Author interview with Deirdre Martin

A few months ago, we published Deirdre Martin’s latest volume Researching Dyslexia in Multilingual Settings. We recently caught up with Deirdre and asked her a few questions about her research.

Researching Dyslexia in Multilingual SettingsHow did you first come to research dyslexia in multilingual contexts?

I have been both drawn and driven to researching dyslexia in multilingual contexts. I have been interested for many years in language and communication disabilities in multilingual contexts. Language and meaning making are the bedrock of literacy practices and literacy skills in reading and writing. So I was very curious to take the next step to research difficulties in literacy skills, also known as dyslexia. Dyslexia usually emerges most noticeably in the early years of formal schooling when children are taught literacy skills in reading, writing and spelling. I was driven – very willingly- to researching dyslexia in multilingual contexts by the global increase in multilingual learners being introduced to English literacy skills. For example, many countries now introduce English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and English literacy skills to young learners, and from another perspective ‘superdiverse’ global population movements to the UK, EU and elsewhere, have brought multilingual learners into largely monolingual schools, creating multilingual contexts. Research is needed in these multilingual contexts to understand dyslexia-type difficulties.

Why are there so many disciplines involved in this type of research?

Dyslexia is a complex weave of the natural and the cultural, and these two main areas of knowledge require different approaches to investigation. Understanding dyslexia as a dichotomised study is essential. During the hundred years and more of researching dyslexia different branches of study have emerged to examine the multifaceted nature of dyslexia, taking account of the changing contexts of languages, literacy practices and skills and most recently digital. For example, a biological approach explains dyslexia through medical, neurological and genetic study; psychological studies understand dyslexia through cognitive processing skills and personality. Critical, social and cultural studies have opened up the field to even more concepts of the ‘situatedness’ of dyslexia. Yet there is a great need to develop rigorous informed research study in areas of pedagogy and intervention.

Why is your book different from others in the field that have been published before?

It offers a bird’s eye view of different understandings of dyslexia. This edited volume focuses on methodology, that is, the approaches to creating different knowledges adopted by different disciplines in their studies of dyslexia. Books and journals on dyslexia usually publish studies that share one approach and a set of procedures to creating knowledge. This volume includes a range of approaches and methods to engage readers in the different ways of knowing and understanding dyslexia. Readers can be better equipped to select research methods and findings for their purposes, to inform their own research studies in dyslexia.

Who do you hope will find your book interesting/useful?

I hope that this volume will be interesting and useful to professionals, researchers and parents for different reasons. I hope that those in professional development such as trainee teachers, EAL and EFL specialists, speech/language therapists and psychologists are persuaded of the complexity of the phenomenon of dyslexia. Similarly, I would imagine that novice researchers, such as undergraduates, masters students and new doctoral students, would be impressed by the disciplinary scope and methodological breadth of the study of dyslexia.

I hope that more experienced researchers identify with an approach to understanding dyslexia that they want to develop and create new ways of understanding dyslexia in multilingual settings. Parents encountering dyslexia for the first time may find so many perspectives on dyslexia bewildering! Nevertheless, I hope that multilingual families find it helpful for their needs when they talk to teachers and other professionals about multilingual literacy difficulties. Perhaps there is a further group – multilingual speakers with dyslexia – who may find this book fascinating.

Which other researchers in your field do you particularly admire?

I admire colleagues who have engaged in researching literacy practices and skills in other languages and other places so that we can understand the complexity of literacy/ies – for example Brian Street and Gunter Kress. I take my hat off to those who have published prolifically in the field of dyslexia and, more recently, included multilingual contexts, such as Gavin Reid and his colleagues. The research in multilingual and multicultural literacy pedagogy by colleagues such as Viv Edwards, Naz Rassool, Eve Gregory and Charmian Keener, has been instrumental in changing our perceptions and practices. Most of all I just love reading the work of these colleagues – I continue to find new insights and new meaning in their work.

What is your next research project?

I have projects running with my doctoral students studying in the field of dyslexia in multilingual contexts and multilingual dyslexia. I am very interested in studying multimodality – such as digital literacy skills and practices – with multilingual young people with low literacy skills.

Language Disabilities in Cultural and Linguistic DiversityIf you found this interesting you can find more information about the book here. You might also be interested in Deirdre’s other book Language Disabilities in Cultural and Linguistic Diversity.

