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The ‘Multilingual Turn’ in Languages Education - a future for EAL?

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In 2014, two books appeared on opposite sides of the world, both with ‘The Multilingual Turn’ in their titles. The first, edited by Stephen May, offered alternative theoretical perspectives from the ‘still-dominant monolingual bias’ for SLA , TESOL and bilingual education. The co-editors of the second were Gabriela Meier and myself. Despite our initial alarm on finding that there was work ongoing on a book with a very similar title to the one we had come up with, we feel very pleased that we (arguably) finished off the task that Stephen May had begun. Our book addresses the ‘opportunities and challenges’ in the notion of the multilingual turn for research, policy and practice in language education. Our contributing authors provide examples from around the world from a wide range of multilingual classroom settings, not just those engaged in ELT , but also those where other curriculum subjects are the focus of teaching and learning.

In the seminar, I plan to take a critical look at the notion of the multilingual turn in relation to the phenomenon of ‘EAL’ (English as an additional language) in the system in England. The widely used category of ‘EAL learner’ is still poorly defined, and there is no clarity among education professionals about what ‘EAL’ precisely is, who actually are ‘EAL learners’ and what ‘EAL practice’ is really about. Bi/multilingual learners are still commonly regarded among practitioners as having ‘problems’ (Safford and Drury, 2013), and the research and debate that goes on in more ‘academic’ circles seem to continue to pass by those who engage in meeting the needs of EAL learners on a daily basis. Using examples from my own classroom-situated research, I will consider the significance of the multilingual turn for a much needed, theoretically informed model of EAL and the implications for future research and practice.


Conteh, J. and Meier, G. (eds.) (2014) The Multilingual Turn in Languages Education: Opportunities and Challenges. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

May, S. (ed.) (2014) The Multilingual Turn: Implications for SLA , TESOL and Bilingual Education. London: Routledge.

Safford, K. and Drury, R. (2013) The ‘problem’ of bilingual children in education settings: policy and research in England, Language and Education, 27:1, pp. 70-81


After working as a primary teacher and teacher educator in West Africa and West Yorkshire for many years and in Bulgaria, Pakistan and Poland on short-term projects, Jean Conteh became a lecturer at the University of York in 2003 and then a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Leeds in 2007. Her research interests are grounded in social justice, and converge on the classroom interactions between multilingual pupils and their teachers and on the professional knowledge and identities of multilingual teachers in monolingual mainstream settings. She continues to publish widely on these themes. She has taught on undergraduate, PGCE , and Master’s programmes and set up a part-time MA In EAL and Education, which has proved very popular with teachers. She supervises a lively group of PhD students, all of whose work employs ethnographic principles of research.

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