Advancing the Research on Heritage Language Speakers

This month we published Heritage and School Language Literacy Development in Migrant Children edited by Raphael Berthele and Amelia Lambelet. In this post Raphael introduces the book and reveals how it came about.

The investigation of transfer phenomena is a classic topic in multilingualism research. Scholars have developed useful tools and frameworks for investigating crosslinguistic influence on linguistic structure and meaning: when patterns in an individual’s speech or writing can be compared to patterns known from dialects or languages that are in contact, positive or negative transfer can be identified. By contrast, the transfer of literacy skills, for example in the form of reading skills or knowledge about text genres, is trickier to investigate. Heritage and School Language Literacy Development in Migrant Children addresses this unsolved problem. Several studies focusing on different language pairs are presented; they deploy diverse methods, but all attempt to measure the impact of skills developed in one or more languages on the development of those same skills in another language. Languages investigated include – among others – Albanian, Turkish, Portuguese, French, German and Russian.

A considerable part of this book is devoted to a longitudinal study of primary school children who are heritage language speakers of Portuguese in Switzerland. This is the fruit of a project that was directed by the book’s two editors. Intrigued by some rather unexpected findings and questions that arose during this project, we contacted colleagues who had been investigating similar issues but with different methods and tasks. We realized that our work was complementary, and that they were able to fill some of the gaps we had identified in our data and in our thinking. That is how this book project was born. We are confident that it is a new and different contribution to the field, that puts into question some – at least in our view – rather problematic assumptions about the interdependence of heritage languages and school languages. We therefore hope that our contribution will nurture future thinking about research on heritage language speakers.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning edited by Anne Golden, Scott Jarvis and Kari Tenfjord.

Advancing the Research Agenda on Child Foreign Language Learning

This month we’re publishing Learning Foreign Languages in Primary School edited by María del Pilar García Mayo. In this post the editor explains what inspired her to put the book together and what she hopes readers will gain from it.

Back in October 2014, and together with the members of a Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness-funded research project of which I was the principal investigator, we organized the First International Conference on Child Foreign Language Acquisition at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). Surveying the field, it was obvious that most of what was known about the second language acquisition process came from research on adult and adolescent learners, or on younger learners but in immersion and second language contexts, that is, rich input contexts in which the learners are exposed to relevant stimuli outside the classroom. However, little was known about school-based programs in foreign language (FL) settings and much less about FL programs at the primary school level.

This was somewhat surprising as the number of FL programs for children mainly with English as a FL is on the increase worldwide. More studies on the topic were needed in order for stakeholders to make decisions on pedagogical measures based on research evidence. Sometimes research findings from language acquisition in immersion settings have been extrapolated to FL settings where conditions regarding number of pupils per classroom, exposure to appropriate input and curriculum time available are clearly not the same. FL contexts opportunities for exposure to the target language are often restricted to the classroom and because of this learners are almost completely reliant on their teachers. Besides, these different aged learners vary in terms of linguistic, cognitive and social development and, therefore, the process of adult and child second language acquisition is quite distinct.

After the conference, I decided to contact some of the participants and put together the proposal for what is now the volume Learning Foreign Languages in Primary School. Its main goal is to advance the research agenda on child FL learning. The twelve chapters that comprise the volume contain data gathered from primary school children (ages 6-12) while performing different tasks, answering questionnaires or providing feedback on diagnostic tests. The first languages of the children are Chinese, English, Hungarian, Persian and Spanish; and, except for data reported in one the chapters where the children were exposed to Esperanto, French, German and Italian, the second language learned as a FL was always English, thus representing the world-wide tendency referred to above. The volume offers contributions on what children are capable of doing and provides a wealth of data for researchers and educators. Besides, enhancing pedagogy through research is one of its key outcomes and the various chapters provide valuable insights about methods and teaching practices for young FL learners.

I hope Learning Foreign Languages in Primary School shows the reader that young FL learners are not passive recipients in their language learning process and that their insights are crucial for forthcoming research on the topic.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Beyond Age Effects in Instructional L2 Learning by Simone E. Pfenninger and David Singleton, which was published in April 2017, as well as Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren, due for publication in July 2017.

