Bilingualism and English language teaching

Authored by: Janina Brutt-Griffler

The Routledge International Handbook of English, Language and Literacy Teaching

Print publication date:  February  2010
Online publication date:  February  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415469036
eBook ISBN: 9780203863091
Adobe ISBN: 9781135183141


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One of the central goals of linguistic research is to study the unique language ability of human beings, or as Meisel put it ‘an endowment for multilingualism’ (Meisel, 2004: 112). In this line of research, the nature of the genetic endowment for the development of language or multiple languages takes into account neurological and biological variables and how they interact with language input to which children or adults are exposed. At the same time, the emergence of multilingual societies necessitates understanding yet another set of variables with respect to language development and evolution: sociocultural and historical perspectives that draw on insights from interdisciplinary fields such as sociolinguistics, political science, second language acquisition, cultural and literary studies, psychology and cultural anthropology. This line of interdisciplinary research allows us to understand societal processes like transnationalism that bring languages and cultures into contact and create a multilingual environment in which different ‘forms of multilingualism’ in the oral and written/textual domains are developed. This contribution discusses theoretical positions and current empirical research to shed light on two central issues of relevance to researchers in the field of English studies and to English language educators. First, it asks what historical and social forces are serving to promote or hinder the development of bilingualism/ multilingualism in the world today. Second, given the growth of English learning and the concomitant growth of bilingualism, what are the cognitive advantages of being a bilingual?

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