An Interview with Xiao-lei Wang, author of Maintaining Three Languages

20 November 2015

This month we published Maintaining Three Languages by Xiao-lei Wang which explores her experience of bringing up teenagers multilingually. We asked Xiao-lei a few questions about her book.

Maintaining Three LanguagesWhat makes your book different from others that have been published before?

There are numerous ways in which my new book differs from other books currently on the market. Due to space limit, I will only mention a few here.

  • Unlike most parenting advice books, in which parents tend to be treated as passive readers and are rarely provided with access to original sources, this book takes a different approach by considering parents as active and intelligent readers. To this end, parents are provided with original research sources; references and further readings are suggested at the end of each chapter for those interested in pursuing the topics discussed. In the same vein, some jargon and technical terminologies regarding multilingualism are deliberately introduced to empower parents to access research literature directly if they wish to do so. When jargon and technical terms are introduced, they are explained in simpler language.
  • This book does not consider adolescents’ multilingual development as an isolated linguistic phenomenon; rather, it addresses multilingual development concurrently with other aspects of adolescent life such as biological, cognitive, and social development. The purpose is to encourage parents to consider taking a holistic approach that aims to cultivate a whole person rather than just a multilingual person.
  • This book addresses the impact of multilingual family welfare, a topic that has been largely neglected in the published literature. Parents from multilingual families often come from different cultural backgrounds. As a result, the multilingual childrearing process may affect the coherence and well-being of multilingual families. Practical strategies are provided to help parents be mindful of family well-being.
  • This book includes practical and easy-to-use language and literacy measures that parents can use to better understand their teen’s multilingual development of words, grammar and language production. By understanding their teen’s current heritage-language development levels, parents can focus on the areas in which their teen needs more support.
  • This book is written in a reader-friendly style with a balance of scholarly rigor and reader accessibility. To increase readers’ enjoyment, I have included many interesting and meaningful personal anecdotes. Parents will probably enjoy a book with real-life anecdotes more than a dry advice book that presents information out of context.

How will your readers find your book useful?

Readers may find my book useful in the following areas:

  • Because this book is rooted in my own child and adolescent rearing experiences in the everyday context, parents can easily relate to what I discussed in the book.
  • The practical strategies I proposed in the book can be implemented easily by parents. In addition, these strategies are based on research and personal practice.
  • This book provides parents a platform on which they can reflect on their own multilingual childrearing practice.
  • The book empowers parents by showing them that although multilingual childrearing is challenging, it is possible with the right strategies and support.

Was it difficult writing about your own children?

Not at all! On the contrary, I found that writing about my children has been the most enjoyable writing experience in my academic career. When writing other books or research articles, I can, once in a while, feel bored. This never happened when I wrote about my own children. In a way, this is natural: what can be more engaging when a mother writes about her own children, who are such an important part of her life?

What’s the most important advice you would offer to parents of multilingual teenagers?

To support adolescent multilingual development, I consider the following strategies crucial:

  • Raising a happy teen is more important than raising a multilingual teen. Thus, taking a holistic approach in promoting teens’ social, cognitive, and identity development should be a priority.
  • Parents need to change their roles from manager of their children’s lives to their consultants.
  • Set up realistic and achievable goals together with your teens about their multilingual development. Empower them by letting them be a part of the decision-making process involving their own multilingual development.

What are the advantages of growing up multilingual?

Research has shown that there are more advantages than disadvantages to being multilingual.

Cognitive and Academic Advantages

  • Multilinguals tend to be better at problem solving, because tackling a problem successfully requires focusing on some aspects of the information and ignoring the others (selective attention).
  • Multilinguals may possess an added mental flexibility and creativity because they regularly switch between different languages (mental flexibility).
  • Multilinguals tend to have more than one set of cultural tools with which to interpret the world. These tools can foster competent behaviors in multiple cultures. For instance, an individual who has extensive knowledge and experiences in cultures A and B may be able to retrieve ideas from cultures A and B spontaneously, place them in juxtaposition, and integrate the two into a novel idea through creative insight. This process is referred to as novel conceptual combination.
  • Multilinguals have an advantage in knowledge transfer from their different languages. Compared with monolinguals, multilinguals can benefit greatly from knowledge acquired in their multiple languages to enrich their learning and understanding.
  • Proficiency in more than one language has been shown to be associated with high academic achievement. Individuals who have the ability to switch between two or more languages also exhibit higher cognitive functioning than those who abandon one of their heritage languages. Research shows that when children were encouraged to further develop their home language, the skills they built in that language helped their mainstream language literacy development. In fact, the longer children receive reinforcement in their home language, the better they learn their mainstream language.