Communication Disorders Across Languages

As we’re just about to publish the 10th book in the Communication Disorders Across Languages series, Deirdre Martin’s Researching Dyslexia in Multilingual Settings, we asked the series editors Martin Ball and Nicole Müller to tell us a bit about how the series started and how it’s developed.

Our series was founded due to a coincidence. The coincidence was that we were at the same conference as Mike and Marjukka Grover ten years ago: the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, at Arizona State University, Tempe, in 2003. We had both been involved with work in multilingualism but were earning our livings as clinical linguists and, in discussions with Mike and Marjukka, we came to realize that the intersection between these two fields really needed more attention; indeed, it needed a book series! As it’s now ten years since those initial discussions, and we are about to publish the tenth book in the series, now would seem to be a good time for a retrospective.

Communication Disorders in Spanish SpeakersFrom the outset we envisioned two main themes for the series that would result in books with two different approaches. One theme would involve studies of particular geographical areas and/or languages and explore what speech and language pathology resources and research were available for the multilingual population of that area or speakers of that language. As an example, our very first volume was devoted to Spanish speakers (both in Europe and the New World): Communication Disorders in Spanish Speakers: Theoretical, Research and Clinical Aspects edited by José G. Centeno, Raquel T. Anderson and Loraine K. Obler in 2007. This book was timely, as the increasing number of Spanish speakers, or bilingual Spanish-English speakers in the US has highlighted the paucity of speech language therapy services through the medium of Spanish. The book aims to contribute to evidence-based clinical procedures for monolingual Spanish and bilingual Spanish-English children and adults with communication disorders, and was one of the first to appear in this area.

Multilingual Aspects of Fluency DisordersOther books in the series that followed this path are Research in Logopedics: Speech and Language Therapy in Finland, edited by Anu Klippi and Kaisa Launonen in 2008; Language Disorders in Speakers of Chinese, edited by Sam-Po Law, Brendan Weekes and Anita M.-Y. Wong also in 2008; and Communication Disorders in Turkish, edited by Seyhun Topbaş and Mehmet Yavaş, published in 2010. There are still potentially fascinating areas to explore in this part of the series, and we hope one day to commission volumes dealing with, for example, South Africa, India, and Russia.

Multilingual Aspects of Speech Sound Disorders in ChildrenThe second theme takes a specific area within the field of communication disorders and examines multilingual and crosslinguistic aspects of that area. In the beginning we envisioned a dozen or so such areas from developmental speech and language disorders through to acquired neurogenic impairments. So far, six books have appeared following this theme. The first was Multilingual Aspects of Fluency Disorders, edited by Peter Howell & John Van Borsel, 2011: the first volume to examine stuttering and related fluency impairments from a multilingual viewpoint. This collection has been followed by books on children’s speech disorders, aphasia, voice disorders, and – most recently – literacy. Sharynne McLeod and Brian Goldstein edited Multilingual Aspects of Speech Sound Disorders in Children which appeared in 2012; later in 2012 was published Aspects of Multilingual Aphasia, edited by Martin Gitterman, Mira Goral and Loraine Obler. This was followed in early 2013 by International Perspectives on Voice Disorders, with Edwin Yiu as editor. Our most recent volume is Researching Dyslexia in Multilingual Settings, edited by Deirdre Martin. Volumes on Sign Language, child language disorders, and motor speech disorders are also in preparation, with still other areas at the planning stage (e.g. traumatic brain injury, and specific language impairment).

Interestingly, as the series has developed, a third theme has emerged: assessment and multilingualism. This theme covers both the provision of assessment materials in a range of languages (many of which have had little in the way of communicative disorders assessment provision in the past), and the assessment of multilingual clients. The first book in this theme was Assessing Grammar: The Languages of LARSP, edited by Martin Ball, David Crystal and Paul Fletcher, which extended the LARSP grammatical analysis profile to 12 languages other than English. Future volumes are planned that will cover up to another 40 languages. Another collection within this theme is in an advanced state of preparation; its working title is Methods for Assessing Multilingual Children: Disentangling Bilingualism from Language Impairment, and is being edited by Sharon Armon-Lotem, Jan de Jong and Natalia Meir. We hope to encourage further submissions within this theme.

What of the future? As noted, we have already commissioned further books for the series, and several of these are near completion so we hope that the series will continue to grow and provide essential resources for researchers and practitioners.

Martin J. Ball and Nicole Müller
Series editors, Communication Disorders Across Languages