How Can Foreign Language Teachers Draw on Learners’ Existing Linguistic Resources to Promote Multilingualism?

This month we published Theoretical and Applied Perspectives on Teaching Foreign Languages in Multilingual Settings edited by Anna Krulatz, Georgios Neokleous and Anne Dahl. In this post the editors explain how the book came about.

We are absolutely thrilled to announce the publication of our edited volume titled, Theoretical and Applied Perspectives on Teaching Foreign Languages in Multilingual Settings. When we first embarked on this journey, it was late summer 2018 and the three of us (Anna, Georgios, and Anne) were sitting at a coffee shop in Lisbon where we were attending the International Conference on Multilingualism, enjoying pastel de nata and our morning coffee and reading through a large pile of chapter proposals that were sent to us from many corners of the world. We didn’t realize then that working on this book would be so rich in rewarding challenges and opportunities for growth, span four continents, and connect scholars and teacher educators working in diverse contexts, to finally reach the printing press after a worldwide pandemic and four years of commitment from so many people who have been involved in this work.

Our interest in editing this volume originated from the arduous challenges and new realities that students and teachers encounter in increasingly linguistically diverse settings around the world. With the intention of meeting the needs of these stakeholders and of providing them with the best possible resources and practical applications, the main objective of this volume is to advance a discussion of how to best connect the acquisition of subsequent foreign languages (FLs) with previous language knowledge to create culturally and linguistically inclusive FL classrooms, and to strengthen the connection between research on multilingualism and FL teaching practice. Contributors were invited to present new approaches to FL instruction in multilingual settings forged in collaboration between FL teachers and researchers of multilingualism.

Originally, we wanted to limit the chapters to contributions from Western contexts, but it soon became clear that the scope would be much wider. We received excellent proposals from scholars working in multilingual settings in places such as Indonesia, Japan, Australia, USA, along with various European countries, and Multilingual Matters and anonymous book proposal reviewers encouraged us to include chapters from parts of the world outside of Europe and North America. We are grateful for their support and advice, and we hope the readers will appreciate the transcontinental scope of the volume.

This book is a result of our (the editors’) and the contributing authors’ commitment to support what we believe to be a universal human right – namely, to be multilingual and freely choose which language(s) to use for communication in any given context, and to draw on whatever available linguistic resources one has to develop a competence in additional languages. As so many other researchers, teachers, and teacher educators working within language education, we recognize that despite an increasing body of research on multilingualism and multilingual learning, FL classroom practices often continue to be monolingual and characterized by strict separation of languages. Such learning environments do not foster language learners’ engagement with their existing linguistic repertoires as a potential resource for FL learning.

An additional challenge is that there seems to be a gap between the advances that have been made through research and FL classrooms where teaching practitioners continue to report a lack of preparedness to work with students who are multilingual. To address this issue, the chapters in this volume aim to promote linguistically responsive language teaching practices in multilingual contexts through forging a dialog between school-based and university-based actors. We hope to advance a discussion of how to best connect the acquisition of subsequent FLs with previous language knowledge to create culturally and linguistically inclusive FL classrooms, and to strengthen the connection between research on multilingualism and FL teaching practice.

We are grateful to all the chapter authors, who have contributed papers reporting on fascinating, novel, and important research that meets this objective. For instance, some of the contributions present proposals for how language education can be reconceptualized if linguistically responsive teaching and learning are applied across disciplines, language barriers, and educational models, while others outline analytical and instructional frameworks for working with multilingual learners. In addition, some of the authors discuss specific classroom examples of cross-linguistic influence, code-switching, and translanguaging to illustrate the role of learners’ linguistic repertoires in FL learning. Our contributors also present new approaches to FL instruction in multilingual settings where the perspectives of FL teachers are in focus, delving deeper into the skills and knowledge that should be addressed in preparing teachers for work in multilingual settings and providing some tentative recommendations for what to incorporate into a teacher training programs in multilingual contexts. We also hope the readers will enjoy the concise, yet extremely insightful and structured Afterword written by our colleague Kristen Lindahl of the University of Texas, San Antonio.

