An Interview with Nancy Hornberger

I know all about what Nancy Hornberger has been up to on behalf on Multilingual Matters recently. The series she co-edits with Colin Baker has 6 books coming out this year, including a new edition of Foundations and a brand new book edited by Anwei Feng on English language education in China. We also published Nancy’s co-edited book with Sandra Lee McKay, Sociolinguistics and Language Education, last year.  But what does Nancy get up to when she’s not working hard for us?

How did you first become interested in multilingualism?

I can trace it to growing up in northern California with lots of Spanish-speaking heritage all around, and in a family that was always welcoming of international visitors.  I had a fantastic fifth grade teacher who voluntarily and innovatively taught Spanish before-school to a small group of us fifth-graders.  There were lots more steps along the way, including studying three languages in high school, hosting and being an exchange student with a family in Rio de Janeiro I’m still close to, passage of the Bilingual Education Act while I was in college and my ensuing pursuit of a master’s specializing in bilingual education, studying Quechua and living and working with Steve in Peru for most of the 1970s before beginning my PhD studies in 1980.

Were there any books or scholars that particularly inspired you when you were starting out?

Definitely – Hymes and Fishman were – and still are – extremely inspiring authors for me.  There are many more, too numerous to mention here, but at least some of them will be included in the set of readers on Critical Concepts in Educational Linguistics I’m working on for Routledge.

Are there any recent books that you’ve found especially interesting?

I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend Blackledge & Creese’s Multilingualism (2010) and Blommaert’s Sociolinguistics of Globalization (2010).  Both are theoretically and empirically rich, and solidly grounded in multi-year ethnographic research.

What are you working on at the moment?

Editing Anthropology and Education Quarterly keeps me pretty busy. I’m also finishing up the Critical Concepts in Educational Linguistics readers.  And trying to write up some of my recent comparative work on multilingual language policies, including several weeks last summer consulting with colleagues at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on implementing South Africa’s multilingual language policy in higher education.  Then again, my responsibilities at Penn in Educational Linguistics and the Ethnography in Education Research Forum keep me busiest of all.

It’s clear from Educational Linguistics in Practice that your students are very important to you. What advice would you (do you!) give to someone embarking on a phd in 2011?

Courage and fortitude!  It’s a rewarding and exciting line of work and a noble calling to pursue free intellectual inquiry in an increasingly constrained higher education environment.  One huge source of inspiration for me all along the way has been the amazing generosity of scholars in this field, and I hope that future generations will be able to experience the same from those of us who go before.

You’ve travelled all over the world in the course of your research: is there anywhere you’d like to work that you haven’t got round to yet?

Lots of places! I’ve never visited Korea, though I’ve taught many a Korean student.   Indonesia, Czech Republic, Finland are other places I’d love to visit and work in, but there are plenty more I’ve probably never even thought of.

How do you like to spend your time when you’re not working?

Hanging out with my wonderful family, including two little granddaughters (and we hope more on the way).  Also singing and being out-of-doors.

What do you think you might have done if you hadn’t pursued a career in academia?

Bilingual teacher?  Missionary?  Singer?  As I look back, I am most of all grateful that I stumbled onto this career path – unlike some, I did not set out purposefully to get a Ph.D. and become a professor, but I’m very glad things turned out that way.

2 thoughts on “An Interview with Nancy Hornberger

  1. Oh Nancy, We all know of your dedication and on-going hard work. It is thrilling to reading this interview and to know you are being honored for all you have accomplished. You truly deserve the respect of your colleagues and students. Love, Patty

  2. Hi Patty,

    It’s always good to hear from people who love Nancy as much as we do! As you’re the first person to comment on our brand new blog, we’d be delighted to offer you a copy of the book for Nancy (or any other book you fancy) as a small present. If you email me your address I’ll get it sent out – my email is anna’at’


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