Young Children as Intercultural Mediators

One of our latest publications is Young Children as Intercultural Mediators by Zhiyan Guo. Here, Zhiyan tells us a bit more about how she came to write the book.

Young Children as Intercultural MediatorsI am utterly delighted that my book is now published! Tremendous thanks to all Multilingual Matters staff who have been involved in the different stages of the process. The book, as well as the doctoral study it is based on, were inspired by my own experience of living in a different country and being culturally mediated by my daughter, who has been schooled in England since the age of 4. With her being an indispensable channel, I learned about British schooling, social interaction, family relations and much more. During the gap periods between my study and my book, I was still so constantly sparked by the mediating moments that I thought I must share the experience with the wider world. Without her mediation, my acculturation to the new country would not have been so meaningful and interesting, just like those parents being brokered by their children in my book.

In a chat with a colleague who had just moved from Canada to England, I was surprised to know that she unexpectedly experienced differences despite the two countries speaking the same language. In this fast-moving globalised world where migration from one place to another becomes more extensive, how do people coming from non-English and non-European background cope with the ‘bigger’ cultural differences? In the migrant community, how do families survive each day of their life? Do parents still hold an unquestionable authority over their children?

I addressed these questions using real-life examples of interactions in a family’s everyday living in this book, and I concluded on three levels of cultural mediation; assimilative, appropriative and accommodative. Examples of these levels are when the children persuaded their parents to give them pocket money, change the type of food served on dinner table and alter their birthday invitation-sending protocol. Unlike previous studies on children being translators and interpreters explicitly for their parents with inferior English proficiency, the book reveals the implicit/invisible cultural mediation by children to their parents whose English is good enough to work in the mainstream society. With the informal language learning as part of the continuum, I found that children provided immediate and vivid contexts to develop parents’ knowledge of the language and society, from correcting pronunciation to insisting on the appropriate manner to sign off a Christmas card. Even when this process did not involve any conceptual change, it still led to a quantitative accumulation of knowledge, happening spontaneously, ephemerally and frequently in everyday life.

I wanted the children’s voices to be heard as loudly as, if not more than, the adults’, for children themselves were not fully aware of their mediating roles. However, the parents’ authority and the conventional family hierarchy was shifted and challenged, which resulted in altered family power relationships and loosened parental control. In my family this was quickly noticed by my parents who came to visit us from China. I also explored whether child cultural mediation could be conceptualised as work, because, as intercultural communicators and cultural translators, children are positioned in the middle, creating links between the two cultures and making significant contributions to a family’s social and emotional well-being in the new country.

For more information about the book please see our website or contact Dr. Zhiyan Guo at

Introducing our new book series ‘Language, Mobility and Institutions’

To tie in with the publication of the first books in our new series, the series editors Melissa Moyer (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) and Celia Roberts (King’s College  London) have written this post presenting the series.

We are very happy to introduce this new series on ‘Language, Mobility and Institutions’. The theme of this series and the manuscripts we seek to publish address a new sociolinguistic reality brought about by globalization. This worldwide social process challenges researchers dealing with language to adopt innovative perspectives in order to provide an improved understanding of how language is implicated in the various institutions of society. ‘Institutions’ in the title of the series is not just limited to established social, administrative, political or economic entities in the public, private or non-governmental sector but also to sites and contexts where institutionalized practices are produced and reproduced in the daily undertakings of people who move around the world.

Communicative Practices at Work

The first books in the new series are being published this autumn. We hope these will be the first of many which aim to link the experience of being mobile with the institutional responses to increasing diversity. Institutions, understood in a wide sense, are grappling with the conundrum of national or institutional ideologies which assume standardization or homogenous ways of thinking in situations of superdiversity. Meanwhile, migrants see their social and cultural capital leeching away or look for ways to resist and develop alternative strategies to gain agency and cope with inequality and social exclusion.