Linguistic Advantages

  • Multilingual individuals tend to have a metalinguistic advantage when compared to their monolingual counterparts. They are more sanative about the language phenomenon in their ambient languages.
  • They have more linguistic resources available to them.
  • The multilingual faculty also facilitates new language learning. This is perhaps because multilinguals are more experienced language learners who have potentially developed more language learning strategies than monolinguals and have a larger linguistic and intercultural repertoire at their disposal.

Other Advantages

  • In having knowledge about their heritage language(s), children and adolescents have an advantage in accessing their heritage culture and communicating with their heritage family. Research suggests that children who speak their parents’ heritage language(s) enjoy better relationships with their families and are less likely to be alienated from their parents and relatives.
  • Multilinguals have the privilege of accessing different sources of information and they can read books and newspapers, as well as watch news and films, in several languages. This makes them more versatile and helps them to approach things from multiple perspectives.
  • Moreover, multilingualism can increase a person’s social circle to include friends from many parts of the world. When travelling to another country, being able to speak the language really helps bring people together and facilitates communication, exchange and socialization.
  • Being multilingual has career advantages as well. In the increasingly globalized world, multilinguals have a competitive advantage in the job market.
  • Research has shown that people who are proficient in their heritage language tend to have higher self-esteem, are more confident in achieving goals, feel they have more control over their lives, and have more ambitious plans for the future.

Given all the advantages mentioned above and many others that I have not mentioned, it is definitely worthwhile to raise multilingual children and adolescents. As Stephen Krashen, an expert in second language learning, commented, “Heritage language development appears to be an excellent investment. For a small effort…the payoffs are enormous.” Another well-known multilingual expert, Colin Baker, also echoed that multilingualism has more advantages than drawbacks.

However, I would like to caution that multilingualism affects individuals differently. Some multilinguals may develop particularly strong intellectual and linguistic abilities as a byproduct of multiple language leaning and use. Other multilinguals may have relatively weaker abilities in their respective languages because input in or exposure to each language is not evenly distributed. It is important to have a realistic view of multilingual effects and understand that there is no guarantee that being multilingual will result in benefits that are associated with multilingualism as described above, nor does it suggest that multilingualism is the cause of all the problems. Thus, not all multilinguals will function superbly or equally well; rather, the multilingual effects on an individual depend on many complex factors, including the individual child or adolescent’s sociolinguistic environments, parental support, aptitude, motivation and personality.

What is your next research project?

I have several projects in progress. For example,

  • Multilingual children’s figurative language development (such as idioms)
  • Multilingual children’s syncretic language use
  • In addition, I plan to write a comprehensive handbook on multilingual children and adolescents, tentatively titled Everything You Want to Know about Bilingual and Multilingual Childrearing.

Growing up with Three LanguagesIf you found this interesting you might also like Xiao-lei’s other books: Growing up with Three Languages and Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family. Information about all her books can be found on our website.

Cognate Vocabulary in Language Acquisition and Use

17 November 2015

Last month we published Cognate Vocabulary in Language Acquisition and Use by Agnieszka Otwinowska. In this post, Agnieszka tells us a bit more about cognate vocabulary and explains the background to the cover image of her book.

Cognate Vocabulary in Language Acquisition and UseMy research interests lie in the broad area of bilingualism and multilingualism, defined functionally as the use of several languages for different purposes. The topic that I found particularly fascinating is the ways in which individual multilingualism (i.e. using several languages by one person) affects noticing and using crosslinguistic similarity. Such similarities in the area of lexis are known as cognate vocabulary (i.e. words that are formally and semantically very similar or even identical across different languages). We tend to notice them mostly in languages which are typologically close, and it is assumed that cognate words had a common ancestor word that they originated from (Lat. cognatus = blood relative). However, cognates also exist in typologically unrelated languages, such as Polish and English due to the historical processes of language contact and borrowing.

