LINGUIST List 32.2039

Fri Jun 11 2021

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition: Breuer, Lindgren, Stavans, Van Steendam (2021)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 23-Apr-2021
From: Sviatlana Karpava <>
Subject: Multilingual Literacy
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Esther Odilia Breuer
EDITOR: Eva Lindgren
EDITOR: Anat Stavans
EDITOR: Elke Van Steendam
TITLE: Multilingual Literacy
SERIES TITLE: New Perspectives on Language and Education
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2021

REVIEWER: Sviatlana Karpava


“Multilingual Literacy”, edited by Esther Odilia Breuer, Eva Lindgren, Anat Stavans and Elke Van Steendam, provides an overview of current international research in the area of multilingualism and multilingual literacy. The book is a collection of 12 chapters arranged in four parts: “Issues, Methods and Insights into Multilingual Literacy (Chapters 2–4); “Formal Education Framework: Multilingual Literacy in Classroom Practices (Chapters 5–7); “Formal Education Framework: Technology-Driven Multilingual Literacy in School (Chapters 8–9) and “Non-Formal Education: Multilingual Literacy at Home, in the Community and in Cyberspace (Chapters 10–11).

In Chapter 1, “Multiple approaches to understanding and working with multilingual (multi) `literacy”, Esther Odilia Breuer and Elke Van Steendam establish the context, define the field of research and describe the structure and content of the book. They define terms such as multilingualism and multiliteracy. They emphasise that there is a shift in the way researchers and educators view multilingualism from a subtractive perspective, which has a monolingual bias and compares multilingual language proficiency with native speakers’ language competence, to the perception of multilingualism as “a unique entity” (p. 16) or as “multicompetence” (Cook, 1992), which presupposes that multilingual speakers live and operate in diverse linguistic, cultural, social and educational settings and have complex and flexible identities (Stavans and Hoffmann, 2015), and that they have enhanced “chances and possibilities for communication” (p. 18). Literacy is seen as being closely related to multilingualism. This is because multilingual individuals, working with different types of texts, styles and genres in different contexts, have complex cognitive tasks. The authors suggest the value of a multi-perspective on literacy, incorporating reading, writing and digital skills as well as creativity and critical thinking in a dynamic, multimodal and socially constructed way.

Part I: Issues, Methods and Insights into Multilingual Literacy

In Chapter 2, “Linguistic and social diversity, literacy and access to higher education”, Tiane Donahue addresses multilingual literacy, multilingual diversity and relevant theoretical models such as plurilinguism, translingualism, metrolingualism, cosmopolitanism and heteroglossia. The author also emphasises that multilingual literacy should be taught in line with the principles of social activism and social justice. The focus of the chapter is on academic writing, literacy teaching, access to higher education, language diversity and empowerment and on challenges in current research and future directions for multiliteracy investigation. The aspects identified include text analysis and the implementation of corpus linguistics, grounded theory coding and analytic methods, dialogic approach, Bakhtinian linguistic analysis of utterances, translation research and machine translation and new empirical research on translingual practices (Canagarajah, 2011) or a combination of research methods (Lee, 2017).

In Chapter 3, “Studying the learning of immigrant students with limited German: A proposal for developing and applying an instrument for selecting suitable research participants”, Monika Angela Budde and Franziska Prüsmann explore multilingual literacy development with respect to immigrant learners in educational settings in German-speaking countries. They describe their project, the LAWA (Language Awareness – Mehrsprachige Fähigkeiten wahrnehmen) and the data collection methods (a pre-selection questionnaire with closed and open questions to select participants who can provide information regarding their school experience and language abilities, and a battery of cognitive tasks). The data analysis suggests ways of improving data collection procedures with the focus on individual learners, systematicity and in-depth analysis.

Chapter 4, “‘I should really interpret word by word for you’: Researcher, interpreter and interviewee negotiating roles, responsibilities and meanings in two multilingual literacy research interviews”, by Annika Norlund Shaswar explains the relationship between research on multilingual literacy and methodological challenges, in particular when dealing with the co-construction of meaning and interaction in multilingual cross-cultural interviews between a researcher, an interpreter and an interviewee. An interpreter, who is “familiar with the theoretical, epistemological, and methodological starting points of the research” (p. 132) can have a role of a co-researcher, responsible for discourse management and translation, which can facilitate intercultural dialogue and understanding if the researcher is “acquainted with the interpreter’s views on the researched phenomena and on values related to the research” (p.132). This chapter is based on “a small study on digital literacy practices in multilingual contexts in everyday life and in the educational domain of Swedish for immigrants (Svenska för invandrare, SFI)” (p. 98).