Overall, we believe that the volume contributes to the current debate on how FL teachers can draw on learners’ existing linguistic resources to promote multilingualism and to forge a dialog and bridge the divide between university- and school-based actors. We are truly grateful to the Multilingual Matters staff who supported us along all the stages of this amazing journey. We are absolutely thrilled and humbled that the volume bears their trademark.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Migration, Multilingualism and Education edited by Latisha Mary, Ann-Birte Krüger and Andrea S. Young.

The Remaking of Language Education

This month we published Liberating Language Education edited by Vally Lytra, Cristina Ros i Solé, Jim Anderson and Vicky Macleroy. In this post the editors reveal what readers can expect from the book.

Liberating Language Education emerged from our desire to unite our passion about language, education, and lived multilingualism with our visions of what language education can mean, feel, and look like in times of unprecedented change and uncertainty. This passion is reflected in our personas of ‘the weaver’, ‘the fool’, ‘the traveller’ and ‘the activist’ in the introduction of the book: they illustrate the complexity and richness of language experience and language learning across the lifespan and highlight the entanglements of the personal and biographical with the historical and socio-cultural dimensions of language and language pedagogy.

This kaleidoscopic perspective is amplified by the plurality and heterogeneity of voices and orientations manifested in the chapter contributions. The book calls into question a single and unified approach to language, culture, and identity, dismantling monolingual and prescriptivist discourses of pedagogy that have long dominated language education. Instead, it proposes new ways of understanding language and language education that move beyond rationalist and instrumental perspectives and emphasise locally situated meaning-making practices, messiness, and unpredictability.

These new ways liberate our understanding of language to encompass the full range of semiotic repertoires, aesthetic resources, and multimodal practices. They reimagine language education from a translingual and transcultural orientation, showcasing multiple, alternative visions of how language education might be enacted. The translingual, transcultural and transformative approach to pedagogy that underpins the book rests on the following principles:

  • an integrated and inclusive view of language and language learning
  • challenging binaries and fixed positions between formal/informal learning, school/home literacies, schools/other sites of learning
  • attention to language hierarchies and linguistic and social inequalities
  • a synergetic relationship between language and culture
  • the transformative process of language learning as reconfiguring our existing communicative resources and nurturing new ways of being, seeing, feeling and expressing in the world
  • foregrounding embodied, material and aesthetic perspectives to pedagogy
  • emphasis on learner and teacher agency and making their voices heard
  • supporting multiple ways of knowing and a decolonising stance to knowledge building
  • creating trusting, respectful and collaborative relations in research and shared ownership of knowledge

This critical and creative translingual and transcultural orientation repositions teachers, learners and researchers as active language policy creators in the remaking of language education today.

Vally Lytra, Cristina Ros i Solé, Jim Anderson and Vicky Macleroy

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Dynamics of Language and Inequality in Education edited by Joel Austin Windle, Dánie de Jesus and Lesley Bartlett.

Remaking Multilingualism: A Tribute to Ofelia García

This month we published Remaking Multilingualism edited by Bahar Otcu-Grillman and Maryam Borjian – a book honouring the research and influence of Ofelia García. In this post the editors highlight some of the tributes made by contributors to the volume.

Multilingualism, bilingual education and how it is implemented in schools have often been controversial topics debated by politicians, academics, and educators in the United States and throughout the world. Among many scholars in the field, Professor Emerita Ofelia García has been a leader for 40 years, advocating for bilingualism, multilingualism and true bilingual education, not only for language minorities, but for all, and not only locally, but globally. An essential part of ‘dynamic bilingualism’ introduced by García, translanguaging stands out as a promising approach for the education of emergent bilinguals and constitutes people’s complex language practices in multilingual speech communities.

Remaking Multilingualism: A Translanguaging Approach is a tribute volume celebrating Ofelia García and her lifetime commitment to multilingualism and bilingual education within translanguaging perspectives via the eyes of her colleagues, former students, and friends. Through its collective chapters, the volume covers translanguaging in both its senses, as a discursive practice and as a pedagogical approach. It takes the reader beyond named languages and named nation-states to place the emphasis on us, human beings, the speakers of different languages and the residents of different parts of the world.