At a certain moment of my research and teaching career, I was quite amazed by the ‘discovery’ of cognates, which led me to studying the topic of crosslinguistic similarity and its role in multilingual language acquisition. I decided to investigate how cognateness ‘works’ across languages, because it is assumed that the existence of cognates should be helpful in learning. As a methodologist of language teaching, I was interested in finding out which factors influence noticing and using cognates, and whether sensitivity to crosslinguistic similarity, present in multilinguals, can be trained in other language learners.

I mainly focused on Polish and English because Polish is my native language, while teaching English is my main area of research. Thus, my entire research deals with the role of crosslinguistic lexical similarity and multilingualism with English as a part of a language constellation. My book Cognate Vocabulary in Language Acquisition and Use summarises my research on cognate Polish-English vocabulary, and on training vocabulary learning strategies, coupled with raising awareness of such words.

So, why is this book different from other books on multilingualism? I believe it is the focus on cognates and the scope of this work. Although cognates have been studied from various perspectives, there are also vast differences in methodological approaches, and even in the ways of defining a cognate, depending on the domain. Approaches to cognates differ in historical and applied linguistics, in psycholinguistics and in contact linguistics. My aim was to present those diverse perspectives in one volume and make use of the knowledge stemming from those different domains in my research.

The result is a unique monograph, which brings together linguistic, sociolinguistic, psycholinguistic and educational perspectives on the phenomenon of cognate vocabulary across languages. It predominantly deals with Polish-English cognates and their use by bilingual and multilingual Polish learners/users of English. However, since it discusses the universal processes of language contact in the macro scale (at the societal level) and the micro scale (crosslinguistic influences in the mind of an individual), the volume should appeal to international readers of numerous language backgrounds. Hopefully, the research presented here can also serve as an example for other language pairs and groups.

And just the final word about the image on the cover of the book. Aneta Pavlenko congratulated me on the choice, saying that there is a clear link between cognates and the photograph. Indeed, cognates are very much about certain repetitiveness of patterns (like the poles on the beach), and also about ‘giving a helping hand,’ in language learning (like the children). The photo was taken on holiday at the Polish seaside (actually not my favourite destination, as I prefer hiking in the mountains). Two of the children in the photo are mine, and they are rather proud to be featured on the book cover! All three kids are quite grown-up by now, and they all attend the same secondary school near Warsaw.

If you would like more ifnromation about this book please see our website. You might also be interested in New Perspectives on Transfer in Second Language Learning.

Local Languaging: Challenges Existing Definitions of ‘Language’ and ‘Literacy’

9 October 2015

Last month we published Local Languaging, Literacy and Multilingualism in a West African Society by Kasper Juffermans. The book challenges existing definitions of ‘language’ and ‘literacy’ in The Gambia. In this post, Kasper gives us a bit more background to the ideas discussed in his book.

Local Languaging, Literacy and Multilingualism in a West African SocietyHow many languages do you speak? If we think a bit longer about this rather common question, it is not the same kind of question as How often have you been to Africa? or How many children do you have? Generally, travels and children are rather easy to count and remember. With language that’s not quite the case. Languages are difficult to count not because people often speak such a large number of them – usually they don’t – but because it’s hard to tell where one language begins and another ends, as well as what counts as speaking it.

As a student of African studies at a Belgian university I began carrying out field research in The Gambia, Africa’s smallest mainland country. The Gambia gained independence from the UK in 1965 and like many African states it has maintained its colonial language as official language. This includes use as a medium of instruction throughout the public education system and almost exclusive use in the written media and the public space.

I began my research in a modern multi-ethnic village in the southwest of the country. The village comprised people of Mandinka, Jola, Fula, Wolof and Manjago ethnic groups living together. It was a very encouraging environment to learn Mandinka with numerous people around me with the patience and the interest to teach me, and enough (elderly) persons who did not, or pretended not to, speak any English. The more time I spent in the village, the better my Mandinka became. Before long my communicative skills were enough to engage in small talk with neighbours, fellow passengers, street vendors, etc. But then people would challenge me and ask me if I could, or why I didn’t, speak their language. This way I learned to recognise and greet in Wolof, Jola, and Fula too. Not only did I have to learn the local language, I had to learn to language locally, to respond adequately in greeting sequences involving Arabic, the interlocutors’ ethnic language and the lingua franca of the situation. I had to learn to choose the right moment to switch, and get the cultural pragmatics of turn-taking and back-channelling right. All of this is not learning different languages, but rather learning local languaging.