Part II: Formal Education Framework: Multilingual Literacy in Classroom Practices

In Chapter 5, “Paving a new way to literacy development in multilingual children: A DMM perspective”, Ulrike Jessner, Emese Malzer-Papp and Elisabeth Allgäuer-Hackl suggest adopting a Dynamic Systems and Complexity Theory perspective for teaching multilingual literacy. They provide an example of Austrian kindergartens and elementary schools with multilingual children and pupils, providing an overview of linguistic and cultural diversity in Austria. This perspective focuses on societal and individual multilingualism (Aronin and Singleton, 2019) and multicompetence (Jessner, 2016), linguistic and cognitive development, metalinguistic and cross-linguistic awareness, in a holistic way in relation to new educational approaches to elementary and primary education and multiliteracy. In this chapter, the authors discuss the different approaches to multilingualism and multiliteracy research taking social context and the interaction of internal and external factors into consideration.

The objective of Chapter 6, “‘He just does not write enough for it’ – Literacy practices among polish adolescents in Ireland” by Malgorzata Machowska-Kosciak is to emphasise the importance of multilingual literacy and its effect on the negotiation of identity in writing and in the expression of the writers’ emotions. The author examines the issues of intercultural communication and the diverse cultural approaches to the teaching of writing and multilingual literacy to immigrants with a Polish background in Ireland, taking socialisation, community values, identities and social positions into consideration. The chapter is based on a longitudinal study (five years) of four Polish immigrant families in Ireland. The children in these families attended mainstream secondary schools. They also attended Polish weekend schools. The researcher implemented an ethnography of communication and discourse analysis approaches to the data collection and analysis (Georgakopoulou, 2016).

In Chapter 7, “Construction of identities in diverse classrooms: Writing identity texts in grade five”, Åsa Wedin examines the relationship between multilingualism, multiliteracy, language identity, emotion, teaching and the learning procedures associated with creative writing. This chapter is based on an action research project in Meadow School, a school in a municipality in central Sweden, where most of the students are multilingual and come from families with low socioeconomic status. The author follows a critical, socio-constructionist perspective on language, identity and education (Ivanič, 1998; Gee, 2000). The aim of the project was to improve teaching practices in the school by incorporating innovations and raising awareness and understanding of linguistic diversity and multilingual education. The analysis of the data, based on classroom observations, field notes, student and teacher interviews, student texts and teaching materials, showed that creative writing facilitates intercultural dialogue and identity construction among multilingual students.

Part III: Formal Education Framework: Technology-Driven Multilingual Literacy in School

In Chapter 8, “Developing multiliteracies in online multilingual interactions: The example of chat-room conversations in Romance languages”, Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer provides detailed information on digital literacy, dynamic multiliteracy, multilinguality and intercultural communication via computer-mediated communication. The author also examines exolingual, plurilingual, transsemiotic and multimodal communication, collaborative activities and translinguistic practices in the classroom (Canagarajah, 2013). The researcher investigates the use of chat rooms by students regarding the development of multilingual and electronic literacy as part of a European project, Galanet (Platform for the development of Intercomprehension between Romance Languages). The participants could use different Romance languages in collaborative communicative situations online and could co-construct meaning by experiencing, conceptualising, analysing and applying words, phrases and sentences. The analysis of the data (interactions in the chat rooms) shows that students are able to move across languages and modes via translanguaging (García and Wei, 2014).

Chapter 9, “Promoting multilingualism and multiliteracies through storytelling: A case study on the use of the iTEO app in preschools in Luxembourg”, by Claudine Kirsch, presents the way digital tools can be implemented in formal and informal education to promote multilingualism and multiliteracy. The chapter is based on a study conducted in a Luxemburg preschool, where children were given a chance to work with digital devices to develop their storytelling, book reading, writing and phonemic awareness in multiple languages and modes. Working with the app helped children enhance their motivation and knowledge in terms of grammatical and narrative structures, vocabulary and styles. The author takes a sociocultural perspective on literacy and language learning, multiliteracies and multilingual pedagogies and considers New Literacies studies, focusing on home literacy and funds of knowledge (Cope and Kalantzis, 2009, 2015). The results of the study show that multilingual pedagogy based on the creative implementation of new technologies, strategic translanguaging, collaboration and participation is beneficial for students in terms of their academic achievements.