Dedicated to Ofelia García for her lifetime commitment to the cause of bilingual education, multilingualism and educational linguistics, the volume includes many tribute statements. Here are some excerpts from the book:

“Ofelia’s name is practically synonymous with translanguaging, that run-away concept that has captured the imagination of so many in the field of bilingual education. This is as it should be – a reflection of both Ofelia’s long and deep scholarship in bilingual education policy and practice and the creativity and imagination she brings to it.”
Nancy Hornberger

“Ofelia continues to challenge me on how to go beyond dichotomies such as research/practice, descriptive/political, or pedagogies/policies, and make more holistic contributions to our field.”
Suresh Canagarajah

“Ofelia García remains steadfast in her lifelong commitment to bilingual education. She refers to the systemic inequalities brought about by the hegemony of English, ‘whiteness’ and colonialism. From her early work she has been, and remains, inspirational in her ability to narrow the gap between theory and practice, engage with practitioners to improve the educational outcomes of students and take on powerful institutions which endorse harmful monolingual ideologies and exclude the everyday practices of bilingual learners. She is fearless in her ability to face resistance, speaking truth to power whenever and wherever she is able. Hers is a recognition that practice must lead theory, and not the other way round. Translanguaging is not merely a description of interactional contact, but an ideological orientation to communication and difference. In her warm, inclusive and engaging manner Ofelia García has reshaped the landscape of bilingual education, second language teaching and learning and education pedagogies more widely. We owe her a huge debt of gratitude.”
Angela Creese and Adrian Blackledge

“Ofelia García’s enormous gifts of intellectuality, brilliance of thought coupled with her profound love for humanity are not the only characteristics of her academic endeavors that have awed and inspired many over the past several decades. Her immeasurable humility, warmth of character, abundant love and her sheltering personality have made her a true mentor, colleague and friend to many.”
Maryam Borjian

“Ofelia’s advocacy is above everything else. Her lifetime work on bilingual education and multilingualism, initially with Professor Fishman, and her translanguaging approach later, have provided the advocacy for those who speak minority languages and the guidance for educators and policymakers who regulate the minorities’ education. I am thankful to her for everything she did for me and others, for every idea she nurtured and pursued and for everyone she inspired to change the world.”
Bahar Otcu-Grillman

“This chapter foregrounds the perspectives of bilingual Latinx adolescent youth in reimagining school and classroom-level language allocation policy in ways that center the language practices and lived realities of youth. At the core, this approach is grounded in Dr. Ofelia García’s conception of translanguaging and dynamic bilingualism (2009), and our shared belief that children’s and communities’ language practices must be at the center of pedagogical and policy decisions. Using García’s theory of dynamic bilingualism, I outline four lessons from youth based on their reported language use and perspectives on bilingualism and translanguaging, then consider the implications of these lessons for language allocation policy, suggesting an approach to language policy that is grounded in both dynamic bilingualism and youth’s lived realities. Just as Dr. García conceived of translanguaging by studying the language practices of communities, the best way to serve multilingual youth is by listening to youth themselves, and letting their perspectives, experiences and language practices guide the creation of more equitable language policy.”
Sarah Hesson

“Both authors are former students of Ofelia Garcia and were also part of the CUNY-NYSIEB team.  Our approach to working with teachers of emergent bilinguals was rooted in the translanguaging pedagogy that evolved from Ofelia Garcia’s work. Over the years, Ofelia fostered spaces for collaboration that engaged educators in reimagining their schools and classrooms. Our work and the work of the teachers that we feature in this chapter are examples of how she inspired educators to open a space in which they could carefully analyze how learning was attuned to emergent bilinguals’ identities and socio-emotional development.”
Ivana Espinet and Karen Zaino

“If the term mentor entails being a counsellor with wisdom and experience, a generous and inspirational collaborator, and a loyal and empathetic friend, then Ofelia García is mentor par excellence.”
Jo Anne Kleifgen

For more information about this book, please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Rethinking the Education of Multilingual Learners by Jim Cummins.

Can a Book Project Be Decolonial?

We recently published Decoloniality, Language and Literacy edited by Carolyn McKinney and Pam Christie. In this post the editors discuss the main themes of the book and how it came together.

Educators in the Global South grapple not only with the stringencies and curtailments of neoliberal economic policies, but also with the deep intersectional inequalities that linger on as legacies of colonialism – summed up by the term ‘coloniality’. In teacher education, the decolonial struggle means working for change within and against deep structural inequalities in schooling and higher education systems: inequalities that are evident in institutional provision, fees, and barriers to access, but are also evident in assumptions about what counts as valuable knowledges and languages.

