Conference: International Symposium on Bilingualism, Limerick, June 2017

I’ve just returned from the 11th International Symposium on Bilingualism (ISB) held at the University of Limerick (12-15.6.17). The theme of the event was “Bilingualism, Multilingualism and the New Speaker”, and it was a truly international event, with almost 1,000 delegates from all over the world.

As you’d expect, the delegates were a diverse crowd, with researchers from different fields of linguistics, language teachers, and policy makers, discussing many different aspects of language learning and language use. This made it very interesting professionally, but also personally as there was a lot about migrants learning languages as adults, bilingual kids and heritage language speakers – all relevant topics in my life!

With a conference this big, it’s difficult to give an overview of everything that went on, but some of the hot topics were the idea of plurilingualism and the practice of translanguaging. These refer to the idea that the different languages you know and use are not completely separate systems, but rather they make up your personal linguistic repertoire that you draw on as needed. As always, the terminology is confusing and evolving, but there are implications in these ideas for our teaching and assessment practices.  For example, how do we engage with, develop and evaluate our students’ linguistic repertoires rather than just their English skills, which can’t really be seen on their own and out of context?

Some other important ideas repeated (and backed up with research!) throughout the conference:

  • Being multilingual is the norm rather than an exception.
  • ‘One nation, one language’ is not a very accurate concept.
  • Bilinguals include all those who use two languages (to a fairly fluent level), not just those raised with two as children.
  • While very important, the language(s) we learn as children is(are) not necessarily all important – language skills, including those in our mother tongue, develop (and sometimes regress) throughout the lifespan!
  • The term ‘new speaker’ refers to someone who learns and then actively uses a language later in life. The idea is to have a more positive way of viewing these multilinguals – they are not just non-native speakers. There’s a special emphasis on those starting to learn minority languages, but this could also apply to immigrants, for example.

My presentation was part of a colloquium on new speakers and language advising. I presented with two fellow language advisors: Deirdre Ní Loinsigh, who directs the Centre for Irish at the University of Limerick, and Marina Mozzon-McPherson, Professor of Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching at the University of Hull. We met last August at the Psychology in Language Learning conference at Jyväskylä and aim to keep up the co-operation between language advisors in the future. Here are a few photos from Twitter:


(Rough translation: Getting the discussion started between language advisors and the new speaker audience… Thanks to all)

Finally, a few highlights and some useful links.



One Reply to “Conference: International Symposium on Bilingualism, Limerick, June 2017”

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