Empirical studies in multilingualism

Analysing Contexts and Outcomes

by Ana Cristina Lahuerta Martínez (Volume editor) Antonio José Jiménez Muñoz (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection 296 Pages


Multilingualism is a broad term that alludes to the use of several languages (not necessarily proficiently) via the mutual interaction of languages in the mind of the user or with others. Thus, it does not only target language use, but how prior linguistic and cultural experience of such users contributes to determining their communicative competence. Interest in multilingualism is growing fast in research, education, and policy. This volume addresses current research in multilingualism from such diverse education contexts as Spain, Costa Rica, Mexico or Japan in order to provide an insight into the variety and diversity of research problems in the field. Acknowledging that research questions are to still further face the challenges posed by different contexts of practice in primary, secondary and tertiary levels, this collection is divided into ten chapters that approach the selected issues from different empirical perspectives, bringing together research in relevant contextual levels and emphases such as language, content and skills acquisition, learning and teaching effectiveness, policy supervision and motivational factors.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Current Research in Multilingualism: Addressing Misconceptions, Exploring Contexts and Examining Outcomes through Empirical Research (Jimenez-Munoz, A. / Lahuerta Martinez, A.)
  • Training CLIL Students to be Strategic Readers: Is Motivation Important? (Gutiérrez, A. / Ruiz De Zarobe, Y.)
  • The Effect of CLIL on the Distribution of Primary Students in Language Proficiency Levels: A Case Study in Castilla-La Mancha (Nieto Moreno de Diezmas, E.)
  • Attentional Capacity and Written Production in English (L1 and L2) and Spanish (L1) within the Framework of Erasmus+ Project (Mavrou, I. / López-Medina, B.)
  • Attitudes to English as a Foreign Language and Multilingual EFL Learners’ Available Lexicon (Canga-Alonso, A.)
  • EFL Productive Vocabulary in Controlled Versus Free Tasks (Castro-García, D.)
  • Tracking the Factors that Influence Cognate Production: Bilingualism, Proficiency, Lexical Fluency, and Lexical Field (Agustín Llach, M. P.)
  • Using Pedagogical Affordances in order to Unveil Disciplinary Discourse in Electrical Engineering for EMI Teacher Training (Ruiz-Madrid, M.N./ Fortanet-Gómez I.)
  • Special Conditions of the Teaching-learning Process of International Business Taught Entirely in English in a Mexican Environment (Castellanos Curiel, R. / Vallejo Jiménez, B.)
  • Using the European Self-reflective Tool, Autobiography of Intercultural Encounters (AIE) for Intercultural-awareness Raising in Japan (Matsumoto, K.)
  • Notes on contributors

← 6 | 7 →


Current Research in Multilingualism: Addressing Misconceptions, Exploring Contexts and Examining Outcomes through Empirical Research

1.  Bilingualism and multilingualism: Terminology, benefits and research

In a world characterised by globalisation and multiculturalism, a com­mon lingua franca becomes a necessity for communication because ‘a shared language is an important bridge for people from one nation to communicate with people from other nations’ (Ping 2017: 85). In many corners of the world, such a language is English, and more so in scientific and academic realms. In particular, in addition to the already-existing student exchanges with international universities, most tertiary institutions in non-Anglophone countries have fostered English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) and English for Specific Purposes (ESP) provisions as part of their internationalization efforts, in order to ‘improve student preparedness for a globalized/internationalized world’ (Beelen 2011: 257). EMI, which entails the teaching of academic subjects through English, has experienced a sustained growth (Wächter/Maiworm 2014; Dearden 2015) as a direct result of university attempts to add English language targets to existing programmes of study, offering more entrenched content-based integration than the more linguistically-focused targets of ESP modules. This move has pursued the ‘purposeful integration of international and intercultural dimensions into the formal and informal curriculum for all students within domestic learning environments’ (Beelen/Jones 2015: 69) in a ← 7 | 8 → way that bilingualism and biculturalism have become ‘the new normal’ (Hong et al. 2016: 49) in non-Anglophone countries.

