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Review of  Advances in Understanding Multilingualism: A Global Perspective

Reviewer: Maria Claudia Petrescu
Book Title: Advances in Understanding Multilingualism: A Global Perspective
Book Author: Sambor Grucza Magdalena Olpińska-Szkiełko Piotr Romanowski
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Issue Number: 28.3387

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“Advances in Understanding Multilingualism: A Global Perspective” edited by Sambor Gruzca, Magdalena Olpinska-Szkielko and Piotr Romanowski, is a collection of 10 chapters containing studies that explores questions related to multilingualism in an interdisciplinary fashion providing perspectives and evidence from various strands of study.

Chapter 1, “Multilingualism and Multimodality in Luxembourgish Early Childhood Education” by Katja Andersen, presents a pilot study conducted in Luxembourg, a country with three official languages. The study’s focus is on capturing the language use among children and practitioners in both formal and informal early childhood education. The qualitative methods used were rooted in the grounded theory, a research methodology that operates inductively, potentially leading to the formation of a new theory (K. Charmaz, 2006, as mentioned in Grucza, Olpinska-Szkiełko & Romanowski), and draws on self video-recordings of multilingual pedagogical practices on which practitioners reflected and discussed during mentoring sessions. The findings of the study underline the importance of developing appropriate visual materials in order to create and enhance the multilingual opportunities in classrooms. The findings also show empirically how the use of other languages in a classroom by practitioners activate and support a dynamic multilingualism of the children in the classroom. The author concludes the chapter by offering suggestions for implementing multilingual policies that help children develop and maintain their multilingualism. Specifically, Andersen mentions the development of appropriate visual materials, the use of multimodal communication in classes, as well as ongoing reflection on their own practices by practitioners.

In Chapter 2, “From Multilingualism to Bilingualism – and Back? Charting the Impact of Language Planning in Singapore”, Wai Meng Chan analyzes the major transformations that Singapore’s linguistic landscape has undergone since the country’s language policy was implemented 50 years ago by the government. The author first reviews the bilingual educational policy implemented in 1966, intended to be additive in nature. The findings reveal that despite the adoption of four official languages (Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and English) and a policy of societal multilingualism, Singapore became an “English-knowing bilingual society” by 1990 (p.29). This was due to the fact that English was chosen as the language of commerce and business aimed at building better inter-ethnic communication, thus, leading to an unintended subtractive outcome. This outcome manifested in the replacement of home languages by English and a loss of Chinese vernaculars and Indian mother tongue languages with the younger generations of Singaporeans. To address this issue, Singapore expended its language policy to the teaching of a third language in a hope to better equip Singaporeans to be successful in a globalized world and to help them develop linguistic competency necessary to communicate within the ethnic groups present in Singapore. While the new language policy has the potential of restoring multilingualism, the author points out that for the time being “it seems to be leading to a form of prestigious multilingualism”.

Chapter 3, “The Role of Formal Instruction in the Maintenance of Heritage Language: The Case of Croatian Language” by Lidija Cvikić, Jasna Novak Milić, Katarina Aladrović Slovaček, investigates the role of formal language instruction for the learning and maintenance of Croatian as a heritage language. In order to achieve their aim, the authors collected a large set of data from participants living in various countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and New Zealand. Data included demographic information, self-assessment of the knowledge of Croatian and the host country’s language, the participants’ attitude towards the Croatian culture and the importance of maintaining the Croatian language as well as the use patterns of Croatian in the participants’ daily lives. The findings reveal that despite numerous factors that lead to the maintenance of Croatian as a heritage language, formal instruction is of utmost importance and contributes to both the general language proficiency and the speakers’ attitudes towards the language and culture. The authors point out that the findings have an important implication for language policies and planning in that the learning of the heritage languages should not be left solely to the families or communities but should be an integral part of the educational programs of host countries.

In Chapter 4, “Globalization and Linguistic Diversity in Switzerland: Insights from the Roles of National Languages and English as a Foreign Language”, Kyria Finardi and Virág Csillagh discuss the linguistic diversity and language policies in Switzerland with a detailed focus on analyzing the linguistic diversity and practices at University of Geneva (UNIGE), one of Europe’s leading universities and second biggest university in Switzerland. The university is host to a pool of students and teaching staff with diverse linguistic backgrounds and offers courses about or in 17 languages. Using a mixed method design, the authors collected information from 375 university students from four different universities at UNIGE using an online questionnaire that focused on the students’ attitudes towards English. The results revealed that social and economic considerations both locally and globally play an integral role in the attitudes and language practices among the UNIGE students. The study proposes a change in language policies that reflect the realities of both the local and global contexts and which support educational institutions in their mission to prepare the citizens for the multilingual world we live in today.