Sitting on the train in any major city in the world, it is commonplace to hear five or six different languages in a carriage. In everyday life multilingualism is a banal event. But how does this play out in institutions? Much of the time, it is swept under the carpet as a largely unrecognised and rarely remunerated workforce of multilingual people is expected to act as interpreters and translators. At the same time, linguistic gatekeepers are at work in selection panels, designing an oh-so-narrow gate for the few to pass through.

The present series seeks to bring forth the innovative ways people are pushing at these very gates which are being safeguarded by powerful institutions and how they are finding creative ways of contesting exclusionary practices by setting up their own businesses. Similarly, some organisations are championing communicative flexibility within their own workforces.

Language, Migration and Social Inequalities

And this is one of the themes of Jo Anne Kleifgen’s book which was published last week. Communicative Practices at Work is an ethnographic and sociolinguistic account of how one US firm is drawing on the multilingual and multimodal resources of its staff. In November Language, Migration and Social Inequalities edited by Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer and Celia Roberts takes a critical look at sites of control, selection and resistance across settings in Europe, Africa and Australia.

Both these books draw the reader into research sites quite far removed from the majority of books on sociolinguistics which tend to focus on language rights, education or local communities. With this new series, workplace settings such as high-tech factories, the marketplaces of South Africa or the world of the airline stewardess are explored. Similarly, light is shed on the backstage work of institutions where language use is negotiated as migrants’ lives are made bureaucratically processable.

We are finding the editorship of this series a pretty exciting experience since any one aspect of language, mobility and institutions is nested in wider contexts, discourses and interactions. Local and national politics, the forces of the neo-liberal economy, the multiple networks of migrant groups and the contact they maintain with their countries of origin and transit are all part of the tangled web which has language as its centre.

We welcome manuscripts or book projects that presents research that would contribute to the widely defined themes of the present series. If you think you have a proposal to make then do get in touch with Anna Roderick at Multilingual Matters and we will get back to you soon.

Celia and Melissa

Linguistic and Cultural Acquisition in a Migrant Community

Earlier this month we published Linguistic and Cultural Acquisition in a Migrant Community edited by David Singleton, Vera Regan and Ewelina Debaene. We asked the editors of the book to tell us a little about the background to the book and how it came together.

Ireland has not been used to people coming to live on its shores. Irish people on the contrary have been more used traditionally to outward migration. Today however, it is noticeable that people from many parts of the world live in Ireland. The Polish community is the largest of the many non-Irish groups in Ireland today. We often meet Polish people in the course of our daily lives in Ireland, and Polish has become a language that we often hear in the street and see featured on public signs in the urban and rural landscape.

Linguistic and Cultural Acquisition in a Migrant CommunityThis volume is the result of a project largely funded by the Irish Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences, on language and the Polish community in Ireland, France and Austria. The project first originated in a conversation some of us had at the Sociolinguistics Symposium in Limerick in 2006. Its aim was to focus multiple perspectives on the relationship between language, culture and the lives of Polish migrants settling into a new country. The story of the Polish diaspora in different countries, ‘old’ migration countries (Austria and France) and a ‘new’ one (Ireland), is told in the interviews with the Polish participants in all three.

Contributors to the volume are established researchers as well as early-stage scholars. The composition of the research group was multidisciplinary as well as interdisciplinary, resulting in a rich exchange of ideas at project meetings. The group was also multilingual, comprising English L1 speakers as well as Polish L1 speakers and a Czech L1 speaker, who also all speak other languages. The English and Czech L1 speakers all learnt Polish throughout the period of the research project. This meant that the richness of the linguistic situation under investigation was always present to everyone’s mind. Psycholinguistic as well as sociolinguistic aspects were investigated in order to arrive at as full a picture as possible of the lives of the participants, their views of their current lives and their future, and their process of acquiring the language of their new context, whether in Ireland, France or Austria. The interviews with the Polish participants out of which the book first sprang, give us insights into language use as well into people’s lives and the events relating to their experience of migration.

For more information on this book click here. You can also find out more about our Second Language Acquisition series on our website.