Multilingualism, Power and Agency in Education

In an era of dynamic global mobility and connection, bilingual and multilingual competence is becoming increasingly prominent as a dimension of education that contributes to academic, economic and social progress. I will discuss research into multilingualism in education that focusses on the agency of multilingual students and their teachers as they operate within monolingually dominated systems, and how this contributes to more responsive, resilient and enriching education systems. 

Through my PhD research, an ethnographic study of a linguistically diverse Australian school, I showed how students engaged their multilingual resources in all aspects of school life. This included creating their own cooperative language policy, and practicing translanguaging that is purposeful, playful and private. The varied responses to multilingualism by teachers revealed an appetite for further professional development about connecting language to learning. This research has informed curriculum development, pedagogy and teacher professional learning in education organisations in Australia and internationally. 

My current work uses collaborative approaches to delve further into the practices of multilingual young people in their family, social, online and school lives, and to explore how teachers develop and exert agency to counter monolingual biases in curriculum and pedagogy. Research sites include a Chinese-English bilingual program, a secondary intensive English language program, remote Aboriginal schools, and teacher education and language education at university level. With colleagues I am also exploring theoretical directions such as the intersection of southern multilingual practices with northern educational and social institutions; translanguaging practices in contexts of coloniality; and the reciprocality of multilingual language awareness. 

Through this work I am focussing on reciprocal multilingual learning in which the multilingual practices of young people, teachers’ pedagogy and learning design, and the practice of researching with multilingual speakers, inform each other. As a research approach, this promotes inquiry, reflexivity and criticality in learning, teaching and research.

Dr Mei French

Mei French is a Lecturer and Early Career Researcher in multilingual education with Education Futures at the University of South Australia. Her research focusses on education for multilingual learners in Australian institutions, including how students in secondary and tertiary settings deploy their multilingual resources to support learning and identity. Mei’s research connects with teacher education in English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D), Languages education, and across the curriculum. She has developed curriculum, resources and teacher professional learning around multilingual pedagogies for schools and systems across Australia.