The Pleasure of Raising Multilingual Children

Last month we published Raising Multilingual Children by Julia Festman, Gregory J. Poarch and Jean-Marc Dewaele. In this post, Jean-Marc discusses his own experience of bringing up a multilingual daughter and explains what inspired him and his co-authors to write the book.  

Parents everywhere in the world want the best for their children. It means looking after their physical and psychological health as well as their education. I remember reading books with my wife when she was pregnant with Livia about the best ways to raise children. We felt a little overwhelmed by the amount of information and the occasionally contradictory suggestions on how to be good parents. We were also struck by the strong opinions people had about early multilingualism. Many expressed doubts about it being beneficial for the child “before a first language” settled in: wasn’t there a risk of the child ending up with a “muddled” linguistic system, unable to distinguish between the languages? Others wondered whether growing up with multiple languages might lead to an absence of clear linguistic and cultural roots for the child.

Having read my former PhD supervisor, Hugo Baetens Beardsmore’s (1982) book, Bilingualism: Basic Principles, my wife and I decided that the potential benefits of early multilingualism outweighed the potential drawbacks, and when Livia was born in London in 1996, my wife used Dutch with her, I used French, with English spoken all around us. She picked up Urdu from her Pakistani child-minder, who spoke English and Urdu with the English-speaking children. We were a bit concerned that the introduction of a fourth first language might be too much for Livia, but this fear turned out to be unfounded and her languages developed at a normal pace – though Urdu faded away after the age of two and a half when she moved to an English nursery school. From the moment she started speaking, she was perfectly capable of separating her languages, and switching from one to another effortlessly depending on the linguistic repertoire of her interlocutor. She still sounds like a native speaker in her three languages and consistently got some of the highest marks for English during her primary and secondary education. The brain of a baby is like a sponge: sufficient and regular linguistic input will allow it to absorb the languages in its environment. There is no danger of the brain ‘overheating’ because of exposure to too many languages.

Livia’s case is the first story in the book Raising Multilingual Children that has just come out. It includes Livia’s own view on her multilingualism at the age of ten and sixteen. My co-authors Greg Poarch and Julia Festman tell the story of their trilingual children. Greg’s son, Loïc, speaks two minority languages (English and Dutch) at home and uses German outside of his home. Julia’s daughter and son, Aya and Noam, grew up as trilinguals from birth, with two minority languages (English and Hebrew) at home and German outside. The situation changed when Julia’s husband passed away and the input in Hebrew dried up. Now German is the majority language spoken inside and outside of their home and English is the language used at school. Greg, Julia and I decided to pool our family experiences with three languages to produce a book for the general public informed by the academic research. We adopted an issue-related approach and agreed that we would present tips based on examples from our daily lives to highlight things that worked, and strategies that backfired with our children. The book contains concrete and practical ideas to implement multilingualism in the household.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism by Colin Baker, Language Strategies for Trilingual Families by Andreas Braun and Tony Cline, and Xiao-lei Wang’s books, Growing up with Three Languages and Maintaining Three Languages.


The Multilingual Nature of Higher Education

This month we published Academic Biliteracies edited by David M. Palfreyman and Christa van der Walt. In this post, David and Christa discuss their experience of coediting the book. 

Christa: There were some initial signs that this book was not meant to be. Firstly, David’s e-mails to me disappeared in cyberspace and it was only when Nancy Hornberger contacted me to enquire very diplomatically whether I had received the e-mails, that we found out his institutional e-mails were not delivered, for some unfathomable reason. Secondly, this was an under-researched topic and we were not sure that we would get any contributions; and thirdly, both of us dealt with serious interruptions of a personal and professional nature. And yet, here we are, three years later, with chapters that showcase the multilingual nature of higher education in all its complexity.