This book is based on conversations among colleagues that began in response to the intense experiences of campus protests and shutdowns, as university students in South Africa called for free, decolonial education. Our conversations, which extended over several years, grappled with how to prepare student teachers to enter a highly divided and unequal schooling system shaped by coloniality in the Global South, and at the same time work for change. Our key concerns have been to develop a better understanding of the multiple damaging ways in which coloniality shapes the schooling and university experience/environment, and how we as educators might work within the complex dynamics of border conditions in our different practices.

The book reflects on:

  • how teacher educators and educational researchers might grapple with the colonial matrix of power in our daily practice;
  • how we make decisions about what counts as ‘knowledge’;
  • how we teach ‘canonical’ disciplinary knowledge while at the same time challenging this and acknowledging the epistemic violence wrought by the partiality of this knowledge;
  • how we challenge the monolingual myth and enable multilingualism; and
  • how we explore the possibilities and constraints of conducting research and scholarship in times of instability.

As a collective of tenured academics and graduate students, we came together in this project because of the challenges we face navigating multiple ways of knowing and being. The oral mode and embodiment, i.e. physical co-presence, talking, being together and eating with each other (face to face in the same space, even if masked!), feeling, seeing and hearing each other’s affective responses – passion, distrust, anger, curiosity and love – was our starting point. Without this there would be no written texts. Our embodied interaction was also very literate, drawing on a range of disciplinary knowledge (e.g. science education; applied linguistics; literacy studies) as well as our experiences of teaching and learning. To the extent that we needed to turn these interactions into published written form in order for them to count as legitimate academic knowledge, we recognize that the production of a (mostly English) book is itself a legacy of colonialism.

In a recent discussion of the Pennsylvania State University African Studies Global Virtual Forum (hosted by Sinfree Makoni) following a presentation by Bonny Norton, the question was raised ‘can a book be decolonial?’ or ‘can a book project be a decolonial project?’ While Norton asked this question in relation to children’s books produced for the African Storybook project, we believe it is highly relevant for academic publishing as well.

While still questioning whether a book project can be decolonial, or disrupt or delink from coloniality, our collected conversations presented here show some of the approaches and tactics we used collectively and individually to disrupt coloniality in knowledge production and participation, and our attempts to work within border conditions rather than write about them.

During the course of this project, we were joined in conversation by colleagues from Chile, Brazil and Canada whose work resonated in different ways with issues of decoloniality and language in education.  Making South-South connections is the aim of the final part of our book.

Apart from the usual theorized accounts of empirical data, we decided to include a range of genres to show how knowledge is made through different kinds of texts. These include poetry, a photo-essay; short language history narratives; an interview; visual representation of data in comic strip form and dialogues between research participants and the authors as well as amongst authors using call-outs or boxed text. These unconventional genres sit alongside more conventional ones.

How far we managed to delink from coloniality in our book will be up to the reader to decide.

Pam Christie and Carolyn McKinney

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps. You can freely access and download her Short Manifesto for Decolonising Multilingualism here.

Decolonising Multilingualism in Africa

This month we published Decolonising Multilingualism in Africa by Finex Ndhlovu and Leketi Makalela. In this post the authors introduce the book.

It is often easy to perceive common sense assumptions about the nature and use of language in society as something of a natural kind – that it has always been the way it is. Yet, as we have come to know, we live in a world that has been invented or created following particular ideologies, belief systems and ways of knowing. Languages; our understandings of language diversity (multilingualism) and their practical applications in social and educational policy settings are not immune from ideological habits and practices that are traceable to the Euro-modernist colonial order of the world.

In Decolonising Multilingualism in Africa, we interrogate the problematic nature of common sense assumptions about languages and language diversity. We draw on data from the Global South, and specifically from diverse African communities, to illustrate the particular point about how popular and dominant understandings of multilingualism are tied to the colonial project of categorising languages and identities for the purposes of domination, control and the exercising of power. The packing of languages – through such instruments as national language policies – in a hierarchical order: minority vs major; official vs non-official; standard vs non-standard and so forth, is symptomatic of this logic of what we call global coloniality of language.

In this book, we present alternative approaches for re-imagining multilingualism. We introduce a promising avenue for unsettling colonial ways of knowing by taking into account diverse local knowledges about language and what living with multiple languages means for ordinary people in their everyday lives.