Chapter 5, “Intergenerational transmission of Minority Languages in New Zealand: Methodological Issues”, by Jeanette King and Una Cunningham analyzes the extent to which minority language speakers in New Zealand transmit their language to their children. They report on the “bilingual teens” project, which focuses on the successful stories of intergenerational transmission of minority languages to teenage children. The information was gathered from official census data on language ability as well as interviews with parents and their teenage children. However, at the time of the publication, only the data provided by the census was available and analyzed. This data revealed that for the intergenerational transmission of languages to be successful, the children would have to be born and live outside of New Zealand before immigrating to New Zealand and have two speakers of the minority language in the household (preferably parents). The data also revealed the possibility that, due to a noticed halt in the children’s development of the home language beyond their childhood, parents find it possibly more difficult to promote and support transmission of the language for older children. This can be confirmed by the interviews that have the potential to reveal nuanced information at the micro level of the family, information that will complete the macro picture offered by the census data.

Chapter 6, “(Re) Reading Otherness: Translanguaging Processes in the Linguistic Landscape of Macau” by Ana Cristina Neves explores the presence of the translanguaging phenomena in Macau, a multilingual community that employs more than one writing system. In order to analyze the types of interactions between the three main languages (Chinese, English, and Portuguese) and different writing systems (e.g. the Arabic and Chinese numeric system, the Romanized Cantonese, etc.), the author analyzes 495 pictures, signs, and announcements by paying particular attention to the following phenomena: code-mixing, intralingual translation, intersemiotic translation, interlingual translation, as well as slogans, romanization and syllabification. The analysis reveals a process of appropriation to the context as well as a process of Romanization for proper names, especially when Portugueses is the target language. Similarly, English is the associated language for co-texts, slogans, and brand names. The findings underline the complexity of the linguistic landscape in Macau.

In Chapter 7, “Multilingual Upbringing by Parents of Different Nationalities: Which Strategies Work Best?” authors Michał B. Paradowski, Aleksandra Bator, and Monika Michałowska focus on the methods and strategies used by parents who aim to raise their children multilingually. The authors provide an overview of the theoretical issues in the field of bi/multilingualism research as well as issues surrounding multilingual upbringing before presenting and discussing the findings of their study, which surveyed 37 families with parents of different nationalities but who decided to raise their children bi- or multi-lingually. The purpose of the study was threefold. First, the authors aimed to collect information on the linguistic strategies that families used. Second, the study analyzed the parents’ opinions on the efficacy of the methods used. Finally, the study tried to establish what, if anything, would parents change in their strategies. The study revealed that parents used a variety of methods in the process of upbringing, with some families applying “one parent-one language” method while others choosing to use more than one language when communicating to their children. Regardless of the method chosen, the parents expressed satisfaction with their choices with a majority showing confidence in their approaches and that they would not change anything in the process. Overall, the analysis showed that bi/multilingualism does not lead to confusion or communication problems among families and their children.

Chapter 8, “Bridging the Gap between Policies and Practices Related to Multilingualism in Schools in Southern European States” by Stefania Scaglione and Sandro Caruana, surveys and discusses the language policies present in five Southern European countries (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Malta) by analyzing the degree to which such policies promote plurilingualism and linguistic diversity. The aforementioned countries have been attractive destinations for immigrants in recent years, opening the door to linguistic diversity and multilingualism. The analysis is done at both the macro-level, by looking into the local educational policies and to what extent they promote interlinguistic and intercultural awareness, as well as the micro-level by analyzing if such plurilingual practices are present in the every-day classroom. The study reveals an indifference and a neglect on the educators’ part to the children’s home languages and points to a need for bridging the gap between educational policies and practices in order to create a learning environment that fosters awareness towards multilingualism and related issues.