Our first (academic) challenge was to agree on what we understand ‘literacy’ to mean, so that we can evaluate contributions on ‘biliteracy’. Going through our Skype notes, I’m struck by the terminology issues in every conversation. Is there a difference between ‘translanguaging’ and ‘translingual’; between ‘multiliteracies’ and ‘multilingual literacies’? Is ‘translanguaging’ the overarching concept in which ‘biliteracy’ needs to find its place, or should they be seen as separate phenomena in multilingual contexts? We still do not have a definite answer; or maybe it is better to say that we have many answers!

David: Yes, the email bug almost put a subtle end to the project before it started, and I’m very glad that Nancy intervened! I was keen to work with Christa on this book because her previous publications had focused on multilingual higher education in a way that I hadn’t come across before: questioning assumptions about English as the medium of instruction in so many universities worldwide.

Christa: We both wanted a variety of chapters from all corners of the world, but of course we had to be selective within the scope of one book.  We aimed to cover both majority and minority languages in contexts where language is a medium for developing knowledge rather than necessarily a focus of the course; in the end, the chapters highlight the use at university of literacy in Afrikaans, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, isiXhosa and other African languages, Korean, Maori, Polish, Spanish and Welsh.

David: Some of the contributors had already published in the area of biliteracy; some had been working with biliterate students and issues of biliteracy in university courses for some years, but came to engage with the issues in new ways through their involvement in the book. As the book developed, we encouraged contributors to read and comment on each other’s chapters, which brought some mutual adjustments and helped bring out common themes. All of us became aware of new perspectives to understand the experience of students and scholars, and fresh options for working with and for biliteracy. Guillaume Gentil, whose previous work provided inspiration for the book, kindly sprang into action once the rest of the book was complete, contributing a concluding chapter which draws themes together and points out some ways forward for research in academic biliteracies.

I’m grateful to Zayed University (UAE) for their support in travelling to Australia, Jordan and the UK in the course of preparing the book. Among many learning experiences along the way, I remember especially meeting up by coincidence with Christa at the AILA Congress in Brisbane – it was good to have a face to face meeting near the beginning as most of our later work together was by email or Skype. Another unforgettable and educative experience was taking part in a research conference at Cardiff University where most communication was in Welsh or Basque: having to rely on simultaneous interpreters and finding my usual language of academic/social communication suddenly minoritized, I suddenly found myself a ‘lurker’ in academic discussions!

Christa: For me, as a lecturer who code switches and uses two languages when teaching at Stellenbosch University, the active development of biliteracy in academic contexts is an important acknowledgement of the multilingual nature of twenty-first century higher education. Many students arrive at higher education institutions with a fully developed academic language that is not English and it would be a waste to ignore the enormous potential of that resource when making meaning of academic material.

We’ll look forward to hearing from readers of the book about how the issues relate to their own experiences as learners or teachers.


David M. Palfreyman:

Christa van der Walt:


For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Multilingual Higher Education, which Christa published with us previously.


Crosslinguistic Influence in Multilinguals

Earlier this month we published Wai Lan Tsang’s book Crosslinguistic Influence in Multilinguals which studies Cantonese, English and French multilinguals in Hong Kong. In this post, Wai Lan tells us how her own experience as a multilingual learner inspired further examination of the influence of other languages on the language being learned. 

The fact is that if you have not developed language,
you simply don’t have access to most of human experience,
and if you don’t have access to experience,
then you’re not going to be able to think properly.
Noam Chomsky

Chomsky’s quote tells us how important human language is in formulating our experience and thoughts. But what happens when we know more than one kind of human language? How do we think these different human languages influence or interact with each other?

Born into a cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong, I have the privilege of being exposed to different languages. As a native speaker of Cantonese (a variety of Standard Chinese), I have acquired English, French and Japanese. During the acquisitional process, I have become more and more aware of how the languages I know might influence each other – as expected or to my surprise. For example, once in a Japanese course I was taking, my French was activated quite a number of times when I was trying to figure out the pronunciation of some Japanese words. It was a surprise to me because those moments of activation came unconsciously, and I would expect languages similar to Japanese, for example Chinese, to be activated, but it was not. This kind of amazing experience has inspired me to explore more about how different languages in a multilingual’s mind may interact with each other.