In my research I learned to look beyond languages in the plural to understand multilingualism and literacy in Gambian society. I discovered that I had entered the field with a rather European conception of language and that this was different from African ways of understanding language. In the linguistic landscape – i.e., the public space as marked by linguistic objects – I could hardly see any language other than English. There were only very few occasions of local language, and then usually only in Wolof. What did this mean? Are African languages somehow not written languages? Is Wolof more vital than other Gambian languages? And how do we read the prolific use of images complementing text in the public space? My book attempts to address these questions.

The Gambian government prepared an education policy for 2004-2015 that announced the introduction of the five most commonly used local languages as subjects throughout the education system and as medium of instruction in the first three years of basic education. But why can’t we see any evidence of this policy in the school I investigated? Could the problem be situated in the fluidity of local language practices and the fixity (and eurocentrism?) of such a policy document? Community members declared their support for the introduction of moo fing kango (‘black people’s language’) in their school, but refused to make a choice about which of the local languages should be introduced. The book argues that such voices need to be taken into account and attempts to proceed from there in understanding language in education and society at large.

During my fieldwork I gradually unlearned to conceptualise language in the plural, and to understand language rather as a verb. The present book contributes to the languaging turn in sociolinguistics by emphasising the dynamics and fluidity of language as practiced locally in a globalising world. Whereas English and literacy have in the past strategically been pluralised to emphasise diversity in practices across cultural contexts (Englishes, literacies), it is now time to singularise them again and think of language and literacy as material nouns. This book can be read not only as a sociolinguistic monograph of one West African society, but also as an exercise to unpluralise language.

For more information about this book please see our website.

Cross-Language Mediation in Foreign Language Teaching and Testing

4 September 2015

This month we are publishing Cross-Language Mediation in Foreign Language Teaching and Testing by Maria Stathopoulou which examines mediation between languages and the challenges that mediators often face. In this post, Maria outlines the issues explored in the book.

9781783094110Users of two or more languages may mediate in their everyday life, but why are some more successful than others? How do effective mediators (or cross-languagers) achieve specific communication goals? What techniques and language tools do they use? What strategies differentiate successful from less successful mediators? These are some of the questions addressed in this book which sheds new light on the mechanisms of cross-language mediation.


Being concerned with the purposeful relaying of information from one language to another, this book considers mediation as a form of translanguaging, a language practice which involves interplay of linguistic codes. Retaining his/her own identity and participating at the same time in two (or more) cultures, the role of mediator is to make the target audience understand information that otherwise would be impossible for them to understand. The mediator is not considered as a neutral third party but as an active participator in the communicative encounter, and his/her role is socially valuable.

And why?

The research project has generally been motivated by a broader need to contribute towards a multilingual approach to language teaching and testing still dominated by monolingual paradigms. The exploration of the ways in which foreign language learners’ mother tongue(s) could be used constructively for the teaching and learning of languages, and the way to develop skills and effective strategies so as to mediate and translanguage successfully was of no real concern to mainstream English Language Teaching (ELT). As the book draws readers’ attention to the fluid boundaries between languages, current ‘English-only’ policies may be rethought in light of the findings reported.

The ‘mingling-of languages’ idea

This book raises readers’ awareness regarding the ‘mingling-of languages idea’ in teaching and testing, an idea which can actually be realised through mediation activities and which can ultimately promote multilingualism. In a nutshell, based on empirical evidence, this book

  • ultimately stresses the urgent need for foreign language policies to consider cross-language mediation as a fundamental ability that language learners need to develop,
  • advocates the implementation of programmes aiming at the development of translanguaging literacy and
  • concludes by pointing to the role of testing in the effort to support multilingualism.

Who may find this book useful?

As the author of this book, my hope is that it will be used by (in-service and pre-service) teachers, curriculum designers, syllabus and material developers, teacher trainers, language testers, policymakers, but also by future researchers in the field of multilingualism, multilingual testing and foreign language learning as a comprehensive guide to important current language issues.

Dr Maria Stathopoulou, University of Athens

For more information about this title please see our website or the author’s own Facebook page for the book or contact the author at the email address above.

