

January 04, 2013 @ 5:57 am

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