Part IV: Non-Formal Education: Multilingual Literacy at Home, in the Community and in Cyberspace

Chapter 10, “Multilingual preschoolers’ word learning from parent-child shared reading of informational and narrative books” by Deborah Bergman Deitcher, Helen Johnson and Dorit Aram, emphasises the importance of joint reading of parents and children at home in a bilingual context. The authors examine the effect of digital literacy, multimodality, the genre of the book (informational vs narrative texts) on vocabulary learning, communication about the book read together with a child and the effect of L1 competency on learning other languages. The study was conducted in Israel, and the participants were immigrants from native English-speaking countries, from middle to upper socioeconomic status. The researchers examine factors such as language use and home literacy environment. They implemented a home language and literacy environment questionnaire (completed by parents) and tests, pre-tests and post-tests on productive and perceptive vocabulary (for the children). The results of the study show that children and parents have more interaction regarding informational texts in comparison to other genres and that shared book reading is effective in terms of children’s vocabulary development in both languages.

Anat Stavans, Maya Tahar Eden and Lior Azar, the authors of Chapter 11, “Multilingual literacy: The use of emojis in written communication”, elaborate on multiliteracy, digital communication and the use of emojis in different social, educational and cultural contexts. The use of these universal signs provides better understanding and communication in a multilingual, multimodal environment. Factors such as linguistic, textual and cognitive skills, individual differences, age and linguistic background should be considered. In technologically mediated communications, multilingual individuals have the option to translanguage between the languages, codes and modes (García and Li, 2014; Vogel and García, 2017). In the sociocultural literacy perspective, emojis, which help to express emotions online, are important for time and cultural spaces, anthropological and cognitive development (Danesi, 2017). The results of their research project indicate that emojis are “a notational system … they are language-less or hyper-language … conditioned by culture for encoding and interpreting” (p. 344).

The purpose of Chapter 12, “Building the multilingual literacy bridge”, by Anat Stavans and Eva Lindgren, is to raise questions regarding the role of multilingual literacy and multilingualism in mediating between individuals, countries and cultures, taking pedagogical, political, and cultural factors as well as technological advancement and growth of international mobility into consideration. The authors summarise the findings of the edited volume, pointing out prominent theoretical frameworks, models, strategies and methods implemented by researchers in their projects on multiliteracy. They identify the “multilingual literacy bridge” (p. 357), connecting two disciplines, multilingualism and literacy. They also stress that global and national language policy, family language policy and formal and informal education systems should be based on individual and societal multilingualism and multiliteracy.


This volume, co-edited by four leading international specialists, with its accessible style, broad coverage, and theoretical and practical focus, is essential reading for newcomers and established scholars in the field of multilingualism and multiliteracy. The four sections cover various topic areas, providing a complete, authoritative and up-to-date overview of the state of the field. This helpful work provides frameworks for understanding multilingualism and multiliteracy based on diverse topics and analyses. Each chapter highlights a topic area, covering key concepts, examples of previous interdisciplinary research and studies from different geographical regions and languages, critical reviews and analyses, specific projects undertaken by the authors and their personal reflections. This book is ideal for students of applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, sociology, psychology, language acquisition and education, as well as practitioners, teachers, parents, experts and researchers wishing to update their knowledge regarding multilingualism and multiliteracy.


Aronin, L. and Singleton, D. (2019). Introduction. In D. Singleton and L. Aronin (eds), Twelve lectures in multilingualism (pp. xii-xix). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

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Canagarajah, S. (2013). Translingual practices. Global Englishes and cosmopolitan relations. Oxon: Routledge.

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Danesi, M. (2017). The semiotics of emoji: The rise of visual language in the age of the Internet. London/New York: Bloomsbury.

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Jessner, U. (2016). “Multicompetence approaches to language proficiency development in multilingual education”. In O. García et al. (eds), Bilingual and multilingual education, encyclopedia of language and education. Cham: Springer.

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Sviatlana Karpava is a Lecturer in Applied Linguistics in the Department of English Studies at the University of Cyprus. Her main research interests are applied linguistics, first and second language acquisition, bilingualism, multilingualism, sociolinguistics, teaching and education.

Page Updated: 11-Jun-2021