Martial Arts and Sociolinguistics

28 August 2015

Earlier this month we published Lian Malai Madsen’s book Fighters, Girls and Other Identities. In this post, she explains how her interests in martial arts and sociolinguistics came together in this volume.

Fighters, Girls and Other IdentitiesI was 12 when I began practicing taekwondo in a small village club. At first it was my gender-egalitarian occupation that attracted me to the martial arts. Later it became an integral part of my self-perception, my main leisure activity and a source of lasting friendships. I continued to enjoy the sport as a fun way to keep fit, but it was the social community around the sport that had the greatest impact on my life.

I was 19 when I was first introduced to sociolinguistics at an urban university. At first I thought studying Danish was mostly about literature, but my teacher in linguistics opened my eyes to the connections between language use and social relations. I became involved in his research project and developed a keen interest for language, identity, diversity and inequality. During my years as a university student I became a black belt, an instructor and a board member in a large urban taekwondo club.

Although these paths in my life seemed like two very different worlds they eventually became united in the book Fighters, Girls and Other Identities: Sociolinguistics in a Martial Arts Club that investigates the martial arts club as a site where language, identities, diversity and inequality take effect.

In research on sports and identities, language has mainly been studied as discourses about sport, rhetoric surrounding sports or as speech genres connected with specific sports activities. But in tune with a wish to capture the social and linguistic diversity and mobility of today’s societies, sociolinguistic research has also turned to sports as an important site for studying linguistic hybridity and multilingualism. Such interests in globalization and superdiversity make the combination of the language use, sports and identities a fruitful research cocktail. It was my involvement in these topics as a scholar that led me to exchange the punching pads for a pen, notebooks and recording equipment for a while and to look at the social community of young martial artists in Copenhagen through the glasses of a sociolinguist.

I am 39 and the results of this research have finally been published, and, in the meantime, I have even become a taekwondo-mum.

Lian Malai Madsen
Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen

For more information on this title please contact Lian or see our website.

New series: Researching Multilingually

21 August 2015

To introduce our new series, Researching Multilingually, which we’re launching this year, the series editors Prue Holmes, Richard Fay and Jane Andrews have written this post which outlines the aims of the series.

The increasingly diverse character of many societies means that researchers from a wide range of disciplines may now find themselves engaging with multilingual opportunities as they design, carry out and disseminate their research, even if there is no explicit focus on languages and multilingualism. This book series is designed to address the methodological, practical, ethical options and dilemmas that researchers face may as they conduct their research.

  • How may researchers engage with research methodology which allows them to embrace multilingual possibilities and practices?
  • How may researchers operate with and across multiple languages in the research domain?
  • How are multiple languages reflected in research outcomes and dissemination events and products?

This series establishes a distinctive track of theoretical, methodological, and ethical researcher praxis that readers can draw upon in contexts where multiple languages are at play or might be purposefully used. The series offers critical and interpretive perspectives on research practices in a range of contexts, specifically where languages, and the people speaking and using them, are vulnerable and under pressure, pain, and tension.

For more information about the new series please see our website. Proposals should be sent to Anna Roderick.

Celebrating the 20th volume in the Parents’ and Teachers’ Guides book series

19 March 2015

The publication earlier this month of Coreen Sears’ book Second Language Students in English-Medium Classrooms marks the 20th book in the Parents’ and Teachers’ Guides series. Here, the series editor, Colin Baker, tells the story of the development of the series.

The series started with a challenged conscience and a dream in the early 1990s. I was writing academic books, editor of an international academic journal, and co-editor of a series of books on Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. The academic side was secure, satisfying in university terms, and writing books was a pleasure.

But there were two nagging questions in my mind in the early 1990s. Did my contribution make any difference in the classroom to teachers instructing and students learning? Was I having any effect on the ways parents brought up their children to be bilingual? At times, the honest answer seemed to be ‘no’ or at best ‘too little influence on practice in both classrooms and homes’.

Mike & Marjukka Grover

Mike & Marjukka Grover

My spectral self-doubts were shared in the early 1990s with Mike Grover, the founder and Managing Director of Multilingual Matters. By talking about publishing, he helped me see that the difference between theory and practice, research and daily living, was not a divide, but essential parts of a larger whole. In publishing, having both was important, and getting some kind of bridge between the academic and the practical was always worth attempting.

