Steve Marshall

From celebrating multilingualism to promoting plurilingual pedagogy. A view from Canadian higher education

With reference to multilingual students in an Anglophone university in Vancouver, Canada, I discuss students’ language and literacy practices and an attempt to understand the extent to which English really is their sole medium for academic success. I map out a conceptual shift that I have gone through as a researcher studying sociolinguistic practices in a faculty of education. After initially doing research that celebrated and documented the rich multilingual practices of the students I was working with, I had to continually ask myself a so what question that wouldn’t go away: this is fascinating stuff, but how does all of this relate to education and to helping my students succeed academically?

In a three-year longitudinal study of the academic literacy practices of multilingual first-year undergraduate students funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), I recorded and documented many examples of rich multilingual practices in and around student participants’ learning, and in the process of producing high stakes monolingual texts in academic English. I had found examples of translanguaging (García, 2009; Canagarajah, 2011; Li & Zhu, 2013) and codemeshing (Canagarajah, 2011) in multilingual, multimodal texts in which languages and scripts (Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Farsi), images and emoticons were mixed creatively (for examples, see Lee & Marshall, 2012; Marshall, Hayashi, & Yeung, 2012). Yet I still had a nagging doubt about my own practice, or dare I say praxis. What could I do with my privileged position as a researcher to help students succeed when what I was documenting was so far from the normative practices students were assessed by? In looking for answers to that nagging question, I shifted my analytic lens from the multi to the pluri, and found more than just a new word for the same thing among the ever-growing terminology in our field.

By revisiting my work through the lenses of plurilingualism, and plurilingual competence (Beacco & Byram, 2007; Coste, Moore, & Zarate, 1997, 2009; Lüdi & Py, 2009; Moore & Gajo, 2009), I found an emphasis that matched not only the perceptions and practices that student participants had shared with me, but also one that carried a greater focus on teaching and learning, not just my celebrating the multiplicity of transnational multilingualism. In adopting a new analytic lens, I brought to the fore understandings of competence in relation to individual biographies and life experiences, the navigation of social trajectories, hybridity, agency in context, and pedagogy (for examples, see Marshall & Moore, 2013; Moore, Marshall, & Zhu, 2014). With this process of revisiting research in mind, I frame my research into multilingualism in higher education as educational sociolinguistics, in which I document and analyze linguistic complexity always with the aim of finding and creating links to effective classroom pedagogy.



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Beacco, J. C., & Byram, M. (2007). From linguistic diversity to plurilingual education: Guide for the development of language education policies in Europe. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe.

Canagarajah, S. (2011). Codemeshing in academic writing: Identifying teachable strategies of translanguaging. Modern Language Journal, 95, 401–417.

Coste, D., Moore, D., & Zarate, G. (1997). Comp_etence plurilingue et pluriculturelle. Vers un cadre européen commun de référence pour l’enseignement et l’apprentissage des langues vivantes: Études préparatoires [Plurilingual and pluricultural competence. Toward a common European reference framework for teaching and learning living languages: Preparatory studies]. Strasbourg, France: Éditions du Conseil de l’Europe.

Coste, D., Moore, D., & Zarate, G. (2009). Plurilingual and pluricultural competence. Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe. Retrieved from publications_en.asp?toprint=yes&-40

García, O. (2009). Education, multlingualism 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). Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Lee, E., & Marshall, S. (2012). Multilingualism and English language usage in ‘weird’and ‘funny’times: A case study of transnational youth in Vancouver. International Journal of Multilingualism, 9(1), 65-82.

Li, W. & Zhu, H. (2013) Translanguaging Identities and Ideologies: Creating Transnational Space Through Flexible Multilingual Practices Amongst Chinese University Students in the UK. Applied Linguistics 2013 (1), 1–21

Lüdi, G., & Py, B. (2009). To be or not to be a plurilingual speaker. International Journal of Multilingualism, 6, 154–167. doi:10.1080/14790710902846715

Marshall, S., Hayashi, H., & Yeung, P. (2012). Negotiating the multi in multilingualism and multiliteracies: Undergraduate students in Vancouver, Canada. Canadian Modern Review, 68(1), 28-53.

Marshall, S., & Moore, D. (2013). 2B or not 2B plurilingual? Navigating languages literacies, and plurilingual competence in postsecondary education in Canada. Tesol Quarterly, 47(3), 472-499.

Moore, D., & Gajo, L. (2009). French voices on plurilingualism and pluriculturalism: Theory, significance and perspectives. International Journal of Multilingualism, 6, 137–153. doi:10.1080/14790710902846707

Moore, D., Marshall, S., & Zhu, Y. (2014). Plurilinguismes et identités à l’université. Les inter-maillages du français, du chinois et de l’anglais chez des étudiants de première année à Vancouver. In B. Bouvier-Laffitte & Y. Loiseau (Eds.) Polyphonies franco-chinoises: Mobilités, dynamiques identitaires et didactique, pp. 81-100. L’Harmattan.