The book emphasises the importance of looking at multilingualism from the perspective of ‘languages of the people’ (the real everyday language practices of real people). This is a counter-narrative to the dominant understanding of language diversity that puts emphasis on ‘languages of the state’ (those countable language-things that were co-constructed with the modern nation-state). We re-visit the precolonial archive and draw attention to previously undocumented and often ignored knowledge traditions about language diversity, what we call ‘socially realistic multilingualism’.

Our goal is to enrich conversations about language diversity among both academic and non-academic communities; and to inform policy frameworks in such domains as language and literacy education, social service provision, intercultural dialogues, immigration and citizenship, and related areas where language is implicated. The book seeks to inspire an audience from differing social, cultural, political and ideological backgrounds to think outside the box; to appreciate that there are diverse ways of knowing about languages and multilingualism. Some such traditions of knowing, particularly those from the Global South, are currently marginalised and not present in mainstream conversations about what it means to live life and live it well with multiple language resources.

The book joins contemporary conversations on this topic in arguing that Southern ways of knowing are equally valid and legitimate. It is important for us to learn in partnership with the subaltern communities of the Global South and to re-centre their stories in our efforts to co-create alternative approaches to valuation of knowledge.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Rethinking Language Use in Digital Africa edited by Leketi Makalela and Goodith White.

How are Pre-service Teachers Being Prepared to Work in Multilingual Contexts?

This month we published Preparing Teachers to Work with Multilingual Learners, edited by Meike Wernicke, Svenja Hammer, Antje Hansen and Tobias Schroedler. In this post the editors discuss the project that inspired the volume as well as the research initiatives currently emerging from the project. 

Among the many challenges, the current COVID-19 global pandemic has brought to light a heightened need to take into account the reality of language diversity in our societies, especially in a time of crisis. Conveying rapidly changing information related to public health cannot only happen in the dominant or official language. Local communities require reliable, consistent access to relevant information in the languages they use, including minoritized languages that have historically been devalued and continue to be marginalized across many regions of the world. This sense of urgency is also a reality in educational contexts, where teachers are confronting an ever wider range of culturally and linguistically diverse students in their classrooms. This past year, with repeated lockdowns making home-schooling and online learning and teaching the only options, the importance of home languages has become all the more salient as teachers are navigating daily communication with students and their parents. An ever-important question that both pre-pandemic and the current realities raise is, “how are pre-service teachers being prepared to work in multilingual contexts?”

This edited volume responds to exactly this question. The chapters presented here discuss in detail the kinds of multilingual approaches that are being developed in teacher education programs and professional learning in countries across Europe and North America, in response to the national and regional language-in-education policies implemented over the past several decades.

What makes this volume unique is that it is not merely a collection of research studies centered on a common theme. Rather, the volume is the culmination of an international research project initiated at the University of Hamburg in Germany in 2018, bringing together emerging researchers from Canada, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Sweden and the United States for the purpose of exploring key approaches to linguistic diversity in current pre-service teacher education. Two webinars and a face-to-face workshop in Hamburg resulted in an exceptionally rich exchange of ideas on multilingualism, producing not only a much-needed overview of different international perspectives on multilingual teacher preparation, but also providing an opportunity for project participants to take a step back from their own educational setting and to situate their practices and perspectives within a larger context.

Notably, the chapters highlight the complexity of each educational context and the role that history, language policies, and institutional and programmatic priorities play in the development and implementation of a multilingual focus in teacher education. Of particular interest are the country-specific issues that have evolved due to the history and ongoing presence of multiple languages in educational contexts. The authors who have contributed to the volume take a critical view of how multilingualism itself is conceptualized within and across these settings, while considering not only migrant-background learners but also students from Indigenous, autochthonous and heritage language backgrounds, or speaking minoritized regional varieties. Overall, the book highlights the positive and valuable impact that explicit instruction on theories of multilingualism, pedagogies in multilingual classrooms, and lived realities of multilingual children can have on beliefs and practices of pre-service teachers.