Several definitions of bilingualism can be found in the literature. Bloomfield was the first scholar to offer a classic definition of bilingualism as ‘native-like control of two languages’ (1933: 55). Weinreich author of pioneering studies in bilingualism, stated that ‘the practice of alternatively using two languages will be called bilingualism’ (1974: 1), while Baetens Beardsmore (1982) stated that bilingualism

must be able to account for the presence of at least two languages within one and the same speaker, remembering that ability in these languages may or may not be equal, and the way the two or more languages are used plays a highly significant role (1982: 3).

This definition places multilingualism, which addresses the use of two or more languages by an individual or by a group of speakers, into the classification of bilingualism. Today, most second language acquisition (SLA) studies still define multilingualism as a synonym of bilingualism (e.g., Saville-Troike 2012; Arifin 2018). Bilingualism, it must be noted, has been transitioning from the older conception of equal fluency in both languages (Abello-Contesse et al. 2013) to a more modern conception, if less clearly defined, as an umbrella term which encompasses the use of more than one language in a given context, either in the mind or the speaker or in communication. In need of a more clear-cut distinction between terms such as bilingualism, multilingualism, plurilingualism and associated techniques such as translanguaging, what seems to be the case is the recent realisation that ‘a streamlined view of multilingualism as a case of bilingualism’ (Aronin/Jessner 2014: 56) underestimates potential roads for research.

Gradually, there are theorists whose conceptualization of multilingualism does not only explore binary relations among languages, but also strive to produce research that ‘focuses on multilingual speakers and their linguistic repertoires, including the interaction between their languages’ (Cenoz 2013b: 71). As a result, SLA research is not entirely aligned with Third Language Acquisition (TLA), a language acquired later than the first and the second languages, or chronologically after ← 8 | 9 → the two first languages in cases of early bilingualism. TLA is also often referred to as multiligualism, and it is receiving growing attention, as reflected in the number of monographs, special issues and edited volumes, new journal and new conferences (Cenoz 2013b: 72).

In practice, research methodology on multilingualism is notably varied and decidedly multidisciplinary: various conceptualizations of bi- and multilingualism intersect with psychological, educational, social, cognitive, emotional, or political analyses, and thus contribute to a very wide range of quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods. Like definitions of multilingualism, research responds to a very wide range of realities: processes in formal and informal settings, individual expression and interaction within a community, learning experiences and the practical usage of one or more languages.

In this sense, multilingualism is a much broader term that does not necessarily refer to acquisition; it alludes to the use of several languages (not necessarily proficiently) assuming either the mutual interaction of languages in the mind of the user or with others. Thus, it does not only target language but how prior linguistic and cultural experience of such users contributes to determine their communicative competence. Such a way of understanding multilingualism is often connected with the notion of plurilingualism, more favoured in EU legislation. Again, plurilingualism does not imply a proficient command of several languages, but the attempt to use one’s linguistic repertoire to communicate with others in many different situations, often involving more than one language or cultures. That is to say, it entails the ability to function effectively in a multinational and multicultural context thanks to a more nuanced sensitivity to similarities and differences between languages and cultures.

The areas of interest in traditional and current bi- and multilingualism research include research instruments such as questionnaires, observations, elicitation, corpora, code-switching and discourse data from users, among others. However, the great complexity of the field (various research contexts, experimental designs, group identifications, individual factors, etc.) actually restrict that, in practice, multilingualism is ‘still often approached from a bilingual or even monolingual ← 9 | 10 → perspective, and its appropriate study is frequently avoided, due to perceived difficulties’ (Aronin/Jessner 2014: 58). For the purposes of this volume, the identification of bilingualism and multilingualism as imperfect synonymous is kept, particularly as the chapters exemplify empirical research in contexts where there is only one pair of languages at work, and their focus is not on a third language. However, some of the chapters offer intimations to discern the similarities and divergences in bilingual and multilingual contexts and processes, particularly in those areas or cases where more than two languages are at play. In turn, they also help evidence the appropriateness of empirical methods for the analysis of bilingual or multilingual acquisition and performance, showing how both bi- and multilingualism competences work in real-life terms, thus offering evidence towards their potential distinction or conflation.