Crosslinguistic Influence in MultilingualsThis book on crosslinguistic influence among three languages, namely Cantonese, English and French, in multilinguals, draws on the notions of ‘interface’ and ‘reverse transfer’ in second language acquisition. In particular, it addresses the possible positive or negative transfer effect from French as a third language (L3) to English as a second language (L2):

Does the acquisition of a later acquired language (i.e. French) have any effect on the reception and production of an earlier acquired language (i.e. English)?

The answer to the above query is not an unequivocal ‘yes’ or ‘no’, possibly because of a number of factors at play: L3 proficiency, linguistic feature or structure involved (which in turn relates to the notion of ‘structural linguistic complexity’), typology/ psychotypology and receptive and productive use of L2. These factors may in turn make the acquisitional process most intriguing.

In order to relish and excel in this fascinating acquisitional process, both language learners and language educators are encouraged to become more aware of the different factors and the resulting potential interaction among languages. The book will show them how those factors might have worked among a group of speakers of Cantonese with knowledge of English and French. The discussions in the book will also highlight other issues that are worth investigating in our quest for how crosslinguistic influence among three languages may take place.

Hope you all enjoy reading it and find it useful!

Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language AcquisitionFor more information about the book, please see our website. If you found this interesting you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language Acquisition edited by Rosa Alonso Alonso.

Prescription and Tradition in Language

Last month we published the book Prescription and Tradition in Language edited by Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade and Carol Percy. In this blog post, Carol tells us more about what inspired her and Ingrid to put the book together.

Carol Percy presenting her plenary at the Prescription conference, introduced by Ingrid Tieken
Carol Percy presenting her plenary at the Prescription conference, introduced by Ingrid Tieken

The academic study of linguistic prescriptivism is relatively new. Historical linguists like my co-editor Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade and me, Carol Percy, have both hosted conferences on the topic. My bilingual conference in Canada inspired essay collections that focussed mostly on English and on French. Ingrid’s meeting in the Netherlands was truly multilingual in scope, and realizing the significance of this we commissioned chapters on a wide range of languages for Prescription and Tradition in Language. Our multilingual mandate and our English-language medium really highlight how the codification of language norms needs to be considered in unique cultural contexts, across Time and Space.

Some of our contributors consider prescriptive traditions for English. We see journalists and academic linguists contributing to the formation and dissemination of norms. In a chapter contrasting the prescriptive traditions of English with French, the pronunciation guide compiled by lexicographer Robert Burchfield for the BBC (1981) underscores the broadcaster’s “semi-official status” in the absence of a state-sponsored language academy for English. In reviews of Burchfield’s supposedly ‘descriptivist’ edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1996), we can compare the opinions of journalists and linguists. And in what is actually a very depressing chapter, we see that pervading popular ‘news’ about language (whether the Middlesborough dialect or immigrant children’s bilingualism) is an inflexibly unwelcoming ethnolinguistic nationalism. Indeed, another contributor makes the case that traditional prescriptive rules define communities, naturalize assumptions (about rules and the people who observe them, or don’t), and thus ultimately validate prescriptive rules. This argument is probably not English-specific!

Prescription and Tradition in LanguageMore contributors consider prescriptive traditions for other countries and languages—and we are delighted to be disseminating this material in English. For major languages including French, Russian and Chinese, our contributors synthesize traditions and analyze challenges posed by globalization and new media. In the state’s official Dictionary of Modern Chinese (2012), the inclusion—and exclusion—of words referring to economic and social changes is discussed in the media. English delivers technological terms to languages including French and Russian. In France, official committees devise French equivalents to English terms and disseminate them on websites as well as in print. For Russian, shifts in its status and its norms are particularly visible (and open to debate) as the rise of new media coincides with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Some of our chapters contrast the status and standardization of the ‘same’ language in different contexts. Nineteenth-century Dutch in the temporarily-reunited Low Countries varied less in practice than in commentators’ imaginations. But the Russian written officially in Kazakhstan or spoken as a lingua franca in Dagestan is diverging from what is known as ‘Moscow Russian’. And although Macedonian is now recognized as a national language, elsewhere it is a minority language, with official recognition differing from country to country. Basque is recognized as a minority language in Spain but not yet in France: a committee is currently crafting a standard that can be spoken colloquially in multiple contexts. And (how) do sociolinguistic norms for German change when it is taught to foreigners?