To date, the MultiTEd project has already led to further collaborations for a number of the researchers in their respective contexts. For example, the book has prompted countrywide discussions among teacher educators, practitioners and researchers in Canada with an emphasis on “Centering multilingual learners in teacher education.” A Germany-Sweden collaboration is exploring pre-service teachers’ beliefs about multilingualism in different national settings while research partnerships between Italy, Germany and Estonia are working to expand cooperation in teacher education and are focused on inclusive linguistic practices and the promotion of social equity in educational settings through translanguaging pedagogies. Research extending from the study described in the US context is currently investigating multilingual, inclusive approaches in remote contexts, including online instruction during the pandemic and in teacher education. In response to the ideological and structural challenges highlighted by students and teachers in this research, the group is now exploring advocacy efforts to address state-level education policies as they relate to languages in the classroom. The MultiTEd project also underpins work in Finland connected with the research alliance FORTHEM Multilingualism in School and Higher Education. Moreover, it has initiated further international cooperation to commonly analyze the role of multilingualism in teacher education in Austria as well as South Africa. And not only is the volume providing a useful comparison for ongoing empirical investigations about teachers attitudes toward multilingualism or the volume’s contributors, the chapters are also being built into future research projects, seminars, and teacher education courses. In that regard, the authors and editors are happy to share their experiences and collaborate with interested scholars to further explore the subject in other national or regional contexts.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Preparing Teachers to Teach English as an International Language edited by Aya Matsuda.

What is ‘Ultralingualism’?

This month we published The Performance of Multilingual and ‘Ultralingual’ Devotional Practices by Young British Muslims by Andrey Rosowsky. In this post the author explains the concept of ‘ultralingualism’, which is central to his book.

One of the words in the title of my book may be unfamiliar – ultralingual. And I could be accused perhaps of introducing a new term unnecessarily. And, moreover, without a significant degree of academic consensus. Yet, as a word, and as a concept, it is born out of nearly a quarter century of research which has focused, primarily, on what I would now call ‘ultralingual’ practices. My research into language practices in, primarily, minority religious communities, which I originally called ‘liturgical literacies’ (Rosowsky, 2008), regularly came up against the issue of how to account for reading and other language practices (artful recitation, memorisation, singing, for example) which appeared, on the surface, to be divorced from meaning, or from referential meaning to be more precise.

Fishman (1989) famously coined the term ‘religious classical’ to denote language varieties which were exclusively used for liturgical purposes such as Lutheran German, Geez and Ecclesiastical Greek. Such varieties are invariably linguistically distant from the spoken languages of their congregations and so understanding of what is being read or recited is often absent or incomplete. It is this which I am calling ‘ultralingualism’ and is an attempt to capture the experience of, usually, very accurate decoding accompanied by a, sometimes heightened, experience which could be considered spiritual or emotional and which is achieved beyond the words performed – thus ultralingual. However, in more recent and very detailed and useful categorisations of linguistic competences (Blommaert & Backus, 2012), there is still no obvious place for the near universal practice of ultralingualism. If it isn’t ‘full’ competence, then is it ‘partial’ or ‘minimal’?  Both the latter terms seem inadequate.

And although much of my research has featured ultralingualism in a religious context, there are many other contexts where it appears. Singers in all shapes and sizes often end up being very comfortable singing in an ultralingual way. How many choir members understand the Vulgar Latin of Carmina Burana? I recall a former colleague of mine, Professor Greg Brooks, working in east Africa in the 1960s, relating to me how he would often be asked to read out letters in Kikuyu (written in Roman script) to his Kikuyu speaking caretaker whilst not understanding the language himself. This could be called another form of ultralingualism, albeit a more prosaic one.

This book offers a fresh look at language practices of young British Muslims and provides ample support for ultralingualism as a useful term to account for such practices.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Maintenance, Revival and Shift in the Sociology of Religion edited by Rajeshwari Vijay Pandharipande, Maya Khemlani David and Miriam Eisenstein Ebsworth.

Foundations and Frustrations in Adolescent Newcomer Programming

This month we are publishing Educating Adolescent Newcomers in the Superdiverse Midwest by Brian David Seilstad. In this post the author explains how the idea for the book came about.

Schooling is often represented in dichotomous terms as either a liberator or an oppressor. Reading about various student experiences across diverse histories and contexts reflects and refracts this reality and underscores the equity and social justice goals inherent in education. Adolescent newcomers globally and in the US Midwest, the focus of this book, are particularly relevant to this theme in that they arrive in new locations, often as refugees or other transnational migrants, buoyed with an array of skills, experiences, and dreams that can support their, it is hoped, adaptation and creation of lives of dignity. However, the research on adolescent newcomers points out that this is neither an easy nor straightforward task and that schools often struggle to support and retain students, leading to disparate and sometimes troubling outcomes for both individuals and society (Fry, 2005; Short & Boyson, 2012; Suárez-Orozco et al, 2010).