Bilingual competence includes knowledge of the four basic skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) as well as communicative competence (Halt et al 1987; Ping 2017). With the development of intercultural communication studies, Byram (2003, 1997a,b), and Feng (2007, 2010, 2011) have put forward the concept of intercultural competence, which should also be included into the bilingual communicative competence (Ping 2017). This intercultural competence involves the capacity to mediate between two or more cultures:

Rather than becoming a native speaker in respect of two or more cultures and languages, an intercultural speaker is a mediator able to engage with people of different cultures both for him-/herself and on behalf of others who do not have that capacity (Ping 2017: 88).

In the past, some psycholinguists and linguists expressed concern over perceived intellectual disadvantages of bilingualism (cf. Jones/Stewart 1951; Darcy 1963). In light of recent empirical research, of which the chapters in this volume are prime examples, these qualms were purely theoretical. Neurolinguists already consider multilinguals to display unique properties which ‘are beginning to be noticed, particularly regarding early language representation, gray matter density, and speed of lexical retrieval’ (Higby et al. 2013: 68). Also, empirical experiments ← 10 | 11 → on switching cost (measuring response times when switching between a language pair) have revealed the switching cost asymmetry in multilingual participants (Costa et al. 2006; Kroll et al. 2008).

Currently, researchers from fields as varied as cognitive psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, neurolinguistics, education, and others are actively focusing on examining the advantages of being bilinguals and multilinguals (cf. Bialystok 2009, Calvo/Bialystok 2014). There is mounting evidence on the advantages bilinguals and multilinguals have when compared to monolinguals, in terms of executive functions (those involved in the selection and successful monitoring of behaviours facilitating the attainment of chosen goals) and inhibitory control (a cognitive process enabling an individual to inhibit their impulses and natural, habitual, or dominant behavioural responses to stimuli), which may make them more competitive and adaptable when switching tasks (cf. Poarch/van Hell 2012; Kyriakos et al. 2016; Yang et al. 2018). As a result, there seems to be conclusive empirical evidence that, in Anglophone countries such as the UK, multilinguals learning English as and additional language perform better at school from an early age (Strand et al. 2015; Bowyer-Crane et al. 2017; Whiteside et al. 2017). Additionally, further and wider implications have been explored, with research reporting not only greater openness to learning, but also a less pronounced cognitive decline and its related diseases, when compared with monolinguals (Gold 2015; Kroll/Dussias 2017; Mukadam et al. 2018).

One of the clear benefits of being bi- or multilingual is the development of metalinguistic awareness (Bialystok 2001; Cenoz 2013a), responsible for facilitating language learning (Cenoz/Valencia 1994). Having more language learning strategies is arguably another advantage for bilinguals and multilinguals, as a result of their previous learning (Kemp 2007; Psaltou-Joycey/Kantaridou 2009). An additional beneficial implication of bilingualism is speakers’ greater ability to apply a variety of communication strategies (cf. Thomas 1992; Cenoz 2003). In addition, bi- and multilingualism has also been related to creativity, or divergent thinking (Kharkhurin/Wei 2015). In sum, these studies have stressed the differences and advantages of using more than one language, so that the field has shifted from the essential ← 11 | 12 → conceptualization of multilingualism as a hindrance to its consideration of a most beneficial behaviour.

There are also practical issues at play. It is a self-evident benefit of being bilinguals or multilinguals to have ‘the opportunity to speak with people from different communities, strike new friendships, and have the opportunity to build good mutual understanding among different communities’ (Arifin 2018: 267) particularly if, as in most of the chapters in this volume, English is involved. The 21st version of Ethnologue (SIL 2018), which tracks language use as a mother tongue as well as a second language, reports 1.12bn speakers of English (743.5 as a L2). While Mandarin seems close with 1.1bn speakers (198.4mi L2), as well as Urdu (697.4mi, 368.3 L2), it is undeniable that any combination of English with an additional major language (Spanish 512.9mi, 70.6 L2; Arabic 422 mi, 132mi L2; French 284.9mi, 208mi L2; Russian, 264.3mi, 110.4 L2; Portuguese 236.5, 13.8 L2; German 132mi, 56mi L2) makes the user reach virtually half of the population, excluding more geographically restricted countries such as China and India.