I was indoctrinated at university not to write a popular practical book as (a) it would make me look a shallow academic and ruin my reputation and promotion prospects, (b) that research and not  ‘practical guidance’  was the role of a university academic. The advice by my seniors was not to depart from an academic lifestyle. Disobedience was chosen. Conscience won. The dream began.

A Parents' and Teachers' Guide to BilingualismA hospital operation started the ball rolling. The operation was 100% successful, but the skilled surgeon told me it was essential to stay home for two weeks to rest and recuperate. After two days I was totally bored. So, in the bedroom and then study, I wrote a book for parents about bringing up bilingual children. With the help of Marjukka Grover, wife of Mike and Editor of the Bilingual Family Newsletter, over 100 questions that parents and teachers tend to ask were posed and refined. In two weeks, I had answered each question, created a rough draft of a book in FAQ style, and was fit for a return to university. The book became A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism. It was first published in 1995, with further editions in 2000, 2007 and 2014. Jokes about ‘it shows signs of the anaesthetic’ were prevalent among my colleagues in 1995!

Guía para padres y maestros de niños bilingüesThe book became the world’s best­selling guide for parents and teachers in raising and developing bilingual children, and has been published in Swedish, Estonian, Spanish, Turkish, German, Mandarin Chinese and Korean. A version of the book was published by Multilingual Matters in Spanish as Guía para padres y maestros de niños bilingües with Alma Flor Ada joining as co-author.

Both the English and Spanish editions of A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism sold well and led to the start of the PTG series. The first books in the Parents’ and Teachers’ Guides series date from 1998/9 and covered important ‘guidance’ topics for parents (e.g. dyslexia and Deaf children), with Coreen Sears’ book Second Language Students in Mainstream Classrooms being for teachers. Subsequent books have included topics as diverse as: reading and writing, sign language, family language strategies and the effect of siblings on language development.

Growing Up with LanguagesSome books in the series are for parents; others for teachers; a few are for both parents and teachers. For example, for parents Claire Thomas’ 2012 much-applauded book Growing Up with Languages gives sound and honest advice on raising bilingual children.

Language and Learning in Multilingual ClassroomsAnother book that has received considerable praise in reviews is for teachers. Written by Elizabeth Coelho and entitled Language and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms it gives seasoned and comprehensive guidance on all aspects of classrooms where there are newcomers with varied languages. An example of a book for both parents and teachers is Trevor Payne and Elizabeth Turners’ Dyslexia: A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide that utilized much practical experience of dyslexic children with academic understandings.

Second Language Students in English-Medium ClassroomsThe series is very well-known for its books for teachers on International Schools. Written by international educators such as Edna Murphy, Eithne Gallagher, Maurice Carder and Coreen Sears, these provide a boundary-breaking set of guides for both new and experienced teachers in the fast growing number of International Schools throughout the world. The 20th book in the series is Coreen Sears’ second book Second Language Students in English-Medium Classrooms.

Family Language LearningTwo other books have only just been published (2015): Family Language Learning by Christine Jernigan and Approaches to Inclusive English Classrooms by Kate Mastruserio Reynolds.

Approaches to Inclusive English ClassroomsA recent and strongly developing strand to the series is books on the development of multilingual children. Written by authors such as Tony Cline, Andreas Braun, Claire Thomas, Elizabeth Coelho and Xiao-lei Wang (with two outstanding US books), these reflect the growing acceptance that multilingual children and multilingual classrooms are sufficiently different from bilingualism and bilingual education to merit their own advice and guidance. When the series started in the early 1990s, advice about multilingualism was seen as covered by bilingualism. This is no longer the case, as the above authors demonstrate so well. The dream has developed.

Written from the conscience, the following initial dream for the series was composed in 1995. “This series will provide immediate advice and practical help on topics where parents and teachers frequently seek answers. Each book will be written by one or more experts in a style that is highly readable, non-technical and comprehensive. No prior knowledge is assumed: a thorough understanding of a topic is promised after reading the book.”

