Researching Multilingualism, Multilingualism in Research Practice

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This project (RES-046-25-0004) was funded under the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Researcher Development Initiative (RDI) scheme (Round 4). Based in the MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism, this project which was rated as 'outstanding' by ESRC, ran from May 2010 - April 2013. 

It was based within the School of Education and its total funding was £99,996.99. 


The specific aims of the project were as follows:

  1. To provide, for researchers at different points in their career, advanced training and development activities which are related to the study of multilingualism and to multilingualism in research practice;
  2. To encourage the transfer and application of well-established research methods from contemporary sociolinguistic studies of multilingualism to other social science disciplines, particularly education;
  3. To develop dedicated research training materials and facilitate international dialogue among researchers involved in running research methodology courses for doctoral researchers conducting research in multilingual contexts.

Structure and content of the project 

Over 3 years, the project included the following activities:

  • Two five-day residential courses for doctoral and post-doctoral researchers (UK-based and international): Researching multilingualism: key concepts, methods and issues (University of Birmingham, July 2010 and April 2011).
  • 5 follow-up days at the University of Birmingham
  • 1 two-day workshop: Transcribing bilingual data at the ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism (Bangor University)
  • 4 one-day regional workshops on specific themes (at the Universities of Birkbeck, Goldsmiths, Leeds, Edinburgh).
  • 1 two day thematic workshops at the University of Birmingham in collaboration with Iaith (the Welsh Centre for Language Planning). 
  • 2 master-classes at Birmingham (Professor Monica Heller, University of Toronto and Professor Alastair Pennycook, University of Technology, Sydney)
  • Ongoing development of specialist research training materials
  • A final conference: Responding to contemporary multilingual realities, recasting research methodologies.

To ensure long-term sustainability, project activities were progressively embedded within those of current research networks e.g the UK Linguistic Ethnography Forum (special interest group, British Association for Applied Linguistics) from 2010 to 2013 and the International Consortium on Language and Superdiversity (InCoLas).

Patterns of participation

Here, we present an analysis of the overall patterns of participation in this RDI project, including numbers participating and the disciplinary background and status/career stage of participants.

Table 1 below shows the numbers participating in each of the research training and development activities.

 Table 1: Numbers participating in each researcher development activity

Demand exceeded our expectations so, where possible, recruitment was increased (circa 40). The numbers participating increased over time, as awareness of the nature and the purpose of the project grew within the research community. Each of the activities was publicised through the relevant learned societies and research networks e.g. British Association for Applied Linguistics and the UK Linguistic Ethnography Forum. It was also publicised through the network being developed by the project. Some of those who participated in early activities returned to take part in later activities (circa 4%). They included doctoral researchers and early career researchers in the UK.

In addition to the 15 activities detailed in Table 1, an e-seminar was organised in collaboration with the Linguistic Ethnography Forum. This research network currently has over 500 members. The e-seminar was based on a text posted by Professor Monica Heller (University of Toronto, Canada) and it ran from 4th to 23rd May, 2011. Professor Melissa Moyer (Autonomous University of Barcelona) acted as discussant. 

In Table 2 below, we present details of the status/career stage of participants in selected activities. We focus on key activities organised at the main project hub - at the MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism, University of Birmingham. These were the 2 five-day residential courses and the final conference. The members of the research team were closely involved in the organisation of these hub-based activities and are thus in a position to provide detailed profiles of participants. Table 2 also includes one of the thematic workshops – the one based at the University of Edinburgh. Again, the research team were closely involved in the running of this research activity. The local organisers were early career researchers who had been participants in earlier activities based at the MOSAIC Centre and the Edinburgh workshop was organised in close coordination with the research team .

Table 2. Status/career stage of those participating in selected activities

 Table 2. Status/career stage of those participating in selected activities

Note: The numbers indicated for the 2 five-day residential courses at the University of Birmingham do not include the members of the research team (5 at the time) or the 2 Visiting Lecturers (Dr Mukul Saxena and Mr Arvind Bhatt) who collaborated in running the sessions.

Table 2 reveals the varied nature of participation in different kinds of capacity-building activities. Doctoral researchers and early career researchers made up the largest group of participants in the 2 five-day residential courses. The mid-career and senior researchers taking part in these courses were from countries outside Europe e.g. Australia, Colombia, Hong Kong, Pakistan and South Africa. In their evaluations, they welcomed the opportunity ‘to reflect on research methodological issues’ and ‘to share expertise’.

The thematic workshop at the University of Edinburgh was organised around a series of presentations (by senior researchers). The backgrounds of those participating in this activity were more varied, including substantial numbers of early and mid-career researchers as well as doctoral researchers.

The final conference was specifically designed for those with an interest in research methodological issues, especially in the light of recent epistemological shifts in the field. Over half of the participants were mid-career or senior researchers and most made presentations or acted as discussants. There was also a significant presence of doctoral researchers and 10 of these presented posters.

Table 3 below gives some insights into the backgrounds of those who participated in the same four activities.


Firstly, in the columns shaded in pink, Table 3 shows the significant level of international participation in the project, particularly in the activities organised at the project hub at the University of Birmingham. This level of international participation was not fully anticipated when we submitted the original project proposal. The number of participants who are listed as UK-based includes a small number of international students undertaking doctoral research in the UK and visiting doctoral researchers. They formed approximately 18% of the total.

Secondly, the columns shaded in blue show the nature of the social science research being undertaken by participants. The majority of those participating in these four activities (and in other activities organised as part of the project) were conducting research in sociolinguistics, applied linguistics or a closely related field such as linguistic ethnography, literacy studies, interpretation and translation, Sign Language studies or Gaelic studies. It is, however, important to note that a significant proportion of the participants in the four activities depicted in Table 3 (approximately 75%) were concerned with some aspect of language-in-education policy or practice. This general concern with researching language or literacy in educational settings resonated across the discussions that took place in different activities across the life-course of the project.  