In Chapter 9, “Policies of Multilingualism in the European Union: How Compatible is the Policy with Actual Practice?” Kutlay Yagmur reports the findings of the Language Rich Europe project conducted in 24 European countries and regions. The aim of the project was to investigate the multilingual practices in these areas by comparing them against European documents and recommendations provided by the European Commission and the Council of Europe. The larger scope of the project was to share successful policies and practices in language learning and teaching across Europe as well as to improve cooperation within the European space on improving such practices. The comparative findings highlight some interesting trends in bi/multilingual policies and practices in the European context. While some countries/regions have highly developed policies and practices in specific domains, others need to further develop in order to align more closely with the European recommendations and create linguistically diverse societies. Also, importantly, most of the efforts made to promote linguistic diversity have been in the primary and secondary education, which draws attention to the need to put such policies into practice in the higher education as well. Also, the study revealed that the immigrant languages receive less attention and support than the national languages, suggesting a need for more inclusive language policies given the realities of a mobile and migrating population in Europe.

Chapter 10, “The Geography of Language Skills and Language(-Related) Disorders: A Case of Frankfurt/Main” Eugen Zaretsky and Benjamin P. Lange aims to identify the relationship between the geographic distribution of the sociolinguistic characteristics of German preschoolers in Frankfurt/Main. The authors conducted statistical analysis to identify the linguistically weakest and strongest districts of both monolingual German and bi/multilingual preschoolers in the city as well as the contributing factors. The authors found that better German skills have been found in the districts with two characteristics: (i) higher income, less unemployment, larger living area and fewer single parents; and (ii) less immigrants (with a few exceptions, such as Italians, generally Europeans, Americans), low percentage of foreigners, of Germans and children with an immigration background, as well as less families with children. The authors found strong correlations between some of these factors (such as, income, immigration background), but they found no correlation between the demographic characteristics of districts and the children’s language skills. This suggests that the children’s linguistic advancement is not predetermined by the districts in which they live. The relationship between the language skills and the district’s characteristic may be mediated by other social and sociolinguistic factors suggesting that children from poor districts also have a chance to speak the target language age-appropriately.


This book offers a comprehensive overview of the importance of multilingualism by analysing it from different points of view and taking us on a journey of multilingualism from Europe, to Macau, to New Zealand and Singapore, highlighting the global reach of this phenomenon. The fact that the authors of the studies included in the volume come from different universities from all over the world is also a reflection of the importance of the topic and its global reach, and it helped achieve the editors’ promise made in the editorial note, for a “highly informative and satisfying lecture”.

The book is written in a user-friendly manner, and it is aimed at professionals, graduate students, and researchers interested in a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of multilingualism. The languages and communities under investigation are also very diverse and less-researched. For example, we have Croatian as a heritage language under investigation in the study by Cvikić et al., whose participants hail from five continents. Also, in Chapter 8, Scaglione and Caruana focus their attention on analyzing the educational policies and practices in five Southern European countries (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Malta) in order to determine the effectiveness of these practices on promoting and maintaining multilingualism.

One strength of the book lies in its interdisciplinary approach to answering questions around multilingualism and providing insights into a variety of issues and research questions and approaches. For examples, some of the studies investigate the issue of multilingualism in childhood (Chapters 1 and 7), while others examine the language policies and linguistic landscapes present in certain communities and how they relate to multilingualism (Chapter 6 and 9), and another assesses and discusses various methodological issues involved in studying the extent to which minority languages are passed to the next generation using census data and interview data (Chapter 5). Another major plus of this book is that it offers original studies discussing rich qualitative and/or quantitative data. If I were to point out a minor drawback, it would be the lack of inclusion of studies that provide insight on the issue of multilingualism from a psycholinguistic or neurolinguistics perspective. In my opinion, this would have added to the collection and would have made for a more comprehensive perspective. Nevertheless, this observation does not detract from the overall quality of the book. In fact, the comprehensiveness of the studies included and the unique contexts in which they were conducted make for a valuable collection that will appeal to many. The book remains of great interest to students and researchers who have an interest in the issue of multilingualism and who are “engaged in the developing and shaping of language policies as well as educational policies on the local and even international level (EU)” (p.10).


Grucza, S., Olpińska-Szkiełko, M., & Romanowski, P. (2016). Advances in Understanding Multilingualism: A Global Perspective. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang International Academic Publishing
I earned a Ph.D. in Second Language Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. My research interests include child language acquisition, bilingualism/multilingualism, minority language learning and maintenance, and heritage languages.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9783631667613
Pages: 201
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