Multilingual Approaches

Increasingly, I have become interested in how language ideologies shape our research and practice on language learning and teaching. Language ideologies are our beliefs about language, and what we believe language is informs how we analyze, teach, and use language. Much of the research in my field, and in language teaching in the United States, is rooted in monolingual language ideologies. Monolingual language ideologies do not necessarily support monolingualism, but they view languages as separate and distinct objects (this in English, that is Arabic, that is Spanish, etc.). Under this view, native speakers of standard varieties are the “best” users of these languages, and the models for language learners. Full immersion in a language is the best way to learn it, and using other languages in learning environments is tolerated, ignored, or banned depending on the setting.

For those of us who grew up with monolingual language ideologies as the norm, the implications of these ideologies can seem obvious—of course English and Arabic are separate languages! Who doesn’t want to pass as a native speaker, or use 90% or more of the target language in the classroom? Yet, there are strong critiques of these monolingual language ideologies from researchers who point out that boundaries between languages are social determined, and that multilinguals who share language backgrounds frequently use language in ways that does not correspond to accepted language boundaries (code-switching, translanguaging). Similarly, taking native speakers of standard varieties as the “best” speakers is also a social judgment, privileging those from specific (often monolingual) social backgrounds. While obviously we need to use language in meaningful ways to learn it, a focus on immersion ignores the ways in which learners’ knowledge of other languages and dialects can be used to learn new ones. This doesn’t mean a return to (for example) teaching in English about Arabic grammar rules, but recognizing and capitalizing upon learners’ complete linguistic repertoires.

So far, I have focused on applying multilingual language ideologies to the contexts I research, and asking how these approaches could transform teaching and learning in these contexts. You can read many of my preliminary thoughts on my blog, and I hope to have some publications out in 2019 and 2020 on this topic!