Evaluation of activities

Evaluation forms were provided for participants in all the researcher development activities that were organised as part of this three year project. The forms included open-end questions relating to publicity about each particular event, the organisation and content of the activities and areas for improvement. There was also space for participants to give further comments.

The feedback we received was very positive indeed. Positive comments far outweighed suggestions for improvements. We took account of the suggestions for improvement as we prepared each new event.

We summarise below the evaluations of key activities that were organised by the research team here at the project hub: at the MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism, School of Education, University of Birmingham.

Learning from the evaluations

The aspects of the research activities that participants valued most were: 

  • The opportunity to encounter new ideas about theory and method in a changing field 
  • Linking these ideas with their own research through small group discussions and data analysis workshops 
  • The opportunity to network with both new and established researchers in the field
  • The international nature of the participation

The evaluations also provided evidence of:

  • The value of organising events of a short and intensive nature (of one to five days duration), involving different kinds of activities (e.g. lectures, plenary and group discussion, round tables, data analysis workshops, poster sessions etc.) 
  • The continuing demand in the field of multilingualism for further researcher development activities. 
  • The need to use multiple means of publicising events e.g. via BAALmail, the Linguists List, UKLEF, university departments and schools, supervisors and, since it has been established, the project website and mailing list.

The one day events: developing a model of provision

A recurring theme in the evauations was that time set aside for group discussion and data analysis workshops was much appreciated and that more time could be devoted to this kind of activity. In Follow-up days 2, 3 and 4, more time was devoted to group discussion. And, in fact, Follow up days 3 and 4 were organised by doctoral researchers associated with the MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism at the University of Birmingham. They adopted a model for a one-day event in which an open lecture by a visiting speaker (a senior scholar) was followed up by an afternoon workshop. In this workshop, two or three doctoral researchers gave brief overviews of their ongoing research, followed by commentary by the visiting speaker and group discussion. Since the end of our ESRC RDI project, this model has been successfully replicated by the doctoral researchers associated with the MOSAIC Centre in three further events which were funded by the Centre for Learning and Academic Development at the University of Birmingham.

Selected publications

Martin-Jones, M., Magalhães, I. and M. Baynham (2019) Literacy in the study of social change: Lusophone perspectives. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 259.

Martin-Jones, M. and Martin, D. (eds.) 2017 Researching multilingualism: Critical and ethnographic perspectives.Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

Blackledge, A. and Creese, A. (2010) Multilingualism: a critical perspective. London: Continuum.

Creese, A. (2010a) Linguistic ethnography. In L. Litosseliti (ed.) Research methods in Linguistics. London: Continuum, 138- 154.

Creese, A. (2010b) Educational linguistics in multilingual classrooms. In F. Hult (ed.) Directions and prospects in Educational Linguistics: theoretical and methodological issues. New York: Springer, 33-48.

Creese, A. and Blackledge, A. (2012) Voice and meaning-making in team ethnography. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 43 (3), 306-324. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1492.2012.01182.x

Gardner, S. & Martin-Jones, M. (eds.) (2102) Multilingualism, discourse and ethnography. New York: Routledge (with contributions from Martin, Blackledge, Creese, Gardner, Bonacina and Mariou)

Martin-Jones, M., Blackledge, A. and Creese, A. (eds.) (2012) Handbook of multilingualism. London: Routledge

Saxena, M. and Martin-Jones, M (2013) Multilingual resources in classroom interaction: ethnographic and discourse analytic perspectives. Language and Education 27 (4), 285-297. DOI:10.1080/09500782.2013.788020

Members of the team

Members of the project team

Project Director

Dr Deirdre Martin


Professor Adrian Blackledge
Professor Angela Creese
Professor Marilyn Martin-Jones
Dr Sheena Gardner 

Members of the Advisory group

Professor Mike Baynham, (Centre for Language Education Research, University of Leeds) 
Mr Arvind Bhatt (Bilingual researcher [Gujarati/English], with experience on 4 ESRC-funded research projects) 
Dr Kathryn Jones (Iaith/Welsh Centre for Language Planning) 
Dr Charmian Kenner (Goldsmiths College, University of London) 
Dr Joanna McPake (Director, Scottish Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research and Vice-Dean for Knowledge Exchange, University of Strathclyde) 
Professor Ben Rampton (Centre for Language, Discourse and Communication, King’s College, University of London and Principal Investigator on the ESRC-funded Researcher Development Initiative project on Ethnography, Language and Communication 2007-2009) 
Dr Catrin Rednap (Former Director of the Education Unit, Welsh Language Board and now freelance consultant on language education policy in Wales, with a consultancy called Tafodiaith) 
Ms Gopinder Kaur Sagoo, ESRC-funded doctoral researcher (student representative) 
Professor Li Wei (Birkbeck College, University of London)

Visiting doctoral researchers

Olga Solovova (2009-2010) Visiting from the Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal 
Norma Vanegas Torres (May – August 2010) Visiting from Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia 
Samia Naz (2011-2012) Visiting from the Department of English, Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, Lahore, Pakistan 
Alan Silvio Ribeiro Carneiro (2012-2013) Visiting from Department of Applied Linguistics, University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil 
Lídia Gallego-Balsá (2012–2013) Visiting from the University of Lleida, Catalonia, Spain 
Sabina Vakser (2012-2013) Visiting from the School of Education, University of Melbourne, Australia 
Samira Jalil (2012-2013) Visiting from UNILA (Federal University for Latin American Integration), Brazil
Susanne Becker (April – July, 2013) Visiting from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

Contact Details

For further details of the project, please contact Marilyn Martin-Jones

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