Mike & Marjukka Grover

Mike & Marjukka Grover

My thanks go to all the authors of the twenty top-quality books in the series. These authors are teachers, parents, professional developers and academics. All authors have been a joy not only to work with, but also to learn from and to share the dream with. Much gratitude also goes to the staff at Multilingual Matters who shared my dream that we could produce excellent books that give advice and guidance at a practical level. Not least this includes Mike and Marjukka Grover who shared, supported and stirred the dream.

For more information about the Parents’ and Teachers’ Guides book series please see our website.

Latino Immigrant Youth and Interrupted Schooling

3 March 2015

In February we published Marguerite Lukes’ new book Latino Immigrant Youth and Interrupted Schooling. In this post, Marguerite gives us a bit of background to the book.

Each year countless immigrant youth migrate to the US and Europe with dreams of a better tomorrow. International news organizations report regularly on migrants’ ordeals (see here  and here) but few focus on what happens once they settle in their host country. Many, in the midst of their adolescent years, have abandoned their schooling and arrive as unaccompanied minors, facing multiple challenges in education and the labor market, with adolescent needs but shouldering adult responsibilities.

Latino Immigrant Youth and Interrupted SchoolingMigrant youth are the subject of my new book Latino Immigrant Youth and Interrupted Schooling. The book explores the voices, perspectives and life experiences of a growing group of immigrant young adults at a time when both Europe and the US struggle to design effective immigration policies to integrate and educate them. The book emerged from my personal experiences teaching and designing programs for these youth. I found that prior research tended to ‘explain away’ the issue of immigrant youth’s interrupted schooling, equating it with disinterest in education. In the classroom, I met young migrants thirsty for information about college and job training, and who often had been encouraged to leave school or were frustrated because their need to work and support families with remittances conflicted with school’s schedules. Far from being disinterested in school, the young people whom I met were eager to learn English, enter college, and become professionals, many with aspirations to become doctors, lawyers, teachers and social workers and sought opportunities to advance. Yet institutional barriers stood between them and realizing their dreams; they had few mentors or peers who could help them access feasible educational options.

The book fills a glaring gap in scholarship on immigrant young adults who are categorized as dropouts (those who have left secondary school) by presenting new data on a significant but overlooked population. In the book, I present recommendations for supporting and serving these youth. Persistent deficit views that suggest that some groups ‘value’ education more than others overlook sociopolitical realities and global economic factors the lead to school interruption prior to migration and institutional barriers that keep students out of school once they arrive in the host country. The book seeks to enrich the conversation by putting faces to young people who are often presented merely as statistics. The book also explores ways in which the US political economy impacts the lives, educational pathways and work options of these young adults, and their integration into the cultural, social and economic mainstream of the US.

Historical and contextual data are used to provide the reader with an understanding of the socio-political forces at work that lead young people to leave school in their countries of origin.

By using data collected in interviews of 150 students who arrived in the US between the ages of 15 and 24, I present their experiences as they navigate the complex and confusing education landscape after arriving in the US. Existing policies often provide disincentives for schools to serve youth who are emergent bilinguals and older than the average secondary student, and sometimes with emergent basic academic skills.

Central to this new volume is an examination of the role of language, English proficiency, literacy and academic skills play in access to educational options. It presents research on multilingual and translanguaging approaches to academic English development and existing policies and practices for students with interrupted formal education. The book concludes with a discussion of existing public policies, opportunities and institutional constraints that impact the young adults discussed here. Existing models that show promise are presented, alongside challenges and persisting questions and directions for the future. The book shares voices and compelling stories of young immigrant adults who were eager to share their experiences. Time and again they reminded me that this type of scholarship is important because, as one youth explained, “they don’t really see us.”

If you would like more information about this book, please see our website.

Language Policy in Higher Education

16 December 2014

English is becoming more and more common as the language of instruction in universities all over the world. However, in many countries efforts are being made to preserve indigenous languages. In this post, F. Xavier Vila and Vanessa Bretxa, the editors of our recent book Language Policy in Higher Education outline the recent debates within language policy that form the basis of their book.

