How Does Literacy Work in a Multilingual Context?

We recently published Multilingual Literacy edited by Esther Odilia Breuer, Eva Lindgren, Anat Stavans and Elke Van Steendam. In this post the editors explain the inspiration behind the book.

When we met at one of the first meetings of the COST project on Strengthening Europeans’ capabilities by establishing the European literacy network, we soon realised the importance of research on multilingual literacy – even more so when we had to communicate with each other in our common foreign language English especially in writing, via different media. We experienced first-hand that writing in the foreign language presented us with some challenges. There are so many aspects which one needs to keep in mind! The search for words and for the correct spelling can interfere with your wanting to express yourself, which in turn can have a negative (and sometimes) demotivating effect on communicating with each other. However, at the same time these challenges to establish common ground presented opportunities to learn from the process and from each other. This interesting dynamic in itself was the stimulus and incentive to collect papers that shed light on multilingual literacy from different perspectives.

However, it is not only for us four that foreign language reading and writing has become ever more important: In the 21st century, we are living in a world in which multilinguality has become the standard rather than the exception. Many people have grown up with more than one language, or they have moved to countries in which their first language is not the common language. We are expected to speak fluent English, although it is a foreign language to us, not only in academic but also in many other contexts – and we also often do so in written form, either as the recipients or as the producers thereof.

Reading and writing in foreign languages has thus become the norm – but this does not make the processes easier. It is because of this that it has become crucial for people from many different contexts to explore how literacy works in a multilingual context, and to look for answers to the following questions:

  • What do we already know about multilingual literacy?
  • How do linguistic and social diversity interact?
  • How does multilinguality shape identity?
  • What is the impact of new literacy technologies on multilingual communication?
  • How can we support multilingual literacy?
  • And more generally: What can we learn from each other?

The chapters in the book address these and many other questions and we enjoyed reading them. We are sure you will too!

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society edited by Albert Weideman, John Read and Theo du Plessis.

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