In light of these advantages, efforts in terms of promoting bilingual education have been fostered by pan-national institutions. Bilingual education as defined by UNESCO in 1987 is the education system of using two different instructional languages, one of which is not the learner’s first language. It is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of education programmes and provisions. Bilingual education refers to ‘any school program in which more than one language is used in the curriculum to teach non-language academic subject matter or the language of schooling does not match the language of the home or community’. The languages chosen and the reasons for incorporating them in the curriculum and the design of the programme ‘vary widely and influence educational outcomes’ (Bialystok 2018: 667).

In the educational field (and, consequently, in academic research), bilingual education is actually conceptualised as Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and Content-Based Instruction (CBI), with a number or actual practices which may range from monolingual instructional approaches such English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) to Translanguaging (which combines two or more languages) and their ← 12 | 13 → approximations. Conceptually, much discussion on clear-cut differences has been put forward, but actual formal and informal practices may well exceed these theoretical discussions. Stoller (2004) placed immersion and CLIL within CBI, which she characterised as dually committed to language and content-learning objectives. Others have deemed CLIL and CBI to be two labels for the same concept (Cenoz 2015; Coyle et al. 2010; Dalton-Puffer 2008; Ruiz de Zarobe 2008), while a recent systematic review considers that CBI, CLIL and EMI to be responding to essentially the same reality, displaying geographical or tier preferences (Macaro et al. 2018).

Bilingual education involves both a given language policy and a pedagogic realization in a particular classroom practice. The final level at which bilingual education can be examined is the programme level, which is also, the most complex and tenuous. As May states,

the complexity of the types of bilingual programs available, along with the widely different understandings of bilingual education adopted in the research literature, have significant implications for how one might proceed to assess fairly and accurately the effectiveness of such programs (2016: 7).

Some authors have indicated a number of unsolved issues concerning the implementation of bilingual methodologies such as CLIL (Coyle 2013; Pérez Cañado 2016). One of its main drawbacks in Europe is the lack of a systematic and standardized approach to its implementation throughout the continent, where teaching experiences and learning environments differ not only among countries, but also among regions within the same country and even among schools in a single town due to different social, cultural, economic and political contexts (Galvin 2016).

It thus seems paramount to analyse the effectiveness of bilingual programmes and methodologies in a specific context with robust empirical data. The chapters in this volume clearly demonstrate the wide variety of work currently being undertaken internationally in bilingual education (from Mexico to Spain and Japan) and in educational levels from Primary to Higher Education. Studies like these and others provide accurate empirical evidence that may ascertain the educational efficacy of bilingual programmes clearer to policy-makers, and the general ← 13 | 14 → public, as well as open new routes for a wide range of researchers interested in exploring multilingualism from an evidence-based angle.

2.  Second language acquisition (SLA) contexts of practice and research

SLA studies have examined the effect of learning contexts on language learners’ linguistic outcomes and what such contexts offer in terms of language exposure and opportunities for practicing the target language. Despite the call above to disregard their difference in practical terms, it is true that (at least theoretically) there are different emphases in language and content in CLIL (typically associated with Primary or Secondary, where students are making parallel progress in the sophistication of their L1, and language scaffolding is usually present, with a view on formal foreign language targets) and EMI (associated with universities, where in many cases content targets prevails over informal language outcomes). The latter is so prevalent that even new concepts have been put forward to stress the pedagogical need to include language as an essential part of instruction at tertiary education, promoting the term Integration of Content and Language in Higher Education (ICLHE) to foster more pedagogically efficient models beyond monolingualism. To clarify the contexts in which the chapters below carry out their research, in this section we will refer to the five most frequent and relevant learning contexts where multilingualism occurs: CLIL, ESP, EAP, EMI and ICLHE.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (April)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 296 pp., 2 fig. b/w, 49 tables, 24 graphs

Biographical notes

Ana Cristina Lahuerta Martínez (Volume editor) Antonio José Jiménez Muñoz (Volume editor)


Title: Empirical studies in multilingualism