In 2012, the leading Italian public university Politecnico di Milano attracted headlines from all over the world when it announced it would move to all-English instruction. The announcement stirred the growing debate going on all over Europe about the convenience of increasing the role of English as the vehicular language in non-English-speaking countries. One year later, it was France’s turn to discuss the issue of the Franglais row: Is the English language conquering France?, to the extent that the national government had to make a decision about the role of English in French universities. Simultaneously, on the other side of the ocean, in the now economically booming Bolivia, the first promotion of students from the three recently created indigenous universities were preparing their graduation theses neither in Spanish or English, but rather in the indigenous Aymara, Quechua and Guarani languages. Their graduation in August 2014 was welcome as a crucial step in order to promote social cohesion and wealth redistribution and overcome centuries of external and internal colonialism.

What’s going on in the field of language policies in higher education? Once the realm of Latin, in the 19th and 20th centuries universities adopted massively the national and colonial languages following the heyday of the Western nation states. Universities formed the intellectual elites that led the cultural and scientific progress of the last century, and produced the leaders and the cadres that ruled the world. But globalization and the commodification of knowledge are transforming the environment for higher education also in its linguistic dimension. English-medium courses are proliferating all over the world, sometimes due to the genuine desire to attract international talent, partly also as a strategy to obtain resources from abroad. But is the development of English-medium education just part of a more complex story?

Language Policy in Higher EducationIn a context where the major languages are said to be succumbing to the urge of English, what are the prospects of medium-sized languages that have achieved the status of lingua academica to retain it? Will they find a place in the new world of higher education, or will they rather be reduced to the status of mere vernaculars in a near future? And what about those that have still not made it? Is it still sound to spend time and money to raise their status or would it be more adequate to try to content their speakers with a reasonably stable functional distribution of languages? Is it still worth increasing the number of linguae academicae?

These and other related questions are tackled in the volume Language Policy in Higher Education: The Case of Medium-Sized Languages by a team of well-renowned specialists in language policy. Based on the close examination of a number of medium-sized languages from Finland to South Africa and from Israel to Catalonia, the volume compares the trajectories of languages that have made it in higher education and others that didn’t, analyses their current state, and seeks to extract lessons of general applicability. And while their results may be read from different perspectives, one of them seems to be clear: in the era of globalization, there seems to be ample room for multilingualism in academia, but it will probably never be the way it used to be.

Survival and Development of Language CommunitiesFor more information on this book please see our website. You might also be interested in Survival and Development of Language Communities edited by F. Xavier Vila.

Challenging the Monolingual Mindset

15 October 2014

While many of us only speak one language fluently, for others, multilingualism is a way of life. In their recent volume, Challenging the Monolingual Mindset, John Hajek and Yvette Slaughter examine the linguistic diversity in a range of several different communities around the world. Here, they discuss the background to the book and why multilingualism and other language issues are complex matters.

Challenging the Monolingual MindsetThe idea that having one and only one language is normal is a persistent but mistaken one, particularly in the English-speaking world. Also known as the monolingual mindset, its impact can be felt in many different ways. It discourages, for instance, L1 English second language learners, because English is too easily considered to be more than sufficient. And it is prone to making multilingualism less worthy, if not invisible, when having more than one language is the reality for most of the world’s population.

This volume is dedicated to the memory of Michael Clyne, sociolinguist of international stature, who worked tirelessly during his life to challenging the monolingual mindset in Australia and elsewhere. He did so through his research, teaching and public minded outreach. In this volume his former colleagues and students in Melbourne – where he lived his life – have come together to share their expertise across a wide range of topics – to highlight the importance of language issues in everyday life – whether it’s in Australia’s schools or military, in the shopping arcades of Stockholm or on the streets of Switzerland or Singapore.

When the Swedish crown prince Daniel said, on the birth of his daughter, ‘Mina känslor är lite are all over the place…..’ [My feelings are a little bit all over the place], we see that using two languages – Swedish and English as it turns out in Sweden – is completely normal. It’s an indication, as Catrin Norrby shows in her contribution to this volume that Prince Daniel is, despite his regal status, just an ordinary citizen of Sweden.

Language issues and multilingualism are complex matters – as this volume highlights as it casts its light on Australia, Asia and Europe – across a wide range of settings. To support multilingualism we need to describe it and understand it.

Readers will undoubtedly enjoy the volume – each chapter is a good read in itself and a useful piece in the puzzle of how to bring language-related issues in modern society to the fore.

Uniformity and Diversity in Language PolicyFor more information about the book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Uniformity and Diversity in Language Policy edited by Catrin Norrby and John Hajek.








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