University of Malta

Keynote Speakers
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Professor Henry Widdowson

University of Vienna, Austria

Bilingual competence and lingual capability

It is generally assumed that the objective of foreign language teaching is to develop  bilingualism in learners by inducing them to acquire competence in another language, and that their success in so doing is to be measured by reference to native speaker norms. This objective has been given official institutional recognition by the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). In this talk I argue that this assumption is questionable for a number of reasons, that it fails to account for the essential nature of language use and learning, and can only lead to continual educational failure. I suggest that a more valid and realistic alternative would be to define learning objectives in terms of lingual capability rather than bilingual competence. 


Professor Penelope Gardner-Chloros

Birkbeck College, University of London, UK

Code-switching – where next? 

Since it was first recognized as a specific mode of speaking some 50 years ago in the work of John Gumperz (1964), the study of code-switching has ‘come of age’. Its systematic and functional nature has been established in multiple contexts, particularly in relation to pragmatic aspects, though grammatical regularities have proved harder to pin down in a principled manner. In this paper I will propose and try to justify some new methodological directions for code-switching research.

First, I will argue that code-switching should no longer be treated as a separate and discrete area of study, nested within the study of bilingualism, but should be more integrated with research on (a) language contact, and (b) innovation and change in monolingual speech, providing the missing link in the chain between these two areas of research (Backus 2005; Auer 2014). Research concerning the speech of 2nd generation speakers of immigrant origin provides one suitable source of data to illustrate the connections between these processes, and examples will be taken from a recently completed project focusing on young people’s speech in London and Paris (‘Multicultural London English/Multicultural Paris French’

Second, I will argue in favour of a more inclusive approach to data in another sense. Ever since the early work of Labov, sociolinguists have relied overwhelmingly on spontaneous spoken data, and this reliance has extended to much of the non-laboratory based research on code-switching. But more recently the contribution of historical linguists to the study of bilingualism has developed into a rich resource for sociolinguistics, and has shown that written material, whether historical or contemporary and whether literary or otherwise, provides valuable insights on bilingualism and code-switching. Referring to this research, I will argue that the notion of genre is more significant than the medium - spoken or written - as such, in understanding and classifying the functions and patterns within code-switching. 

Both arguments lead to the same conclusion: that research on bilingual speech and code-switching stands to gain by becoming more inclusive, more interdisciplinary and by drawing on more varied sources of data than heretofore.


Auer, P. 2014  Language mixing and language fusion: when bilingual talk becomes monolingual. In: J. Besters-Dilger, C. Dermarkar, S. Pfänder & A. Rabus (Hrsg.), Congruence in Contact-Induced Language Change. Berlin: de Gruyter (= Linguae et Litterae Bd. 27), S. 294-336.

Backus, A. 2005  Codeswitching and language change: one thing leads to another? International Journal of Bilingualism 9(3/4), 307–341. 


Professor Edgar W. Schneider

University of Regensburg, Germany

And what is English? Native, second or foreign language, lingua franca, instrumental code, or what?

Manfred Görlach once (in 1996, in English World-Wide 17) asked "And is it English?", discussing a range of text samples which diverge from standard English to varying extents and thus defy easy classification as varieties of English, mixed codes, broken forms, or whatever. In a similar vein, I propose that early in the twenty-first century it is time to ask the same question regarding the status of English and its varieties in the modern world in bilingual and multilingual contexts. Globalization, with English as its main vehicle, has contributed to the diffusion of the language into practically every corner of the world, to the emergence of new "Postcolonial Englishes" notably in Asia and Africa, to its lingua franca role (ELF) in a wide range of functions and forms, and to its acquisition and application in novel contexts and forms, sometimes with only minimal proficiency. Consequently, the functions and properties of English have increasingly become diversified and blurred.

