Language Education Policy Studies
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Multilingualism (Includes Bilingualism, and Code Choice)

Multilingualism, as a social practice and common situation, has been transformed with 21st century forces of migration, globalization, and inequalities (see 21st Century Forces). Even bilingualism is being rethought with new notions of code-switching--charging that the concept of ‘code’ is limited and probably inappropriate: the transfer and use of more than one code involves a crosscultural repertoire of semiotic strategies and implies dynamic and fluid practices rather than switching between two codes. 

The ideology of what it means to be mono-, bi-, or multi-lingual must be considered; and then the effect of testing and education on these. In practice, most societies are multilingual, with a coevolution for millennia of language, culture, and biodiversity (Smith, 2001). Yet, today we live in a “multilingual world of vanishing languages” (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2009) (See Endangered Languages). 


Yet the dynamic multilingualism of most societies is a pedagogical issue that is blurred by moving from societies to schools (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2009). Schools are monolingual. There are fallacies of monolingualism tied to the teaching of English at an every-earlier age (Phillipson, 2008) usually at the expense of the mother tongue (subtractive learning). Language policies in general do not ensure multilingualism or mother tongue instruction. English is usually privileged. (See Subtractive Language Learning.)


Many multilingual speakers must also choose their code by domain, and often with varying ability levels. People may have the vocabulary or speaking ability only by domain or language function, or only use a language ability in a certain domain, such as the workplace or family. This leads to code choice, formerly called code-switching; and language mixing. (See Variations; Domains.)


Research has shown how languages can each play a role and complement each other through cross language transfer and psycholinguistic transfer (Cummins, 2009). (See How language situations affect schools.)


Achugar, M. 2009. Constructing a bilingual professional identity in a graduate classroom. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 8(2-3); 65-87.


Baker, C. (2006). Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.


Bayley, R., & Schecter, S.R. (Eds.), (2003). Language socialization in bilingual and multilingual societies, 62-80. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.


Bhatia, T. K. & Ritchie, W. C. (2013). Handbook of Bilingualism and Multilingualism, second edition. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 494-516.


Collier, V.P., & Thomas, W.P. (2007). Predicting Second Language Academic Success in English Using the Prism Model. In J. Cummins & C. Davison (Eds.), International Handbook of English Language Teaching, Part 1 (pp. 333-348). New York: Springer.


Franceschini, R. 2011. Multilingualism and multicompetence: A conceptual view. In the Special Issue “Toward a multilingual approach in the study of multilingualism in school contexts.  Modern Language Journal, 95(3): 344-355.


Garcia, O. (2009). Education, Multilingualism, and Translanguaging in the 21st Century. In T. Skutnabb-Kangas, R. Phillipson, A. K. Mohanty, & M. Panda (Eds.), Social Justice through Multilingual Education (pp. 140-158). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.


Gardner-Chloros, P. (2009). Code-switching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Geva E. (2006). Learning to read in a second language: Research, implications, and recommendations for services. In: Tremblay RE, Barr RG, Peters RDeV, eds. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online]. Montreal, Quebec: Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development; 2006:1-12. Available at: Accessed July 4, 2013.

Heller, M. (2007). Bilingualism: a social approach. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillian


Higgins, C. (2009). 1 – Multivoiced multilingualism. In: English as a local language, Post-colonial identities and multilingual practices (pp.1-20). 


Ovando, C.J., Combs, M.C. & Collier, V.P. (2006). Bilingual and ESL Classrooms: Teaching in Multicultural Contexts (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.


Phillipson, R. (2008). The linguistic imperialism of neoliberal empire. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies , 5 (1), 1-43.


Thomas, W.P., & Collier, V.P. (2000). Accelerated Schooling for All Students: Research Findings on Education in Multilingual Communities. In S. Shaw (Ed.) Intercultural Education in European Classrooms. Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom: Trentham Books.


Skutnabb-Kangas, T., & McCarty, T. L. (2006). Key concepts in bilingual education: ideological, historical, epistemological, and empirical foundations (Encyclopedia of Lnaguage and Education ed., Vol. 5). (J. C. Hornberger, Ed.) New York.


Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2009). Multilingual Education for Global Justice: Issues, Approaches, Opportunities. In T. Skutnabb-Kangas, R. Phillipson, A. K. Mohanty, & M. Panda (Eds.), Social Justice through Multilingual Education (pp. 36-62). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.


Smith, E. A. (2001). On the Coevolution of Cultural, Linguistic, and Biological Diversity. In L. Maffi (Ed.), On Biocultural Diversity: linking language, knowledge, and the environment. Washington: Smithsonian Institution. (another notion of language too)


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Harrison, K.  M., & Tochon, F. V. (2013). Multilingualism. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date).

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