While our collection can’t consider every language, it contains general and theoretical chapters. (How) do language norms vary by writing system? (How) does a language’s multilingual vs monolingual contexts or spoken vs written use relate to establishing its norms? Pam Peters recontextualizes these and other issues in her generous Epilogue to the volume. Both Ingrid and I learned (Ingrid “learnt”!) a lot from our contributors when we edited this volume, and we hope you enjoy it.

For more information about this book, please see our website.

Getting to know the Channel View team: Flo

Flo is the latest member of staff to join the Channel View Publications/Multilingual Matters team.  She joined us as an intern in September 2014 and she fitted in to our office so well that we asked her to become our full time Publishing Assistant from January 2015. In this post we get to know more about our newest member of the team…

Flo What was it that first attracted you to apply to work for CVP/MM, was it the books, the topics of our publications, or something else?!

After teaching English as a foreign language in France for nearly two years post-university, I was ready for a new challenge and decided to pursue a job in the publishing industry. I had assumed there wouldn’t be much in the way of publishing in Bristol, but a quick Google of ‘publishing internships, Bristol’ took me straight to the CVP/MM website. At the time, there weren’t any positions available, but the sorts of books you were publishing instantly piqued my interest: appealing to me as a language learner, EFL teacher and lover of travelling! When an opportunity to join the team came up just a few weeks later, I jumped at the chance and applied straight away.

Sounds like your interests fit with those of the rest of us very closely! I take it that you already speak French, do you speak any other languages, or are there any that you’d like to learn one day?

I studied Russian at university as well as French, and lived there for a semester in the third year of my degree. At that point I could speak Russian fairly well, having been plunged in at the deep end in a homestay with a Russian ‘babushka’ (grandmother) who didn’t speak a word of English. As you can imagine, my Russian improved pretty quickly…although I’m very rusty now! Other than rekindling my Russian, I’d like to learn Spanish one day – I hear it’s not too difficult if you already speak French and English.

Wow, living with a Russian babushka must have been quite an experience! As an office full of foodies, I’m sure we’d love to know if she cooked you any unusual meals or if you tried any exotic dishes during your stay in Russia?

Well, the typical breakfast in Russia is ‘kasha’ (каша), the Russian take on porridge, which is delicious. But the bane of my Saturday morning was the variation on this that my host called ‘molochniy sup’ (молочный суп), literally ‘milk soup’, consisting of a bowl of cooked spaghetti in warm milk – not quite the weekend treat it was meant to be! More importantly, as a result of my constant coughs and colds brought on by the -30 degree Russian winter, she introduced me to the medicinal properties of vodka. Consequently, it was an exciting day when I could reciprocate in the cultural exchange with my discovery of Heinz beans in the supermarket, which I brought home to my host. She put the unopened tin in a pan of boiling water to cook and we ate tepid beans that were pronounced ‘delicious’ for dinner!

Sounds like you had some interesting culinary experiences! If you could invite 6 well-known people to dinner (be it for baked beans or something more appetising!), who would you ask?

That’s such a tricky one… there are so many people I’d want to choose! I think I’ll go for: Louis Theroux for some good stories, Morgan Freeman or David Attenborough (I can’t choose!) ditto and also just to listen to them speak, even if it’s only ‘Please pass the potatoes’, Dawn French for her sense of humour and to create a fun, positive atmosphere, Eddie Izzard for some slightly eccentric and multilingual(!) comedy, Laura Marling for a lovely musical interlude between courses and Nigel Slater to ensure that the ‘dinner’ part of the dinner party is a success!

Quite a diverse selection, I’m sad this isn’t going to actually happen! Thank you for answering all our questions, Flo. To round off the interview, here are a few quick-fire questions:

Sweet or savoury? I’m a self-confessed chocoholic and always have room for pudding – so, sweet!