Traditional classifications distinguish English as a native (ENL), a second (ESL) or a foreign (EFL) language. I argue that these simple categories do not hold any longer, and have yielded to a complex and increasingly fuzzy reality. Case studies and text samples will be adduced to illustrate intermediate cases where English has been changing its status, usage conditions, and properties. Cases in point, from which samples will be drawn, include the following:

ESL countries becoming ENL, as in Singapore (where substantial proportions of children grow up with English as an L1 today), and marginally elsewhere;

multilingual ESL countries becoming even more English-dominant, as in South Africa;

EFL countries moving towards an ESL-like status, as has been shown recently for the Netherlands, and suggested for some East Asian countries (with special developments to be observed in China); 

an ESL status being established almost "out of the blue" in countries with no earlier roots of English, as in Namibia and parts of the ASEAN, or, deliberately reverting from a French colonial background, Rwanda; 

conversely, ESL countries becoming EFL due to historical developments or deliberate language policy decisions, as in Cyprus, Tanzania, or (possibly – with directions of language policy swinging back and forth) Malaysia;

ELF uses spreading widely, both in professional and in leisure-time transnational activities; and finally

instrumental minimal English spreading as an important resource in grassroots contexts in many countries, with examples quoted mainly from Indonesia.


Professor Antonella Sorace

University of Edinburgh, Scotland and Bilingualism Matters

Enhancing the Scientific and Public Understanding of Bilingualism

There are two types of “bridges” that can foster the scientific and public understanding of bilingualism. The first type links different research disciplines in the effort to address particular research questions.  I will illustrate this with examples of convergent developmental paths among different early and late bilingual groups, such as child bilinguals, advanced adult second language speakers, and native speakers experiencing attrition due to long-term use of another language. I will show that an explanation of these phenomena requires studying the interactions of linguistic and non-linguistic factors and benefits from cross-disciplinary collaborations. The second type of bridge connects research to the community with the aim to enable people from all sectors of society to make decisions informed by facts rather than misconceptions. I will briefly describe the ways in which the information centre Bilingualism Matters is successfully addressing this challenge in Scotland and Europe.


Professor Siv Björklund

Centre for Immersion and Multilingualism, University of Vaasa, Finland

Multiple language acquisition and construction of identity among majority-language students: Language immersion education in Finland 

Language immersion is since 1987 a part of the Finnish education system and consists of early total immersion programs including day care, kindergarten/preschool and comprehensive school. In line with core features of language immersion (see e.g. Swain & Johnson, 1997) language immersion is predominantly offered to majority speakers who get in contact with and learn the minority language and culture. Consequently, in Finland, immersion has predominantly been offered to Finnish speaking children who learn Swedish as a L2. National education systems and sociolinguistic realities have, however, brought about additional characteristics in Swedish immersion (e.g. multiple language learning, see Björklund & Mård-Miettinen, 2011) that provide ample opportunities to re-examine and refine established perspectives in immersion research to better meet changing multilingual and multicultural education settings.

Although it is very unlikely that the extension of an early total immersion program (ranging from 3-5-years of age to 15 years of age) and the intensity (use of a L2 to teach a significant proportion of the school curriculum) would have no affect at all on how originally language majority students’ position themselves as individuals and part of groups in different contexts, immersion research has paid very little attention to identity-related issues. In general, studies of identity construction have mostly focussed on minority and heritage language learners in multilingual and multicultural classrooms, and almost no priority has been given to studies of identity among majority speakers in dual-language settings As for immersion research, researchers’ identity-related statements are often defence- or reassurance-based (“at no cost to the participating students’ native language development or academic achievement”; Genesee, 2004, p. 571 or “their [students’] sense of identity remains firmly rooted within the L1 culture and community”; Swain & Johnson, 1997, p. 11). In line with new definitions of identity as a dynamic process, the research project Dynamics of Identity Construction in Dual-Language Settings at the University of Vaasa aims to get an understanding of how the use of several languages, participation in culturally different settings and experience of content teaching in two languages relate to how student identity is viewed, manifested and (re)constructed over time in immersion. In my talk, I will present the project and address identity-related questions in immersion by discussing students’ perceptions of their linguistic and cultural identity. 

Björklund, S. & K. Mård-Miettinen (2011). Integration of multiple languages in immersion: Swedish immersion in Finland. In D. J. Tedick, D. Christian & T. Williams Fortune (eds), Immersion Education: Practices, Policies, Possibilities, (pp. 13-35). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Genesee, F. (2004). What do we know about bilingual education for majority language students?  In T. K. Bhatia & W. Ritchie (Eds.),Handbook of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, (pp. 547-576). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Swain, M. & Johnson, K. (1997). Immersion education: A category within bilingual education. In R.K. Johnson & M. Swain (eds) Immersion education: International perspectives, (pp. 1–16). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Last Updated: 15 October 2014

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