Multilingualism in education is on the agenda

Jean Conteh and Gabriela Meier’s book The Multilingual Turn in Languages Education is out this month. They have written this post about how the book came together and the importance of multilingual education. 

The Multilingual Turn in Languages EducationThe origins of this book emerged about 3 years ago in discussions about the different ways in which multilingualism was being talked about, not just in research, but in the lived experiences of people around the world. As editors, we both noticed that there was increasing interest in multilingualism in education – we refer to this new trend as the multilingual turn in languages education. We use languages in the plural to show that we are thinking about individuals’ whole language repertoires as resources for teaching and learning, not just the ‘target language’ of teaching.

A new era has started – Multilingual Matters setting the agenda

Our new book offers an invitation, including some guidelines and ideas, for teachers, researchers and policymakers to consider multilingualism in a new light as a key item on their agenda. The ideas underpinning the book began to be discussed around 20-30 years ago, when some authors started to recognise that monolingual language practices in schools can disadvantage many learners. During that period, Multilingual Matters was founded in 1976 and has since played an important role in influencing and shaping what people in their different spheres, including ourselves, talk about and what they deem important, i.e. what goes on the agenda.

The multilingual turn: ideology, theory, pedagogy

While the multilingual turn offers many opportunities, there are, of course, still many challenges before ideas can be put into practice in classrooms. As we and the authors in this book suggest, there are many positive ways in which this can happen. The opportunities and challenges are explored in the three parts of our book by taking into account the multiple layers of society, policy and classroom practice – all embedded in and informed by research.

First, in part one, we consider prevailing ideologies and language hierarchies, for instance about which languages have status and are therefore seen as useful, which languages are ignored and why and what the implications may be for individuals and groups. Then, through the chapters in part two, we argue the need for a theoretical basis for multilingual approaches to education. Finally, in part three, we show, through presenting different examples of innovative classroom practice, how educators in every situation need to find their own ways of taking account of their local circumstances and their learners’ resources.

Thanks to everyone

Gabriela visiting the office

Gabriela visiting the office

We are very grateful to Multilingual Matters, and Viv Edwards (see her recent blog post here) for supporting our book project. It was a pleasure working with you all! Furthermore, we were very lucky to find authors working across the world (Australia, Greek-Cyprus, Mauritius, China, France, Germany, USA, Switzerland, UK and Europe more generally) who embraced the idea of the multilingual turn. Their contributions present research from very varied teaching contexts and cover TESOL, EAL, SLA, MFL and two-way bilingual immersion. Thanks to you all, we were even able keep to our initial timetable!

Many thanks again to all at Multilingual Matters, all our authors and everyone who contributed to this book. We hope that through this book some ideas may make it from the agenda into practice.

For further information about this book please see our website.

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