City stroll or country ramble? If I’m in the UK I’d probably opt for a walk in the countryside, but when I’m abroad I love exploring new cities.

Cats or dogs? Difficult to choose, but I grew up with a hilariously dim cat who I loved, so I’ll stick with cats.

Chat on the phone or handwritten letter? Much as I like a lengthy phone catch-up, there’s nothing quite like a handwritten letter – my friend’s been living in Australia for the past year and I’ve loved sending letters back and forth (even if the news in them is out of date by the time they get there!)

Neon or monochrome? The only neon things I own are highlighters, so I’d have to say monochrome.

Television programmes or films? Although I enjoy a good sitcom or drama (or episode of Bake Off), you can’t beat a great film.  One of my favourites is L’Auberge Espagnole, which inspired me to study abroad.

Minority Populations in Canadian Second Language Education

Earlier this year we published Minority Populations in Canadian Second Language Education edited by Katy Arnett and Callie Mady. Here, Katy tells us a bit more about the field of Canadian Second Language Education.

For many decades within the field of second language education, Canada has been known for the development and growth of its French immersion program. The model has been positively replicated in many corners of the globe and thus led to very esteemed views of the country’s language education initiatives.

Minority Populations in Canadian Second Language EducationYet, French immersion is not the only dimension of second language education in the country. There are other programs for French study (Intensive French and Core French), programs for immigrants who want to remain connected to their heritage languages and perhaps pass them on to their children, and programs seeking to revive Aboriginal languages. The changing faces of the Canadian immigrant population have led to considerations of English and French as “Additional,” rather than second languages. Changing views about who can and should study language has shifted the population of learners in traditional French Second Language classrooms. Thus, this volume seeks to bring to light some of these lesser-known facets of Canadian second language education, which may end up challenging Canada’s positive global reputation in the field.

Within this volume four groups are considered: Allophone students in Anglophone regions of the country studying French as an additional language, students with disabilities who are in French immersion programs, newcomers to and residents of Canada who are seeking to maintain ties to their heritage languages and cultures, and Aboriginal communities hoping to revive the languages and language traditions that were suppressed (often violently) by the Canadian government. The collective work of the authors—who range from doctoral candidates to esteemed scholars in the field—shows that Canada remains a vibrant locale for questioning and promoting language education, even if not all of the stories celebrate successes.

To find out more about this book please see our website.

Bilingual Immersion Education Network

Conference in Wandsworth where BIEN was launched in March 2012

We were interested to discover the recently founded Bilingual Immersion Education Network (BIEN) and got in touch with its organiser Gabriela Meier to tell us a bit about what the network aims to achieve. 

BIEN was set up as part of a research project (funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation) at Wix Primary School which runs an English-French stream.

Bilingual immersion education means teaching some subjects in one language (e.g. in English) and other subjects in another language (e.g. in French) in a state or private school at primary and/or secondary level. Teaching school subjects through two languages can be a very successful method to teach language and content. There are different types of bilingual immersion education. These are described on the BIEN website.

BIEN has the following aims:

BIEN joins people: It connects teachers, parents and policy makers, who are interested in bilingual immersion education in the UK.

BIEN informs: It is the first port of call for any questions regarding bilingual immersion education in the UK. It offers information, resources, FAQs, discussions, research findings, etc.

BIEN charts the trend: There is an increasing number of interesting bilingual immersion education projects around the country and BIEN keeps a directory of such programmes. If you know of a bilingual immersion programme, please let us know.

The website is publicly available, but some information is reserved for members. Additionally, through membership numbers we can assess the level of interest in this educational model around the country. So if you are interested, please join the network and keep up to date with developments. Go to, click on the network tab and register. You will have to enter a registration code, which is: 2lingual.

Comments from BIEN members:

timely and needed” (researcher)

I feel I’m part of a movement now” (teacher)

For further information please go to the BIEN website or contact Dr Gabriela Meier, Lecturer of Language Education, University of Exeter (