This project was born from several personal experiences and convictions. First is my own history of living and learning in other cultures and facing the intense challenges of languacultural learning, particularly as an adolescent or adult.  Second is a conviction that schools, among all social institutions, can be positive transformative agents for learners if the institution and educational actors are highly attuned and responsive to the lives of the learners. Largely as a result of my White, American male background, a majority of my own schooling and learning experiences have been affirming and engaging, but I recognize that this is not the case for many learners throughout the world, a situation that remains a deep need for redress.

These aspects led me to explore in this book the languacultural practices of an adolescent newcomer program community in the US Midwest. The inquiry includes descriptions of the program’s history and policies while following and recording the daily class activities of one cohort of first-year high school students across their academic year. The students collectively spoke varieties of Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Kibembe, French, Somali, Nepali, and Arabic in a program with many staff and teachers of similar linguistic backgrounds and proficiencies.  This approach provides a broad and relevant context while maintaining a focus on daily communicative interactions as the core of the learning experience – indeed, what is education other than one extended experience in language development?

The chapters of the book ultimately center the disparate experiences and outcomes of the students and underline that, while the program supports many learners well, the program’s English-centric ideologies, policies, and practices create obstacles to many students that, in some cases, are insurmountable and lead to intense frustration and even dropping out. This leads to a recommendation that the program reorient its priorities to understanding the students’ languacultural backgrounds, specifically their home language literacy, and designing learning experiences to fully embrace and support the students’ emergent or experienced bilingualism.

Taken as a whole, the book strives to present a vision for humanity and schools –  one that is positive and affirming of all peoples and reflective of the beauty that emerges from the diversity and complexity of the human experience. While this may remain unrealized in many contexts, it must remain, particularly for educators, our global aspiration and driving purpose. I am deeply thankful to the program’s many administrators, teachers, bilingual assistants, and students for allowing me to share a year in their lives and discuss their own perspectives about these issues. I hope that readers of the book will find meaning here, and any comments or questions can be communicated to:

Brian Seilstad (American College Casablanca, Morocco) bseilstad@aac.ac.ma or website.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Researching Language in Superdiverse Urban Contexts edited by Clare Mar-Molinero.

A Multilingual Environment on Study Abroad – Barrier or Benefit?

This month we published Language Learning in Study Abroad edited by Wenhao Diao and Emma Trentman. In this post the editors explain how the multilingual environment of study abroad can be beneficial.

Study abroad has been a central part of our lives for the last two decades, starting with our own experiences studying abroad and working with study abroad students, and culminating with researching and leading study abroad programs ourselves, some of which are described in our chapters in this book.

As language learners, we were sold on the promise of the magical linguistic gains we’d make during study abroad through the immersion experience, and saw these same dreams reflected in the expectations of our research participants. Yet, as we discovered ourselves, and as the chapters in this book demonstrate across a variety of locations and programs, study abroad is usually not an experience of monolingual immersion. Both language learners and the contexts in which they study are inherently multilingual. All too often, this multilingualism, and especially the presence of Global English, is framed as an obstacle to language learning, as learners struggle to make friends in the local language, negotiate racialized and gendered experiences, and generally wonder how to learn a language in a multilingual environment.

Yet, what if the multilingual environment is not a challenge to overcome with language pledges and other program interventions, but one in which language learners can use their full linguistic repertoires to expand them? And what if the multilingual realities are what historicize and contextualize the study abroad experience in post-colonial societies, neoliberal economies, and cultural discourses that position certain language learners as non-legitimate speakers of their target language(s)? The chapters in this book detail how language learners in study abroad locations throughout the world use a variety of strategies to gain an awareness of the cultural nuances of being and becoming multilingual. Some chapters also demonstrate the consequences for learners who hold on to their monolingual language ideologies. The implications of this mindset shift are many, particularly for the context of teaching languages to English speakers from wealthy Anglophone countries that are often viewed as centers of economic globalization.  Rather than focusing on how to make a multilingual environment more monolingual, or advising learners to avoid compatriots and English speakers, we can encourage learners to engage in translanguaging practices and negotiate their multilingual identities in ways that expand their linguistic repertoires and develop a critical multilingual awareness. This focus has the additional benefit of recognizing the translanguaging and identity negotiation skills of minoritized students, both of which are often overlooked in the language classroom.

We would like to thank the authors of the chapters in this volume, Uju Anya, Lucien Brown, Janice McGregor, Lourdes Ortega, Tracy Quan, Jamie A. Thomas, and Brandon Tullock, for their insightful contributions. It is our hope that this volume will inspire study abroad researchers and practitioners to help students develop skills to negotiate language learning in multilingual environments.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Study Abroad, Second Language Acquisition and Interculturality edited by Martin Howard.

Figures of Interpretation

This month we published Figures of Interpretation edited by B.A.S.S. Meier-Lorente-Muth-Duchêne. In this post the editors explain how the book came about.

The idea behind this book originated from a research project the four of us conducted collectively. We worked together at the Institute of Multilingualism, University of Fribourg, on the research project “A Web of Care. Linguistic resources and the management of labor in the healthcare industry” funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. As part of this project, we collectively conducted fieldwork at a university hospital in Switzerland where we encountered many people who interpreted, ranging from medical doctors, cleaners, professional medical interpreters, technicians, secretaries, mothers, brothers, daughters and sons.

This experience was our inspiration for Figures of Interpretation. We learned how people who interpret came in many guises and were first-hand witnesses to structural oppression, exploitation and disenfranchisement, as well as resilience and hope. We realized that they were figures whose lives revealed larger historical and structural processes through the singularity of their individual trajectories. We wanted to know more about them. We felt that what we experienced was not unique to the particular site and situation we were exploring. We were convinced that such figures have existed for a long time, in various places, with diverse valuation process. We started to think of papers we had read from colleagues who – without framing their analysis in terms of figures of interpretation – provided glimpses of the trajectories of such figures. We recalled conversations with friends and scholars who could have been those figures themselves or who encountered them in their own fieldwork. We imagined situations and moments when people we knew could have met figures of interpretation without necessarily looking at them as such. Progressively, the book took shape in terms of content, and we believed that bringing those experiences together in a volume could allow us to engage in a wider debate about what interpreting does and what it means.

But we also thought a lot about how to grasp these figures, how to talk and write about their lived experiences. The issue of writing about these figures coincided with our own trajectories in academia. We were a bit fed up with the canon we were socialized into, and slightly disillusioned by the limitations we imposed on ourselves and that were imposed to us by academia. We wanted to explore something else without necessarily knowing where it would lead us, nor if this was the right way to do. But we were excited to try it out. The idea of vignettes, of written portraits emerged and we gave it a first go with a couple of figures we encountered in our fieldwork. We realized that writing these short texts was not only challenging, but also forced us to look at the trajectories and the practices of the interpreters in a different way, giving space for a certain type of narration that fully endorses the interpretative dimension of figures of interpretation. Then we envisioned what the book could become if the people we had in mind would participate in such an adventure. We were fortunate enough that most of the colleagues and friends we contacted were enthusiastic about this idea, accepting with joy, excitement, fears and doubts. Many wrote the texts outside of their paid hours, or away from what might be immediately measurable in their professional lives. Many felt happy to have fewer constraints. All were open to doing something different(ly): either by stepping out of the constraints of academic writing, or by engaging with an academic audience for the very first time.

And here we are. Neither the contents nor the format of this book corresponds to academic standards. Instead of showcasing methodological innovations or discussing theoretical paradigms, this collection of 31 portraits invites readers to be conscious of their own interpretations, aware of the editor’s decisions of order and their necessary arbitrariness and attentive to the illustrations that themselves follow their own line of interpretation. This book is also an interpellation on the fundamentally collective dimension of knowledge production. Each portrait constitutes a piece of a complex puzzle. We need Sandra, Quintus, Conrad, Bintou, Ilona, Aïcha and all the other figures to grasp what interpreting is and what it does. And we need Kathleen, Aneta, Carlos, Arnaldo, Biao, and all the other authors of this book to guide us towards a better understanding of the manifold challenges interpretation as a social practice entails. This collection welcomes the readers to participate, see differences and make their own connections.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps.