Inviting Reflection


ALISON CRUMP, Marianopolis College and McGill University


When we wrote our last editorial, we were a couple of months into the Covid-19 global pandemic, in the early days of adjusting to separation, staying home, and redefining socializing. Now, we have more months of pandemic life experience behind us, and it looks like a number more on the horizon. In March next year, we will collectively pass a one-year milestone. There is no doubt that this is reshaping our ways of being in all dimensions of social life, not only now, but it also raises questions about how we move through this and into a new post-Covid “normal.”

At the risk of being repetitive, we offer you a second editorial that is defined by the pandemic. To be sure, it is very hard not to locate our thinking about belonging, identity, language, and diversity (BILD) in the current context. In fact, this is exactly what we should be doing – we need to be thinking about the impact of the current global situation on BILD issues. We also cannot ignore the uprisings against systemic discrimination and racism that are shaping the educational landscape. In the last editorial, we wrote about how what we do individually contributes to the collective common good, emphasizing that our local, individual actions and choices matter. In this editorial, we build on that notion with a shift in focus to BILD issues in the context of teaching and learning. Pedagogy has always been a central part of the activity of educational institutions, though in research-focused higher education institutions, pedagogy has been given lower status and attention than research activities. Now, the attention has shifted to teaching and learning in unprecedented ways, and more than ever before, professionals with expertise in pedagogy (instructional designers, pedagogical counsellors and education consultants, etc.) have become indispensable resources in support of the teaching and learning activities of educators. Seasoned educators have been pushed quickly to re-examine everything they know about their professional identities and have had to question fundamental notions that make up those identities.

Teachers across education sectors have rapidly shifted their practice to online teaching, and this has meant learning new tools and technologies, learning new ways of assessing learning, trying new strategies to foster student engagement, carrying new responsibilities for implementing safety protocols, understanding privacy in digital spaces, and striving to create communities of learners who connect in meaningful ways. I’m sure J-BILD readers could add many more to this list (and in fact, you can! Feel free to leave a reply at the bottom of the HTML version of this editorial). These many new challenges, opportunities, realities are more central to pedagogical practice than perhaps they ever have been. (Though not so new for e-learning specialists). And all this intentional and explicit focus on the why, how, what, and for whom of teaching means there are many questions to consider about the themes that make up the pillars of J-BILD. We are all navigating so much new territory and we have a lot to learn, reflect on, and build forward from as the landscape of education reacts, responds, and readjusts.

This issue of J-BILD includes 2 critical literature reviews, 1 research proposal, and 2 research studies, which reflects the mission of J-BILD to publish scholarly works from all stages of the research cycle, and to support emerging and developing voices in the scholarly community.

The 5 articles that make up this issue of J-BILD, while based on research that predates pandemic days, do invite reflection that is needed in the current context. We encourage you to read them with a view to what they offer our understandings the four pillars of the journal in ways that will contribute to the common good.

Article Summaries

Critical Literature Reviews

Hector Alvarez’ “Critical Literature Review: Native speakerism within the Asian Context” opens with a personal story of the author’s  experience as an experienced English teacher from Argentina looking for work in Asia and facing discrimination as a non-native speaking teacher of English (NNEST). Using  his own experience as a springboard for his research, Hector examines three questions in his critical literature review: 1) Why are Native English Speaking Teachers (NESTs) still considered superior to Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (NNESTs) in many international language schools?; 2) How can misperceptions about NES or NNEST status influence hiring practices within the Asian context?; and 3) What type(s) of research could help counteract current biases towards NNESTs? In this article, Hector makes it clear that fixed identity categories and the ideologies that maintain them have real and material consequences for individual experiences. Hector’s argument that more research on teacher classroom performance is critical for debunking the native speaker bias, is even more urgent in our current reality.

Lexa Frail and Lisa Gonzales’ critical literature review, “Plurilingual Pedagogy in Switzerland: Practices and Challenges” evaluates literature on current implementations of plurilingual practices in Swiss education and determines how such practices are perceived by instructors and students, both in terms of effectiveness and engagement. The works of literature chosen for the review consist of studies that measure Swiss teacher and student attitudes towards plurilingualism and its use in the classroom, as well as how plurilingualism teaching methods appear in practice. In their analysis, they find that there is a disconnect between plurilingual instruction in theory and in practice, with multilingualism viewed largely as a collection of multiple monolingual systems. Frail and Gonzales argue that to implement a true plurilingual shift in education will take more research and resources, which are essential in our globalised, increasingly multilingual world.

Research Proposal

Mona El Samaty’s research proposal,  “The sense of belonging of second-generation Arab youth in Montreal” draws on two definitions of belonging in this article: 1) as feeling at home and having strong feelings of attachment towards a place or a community (Goitom, 2017) and 2) as only a reflection of the extent to which immigrants and their children feel attached to their host society, as well as the extent to which they feel accepted by the majority population (Banting & Soraka, 2012). In particular, El Samaty will use these framings of belonging in her research to understand how second-generation Arab youth in Montreal describe their territorial belonging as well as belonging to different social communities, and how they think they are perceived by the majority population. This study will contribute to the ongoing exploration of factors that both promote and jeopardize the integration and sense of belonging of second generation youth, with the aim of building a more inclusive and participatory society.

Research Studies

Claire McCarthy’s research study, “Speaking another language: Australian multilingual films” uses textual analysis to draw attention to a series of Australian films that represent Asian-Australian migrant subjects, and are multilingual and multicultural representations of Australian life. As Australian multicultural filmmaking developed in the 1990s, so did the presence of Australian-made multilingual cinema, which highlighted Australia’s changing relationship with the Asia-Pacific region, and its growing recognition of linguistic, as well as cultural, diversity. The analysis finds that these examples illustrate the adaptation or creative interpretation of multiculturalism as a national heritage discourse, and raises questions about the practicality of Australian multiculturalism as a national framework in the context of an ongoing commitment to a singular national language, English. McCarthy argues that film informs and shapes how Australians imagine what multiculturalism is; as a nationally sponsored industry, it is not only central to the ongoing construction of national identities, but also to the ongoing production of Australian cultural and multicultural heritage.

Emmanouela Tisizi’s research study, “Teacher identities in Heritage Language Education: the case of Greek Heritage Language teachers in Montreal and Toronto,” focuses on the identities and perceptions of pedagogy expressed by eight Greek heritage language (HL) teachers who teach in primary and secondary Greek schools in Montreal and Toronto. Through narrative inquiry, semi-structured interviews and identity charts, Tisizi argues that there is merit in using translanguaging strategies in the HL classroom. She also finds similarities between the teachers in Montreal and Toronto and Tisizi emphasizes the importance of Greek communities in Canada working together in their efforts to maintain Greek heritage language. This is perhaps more urgent now than ever before.

J-BILD readers, be well, be kind to yourselves. Take good care.

Nativespeakerism Within the Asian Context

Critical Literature Review

Hector Sebastian Alvarez, McGill University


This article provides a comprehensive review of Nativespeakerism: its definition in English Language Teaching (ELT), how it operates on a practical level, its historical background, and the current states of affairs as well as the research carried out so far in relation to the native-speakerist phenomenon. Even though the current multilingual paradigm has disproved the inherent superiority of the “native” English Speaker (NES), mainstream ELT markets still demonstrate strong preferences for the native over the non-native speaker. While research has already begun to demonstrate how pedagogical proficiency and linguistic competence are more important to student success than a teacher’s status as a native or non-native speaker of a language, further research into teacher classroom performance is needed to debunk pervasive myths that native speaker status perceived proficiency, and race are sufficient qualification for effective language teaching.


Cet article fournit un examen complet du “Nativespeakerism”: sa définition dans l’enseignement de la langue anglaise (ELT), son fonctionnement sur le plan pratique, son contexte historique et l’état actuel des choses, ainsi que les recherches menées jusqu’à présent en relation avec le phénomène des locuteurs natifs. Même si le paradigme multilingue actuel a réfuté la supériorité inhérente de l’anglophone “natif” (NES), les marchés principaux de l’ELT continuent de privilégier fortement l’anglophone natif par rapport à l’anglophone non natif. Ds recherches supplémentaires sur les performances des enseignants en classe sont nécessaires pour démystifier les mythes omniprésents selon lesquels la nativité, la compétence et la race suffisent à elles seules pour un enseignement efficace.

Keywords: NEST, NNEST, Native-speakerism, discrimination, Asia

Encounter with Nativespeakersim

I am originally from Argentina. When I finished my MA in TESOL at an American university, I thought I was ready for what would be a great job somewhere in the world. I was curious to try my chances in other countries. I was especially keen to acquire teaching experience in some non-Spanish speaking countries as well as, perhaps, benefitting from the better socioeconomic situation in these other countries since Argentina was (and still is) going through a harsh economic crisis. I was sure that with the experience I had at the time; around 6 years of language teaching experience, and my advanced qualification; an MA in TESOL, finding a decent job as an EFL teacher would not be difficult. Due to Europe’s economic downturn and employment protectionist policies, I considered Asia as my best option. However, to my surprise, I learned after an extensive job-hunt that getting a position in South Korea, Japan or China would not be as easy as I had envisioned, given that I was lacking one so-called qualification in high demand by many Asian employers: I am not a Native English Speaking Teacher (NEST). My example is not an isolated case. There are a number of documented instances of discriminatory hiring practices in Asia, as I will enumerate throughout my literature review. Based on these experiences, I’m seeking to understand the following phenomena: 1) Why Native English Speaking Teachers (NESTs) are still considered superior to Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (NNESTs) in many international language schools, 2) How misperceptions about NES or NNES status can influence hiring practices within the Asian context?, and 3) What type(s) of research could help counteract current biases towards NNESTs? To answer these questions, I will briefly trace the historical underpinnings that have led to what is known today as nativespeakerism, and I will analyze how this pervasive ideology permeates the language teaching market in Asia, leading to unfair hiring practices, and potentially leading to negative learning outcomes for language students.


The idea of nativespeakerism equates native speakers with “the Western culture from which springs the ideals both of the English language and of English language teaching methodology” (Holliday, 2005, p. 6). Holliday’s definition suggests that the native speaker is the most successful teacher of a target language. Students, recruiters, and Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (NNESTs) themselves often attribute superior status to Native English speaking Teachers (NESTs) for different reasons. First, as “owners” of the English language (Widdowson, 1994), NESTs’ superior language skills, which conform to the norm of native-speaking models (Kachru, 1992) are considered by many to be the best target-language role-models (Phillipson, 1992; Rao, 2005), especially for pronunciation teaching (Jenkins, 2005). The conceptualization of the NEST as having superior language skills is inherently problematic for a number of reasons. Not only is it a misguided attempt to put perceived linguistic proficiency ahead of teaching qualifications and experience, the underlying presumptions that language schools have concerning the superiority of NESTs over NNESTs are spurious; in fact,they may achieve the opposite of what most language schools are purporting to do; that is, to hire the best language teachers on the market.

Language schools’ preference for NESTs is prevalent in many different contexts. One only has to look at teaching job-ads in East Asia, which regularly require applicants to be native English speakers holding a passport from an Inner-Circle country (i.e., countries where English is the native language of their inhabitants such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia) (Mahboob & Golden, 2013; Ruecker & Ives, 2015). Indeed, these native-speakerist indicators are framed as the primary required qualifications and are more often listed as necessary for the position than qualifications and/or experience in teaching (Mahboob & Golden, 2013; Ruecker & Ives, 2015; Selvi, 2010). Often a bachelor’s degree from an English speaking university in any unrelated field is considered adequate education, as long as the candidate is a native speaker. Some countries such as South Korea (EPIK, 2013) and China (State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, 2018) have enforced national policies compelling foreign language teachers to only teach their mother tongue. Under this rationale, Spanish teachers should hold passports from Spanish speaking countries and English teachers should hold passports from English speaking countries, though it is important to note that specific policies vary greatly in terms of which countries can be considered as English speaking countries. The conflation of nationality with language proficiency is problematic given that a certain nationality does not necessarily guarantee that a potential teacher is proficient in the desired language. For example, in Canada 7.7 million citizens, or 23.2% of the population, speak French as their first language, while a further 1.8%, or 600,000 Canadians are neither fluent in French nor English (French and the francophonie in Canada, 2018). In the United States, 63 million people speak a language other than English at home, and of these 63 million, 41% (25.6 million) told the Census Bureau that they speak English “less than very well” (Bedard, 2018, para. 7). Therefore, making the association between a national passport and an expected level of specific language proficiency is inherently problematic. Further, even so called inner circle countries are experiencing demographic changes that problematize the idea of a native standard variety of English (Yano, 2009). Yano suggested that this phenomenon can be witnessed with the increase of Hispanics and foreigners in the United States for the last ten years. Hence, Hispanification is bringing a new reality to the English spoken in an inner-circle country like the United States with expressions such as “mi casa es su casa,” “mano a mano” and a broad arrangement of vocabulary imported from the Spanish language. Another similar phenomenon is the use of the invariable tag “in it”, as in “you are happy, in it,” by Londoners younger than 25. This phenomenon is attributed to the influx of immigrants from South Asia (Yano, 2009). These two examples show how inner-circle English varieties might be taking on characteristics of so-called non-native varieties and even non-English words into its standard inner-circle English repertoire. This is why equating linguistic proficiency and a specific standard variety of English with citizenship is not only reductive, it is inaccurate.

A secondary problem with the preference for native speakers is that the idea of a native speaker itself is inherently problematic. What is a “native speaker” of a language? How can a clear-cut answer be achieved about who is native and who is a non-native speaker? Common sense answers to these questions vary depending on who is defining the term, as well as the type of language ideology applied. For example, Bloomfield (1935) defined the native language as “the first language a human being learns to speak” (p. 43). However, no account is made of instances where the second language a child acquires becomes their dominant language, and where the speaker becomes more proficient in that second language. These examples serve to challenge the somewhat commonsensical assumption (for many) that a native speaker of a language is, by extension, inherently proficient. Further, McArthur, Lam-McArthur and Fontaine (2018) have offered another somewhat vague definition of a native speaker as “[a] person who has spoken a certain language since early childhood” (p. 45). Davies (2003), in a more extensive analysis, used six characteristics to define the native speaker: age of acquisition, grammatical intuition in the L1, intuition of how the L2 grammar differs from the L1 grammar, and discoursal, creative and translation (to L1) capabilities of the native-speaker. Based on the “age of acquisition” characteristic, Davies argued that “it is difficult for an adult non-native speaker to become a native speaker of a second language precisely because I define a native speaker as a person who has early acquired the language” (p. 213). While Davies affirmed that a non-native can acquire native-speaker communicative competence, his definition automatically excludes anyone who was not born speaking a language from native status, which is problematic given the power and status granted to native over non-native speakers.

Scholars in the 1990s began to challenge the native/non-native dichotomy and its inherent bias for the native over the non-native. Kachru and Nelson (1996), for example, do not use the term native speaker but instead refer to “users” of English and “types of users” (p. 77). Kachru (1992) also explains that a deviation from a certain model (e.g., General American, Received Pronunciation) should not be considered as a mistake coming from “deficient Englishes” (p. 66), but rather a deviation from a unique variety of English (e.g,. Indian English, Nigerian English, Singaporean English, etc.).

Rampton (1990) also challenged the validity of assumptions of superiority associated with the native-speaker by stating that “nobody’s functional command [of English] is total: users of a language are more proficient in some areas than others” (p. 98). Rampton’s argument is that some non-native speakers could be better at, for instance, writing academic papers than native speakers. Rampton generates a more nuanced conceptualization of linguistic proficiency through the introduction of the concept of expertise. A language presents different domains (for example, speaking competency, writing competency) that users of that language might have command of to a greater or lesser degree. Expertise accentuates the aspect of individual domain-specific competency. As Rampton (1990) explained, “Expertise is partial. People can be experts in several fields, but they are never omniscient” (p. 99); and further, he noted that expertise is “learned, not fixed or innate” (p. 98). According to Rampton, as well as Kachru and Nelson (1996), the description of someone’s expertise as a user of English is not only a more accurate way of viewing a person’s abilities in English, it avoids the pitfalls of conflating citizenship with competence.

Nativespeakerism as a colonial by-product

The final issue with the use of native or non-native speakers is in its race-based origins, given that the ideal NEST is considered a white Anglo-Saxon (Ruecker & Ives, 2015; Kubota & Lin, 2006). The perception of the inherent superiority attributed to the native speaker, also referred to as the native speaker fallacy (Phillipson, 1992), has been traced back in the literature to two historical developments. The first is the Commonwealth Conference of the Teaching of English as a Second Language held in Uganda in 1961. Phillipson (1992) has noted that one of the key tenets held by attendees of this conference was that “the ideal teacher of English is a native speaker” (p. 185). Indeed, this tenet has had a lasting effect in the British commonwealth which Kachru (1992) described as a kind of linguistic schizophrenia that has kept users of English from recognizing the legitimacy of nativized varieties of local Englishes (e.g., Indian English, Nigerian English, etc.) by equating difference to deficiency in varieties not pertaining to the inner-circle varieties such as British and American English, above all (Kachru, 1986).

The race-based ideal of the native-speaker was not limited to the British Commonwealth. Within the American context, references to the native speaker fallacy are found in the application of the Direct Method (also known as “the Berlitz method”) and in private language schools such as Berlitz where “native-speaking teachers was the norm” (Richards & Rodgers, 2014, p. 12). The Berlitz, or Direct method, (coincidentally criticized for its lack of theoretical foundation), has also had a long-lasting effect on the evolution of language teaching methodology. Even today, the Berlitz school promotes their “teachers with native language” as one of the reasons why students should choose the Berlitz school (Learn to speak with confidence, n.d). The Berlitz language schools (as demonstrated in its marketing) rely on the mythical value of the native speaker to promote its schools. The wide-spread adoption of this method in the mid-twentieth century meant that the Native-speakerist ideology associated with it was also dispersed and adopted in many markets worldwide.

Despite the popularity of the Direct Method in the mid-twentieth century, other teaching methodologies, such as the Grammar Translation Method, did not promote the idealization of the NEST’s alleged superiority. As Richards and Rodgers (2014) explained, the Grammar Translation Method was characterized as follows: the foreign language is learned with the goal of reading its literature or to benefit from the mental discipline of language study, the major focus includes reading and writing the foreign language, the foreign language grammar is taught deductively, and the student’s native language is the medium of instruction. Hence, teachers utilizing this method required declarative (rather than procedural) grammatical knowledge (for an explanation on declarative vs. procedural knowledge, see Saville-Troike, 2012). In the Grammar Translation Method, knowing grammatical rules and facts was more important than communicative competence in the target language. Furthermore, using the Grammar Translation Method, the teacher should be able to speak the student’s first language, or L1 to teach the target language. Clearly, a monolingual NEST would be rendered useless under these circumstances.

Chomskyan monolingual bias

Perhaps, the most important factor bolstering the native speaker fallacy has been Chomsky’s notions of native speaker competence. Although Chomsky was not primarily interested in language learning, his works have nonetheless been of major influence on ELT. Chomsky’s (1965) conception of the native-speaker was of “an ideal speaker-listener in a completely homogeneous speech community, who knows its language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitations, distractions, shifts of attention and interest, and errors (random or characteristic) in applying his knowledge of the language in actual performance” (p. 3). There are two big limitations in Chomsky’s assumptions about native speakers. The first is Chomsky’s assertion that homogeneous monolingual communities are a societal norm, when, as Ortega (2019) argued, that this so-called norm is just a political imposition of the nation-state project pushing for unity. Ortega (2019) provided the example of Spain, to illustrate his point suggesting that even though Spanish is Spain’s official language, there are many established minorities in the country that speak Catalan and Galician along with Spanish. Ortega (2019) also pointed to Cameroon as a linguistically diverse nation: it accounts for 13.5 of Africa’s language diversity, even though the country only represents 2% of Africa’s total population. Ortega’s examples demonstrate the fallacy of Chomsky’s belief that linguistic communities are generally homogeneous and Ortega showed that heterogeneity is indeed more common.

The second important limitation of Chomsky’s concept of the native speaker is that he disregards multiple aspects of language performance. Chomsky’s failure to account for aspects, such as distractions, shifts of attention and interest, and errors (random or characteristic), have the effect of positioning the native speaker as a perfect model of the language. Chomsky’s model of the native speaker as the ideal speaker encompasses erroneous assumptions involving the idea that native speakers don’t make mistakes, and, if they do, we should disregard these because they do not represent the idealized underlying native speaker competence (Chomsky, 1965). Does this mean that a highly proficient non-native speaker’s slip of the tongue reflects a defective underlying competence, while a native-speaker’s does not? Given that the native speaker is set above all others as the model for linguistic competence, the second language speaker’s mistakes can be used to call their linguistic competence into question.

Chomsky’s assumptions of the superiority of the native speaker have been taken up by applied linguists and subsequently disseminated widely within the English teaching profession. For example, Selinker (1969) based his term interlanguage on Chomskian ideas of native speakerism. Intended to be used as a tool to evaluate students’ language learning progression, Selinker defines interlanguage as “the observable output resulting from a speaker’s attempt to produce a foreign norm, i.e., both his errors and non-errors” (Mahboob, 2003, p. 28). The term interlanguage sets up a “comparative fallacy” where “foreign norm” is placed in subservient opposition to an idealized “native norm” (Bley-Vroman, 1983, p. 1).

Along with interlanguage, Selinker’s (1972) theory of fossilization implies that the second language learner is incapable of achieving native speaker norms, a supposition which further cements a negative bias against second language speakers. Theories such as Selinker’s interlanguage (1969) and fossilization (1972) have been ontologically influential in the field of applied linguistics, second language acquisition and, by extension, language teaching. The danger in the widespread acceptance of theories such as Selinker’s are that they have served to spread a negative bias towards non-native speakers. More recent language theorists have argued a move away from a native/non-native binary towards alternative ways of understanding language learning. Bley-Vroman (1983), for instance, argued that looking at the learner’s process, rather than the teacher’s status, is more fruitful, and, moves away from any bias against non-native speakers: “the learner’s system is worthy of study in its own right, not just as a degenerate form of the target system” (p. 4). Furthermore, cross-linguistic research in the last decade has demonstrated that “crosslinguistic effects arise among all the languages of a multilingual and across proficiency levels” (Ortega, 2019, p. 25). Put another way, a multilingual speaker’s language will possess characteristics that are inherently different from those of a monolingual. This does not necessarily mean the multilingual speaker is making errors;rather, that the multilingual has speech patterns with different distinctive characteristics based on how the two or more languages interact together. As Cook (1999) succinctly put it, “Multicompetent minds that know two languages are qualitatively different from those of the monolingual native speaker in a number of ways” (p. 191). If one follows this definition, the assumption that a bilingual mind is the sum of two monolinguals should be recognized as completely erroneous (Grosjean, 1989). This is why multilinguals should not be studied as defective monolinguals when studying the additional language(s) that they have acquired. The fluid semiotic code mixing, irrespective of which language is being used (L1,2,3) should be taken into account within Second language and applied linguistic science (Ortega, 2019).

Pedagogical competency

Due to native-speakearism, it is assumed that a native speaker is inherently endowed to teach their native language. However, linguistic competence is not the only skill necessary to become a successful teacher. Reducing effective language teaching to native language proficiency is a disservice to the language teaching profession. Pedagogically informed decisions play an essential role in teaching language, and so pedagogical competence should have at least equal weight with linguistic skill when evaluating the overall competence of a language teacher (Brown & Lee, 2015). Seidhofer has cautioned against automatically extrapolating “‘from competent speaker to competent teacher based on linguistic grounds alone, without taking into consideration the criteria of cultural, social and pedagogic appropriacy’” (as cited in Árva & Medgyes, 2000, p. 369). Although language proficiency in the target language is an extremely important skill for a multilingual teacher’s toolbox (Houghton, 2018), proficiency in a particular language should not be the determinant of success for a language teacher.

According to research in applied linguistics, to be an effective teacher means, among many other qualities, having enough subject knowledge (Lamb & Wedell, 2013; Mujis & Reynolds, 2001; Pachler, 2007), which in language teaching includes “knowledge of second language acquisition theory, pedagogical knowledge, curricular and syllabus knowledge and cultural knowledge, as well as teachers’ proficiency in the target language and an awareness of the structure and features of the target language” (Richards et al., 2013, p. 232). Many of the above-mentioned skills should not be inherently definitive of a teacher’s status as a native speaker or a proficient speaker of a certain language. Acquiring knowledge of second language acquisition theory, pedagogical knowledge, curricular and syllabus knowledge requires many hours of professional development. Usually, these skills are acquired in teacher education through a certification that can take up to four years. Formal education and teaching experience allow teachers to make pedagogically-informed decisions that help them be effective teachers (Larsen-Freeman, 2000). Clearly, language proficiency alone is not enough to be an effective teacher and, as I will be discussing in the NEST/NNEST classroom performance research section, hiring proficient/native English speakers without pedagogic competence could hinder the students’ language education.

Current Trends in Research on Teaching of English as Second or Foreign Language

Two decades since the beginning of the NNEST movement, many changes have come about in the fight against nativespeakerism and towards equality in the English teaching field. First, a number of anti-discrimination statements that address nativespeakerism have been published by important organizations: TESOL International Organization (2001; 2006); KOTESOL (2016); TESOL Spain (2016). Resistance to the native speaker bias started at a colloquium at the 30th Annual TESOL convention (organized by George Braine), evolved into a Caucus, and became a full-fledged Interest section in the TESOL organization by 2008. However, even if advocacy against discrimination practices towards NNESTs has gradually increased, there is still a long way to go before reaching full equality in the ELT industry.

Second, frameworks such as English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) (Jenkins, 1998),World Englishes (WE) (Kachru, 1992) and the multilingual paradigm (Ortega, 2019) have deconstructed and disproved the absolute entitlement placed on the native-speaker as a role-model of appropriate English language. However, these theories have not yet influenced mainstream society’s belief system, but only individuals within academia. Much of the research carried out so far indicates Native-speakerist-related phenomena is as strong as ever within the Asian context, as is the example in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Thailand (Fithriani, 2018; Wang & Lin, 2013). The general audience, English teachers, students and recruiters, still grant the Inner-Circle native-speaker ownership over English (Widdowson, 1994). First, based on English teachers’ self-perception research carried out in Asia, some major issues appear reiteratively. NNESTs express anxiety of what they perceive to be their lack of proficiency and constantly look to NESTs as references for the target language and culture (Bouchard, 2017; Lee, 2016; Lee, Schutz & van Vlack, 2017; Rivers, 2011; Wang & Lin, 2013). In addition, most NNESTs hoped to reproduce NESTs pronunciation and oral fluency (Hertel & Sunderman, 2009; Jenkins, 2005; Lee, 2016, Mullock, 2003) suggesting that native-like pronunciation and fluency are the goal-post to be attained, again granting the native speaker ownership over the English language. And even if several exceptions are found (Huang, 2018) in which Chinese teachers expressed significant respect for Singaporean English teachers regarding their language accuracy and fluency, these instances of recognition towards English teachers outside of the inner-circle context are not commonplace within the Asian context. As mentioned above, paradigms such as ELF, WE, and multilingualism, although now acknowledged and respected within academia, have not yet trickled down to the general English Language Teaching field. Conclusively, NNESTs seem to take a deficit stance in terms of their language proficiency in a similar way as Medgyes (1994) originally conceptualized it, as the NNEST language handicap.

Third, research demonstrates that students also express greater preference to NESTs, recognizing them as language authorities, cultural ambassadors, and models for speaking and/or pronunciation (Chun, 2014; Huang 2018; McKenzie & Gilmore, 2017; Rao, 2005; Rivers & Ross, 2013; Tang, 1997). Students’ biases are also cultural and racial, as they express a preference for teachers with Western Anglo-Saxon Whiteness (Appleby, 2017; Fithriani, 2018; Hickey, 2018; Kubota & Lin, 2006; Leonard, 2019; Lowe & Pinner, 2016; Rivers & Ross, 2013; Stanley, 2013). Stanley (2013) and Leonard (2019) provided specific examples of how the “performance of foreignness” (Leonard, 2019, p. 168), closely tied to ethnicity, influenced students’ perception of their foreign teachers. Stanley’s (2013) study explored how a Chinese Canadian English teacher, strived to exaggerate a cultural identity of Westernness in order to overcome his apparent Asian-ness and establish authority as a native speaker. The NEST in Stanley’s (2013) study exaggerated their foreign-ness as a strategy to avoid students conflating the teachers’ ethnicity with their country of origin, and erroneous judgment of the teachers’ linguistic competence (Stanley, 2013; Leonard, 2019).

Despite some of the discouraging results mentioned above, other research into students’ perception of NESTs and NNESTs have shown encouraging results. For example, Chang’s (2014) implementation of a Word Englishes (WE) course at a Taiwanese university has helped students “acquire a deeper understanding of the language beyond rote learning of American or British standards” (p. 26). Indeed, applying conceptual frameworks such as WE or English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) offers legitimate alternatives to challenge students’ Nativespeakerist views. Students, as customers with demands (Holliday, 2008) that influence recruiters’ hiring practices, could play an important role in helping to overcome discriminating practices against the hiring of NNESTs. Still, documented examples of how students’ perceptions are changing remain infrequent within the ELT field outside of academia.

Recruiters/policy makers’ perceptions of NESTs/NNESTs in the Asian context

Research in the United StatesS, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Poland regarding recruiters’ and policy makers’ perceptions of NESTs/NNESTs, (e.g. Clark & Paran, 2007; Mahboob, Uhrig, Newman & Hartford, 2004; Kiczkowiak, 2019; Zhang & Zhan, 2014) has found that teaching experience, skills, methodology are necessary and important requirements for recruiters/administrators. Clark and Paran (2007), for example, reported that 72.3% of respondents “consider a job applicant’s being an NES either moderately or very important” (p. 417); while 45.9% of respondents in Mahboob, Uhrig, Newman & Hartford (2004) gave a rating of “moderately to highly important” (p. 109) to teachers of native English speaker status. In Zhang and Zhan (2014), two out of the six administrators expressed strong preference for native-speakers, while the other four emphasized the importance of language proficiency in NNESTs, some indicating “near-native proficiency” (p. 574). Even when Kiczkowiak (2019) attempted to separate out language proficiency and nativeness, one out of the five recruiters interviewed stated that regardless of actual linguistic proficiency “a ‘native speaker’ would be advisable [to teach a C2 level]” (p. 13). Unfortunately, being a native speaker or having near-native proficiency is still a significant aspect in the teacher recruitment process in many cases, even if Mahboob et al. (2004) show some encouraging results towards potential change in the native speaker bias. Within the Asian context, research in the form of surveying and interviewing both administrators and recruiters has been conducted through collection of data from teachers’ accounts of hiring discrimination based on race or nationality, or on analysis of job ads. In Kubota and Lin (2006), one of the authors recounted her experience at her former university in Hong Kong. Her Chinese superior, the program leader, decided to grant the position of deputy leader of the TESL program to a Caucasian, native speaker who did not hold a doctoral degree, demonstrating preferential treatment to the native speaker over Lin, who, although she held a doctoral degree and experience in the position, was Chinese, rather than Caucasian. According to Lin, this decision was made in an effort “to boost the public profile of [their] program in the local community” (p. 471).

While both nativespeakerism and Whiteness are at play in Kubota and Lin’s (2006) study, Hsu (2005) in contrast, describes how being a native speaker with a passport from an Inner Circle country might not suffice in a context like China. The author, a native speaker, and American Born Chinese (ABC), described his frustration with multiple rejections, obtaining replies like “You know, now in China, many students want their foreign teachers to have a white face. It is extreme, but it is understandable” (2005, para. 6). As Shao (2005) described, the English fever in China is so strong that recruiters frequently opt for less qualified teachers as long as they are NESTs and Caucasians (or even just Caucasians in some cases).

The preference for the hiring of NESTs is also evident in the online job ads placed by Language schools. Using a sample of ten English-teaching hiring websites, Song and Zhang (2010) showed that 78.5% of the total ads required applicants to be NESTs from an inner circle country. Ruecker and Ives’ (2015) extensive analysis of 59 websites within the Asian market indicated that 81% of job postings had NES status as one of the requirements. Those which did accept non-native speakers stated that NNES candidates had to “display greater qualifications” and that “a non-native will be scrutinized more [than native-speakers]” (p. 742). Furthermore, although not explicitly mentioned on the websites, the visuals (e.g. TEFL Haven and Hess International Educational Organization) conveyed limited responsibility “on teaching and the dominant presence of Whiteness” (p. 749). Through the use of the NEST fallacy and implicit prejudice, “the ideal candidate is overwhelmingly depicted as a young, white, enthusiastic, native speaker of English from a stable list of inner-circle countries” (p. 733).

Finally, accounts of private training centers recruiting white, unqualified people of Slavic ethnicity abound in endless numbers. For example, Braine’s (2010) account of Ozgur Parlak, who was hired as a teacher in Thailand “based on his looks [rather than] his qualifications” (p. 74); or Hartley & Walker’s (2014) example of Eric from Norway who was hired without needing to show any qualifications/teaching experience proof, and started teaching two hours after his interview. Braine’s research (2010), along with the work of Hartley and Walker’s (2014), demonstrate the implicit preference maintained by language schools for the hiring of ethnic Caucasians that continues to disadvantage non-White teachers. Kubota and Lin (2006) and Hsu (2005) have noted that one of the main alleged reasons for this type of racism is to comply with students’ demands. More research into recruiters’ perspectives via direct interviews (which is scant if, rather, non-existent) could provide further insights into the reasoning behind these discriminatory practices.

Native-speakerist issues prevalent in the Asian ELT context equate ethnic Whiteness (often performed as foreign-ness) to linguistic competence, and perceived linguistic competence with teacher effectiveness. The literature reveals that language school teachers, recruiters, and students share concerns over their teachers’ perceived language proficiency, and that high language proficiency seems to be more valued than teaching skills. In many cases preference for NESTs over NNESTs is justified on the grounds of perceived linguistic proficiency, especially regarding oral fluency and pronunciation. To please their “customers” (Holliday, 2008, p. 121), recruiters will frequently opt to hire teachers with less experience and education as long as they are proficient in the language, and as long as they are ethnically Caucasian. The Chinese and Korean government, in an attempt to raise language educational standards, are restricting working visas to foreigners holding a bachelors in any field and a passport from specific English speaking countries (EPIK, 2020; State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, 2018). Consequently, many institutions are opting to hire individuals who might be much less pedagogically qualified and/or experienced than teachers who are unable to apply due to their citizenship status or mother tongue. The outcomes of these discriminatory hiring criteria are problematic. Equating or even preferring a native language proficiency, and ethnicity, over experience and qualifications in teaching is detrimental to the future of students’ education as well as the English language teaching profession.

NEST/NNEST classroom performance research

The systematic employment of these unfair hiring practices risks negative consequences on students’ language acquisition/learning. Performance-related research on teachers hired via these unfair practices is scant, but research into determining factors for language acquisition has shown that a teacher’s pedagogical competency, rather than their NES or NNES status, is what determines outcomes of higher success for students (Li and Zhang, 2016; Shin and Kellogg, 2007). In Li & Zhang’s study (2016), even though 70% of student participants indicated they preferred to be taught by a NEST, research results showed students had had significantly better pronunciation improvement with the NNEST. Both Levis et al. (2016), as well as Li and Zhang (2016), have suggested that pronunciation teaching does not, and should not, have to be a NEST domain. Li and Zhang’s (2016) research also showed that students’ perceptions of their teacher suitability can be specious and should not be taken as a legitimate reason to prefer NESTs over NNESTs.


The term native speaker evokes a binary that places value on the native over its inferior counterpart, the non-native speaker. Even though the current multilingual paradigm, along with ELF and WE disprove the superiority previously attributed to the NEST, these ideologies have not yet trickled down to the mainstream ELT market where language school professionals act as gatekeepers of who gets hired to teach. By conflating NEST/NNEST with country of origin and ethnicity through a monolingual-deficit lens, those not identified as the ‘ideal’ (e.g. white/foreign looking) NEST are discriminated against and automatically disqualified from applying for English teaching jobs. Research has already begun to demonstrate how pedagogical proficiency and linguistic competence are more important to student success than a teacher’s status as a native or non-native speaker of a language. More research into teacher classroom performance, modelled in the studies of Li and Zhang (2016), Shin and Kellogg (2007), and Levis et al. (2016), will further help debunk pervasive myths that nativeness, proficiency, and race, on their own, are enough for effective teaching. In order to achieve authentic language learning, we must ensure that continued research reaches the mainstream English teaching markets and receives political attention, given that the risk of remaining in the academic ivory tower will ultimately not help the millions of teachers being rejected from different institutions/countries.


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1. With the impact of globalization, im/emigration, transcultural flow of information/ideas, and the fluidity of geographical and political boundaries, scholars have questioned the limitations of Kachru’s circles in modern society (Leimgruber, 2013). Most specifically, Yano (2009) described how even Inner Circle countries are experiencing demographic changes that pose questions to the Inner Circles “native” variety (e.g., the increase of Hispanics and foreigners in the United States for the last ten years; the emergence of native speakers of Singaporean English in Singapore, who speak this language not only at school, but at home and other environments). However, it is the fixity of Kachru’s circles called into question (regardless of whether we agree or not) that works as a useful metaphor in this article to express the ideology espoused by stake-holders in Asia: a fixed viewpoint as to what a “native speaker” is/looks like and how that fixity in connection to the inner, outer and expanding circles can lead to conflating ethnicity, native language, and nation-state imageries all together based on stereotyping. This is why concepts such as “foreign authenticity” play an important part in the explaining aspects of stake-holders perceptions. It helps explain how teachers obtain authority based on fixed stereotypes espoused by stake-holders on what a foreigner/native speaker is (or should be).

The Sense of Belonging of Second-Generation Arab Youth in Montreal

Research Proposal

Mona El Samaty, University of Toronto


In Canada, demographic, religious, and linguistic changes due to immigration have raised questions about the sense of belonging of immigrants and their descendants, specifically the second generation (Goitom, 2017).  This article describes a proposed research study which will investigate the sense of belonging of second-generation Arab youth in Montreal, Canada. Belonging is understood as a strong sense of attachment towards a place or a community; it is also affected by whether individuals feel they are accepted by their society (Banting & Soroka, 2012; Goitom 2017). The Arab population in Canada, the largest number of whom reside in Montreal, is not always perceived as integrated into the host society (Potvin, 2010). My proposed research will consider how second-generation Arab youth understand belonging, how they describe their territorial belonging as well as belonging to different social communities, and how they think they are perceived by the majority population. In the introduction to this article, I present the contextual background and rationale to the proposed study. Then, I provide a brief review of “intersectionality” as the conceptual framework adopted for this study. There is also a historical overview of the Arab population in Quebec and the related literature. The proposal continues with a discussion of the methodology and the methods that I will use for gathering data from 12 second-generation Arab youth that I will recruit.  Finally, I will provide proposed implications for the study and topics for future research.


Au Canada, la diversité croissante résultant de l’immigration a modifié la composition démographique, religieuse et linguistique du pays et ces changements ont soulevé des questions sur l’identité et l’appartenance des immigrants ainsi que celle de leurs descendants (Goitom, 2017). L’étude aborde le sentiment d’appartenance auprès de jeunes arabes de deuxième génération à Montreal, Canada. Définie comme un fort sentiment d’attachement à l’égard d’un lieu ou d’un groupe, l’appartenance varie selon que ces descendants se sentent acceptés ou non par la société d’accueil (Banting & Soroka, 2012; Goitom 2017). Une population d’immigrants en particulier, d’origine arabe, dont la majorité réside à Montréal, au Québec, n’est pas toujours perçue comme étant intégrée à la société d’accueil (Potvin, 2010). Ma recherche proposée examinera comment ceux-ci comprennent l’appartenance, décrivent leur appartenance à diverses communautés sociales et pensent être perçus par la population majoritaire. Dans l’introduction, je présente le contexte et la justification de la recherche proposée. Ensuite, je donne un bref aperçu de «l’intersectionnalité» comme cadre conceptuel adopté et un revue de littérature. L’article se poursuit par une discussion sur la méthodologie et les méthodes que j’utiliserai pour recueillir des données auprès de 12 jeunes arabes de deuxième génération. Enfin, je proposerai des implications pour l’étude et des sujets de recherche future.

Keywords: Second-generation, Arab youth, belonging, Arab immigrants.

Mots clés : deuxième génération, jeunes arabes, sentiment d’appartenance, immigrants arabes.


In Canada, the increasing diversity due to immigration, has caused changes in the demographic, religious, and linguistic make-up of the country (Conrick & Donovan, 2010; García-Sanchez, 2010). These changes have raised questions of national identity and belonging for immigrants, and particularly for the second-generation, who are host country-born children, of overseas-born parents (Castles, 2002; Goitom, 2017). Justifiably, host societies expect loyalty and belonging from immigrants and specifically the second-generation (Goitom, 2017). Belonging, as evidenced in practices that enact identity, characterizes how the second-generation position themselves in their host societies (Byng, 2017). In this article, I draw on two definitions of belonging. First, I draw on Goitom’s (2017) definition of belonging as feeling at home and having strong feelings of attachment towards a place or a community. I also use  Banting and Soraka’s  (2012) understanding of  belonging as not only a reflection of the extent to which immigrants and their children feel attached to their host society, but also the extent to which they feel accepted by the majority population. Both definitions are complementary to my research. I will collect data that answers both parts, in order to learn about participants’ sense of belonging. Since belonging is most probably connected to territorial culture, authentic membership of immigrants can be explored by the culture immigrants enact, such as the manner in which they speak, the language they use in text messages, their manners of dress, the foods and beverages consumed,  and the music to which they listen (Pavlenko & Blackledge, 2004). Immigrants are accepted or rejected into majority society depending on the degree to which they conform to societal norms (Lagasi, 2013).

Whereas studies on belonging have focused mainly on newcomers and first-generation immigrants (Cervatiuc, 2009; Conrick & Donovan, 2010; Madibbo, 2016), there is now a growing emphasis on exploring the sense of belonging among the second generation (Duff, 2015; Goitom, 2017; Rosbrook-Thompson, 2015; Tiflati, 2017). Kunst and Sam (2014) claimed that host societies expect more belongingness and integration from the second-generation, while the first-generation is shown more tolerance by the majority population as they orient themselves towards the new society. However, the exploration of second-generation youth’s sense of belonging according to geographical regions as not been studied extensively in Canada (Larouche, 2016), and even less with minoritized second-generation Arab youth, a gap identified by Eid (2007), Gallant (2008), Larouche (2016), McCoy, Kirova, and Knight (2016), and Tiflati (2017).

My research, therefore, will aim to explore how second-generation Arab youth in Montreal, Canada, understand sense of belonging, how they express their metropolitan, provincial, and national belonging, as well as their social belonging to different communities. By Metropolitan belonging, I mean sense of belonging towards the city of Montreal, by provincial belonging, I mean their sense of belonging towards the province of Quebec, and by national belonging, I mean their sense of belonging towards Canada. Social belonging includes belonging to groups such as language, peer, religious, ethnic, and online groups. To explore participants’ sense of belonging, I will also examine other intersecting social categories that may impact their belonging such as family, gender, language, religion, heritage culture and communities, friends, school experiences, and experiences in the society in general (Jones & Abes, 2013).  Moreover, I will explore how these youths feel they are perceived by the host society.

My proposed research will take place in Montreal, Quebec, a linguistically and culturally diverse city with a population of more than 4,100,000 (Statistics Canada, 2016a), and which accommodates more than 50,000 new immigrants every year (Larouche, 2016). This city hosts the largest Arab population in Canada, with Arabic being the most spoken immigrant language at home (Statistics Canada, 2016a). It has a growing number of second-generation youths who use three languages or more in their day-to-day communication, i.e., Arabic, French and English (Allen, 2004; Lamarre, 2013). Montreal’s multilingualism is most probably due to the 1977 Charter of the French Language (known as Bill 101), which was introduced in the province of Quebec and is considered the cornerstone of Quebec language policy (Gouvernement du Québec, 1977). It reinforced the status of French as the sole official language of the province, as well as making it the official language of the workplace, education, and other areas of public life in Quebec (Kircher, 2014). In public education, Bill 101 required all children of immigrants to attend public French language schools from kindergarten to secondary classes, with very few exceptions. Today 80% of immigrants attend French schools (Tiflati, 2017). However, a longitudinal study showed that Bill 101 had little obvious impact on the private language choices of speakers, who fluidly use different languages on a daily basis (Bourhis, 2011).

This study is timely given some of the recent societal issues in Quebec. These include rising Islamophobia, as exhibited in the shooting attack on the mosque in Quebec City in 2017, and the perceived discrimination felt by second-generation Arabs, specifically in the job market (Beauregard, 2018; Benaïche, 2011). These issues seem contradictory with the inclusive and pluralist official discourse in Quebec, and therefore, questions arise as to whether these issues can impact the sense of belonging of Montreal’s immigrant minorities (Forcier, 2014; Rocheteau, 2013).

Arab Immigration to Quebec: A Historical Overview

The Arab world encompasses 22 Arabic-speaking nation states in North Africa and the Middle East. There are over 400 million Arabs in the world (Sweileh, Al-Jabi, Sawalha, & Sa’ed, 2014). People from the Arab world are heterogeneous communities with a rich diversity of ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups (McCoy et al., 2016). In terms of ethnicity, there are further subcultures and allegiances within some Arab States. For example, there are Berbers in Morocco and Algeria, while in Iraq and Lebanon, Kurdish and Armenian identities respectively compete against national allegiances (Eid, 2007). In terms of language, Modern Standard Arabic is the only language used by the governments. Almost everyone understands Standard Arabic, and yet each country has its different colloquial language that is mostly built onto the Standard Arabic vocabulary. As for religion, the majority of people in the Arab World adhere to Islam, and while the majority of Arab countries adopt a Sunni faith, the Shia faith is largely present in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria among other countries. There are also Christian adherents across the Arab nations, particularly in Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, and small Jewish communities still remain in North Africa.

Arab Quebecer Demographics

Arab Canadians have a long and complex immigration history. The first wave of Arab immigrants arrived in Canada in the mid-1880s, and were from Ottoman Syria, which is now comprised of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine (Aboud, 2002; Mouhoub, 2010). The first Arab immigrants to Quebec were Egyptians, Lebanese, and Moroccans, who arrived between 1950 and 1975 (Labelle et al., 2009). When Quebec gained the right to select its own immigrants in 1978, it privileged access to those candidates who were fluent in French (Oakes & Warren, 2007). Most of those candidates came from France’s former zone of influence in the Middle East and Africa, specifically, the Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia), Lebanon, Syria and other non-Arab countries in Africa (Gagnon, 2013). Immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East currently constitute approximately 30% of the immigrant population in Montreal (Dajani, 2015). As a result of this high immigration level from the Maghreb countries, Arabic is now the most common language (other than French and English), spoken at home in Montreal and the province of Quebec (Statistics Canada, 2016a).

Arab Quebecer Spoken Language(s) and Education

The Arab population in the province of Quebec is heavily concentrated in Metropolitan Montreal (Gagnon, 2013). First and second-generation Arabs in Montreal are mainly bilingual or trilingual, where Arabic, French, and English are spoken (Eid, 2007). French-speaking ability among this population is high, with 90% speaking French fluently (McAndrew, 2010). The second-generation, as heritage language users of Arabic, are highly proficient in the language, which is an indication that Arabic language transmission has been to a large extent successful (Eid, 2007). For many parents, the heritage language maintenance of their children is considered to be of the utmost importance. Even with the pressure of hegemonic languages in host societies, Arab immigrant communities have always strived to maintain their heritage languages (Eid, 207). One reason Arab communities have maintained their languages is their fear of cultural absorption by the host society. Efforts to maintain heritage language include enrolling children in language or religion classes, speaking the heritage language at home, watching heritage country TV, as well as making numerous visits to the country of origin.

A large number of the Arab population in Quebec enjoys a relatively high economic status and a fair degree of linguistic integration, which consequently explains their high scholastic achievement (McAndrew, 2010). More than 71% of Arab students receive a high school diploma (McAndrew et al., 2015). Moreover, the schooling profile of the Arab second-generation exhibits very positive results in high school graduation and access to higher education (McAndrew & Bakhshaei, 2012).

In order to explore and understand second-generation Arab youth’s sense of belonging, I am using intersectionality as a theoretical framework.

Theoretical Framework: Intersectionality

Peoples’ lives are multidimensional and complex; they are shaped by different social dynamics that are operating simultaneously. This is known as intersectionality, a term coined by American legal race scholar Kimberley Crenshaw in 1989 to refer to the interrelations of different social divisions in peoples’ lives and the ways in which different social vectors are interrelated in creating social inequalities. Crenshaw argued that intersectionality underscores the multidimensionality of marginalized subjects’ lived experiences (Crenshaw, 1989). Intersectional approaches recognized the scholarship of black feminists in the United States of America, which had previously studied the intersections of race, class and gender, as intersecting oppressions (Crenshaw, 1989). Later literature expanded intersecting social categories to include capitalism and patriarchy (Collins, 2000), sexuality, religion, language, ethnicity, and age (Han, 2014), geography, location, and migration status (Hankivsky, 2014). Intersectionality traditionally focuses on disadvantaged groups to give voice to their experiences and perspectives.

Intersectionality is also concerned with understanding the matrix of domination that influences patterns of oppression, and how these emerging inequalities are legitimized (Collins, 1990; Crenshaw, 1991). Inequalities can be the result of the intersection of different social categories and power, as exemplified in law, policies, religious institutions, ethnic communities, and media. This perspective offers a way to understand how particular identities (e.g., Arab, immigrant, and young) produce certain economic, social, and political inequalities (e.g., discrimination) in immigrants’ lives depending on their geographic location (Mirza, 2013).

One example of social inequality is language when it intersects with race, religion, and gender. Discrimination on the basis of which language(s) people speak, natively or otherwise, and how they speak it is referred to as linguicism. The term also includes languages that immigrants or their descendants do not speak, read, or master. In the same way, those whose spoken language does not correspond to the accent or the variety of language used by the majority population may be stigmatized, or seen as incompetent (Lippi‐Green, 2012). Linguicism has been described as a possible by-product of linguistic nationalism, which racializes immigrants and their children depending on where they fall in the linguistic and racial hierarchy of their society (Han, 2014). Consequently, language can be used, for example, as a tool to differentiate between those who belong and those who do not, and it can be operationalized into who to hire, and who to reject. Since intersectionality encourages critical reflection, it further allows for an examination of the simultaneous influence of, and resistance to, such systems of domination in a society (Hankivsky, 2014). On the other hand, second generation youths may (at times deliberately) adopt a native or non-native accent, strategically, in order to distance themselves from their ethnicity or remain racialized. Youths may change accents depending on context and encounters, matching their interlocutors’ accent (Ramjattan, 2019).

One of the main criticisms of intersectionality is that it has currently become a catch-all approach chosen by liberal feminism from a neoliberal perspective that theorizes identity as a result of diversity, while avoiding an analysis of power relations (Salem, 2018). However, when using the paradigm of intersectionality, my analysis will extend into structural inequalities and power relations within intersecting categories.

Analysing a social phenomenon, such as sense of belonging, requires an investigation of the overlapping categories that come into contact with it, such as ethnicity, race, identity, gender, religion, language, and generation status, which is why I will use intersectionality as a conceptual framework for my study. The categories that shape the experiences of participants are further influenced by sociopolitical circumstances, geography, and systems of power, and eventually affect the sense of belonging of participants (Christensen, 2009; Hankivsky, 2014). In other words, the intersectional lens will reveal the ways in which these interconnected systems result in experiencing privilege or racial, ethnic, and gendered marginalization and oppression by linking, for instance, participants’ experiences with their formulation of their identities and territorial sense of belonging. Intersectionality also captures some aspects of inequality that are commonly experienced by social groups who share certain characteristics (Valdez & Golash-Boza, 2020). For instance, in the context of this research, intersectionality can explain how othering is organized and practised in a particular society; intersectional othering may mean constructing the second-generation as failing to adapt to the local culture because they have a different skin colour, name, heritage, religion, or accent (Shin, 2012). Hence, the inferior other, who may be culturally undesirable and/or socially inassimilable, may be contrasted to a national we that is white and Anglo-Saxon. Using an intersectional analysis will have significant implications for ethnic and identity studies, as well as the identification and integration of Arab immigrant descendants in the Montreal society.

Literature Review

In this section, I briefly review the literature on the characteristics and belonging of second-generation youth. This review acknowledges intersecting social categories that impact belonging such as religion and ethnicity.

Second-Generation Youth

In general, at the emerging adulthood stage, youth share common challenges such as identity exploration, looking for employment opportunities, as well as social characteristics such as instability, self-focus, and feeling in-between adolescence and adulthood (Arnett, 2006). Youth is characterized as a phase of life where a large extent of one’s identity is being formed. Roth-Gordon and Woronov (2009) explained that for second-generation youth, identity is no longer a choice, but a set of categories that are available for them since childhood. Identity uncertainty has been a common characteristic of second-generation youth (Gallant, 2008). Their identities are formed by the way they see or imagine themselves, how they relate to the social world, and how they are positioned by others in their various social, cultural and linguistic settings (Hornberger, 2007; Norton, 2013). Scholars such as Goitom (2017), Kobayashi (2008) and Tiflati( 2017) have pointed to the dearth of studies on second-generation youth in Canada; it is important to study this second-generation for a number of reasons. First, they represent a link between their immigrant parents and the host society. They have access to two cultural norms, growing up surrounded by members of their family and their ethnic community as they are integrating into their host society. Second, through the second generation, we can better understand the long-term effects of migration and integration dynamics, manifested through their experiences (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001; Rocheteau, 2013).

Although born in their host country, these youths are readily defined as second-generation because of the migration of their parents (Roth-Gordon & Woronov, 2009). Goitim (2017) argued that parents are the most important socializing agents for the second-generation children especially before school age, as they play a fundamental role in forming the youth’s sense of self, and their initial beliefs and values. They also play a role in the transmission and maintenance of their heritage language, as well as cultural, social, and religious practices to their children. When second-generation youths start school, they are socialized into the host society’s culture and values, developing multiple identities overtime (Byng, 2017; Creese & Blackledge, 2015).

Belonging of Second-Generation Youth

There are various ways of interpreting and understanding belonging. In particular, I am interested in national belonging and heritage belonging.

Kymlicka (2003) and Winter (2014) have asserted that for a country to prosper, its citizens must have a strong national identity that supersedes all other identities. Some studies have explored the provincial and national sense of belonging of second-generation Arab youth. For example, Tiflati (2017) asked second-generation Quebecer Muslim youths about their belonging to Quebec and Canada. Most of his participants were proud of being affiliated with Quebec, yet considered themselves Canadian first, and Quebecer second.

The youths’ national belonging may be impacted by negative experiences they face in the host society. Examples include their loyalty being questioned despite their success in education and employment (Reitz & Bannerji, 2007), their identity markers such as looks, language, accent, ethnicity, first names, or religion being used to attest they are not from this place (Forcier, 2014), or being subjected to discrimination in employment (Beauregard, 2018). Another reason that may negatively affect second-generation youths’ belonging to their host society is Islamophobia, which they may personally perceive in the form of discrimination or are reminded of in incidents such as the attack on the mosque in Quebec in 2017, or bills that seem to target their Islamic community (Beauregard, 2018; Benaïche, 2011).

Even though these issues seem contradictory with the official pluralist discourse in Quebec, they may contribute to the manner in which these youths integrate into their societies (Forcier, 2014; Khachouk, 2012). Upon feeling stigmatized and unaccepted, they may become unwilling to participate in social activities, and even oppose the values and norms of society, which may further reinforce their isolation and exclusion (Castel, 1991). As they withdraw from society, they may join their ethnic or religious groups where they feel more valued (Benaïche, 2011).

National belonging alone, however, does not fully encompass the scope of belonging. Belonging to one’s ethnic or religious group, or heritage belonging, is common among second-generation youth, and creates a sense of identity (Kymlicka, 2001). Levitt and Jaworsky’s (2007) study found that religion was a space where they define their identity in relation to their parents’ culture. However, the second-generation’s religious identities are usually different from their parents. For example, Benaïche (2011) found that some of her second-generation Maghreb participants in Quebec chose to move away from religion altogether, while others’ level of religiosity was stronger than their parents, especially when they feared identity loss. Yet, most of her other participants reported developing a hybrid religiosity and new religious practices.

In conclusion, the sense of belonging is a strong marker of collective and individual identities, and is impacted by transformations in identity, lifestyle or cultural practices (Christensen, 2009). It is important to note, as Yuval-Davis (2006) has pointed out, that belonging may be affected by power relations whether it is family, host society or its institutions such as schools. It may also be constructed at the level of the individual, based on their emotional attachments and experiences, as well as the political value systems where people judge their own and others’ belonging.


In the following section, I explain the methodology that I am planning to use, how I am planning to select participants, and the rationale for using interviews as my main data collection method.

My research questions will be the following:

  1. How do second-generation Arab youth in Montreal understand their sense of belonging?
  2. How do second-generation Arab youth express their metropolitan, provincial, national and social belongings to different communities?
  3. How do second-generation Arab youth in Montreal think they are perceived by the majority members of society?

Methodological Approach

For this research, I will use a case study design. A case study design is employed in studies where little is known about a phenomenon, and where an in-depth, multi-faceted understanding of this phenomenon is sought, in its natural real-life context (Merriam, 1998).  Unlike other qualitative designs where the focus can be on the individuals and their stories, a case study design focuses on an issue with the case (Creswell, 2007). As Thomas (2011) explained, both the subject and the object of a case need to be identified. In this research, potential participants, second generation Arab youth in Montreal are the subject (also called the unit of analysis); the subject offers an explanation of the object, i.e. the research questions.

Case study design has many strengths; for instance, it is known to give voice to an arguably silenced population (Brown, 2017), allowing for an in-depth examination and analysis of lived experiences of participants. A case study report is also known to yield rich, thick descriptions of the findings of the study (Merriam, 1998). Like many other qualitative research designs, a case study requires time. I will consider the time it takes to recruit participants, schedule and conduct interviews, transcribe and code interviews, and analyze and interpret the data.

Characteristics of Participants

There are three main eligibility requirements in order to recruit twelve participants. First, they should obviously be second-generation, i.e. born in Canada, of overseas-born parents. Second, they should be between 18 to 30 years old. At 18, a participant will not need parental consent to take part in this research, and also will be able to share experiences in CEGEP (college) or elaborate on their post-secondary experiences. Age 30 is the extended age definition for youth for several youth programs of the Government of Canada (Gaudet, 2007). Moreover, to be considered for this study, participants’ parents must have emigrated from one of the following countries: Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria. According to Statistics Canada (2016b), these are the top six source countries for Arab immigrants to Montreal. Ideally, I would recruit two participants from each of these countries, hence, twelve participants. To my knowledge, few studies in Quebec have dealt with the topic of belonging with the second-generation. In those studies, it was either with a very large (not necessarily Arab) population, like Muslims in Montreal (Tiflati, 2017), or focused on a very specific geographical location, like the Maghreb (Benaïche, 2011). As Arab countries are far from being homogenous in terms of culture, religion, and even ethnic make-up, I opt to use maximum variation sampling (Merriam, 2009), aiming for a larger representation of the Arab community in Montreal, in order to yield richer and more diversified data.

Recruitment of Participants

The call for participants will be made in French and English and will ask for youth who are between the ages of 18 to 30, and of Arabic-speaking parentage. This call will be sent digitally to my network of contacts in Montreal and will be posted to closed and public Facebook group pages, such as pages for anglophone and francophone universities and CEGEPS in Montreal, and pages for the Arab communities in Montreal. The call for participation will also be posted on bulletin boards of universities and community centres in areas with large Arab populations in Montreal such as St. Laurent Recreation Centre, Centre communautaire de loisir de la Côte des Neiges.

Data Collection

I plan to collect data using two 90-minute qualitative semi-structured interviews for each participant. Interviews acknowledge the consciousness of participants exemplified in what they experience, what they see, and how they interpret their society and their daily experiences (Richards, 1999).

Interviews are a crucial instrument in qualitative data collection, where researchers learn about participants’ past events, thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and interpretations about their experiences (Merriam, 1998). As my main data collection tool, I will use individual in-depth semi-structured interviews, which involve the use of usually open-ended and other probing questions which will allow participants to narrate their stories and generate insights about them (Berg, 2009). Such depth and richness of collected data and the emergence of new themes increase the validity of a study (Doody & Noonan, 2013). Semi-structured interviews are particularly suitable for intersectionality research, as they capture trajectories produced by the intersection of micro dynamics, exemplified in actions taken by the individual, and macro dynamics, a manifestation of power at the level of society and its institutions (Johansson & Śliwa, 2016).

Other advantages of interviews include that they allow participants’ voices to be heard in the form of quotes, as opposed to being hidden in statistics or summaries (Talmy, 2010). To this end, Talmy (2010) emphasizes the importance of establishing rapport with participants so that their true representations can be revealed. Rapport involves trust and a respect for interviewees and the information they share, as well as a comfortable environment for participants to share their personal experiences and attitudes (DiCicco-Bloom & Crabtree, 2006).

One criticism of conducting interviews is bias (Poggenpoel & Myburgh, 2003). To mitigate this disadvantage, I will ensure to be aware of and identify feelings or any assumptions about participants and their stories that arise during the interviews. Moreover, I will seek feedback from participants, regarding data interpretation, in order to avoid bias. Although I will avoid an unacknowledged biased subjectivity, I will allow a perspectival subjectivity that is expected in qualitative research. Different interpretations of the same text should not be considered a weakness but a strong point of interview research (Kvale, 2011).

I plan to collect data using two 90-minute qualitative semi-structured interviews for each participant, which will be audio-recorded using two smartphones and a laptop. Both interviews will take place in a meeting room in Montreal at a research centre affiliated with the University of Montreal or via Skype. They will take place in the language of preference of the participant (English or French) or a mix of both languages. The first round of interviews will be centered on issues related to self-identification, identification by others, language practices since childhood, culture and religion, belonging to Montreal/Quebec, national and ethnic belonging, and belonging to different community groups. The second round of interviews will occur approximately two weeks after all participants have finished their first interviews. Before conducting the second interviews, I will transcribe all first interviews, and identify emergent themes. Probing questions on those themes will form part of the questions in the second interviews.

Conducting a second round of interviews serves three main purposes. First, one interview is too short to cover the different areas that would answer the research questions. Therefore, the second interview will ask questions about linguicism, challenges faced by the second generation, the manner in which the media portrays Arabs, the role of schools in fostering youths’ sense of belonging, and perspectives towards services offered to youths in Montreal. DiCicco-Bloom & Crabtree  (2006) even suggest that preliminary analysis of the first interview data can cause a shift in the pre-set questions of the second interview, with some questions dropped or added, as the researcher learns more both about the participants and about the object of the research. Second, as explained above, after a preliminary analysis of the first interviews, the second interviews will be an opportunity to ask more probing questions to clarify or elaborate on issues mentioned by individual participants in the first interviews (Read, 2018). It is believed that in a second interview, a researcher can ask more personal questions that were too sensitive to ask in a first interview when participants were less familiar with the interviewer (DiCicco-Bloom & Crabtree, 2006). Moreover, a second interview is also recommended for novice researchers who did not use this tool previously, as it offers a second chance for an effective data collection process. Third, a second interview is an opportunity to do a participant check “for accuracy and palatability” (Stake, 1995, p. 115), where the researcher cross-checks information from the first interviews, as well as verifies and  receives confirmation from participants about his/her interpretation of participants recounts in the first interviews (DiCicco-Bloom & Crabtree, 2006). Participant check is one type of data triangulation and helps to enhance the validity of the research. Finally, I will conduct a pilot interview with a second-generation youth, a son of a friend, to make sure I can administer the questions in the same way I have envisioned, and asking the participant if he can identify ambiguities or difficult questions (Chenail, 2011).

All data will then be transcribed verbatim; I will do that manually. To analyze data, I will use a thematic analysis with a focus on intersectionality. Bowleg (2008) outlined the need for qualitative intersectional analysis to identify intersections of social inequality separately, as well as simultaneously. My coding scheme will consist of a two-stage analysis, open and axial coding, incorporated from both Borum (2012) and Bowleg’s (2008) intersectional coding schemes. First, I will code meaning units in narrative data using preliminary codes (themes) corresponding to the individual (e.g., identity, sense of belonging), sociocultural (e.g., heritage culture, experiences in Montreal) domains, as well as intersectionality (Bowleg, 2008). Second, I will use axial coding which focuses on refining overlapping, difficult to differentiate, intersectional codes into more distinct codes (Bowleg, 2008). For example, an instance of discrimination may be coded for gender, ethnicity, religion, or race and language. This approach to analysis can allow for insights on the often-overlooked intersecting factors (Borum, 2012). This coding scheme will result in a list of emerging themes. These themes will be further reduced to create clusters of similar themes. Themes will then be compared against one another to develop categories and investigate dimensions and characteristics of each category identified. Finally, next to each of the common themes and patterns in the data, I will include participant quotes that illustrate participants’ perceptions on them. I plan to interpret the data taking into account: 1) the intersectionality of different social factors, and multilayered contexts in which these factors occur, 2) my awareness of the Montreal society dynamics, and 3) my awareness of the Arab culture, language, religious beliefs and way of living.

Possible Implications for the Study

By learning about levels of belonging of second-generation Arab youth, this study will contribute to the ongoing exploration of factors that both promote and jeopardize their integration, with the aim to build a more inclusive and more participatory society (Carpenter & Mojab, 2017). Moreover, exploring how participants’ stories reveal their experiences in the host society will have policy implications for managing diversity in Quebec and in Canada (Gallant, 2008; Gosselin, 2015). These experiences can also inform immigration programmes about this large population of youth who will shape the social and economic future of Canada. On the other hand, with a deeper awareness of school experiences, instructors may understand and be better able to prepare students to participate and integrate in the society, both socially and economically (Rocheteau, 2013).

Potential Directions for Future Research

As this study is exploratory, future research should focus more on understanding what the second-generation youth feel shapes their sense of attachment, for example, establish what factors facilitate, maintain and encourage their metropolitan, provincial and national belonging. Moreover, more longitudinal studies on the sense of belonging of the second-generation are also needed.


To take second-generation youth seriously, we must first acknowledge that they are situated within a larger sociopolitical and historical context of globalization, migration, citizenship, and modernity. A close study of these young people’s identity and sense of belongingthat is, what it means to have multiple identities and belonging, the role of family and educational institutions, as well as their experiences in the host societywill inform understanding of national, provincial, and metropolitan belonging. In this research proposal, I seek to explore how second-generation Arab youth in Montreal understand their sense of belonging, and how they express their metropolitan, provincial and national belonging, as well as their social belonging to different communities. This exploration of the identity and belonging of second-generation youth is an essential research topic as it informs successful inclusion and engagement of these youths in their society.


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Plurilingual Pedagogy in Switzerland: Practices and Challenges

Critical Literature Review

Lexa Frail, Concordia University

Lisa Gonzales, Concordia University


This literature review aims to evaluate current implementations of plurilingual practices in the context of Swiss education and determine how such practices are perceived by instructors and students, both in terms of effectiveness and engagement. The works of literature chosen for the review consist of studies that measure Swiss teacher and student attitudes towards plurilingualism and its use in the classroom as well as how plurilingualism teaching methods appear in practice. Analysis shows that there is a disconnect between plurilingual instruction in theory and in practice, with multilingualism viewed largely as a collection of multiple monolingual systems.  Such compartmentalization of multilingualism impacted both how successful Swiss instructors were at meaningfully enacting plurilingual measures and students’ perceptions of their linguistic resources. While several instructors and students held beliefs affirming the value of multilingualism, instructors expressed difficulty in allowing students to draw on their full plurilingual repertoire, and many students reported that they did not feel encouraged to do so. It is clear that more resources and research are needed for the individual role-players of the Swiss education system to fully implement a true plurilingual shift in education. This article attempts to address these issues through a meta-analysis of qualitative findings to understand why plurilingual practices have not yet universally taken hold in response to the current plurilingualism discourse in SLA studies.


Cette revue de littérature vise à évaluer la mise en place actuelle des pratiques plurilingues dans le contexte de l’éducation suisse afin de déterminer comment ces pratiques sont perçues par les enseignants et les apprenants, et ce, en termes d’efficacité et d’engagement. Les travaux sélectionnés pour cette revue de littérature sont des études qui mesurent l’attitude des enseignants et des apprenants suisses quant au plurilinguisme et à son utilisation en salle de classe ainsi que la façon dont les méthodes d’enseignement du plurilinguisme transparaissent dans les pratiques enseignantes. Les analyses montrent un décalage entre l’enseignement plurilingue théorique et pratique, avec le multilinguisme généralement considéré comme des ensembles de plusieurs systèmes monolingues. Ce cloisonnement influence la façon dont les enseignants suisses adoptent de manière significative des mesures plurilingues, aussi bien que les perceptions qu’ont les apprenants de leurs ressources linguistiques. Alors que plusieurs enseignants et apprenants croient en la valeur du multilinguisme, les enseignants ont exprimé avoir des difficultés à permettre aux apprenants de s’appuyer sur leur répertoire plurilingue complet. D’ailleurs, plusieurs apprenants ont rapporté ne pas se sentir encouragés à le faire. Il est clair que davantage de ressources et de recherches sont nécessaires afin de permettre aux praticiens du système éducatif suisse d’amorcer un véritable virage plurilingue en éducation. Cet article tente de soulever ces problématiques à travers une méta-analyse de résultats qualitatifs afin de comprendre pourquoi les pratiques plurilingues ne sont pas universellement établies en réponse à l’actuel discours sur le plurilinguisme dans les recherches en acquisition des langues secondes.

Keywords: Plurilingualism, translanguaging, multilingual, Switzerland.

Mots-clés : plurilinguisme, approche translangagière, multilinguisme, Suisse.


There is a general consensus in the current plurilingualism discourse in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) studies that the field lacks research and action to support translanguaging practices in education—defined here as the positioning of students’ multilingual abilities as resources for learning (Cummins, 2014). To facilitate the pursuit, we have chosen to focus on the multilingual nation of Switzerland to investigate translanguaging practices in education. The initial idea of the current study was to examine a place where plurilingualism appeared to be convenient, if not already embraced, in order to focus more directly on evidence of plurilingual pedagogy and its effects. We learned fairly quickly, however, that the assumption that Switzerland was a context that nurtures multilingualism and naturally lends itself to heterogeneous, cross-linguistic interactions, is, in fact, false. After reviewing only a few studies, the truth of a very monolingual-based society was revealed. In reality, Switzerland’s seemingly multilingual population is divided among four official, regional languages. This fact seems to go against the encouraging information found on Swiss language policy championing multiculturalism as mandated by the government and enforced by educational institutions. The discovery forced a different path for this article: Rather than describe the successful plurilingual practices of a multilingual nation, we instead aimed to understand the disparity between official policy and practical reality. In examining areas of Switzerland where translanguaging practices were in place, our intention became to determine what the immediate players—the teachers and students—thought about them. We therefore endeavored to gather as many real-life accounts regarding translanguaging, such as case study interviews, observations, questionnaires, and surveys. We analysed those documents to reveal potential patterns among opinions and draft generalisable statements that may contribute to our understanding of plurilingual pedagogy, as these would be relevant to SLA research that aims to address the increasing pressures of globalisation and subsequent increase of multilingual migrant students. Therefore, in this article, our goals were to determine: a) how teachers and students in Switzerland view translanguaging practices within their educational system, and b) if and how Swiss teachers and students use translanguaging practices in the classroom.  Our analysis revealed that approaches and attitudes towards plurilingual practices in this seemingly-multilingual context are, at best, mixed.

Historical Origins of Swiss Multilingualism

The unique, multilingual composition of Switzerland originated with Napoleon’s 1789 forced unification of three language regions, after which French, German, and Italian became recognised as national and official languages under one common republic: Switzerland. Romansch was added as a fourth national language in 1938 (Diem et al., 2020; Csillagh, 2015; Kużelewska, 2016). In a section entitled “Languages”, the constitution calls for multiculturalism to be observed in the lawmaking process among the cantons (i.e., Swiss states). The country’s official name, Confoederatio Helvetica, implies a certain pride in equality through the use of Latin, a “neutral” language (Kużelewska, 2016). The consequences of war and territorial conquests led to political negotiations that established the multilingual Swiss identity (Giudici & Grizelj, 2017), which set the foundation for a common theme in literature of Switzerland as a successfully linguistically and culturally diverse nation (Kużelewska, 2016).

National Language Policy

As a result of this evolved multilingualism, recognition of the four different populations—German-, French-, Italian-, and Romansh-speaking—seemed to create a sort of nationalistic fervour. Learning additional languages became part of the patriotic identity of the Swiss people (Giudici & Grizelj, 2017), and promoted a feeling of social responsibility and dedication towards language teaching (Csillagh, 2015). As mentioned previously, most Swiss are used to learning a language other than the dominant language of one’s region; the multilingual setting is acknowledged by the national Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (CDIP), who seek to “promote understanding among Swiss citizens” (Csillagh, 2015, p. 438). In 2009, to fulfil this commitment and in reaction to the effects of globalisation, the tradition of studying a second language in primary and secondary education became a requirement to become comparably fluent in both an L1 and an L2 (Daryai-Hansen et al., 2015). This new pressure, according to Daryai-Hansen et al. (2015), prompted one school in a French-speaking canton to mandate a curriculum precisely for cultivating plurilingualism through integrating pluralistic approaches that endorse the complete use of a student’s linguistic repertoire—in this case, French, German, and English. The creators of this programme understood quite well the ambition behind such an approach, as well as how pertinent it was to facilitate a student’s connections between prior and current knowledge to reach plurilingual competence (Daryai-Hansen et al., 2015). The challenge of promoting multilingualism continues into post-secondary education in institutions such as the University of Lausanne (UNIL), where diversity is deeply embedded in its mission statement, one that stresses the inclusion of every student’s multilingual and multicultural background (Yanaprasart & Lüdi, 2018). Thus, it can be established that plurilingual efforts have been made on a national scale by way of educational institutions.

Institutionalised Bilingualism in Official Bilingual Towns

Some universities have the added benefit of being located within municipalities that have declared themselves officially bilingual—a declaration that reinforces the perceived necessity of plurilingualism in Switzerland. Certain towns, such as Biel/Bienne and Freiburg/Fribourg, are even bilingual by name. Some universities in these towns not only promise bilingual instruction, but proudly promote it by welcoming usage of all other L1s (Schaller-Schwaner, 2018). This level of inclusivity benefits populations like the plurilingual students enrolled at the language centre at the University of Freiburg, where the diversity of L1s among students often forces communication in the common language of English (Neuner-Anfindsen, 2013). Nevertheless, these young internationals are privileged with the choice to take exams in either French or German. That privilege reflects the “consensual cohabitation” status of French and German in these bilingual communities (Elmiger, 2015, p. 35). That is; the mutual acceptance of both languages due to their shared daily functionality is why plurilingualism can be assumed to be integral to these bilingual Swiss societies.

The Importance of Translanguaging

To emphasise the importance of focusing on an educational perspective of translanguaging, an instrument of plurilingualism, what must first be specified is the difference between a multilingual individual in society and a multilingual learner in the classroom. As Horner and Weber (2018) have stated, there is a presumption that multilingualism maintains languages as “bounded entities which are countable” (p. 4). This presumption is upheld by the linguistic boundaries perpetuated by Switzerland’s geographical demarcations. However, the linguistic separations imposed by geography cannot be applied to a multilingual student’s linguistic resources. The cognitive processes of an individual who speaks more than one language do not involve accessing each language separately, but represent a more “dynamic” model of multilingualism, where lines between languages are flexible and interact with one another (García & Woodley, 2012). Especially in a language learning situation, each language is its own resource, yet all collaboratively contribute to receiving and producing information. This essentially describes translanguaging, a process that enhances language learning and should be taken advantage of in a classroom setting (Creese & Blackledge, 2010; Cummins, 2014). The educational context of Switzerland, with both its historic co-existence of four language communities and its customs surrounding second national-language learning (Horner & Weber, 2018), should present an ideal case study for evaluating whether plurilingual teaching methods are being employed successfully. But to understand why Switzerland enforces the teaching of additional languages in schools, we must first consider the nation’s history.

Realities of a Multilingual Nation

In Switzerland, the combined efforts of history, federal and local governments, and individual school policies ultimately result in an idealised vision of a balanced multilingual nation, reflected in various facets of Swiss life and policy, from the principles that aim to unite multilingual regions, to the campaign for equally multilingual educational institutions. Multilingual planning of a country does not ensure multilingual citizens (Kużelewska, 2016). The image of a multicultural environment upheld in Switzerland’s historical timeline of events is nothing more than a federally-sanctioned ideology, which merits discussion of what is actually being administered on the cantonal level (i.e., whether canton-level multiculturalism is disparate from federal-level ideology). The education system of Switzerland is decentralised, with multilingual initiatives such as Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) programmes implemented largely through local, rather than federal, initiatives (Bieri, 2018). While there is evidence of “true” plurilingual techniques being used in the business sector, implemented to avoid risk of potential economic repercussions from multilingual communication breakdowns (Csillagh, 2015), we have yet to examine if any pluralistic intentions at the societal level originate from translanguaging practices inside classrooms, where progress towards a more profound Swiss multilingualism could be measured.

At a preliminary glance, it appears that the Swiss heterogeneity observed on the surface is quite homogeneous underneath, and the country’s attempts to unify several territories seem only to result in a shared border from neighbouring countries rather than a unified Switzerland in its own right. Within that border, linguistic boundaries are upheld, which fuels a sense of monolingualism within the nation (Cotelli, 2013). Moreover, that Switzerland is the sum of a quadrilingual coexistence of communities is only somewhat true, as German and French are the two dominant languages, synchronous with how the cantons are populated, meaning in reality, the country can identify as bilingual at most (Kużelewska, 2016). Yet even this bilingualism is second to a monolingually-driven mentality—evident in students’ limited competency in their second or third languages—that results from inconsistency in policy implementation with regard to school curricula (Giudici & Grizelj, 2017). The fact is, the legislation pressuring fluency in multiple languages complicates the lives of the learner, because it creates countless linguistic choices that challenge one’s identity in academics, society, and at home. Even an L1 German student, least threatened among Swiss learners thanks to linguistic majority and educational accessibility, still must deal with the situational diglossia in all of Switzerland, where spoken Swiss-German is considered informal and “lower” than the standard German of instruction (Horner & Weber, 2018, p. 5). Curiosity leads us, consequently, to how these various circumstances are handled on a personal level and on a daily basis, especially when little research in this regard has been conducted (Elmiger, 2015). It became our interest to investigate further the attitudes of the teachers and learners meant to fulfil the authorised expectations of a multilingual nation, and to investigate their actions and opinions towards the pedagogical use of translanguaging.


Current Swiss Plurilingual Pedagogical Practices

In Switzerland, plurilingual strategies—mainly translanguaging strategies—are encountered at all levels of education. As a result of increased globalisation, the number of international students at universities has risen. Some teachers have adapted to this change by making more extensive use of English as a lingua franca in the classroom (Schaller-Schwaner, 2018). These attempts to accommodate all students have resulted in innovative plurilingual approaches. For example, students at the French-predominant University of Lausanne are encouraged to ask questions in other languages, through an anonymous question application, if they are unsure of their English (Yanaprasart & Lüdi, 2018). In another instance, a physics professor at the German-predominant Bern University of Applied Sciences used both German and French terms to refer to the process of “wave-jumping” in order to eliminate any confusion with “bending,” as it would be interpreted in German (Gajo & Berthoud, 2018, p. 860). Further, a pre-law course at the German-speaking University of Zurich encouraged three bilingual students to use their L1s—two native German-speakers and one native French-speaker—as a resource in determining the meaning of French legal terminology (Gajo & Berthoud, 2018). This last example of multilingual practice involved a degree of collaboration, which created plenty of opportunities for students to use their full plurilingual repertoires to deepen their understanding of the jargon. Still more universities have sought to expand students’ individual multilingualism. Since its founding in 2003, the Language Centre at the University of Basel has experienced increased enrollment in language courses other than German and English (Meyer et al., 2013). More notable, however, is the university’s development of curriculum encompassing German, French, and Italian in the form of a transdisciplinary, multilingual course, Kommunikationstraining im mehrsprachigen Umfeld, which allows students to draw on their core academic disciplines to present information in multiple languages (Meyer et al., 2013).

Plurilingual practices are not restricted to university settings. At the secondary school level, evidence of translanguaging practices is seen in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) programmes. Due to Switzerland’s de-centralised education system, CLIL programmes are mainly implemented through individual initiatives, rather than formal government or cantonal policy (Bieri, 2018). Such decentralization of education impacts plurilingual programmes beyond CLIL. For example, the canton of Berne has implemented a programme called passepartout, which aims to shift approaches to language teaching and learning from monolingual to plurilingual. The curriculum was developed based on third-language (L3) acquisition research and includes acknowledgement of the full capacity of students’ complex linguistic resources (Lundberg, 2019). Certain other plurilingual approaches aim to include students’ home languages in the classroom. For example, in areas of German-speaking Switzerland, foreign-language textbooks and curricula encourage the use of home languages (e.g., cross-linguistic comparison between German, home language, and foreign language) in plurilingual activities, with the intent of promoting both multiculturalism and plurilingualism (Peyer, et al., 2020). Thus, primary schools and universities alike face the issue of finding commonalities among differing linguistic repertoires. It is difficult to make generalisations about the extent of plurilingual practices’ use in Swiss education because of variability among classrooms, but there is a clear trend towards both valuing and implementing plurilingual pedagogies.

However, no current shift towards more plurilingual pedagogies is immune to the human tendency to compartmentalise language—to view a person’s known languages as independent from each other. For example, Schaller-Schwaner (2018) has explained how the canton of Fribourg’s actual bilingual practices are more in line with parallel bilingualism, or twin monolingualism of French and German, rather than multilingualism. Use of either German or French is perceived as “intended for their respective L1 speakers” (Schaller-Schwaner, 2018, p. 119). Institutional expectations prioritise the use of German and English over other languages—including Fribourg’s co-cantonal language, French (Meyer et al., 2013). Fribourg’s aforementioned passepartout curriculum aims to connect languages, yet each language is treated as a separate unit in scheduling and planning. Despite the programme’s stated ideology that language learning is a lifelong practice and that other languages are resources rather than obstacles, the schools in which passepartout has been implemented have historically aligned themselves with the idea of institutional linguistic separation, treating each language as fixed within its own space (Lundberg, 2019). It is clear that national values of harmonious plurilingualism are still falling prey to monolingual lines of thought. Meyer et al. (2013) noted positive growth in course enrollment at the University of Basel’s Language Centre and proposed project guidelines in an attempt to counter compartmentalisation. However, to date, no follow-up study has been done, and projects and programmes in line with Meyer et al.’s suggestions have been neither implemented nor studied. Even so, teacher and student opinions regarding CLIL, passepartout, and the increased use of students’ home languages in the classroom offer evidence of a struggle between plurilingual pedagogy and monolingual ideology.

Student and Teacher Attitudes to Plurilingual Pedagogy in Switzerland

Fostering multilingualism is widely perceived as beneficial by both students and teachers; it is seen as offering students more resources and opportunities. For example, when surveyed, a group of Swiss teachers overwhelmingly agreed with the statement “Multilingualism is good for all of us!” (Lundberg, 2019, p. 5). Another study found Fribourg University students felt the same; many recognised the importance of plurilingualism and cited it as necessary for success in academia as well as in their future careers (Meyer et al., 2013). A similar consensus regarding beliefs about multilingualism and pedagogy was found among primary school instructors in German-speaking Berne, including the beliefs that teachers should support the development of their students’ individual multilingualism, and that translanguaging strategies are and should be permitted in the classroom (Lundberg, 2019). Yet despite cases of teachers promoting translanguaging strategies, the predominant opinion in the Swiss education system favours plurilingual attitudes but continues to use monolingual practices. Two teachers observed to use translanguaging strategies in CLIL courses stated that they viewed their classrooms as “idealised monolingual spaces” (Bieri, 2018, p. 103) and noted that encouraging students to speak English was difficult. Both teachers’ attitudes were influenced by their confidence in immersion as beneficial to language learning: The stricter the focus on the target language, the more students will learn (Bieri, 2018). These findings suggest that instructors in Switzerland—potentially guided by institutional perspectives—have underlying monolingual ideas about how to foster individual students’ multilingualism. Swiss teachers further evidenced that they held beliefs about language based around notions of linguistic compartmentalization. Despite majority support for fostering plurilingualism in individual students, teachers largely opposed what they considered “forced trilingualism” (Lundberg, 2019, p. 6) and the use of translanguaging practices in the classroom. Furthermore, implicit beliefs that language is compartmentalized appear prevalent among both students and teachers. Almost forty-six percent of surveyed students at a Language Centre at the University of Basel expressed a desire to use their knowledge of languages other than German in their studies, but did not feel encouraged to take advantage of opportunities to do so (Meyer et al., 2013). Teachers’ beliefs that translanguaging is disruptive or forced may have led university students to assume that only one language could be used at a time, for a single purpose. Additionally, there is a tendency to assume that a multilingual student’s competency in each language is equal, as seen in a study by Peyer et al. (2020), where the common assumption made in primary schools was that migrant children had balanced, monolingual-like competency in their home languages—a belief that became problematic when implementing plurilingual methods of instruction. When examining this issue, Peyer et al. (2020) noted that students are “supposed to be competent and fluent speakers (and writers) of their home languages” (p. 10) by teachers and other students. That study found that many primary school students in the study did not know how to answer requests for words in their home languages; even if they knew the word, they often did not know how to write it. Parallel bilingualist assumptions can turn attempts at pluralistic strategies into embarrassing moments for learners.

Consistent inadequate implementation of plurilingualism, such as that described above, highlights a broader issue: Instructors lack proper training and resources in plurilingual pedagogy. In a framework proposed by Galante et al. (2019), success in implementing plurilingualism in English for Academic Purposes programmes was contingent on: 1) support from the administration, 2) the institution’s openness to all languages; that is, an acknowledgment of students’ full linguistic repertoires, 3) collaboration between policy drafters (in this case, researchers) and policy practitioners, and 4) the degree of learner-centredness of the tasks. In the current analysis, Galante et al.’s four key factors seemed consistently absent across the Swiss context. For example, in many instances of comparons nos langues tasks in Peyer et al.’s (2020) study, teachers’ reactions to students’ cross-lingual comparisons were shallow. Rather than elaborating on plurilingual students’ input, teachers often had nothing more to say than “interesting” (p. 12). Teachers’ choice of words—particularly the phrase “your language” (p. 10)—when asking a student how to say something in their L1 implied, unintentionally yet problematically, that migrant students could not claim Swiss German as theirs. Thus, while the teachers were attempting to foster an openness to all languages, they lacked the knowledge to do so effectively. For example, it was apparent that the instructors were ill-prepared to make use of input from non-Germanic or non-Romance languages in particular. One quarter of the students—whose L1s were overwhelmingly derived from linguistic families other than Germanic or Romance—reported that their home languages had never been included in class prior to the study (p. 6). The way tasks were made “learner-centred” also presented issues. When students with a home language that was not an official Swiss language were asked whether they liked their home languages being included in the classroom, over half responded that they did; however, over 6% stated that they were embarrassed by it. Reasons for feeling embarrassed included self-perceived lack of home-language proficiency, and fear that their language would “sound weird” to other children (p. 6).  Overall, Peyer et al.’s study demonstrated that, where plurilingual practices are in place, they are not meaningful without teachers’ full understanding of the purpose of the activities or how to empower, rather than single-out, multilingual students

Problems with implementing plurilingual pedagogy extend beyond multilingual primary schools. For example, at the University of Lausanne, the Director of the Center of Languages admitted that “a number of teachers do not do enough to exploit students’ linguistic resources” and instead  “stay in a monolingual perspective of teaching and communicating” (Yanaprasart & Lüdi, 2018, p. 831), despite the school’s fervent support of plurilingualism practices to promote diversity. This is another example of a lack of openness to languages—which would actively encourage students to draw on their full linguistic resources (Galante et al., 2019)—on the part of the teachers, as well as evidence of a disconnect between the policies promoted by the university’s Diversity Officer and the practicing teachers (Yanaprasart & Lüdi, 2018). Difficulty implementing plurilingual teaching practices was  particularly common amongst non-foreign (i.e., Swiss) language teachers (Lundberg, 2019). Exceptionally, one teacher observed and interviewed in Bieri’s (2018) study cleverly incorporated plurilingual practices into his non-CLIL biology course: He carried over his CLIL strategy of comparing the roots of unknown words to words students may know in English, French, and in some cases, Greek. Bieri also noted that biology was a great context for translanguaging practices because of its high number of English and Latin borrowings. However, in Bieri’s study, incorporation of plurilingual  practice was unique to the one instructor, and that instructor still believed a multilingual student’s languages existed as separate entities.

Thus, reported perspectives on plurilingual education often demonstrate an inaccurate understanding of what such practices entail. Even after undergoing training in plurilingual pedagogy, teachers may misinterpret the intentions behind plurilingual curricula. For example, in Zurich, an experimental introduction to English as a language of instruction in primary schools, known as School Project 21, treated English as a tool for communication rather than as a separate subject (Stotz & Meuter, 2003). Though teachers involved in the experimental programme underwent language and methodological training prior to and during the study, there remained a tendency to oversimplify translanguaging as “switching to English” (Stotz & Meuter, 2003, p. 90). Although School Project 21 was never fully implemented, its particular issues appear to further exemplify both a tendency to view multilinguals’ languages as compartmentalised, and a lack of understanding of plurilingualism as a practice. And while other plurilingual programmes have taken hold, many teachers involved maintain monolingual interpretations of plurilingual methodology. Lundberg (2019) states this succinctly: “Changes in teachers’ beliefs and pedagogical approaches take time and only happen if the teachers are convinced that the modifications are for the better” (p. 3).

Globalisation and the Shifting Linguistic Landscape

It is impossible to ignore the consequences that globalisation has had on language education and language use in Switzerland. In some cases, English is taught as an additional language before any national languages; for example, this typically occurs with French in German-speaking cantons. Concerns about English potentially undermining Swiss national identity persist; for example, when Zurich gave priority to English over French as a second language in its primary schools, the balance of Swiss language policy was perceived as being threatened, and “a major language-ideological debate” known as the Sprachenstreit resulted (Horner & Weber, 2018, p. 92). However, despite concerns, the value of English as a lingua franca (ELF) has been widely recognised. Universities in particular make great use of ELF. Over 80% of students at the University of Basel reported in a survey that they considered English to be “very important” for their future careers (Meyer et al., 2013, p. 415). Due to globalisation, universities are increasingly composed of international students, which leads to classrooms in which students speak a variety of L1s. In a study that observed translanguaging practices in one beginner German and one beginner French class at the bilingual University of Fribourg, both teachers used English as a resource for explaining features of grammar. When interviewed, the German teacher explained that she had tried using French for this purpose, but not enough students in the class had knowledge of French, either as an L1 or an additional language (Schaller-Schwaner, 2018). Further proof of ELF’s instrumental value is found in TESOL practitioners’ perceptions of global Englishes. Though “traditional” English classrooms are based on “native English norms”, a survey conducted by Murray (2003, as cited in Cameron & Galloway, 2019) revealed that 67.6% of the 253 surveyed English teachers working in Switzerland wanted more respect for non-native Englishes (p. 152). The survey did not investigate the origins of teachers’ attitudes, but it served to demonstrate current trends of English use as a tool for communication among speakers of varying L1 backgrounds. The increase in popularity of ELF poses challenges additional to perceived threats to nationalism. English proficiency is becoming a necessity to academic success, particularly at the university level. This causes students concerns surrounding their English competencies, and ties academic success not to knowledge, but to how well one can use their linguistic repertoire to represent what they know (Meyer et al., 2013). It appears that English is considered an important resource in Swiss universities, but is one that comes with its own set of challenges.


It is apparent that more research is needed concerning attitudes towards plurilingual classroom practices from instructors and students in Switzerland, as well as clear frameworks for implementing language policy. Current evidence shows that while there is a shift towards plurilingual pedagogy in the Swiss education context, it is not being implemented consistently, leaving many of those involved in Swiss plurilingual education unable to reap its potential benefits. This is an ongoing struggle familiar to action researchers (e.g., Bieri, 2018; Galante et al., 2019; Peyer et al., 2020) and current teachers pursuing graduate education (e.g., the authors), who are continually trying to narrow the gap between theory and practice to within a collaborative distance. Despite evidence of beneficial cross-linguistic comparisons being made in Swiss classrooms, prevailing ideas surrounding linguistic compartmentalisation interfere with efforts towards plurilingualism in Swiss education, mostly because those in the field have not been adequately informed by those in the laboratory. Swiss teachers are ill-equipped to take full advantage of students’ linguistic knowledge because they are largely unaware of how plurilingual methods of instruction benefit comprehension and processing. That is, Swiss teachers lack the understanding of the cognitive benefits of plurilingual pedagogy that researchers have, and thus may undervalue or misinterpret plurilingual curricula. However, a  training programme initiative could potentially address this situation and improve the circumstances that many teachers, like those in the CLIL and non-CLIL courses discussed earlier, are creating for their students. Maintaining critical awareness of powerful and existing attitudes that directly influence learner motivation is imperative for teachers, as these factors affect overall language acquisition and development, and any programmes designed to train teachers to use plurilingual strategies effectively must be research-informed.

Likewise, better understanding and implementation of plurilingual pedagogy will allow Swiss students to recognise opportunities to use their full linguistic repertoire. Without appropriate and explicit encouragement from informed teachers, students may become discouraged by feelings of awkwardness or fears of rejection when using languages other than the language of instruction or the dominant language of society. Furthermore, the advantages of effective cross-linguistic comparisons will benefit learners of all levels. This claim has been supported by Piccardo and Galante (2018), who stated that exercising the functional aspect of translanguaging, which draws on personal experiences for content used in communication and social interaction, not only promotes learner agency and validates a person’s prior knowledge, but also avoids “linguistic homogenisation and stimulates heterogeneity” (p. 158) in the language learning environment. Without this wisdom, ​Thus, by treating multilingualism as the sum of multiple sets of monolingualism, rather than as a plurilingual toolbox, the Swiss education system denies students the ability to maximise the full potential of their linguistic repertoire for personal, educational, and societal benefit.

Unfortunately, research to date provides little insight into the particular viewpoints of Swiss students and how receptive they are to plurilingual education, which creates difficulty for implementing plurilingual programmes. Few studies address how students in Switzerland perceive the role of their linguistic competencies in their studies. Peyer et al.’s (2020) study on primary school children addressed the growing trend towards “valorisation” of home languages and its impact on students. The study makes it apparent that, in reality, sociopolitical factors influence how Swiss plurilingual programmes function. Just as teachers may be ill-equipped to implement bi/multilingual teaching practices and curricula, students may feel under-capable of engaging in plurilingual activities. Even without the push for translanguaging pedagogy, one author of this paper has experienced a range of L2 learner beliefs within the extremes of two opposite camps of thought: Some of her L2 students have argued for the necessity of use of L1 resources in the classroom, while others have expectations of full immersion through use of the L2 alone. Without research on Swiss students’ perspectives regarding plurilingual strategies, it is difficult to see whether or not students have internalised the idea of languages as separate entities. The inconsistent learner beliefs found in the research reinforces the need to support learners and teachers by sharing the pedagogical gains seen in plurilingual studies. More research on student attitudes towards and perceptions of plurilingualism will strengthen current findings and offer further evaluation of the effectiveness of current and potential practices.

Nevertheless, there exists support for developing students’ multilingualism in the Swiss context, and pedagogical practices that reflect that support are being implemented at local and cantonal levels. Ultimately, however, the success of plurilingual pedagogy in Switzerland boils down to individual players. To date, not much has changed since Meyer et al.’s (2013) study. Projects following their proposed guidelines—that is, those that take a cross-disciplinary approach that requires cross-linguistic and cultural analysis—have not been widely reported on. It is difficult to know where progress has been made. Several studies since Meyer et al.’s have identified similar issues of policies founded on beliefs of languages as separate entities, lack of training for instructors, and a general misunderstanding of what plurilingual practices are and why they are effective. It is no surprise that Swiss teachers have not made much headway in successfully integrating these strategies in their classrooms. The clearest solution is to evaluate current training offered to teachers working in settings such as universities, CLIL classrooms, L1-diverse classrooms, and in the passepartout programme, and identify any shortcomings. New guidelines for training should include thorough definitions of multilingualism, plurilingualism, and how translanguaging works to enhance learning. The Swiss context faces the challenge of a decentralised federal government; changes to curriculum in one canton are unlikely to be implemented in another. Given that many current programmes are the result of individual initiatives—for example, by university language centres, or parents seeking CLIL courses for their children—any spread of plurilingual strategies among Swiss classrooms will likely continue to be inconsistent and variable.


Plurilingualism is not about “switching to another language” for part of a lesson. It involves cross-linguistic references that serve as bridges for students’ understanding. It allows students to draw on their resources—linguistic or otherwise—and to reevaluate content from the perspective of an additional language. It encourages students to use what they know to decipher what they do not know. For plurilingualism to be successful, participation must be active and meaningful. An analysis of the Swiss educational context reveals that language education continues to lack a truly plurilingual perspective. As long as globalisation continues to be the driving force it is today, the ongoing trend of mixed-language classrooms is in no danger of disappearing.

To combat that danger, educational programs, such as those in Switzerland, must keep a few key points in mind. First, previous attitudes towards plurilingual education and separation of languages are outdated and unrealistic. However, these attitudes remain highly prevalent, even in a nation like Switzerland, which prides itself on its harmonious multilingualism. Reeducation on how plurilingual students can use their languages as resources is needed. Misconceptions regarding immersion and exposure, translanguaging, and supposed limitations of plurilingual strategies must be thoroughly addressed and countered when implementing educational programmes that make use of plurilingual pedagogy.

Finally, the compartmentalisation of languages that persists in institutions and attitudes alike is problematic, and is far from unique to Switzerland. It is a deep-seated belief that is difficult to counter. Ideologies aligned with monolingualism and multilingualism treat languages as separate systems. However, once it is recognised that students using their L1s or other additional languages in class is an opportunity for, rather than an obstacle to, immersion and exposure, teachers have the potential to seize the moment and contribute to student success—provided the resources are in place to do so. It is imperative that, as we continue forward in our globalised, increasingly multilingual world, we adapt systems of education that no longer reflect the linguistic reality of today’s students, and embrace research-based initiatives towards plurilingual classrooms.


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Speaking Another Language: Australian Multilingual Films

Research Study

Claire McCarthy, University of Tasmania


In Australia, the film industry—supported by government subsidies since the 1970s—has a central role in reflecting and informing ideas about national identity. As Australian multicultural filmmaking developed in the 1990s, so did the presence of Australian made multilingual cinema, highlighting Australia’s changing relationship with the Asia-Pacific region, and growing linguistic, as well as cultural, diversity. Using key concepts from adaptation studies and Australian film studies, this article uses textual analysis to draw attention to a series of Australian films that 1) represent Asian-Australian migrant subjects, and, 2) are multilingual and multicultural representations of Australian life. The films analysed are: Floating Life (1996), La Spagnola (2001), The Finished People (2003), Footy Legends (2006), and Unfinished Sky (2007). The analysis finds that these examples illustrate the adaptation or creative interpretation of multiculturalism as a national heritage discourse, and raises questions about the practicality of Australian multiculturalism as a national framework in the context of an ongoing commitment to a singular national language, English.


En Australie, l’industrie cinématographique, soutenue par des subventions gouvernementales depuis les années 1970, joue un rôle central dans la réflexion et la diffusion des idées sur l’identité nationale. Au fur et à mesure que le cinéma multiculturel australien se développait dans les années 1990, la présence du cinéma multilingue australien s’est développée, mettant en évidence la relation changeante de l’Australie avec la région Asie-Pacifique et la diversité linguistique et culturelle croissante. En s’appuyant sur des concepts clés d’études d’adaptation et d’études cinématographiques australiennes, cet article utilise l’analyse textuelle pour attirer l’attention sur une série de films australiens qui représentent des sujets de migrants australiens asiatiques, et qui sont des représentations multilingues et multiculturelles de la vie australienne. Les films analysés sont Floating Life (1996), La Spagnola (2001), The Finished People (2003), Footy Legends (2006) et Unfinished Sky (2007). L’article constate que ces exemples illustrent l’adaptation ou l’interprétation créative du multiculturalisme en tant que discours sur le patrimoine national, soulevant des questions sur le caractère pratique du multiculturalisme australien en tant que cadre national dans le contexte de l’engagement continu envers une langue nationale singulière, l’anglais.

Keywords: film,  national identity, multilingual, multiculturalism, Australia.

Mots-clés: film, identité nationale, multilingue, multiculturalisme, Australie.


In Australia, the film industry—supported by government subsidies since the 1970s—has a central role in reflecting and informing ideas about national identity (Dermody & Jacka, 1987; Elder, 2007; O’Regan, 1996, 2002; Turner, 1994, 1999). As Australian multicultural filmmaking developed in the 1990s, so did the presence of Australian-made multilingual cinema, which highlighted Australia’s changing relationship with the Asia-Pacific region, and its growing recognition of linguistic, as well as cultural, diversity. Australia, already a multicultural and multilingual nation long before it was named Australia in 1901 (Moreton-Robinson, 2015), experienced a massive period of migration after World War II. In response, a new multiculturalism policy was introduced, which espoused cultural tolerance and social inclusion (Grassby, 1972). Multicultural became a normative and ideological description of the population (Lopez, 2000). It stood in contrast to the concept of a White Australia, typically characterised by the White Australia policy—a suite of twentieth century immigration controls that restricted entry to Australia on the basis of race (Lake & Reynolds, 2008; Richards, 2008). This article uses key concepts from adaptation studies and Australian film studies to analyse five films that adapt the popular representation of multiculturalism as a policy and national ethos, using languages additional to English.

Conceptual Framework

Applying Elliott’s (2014) concept of doing adaptation, the textual analysis in this article highlights the adaptation or creative interpretation of multiculturalism as national heritage and multilingual discourse in Australian film. Elliott’s work repositions the idea of adaptation as critic, which allows her to suggest new ways of theorising and writing about adaptations, and creates different angles from which to engage with adapted texts. Adaptation is impossible to define in a fixed way, because by definition, it is always changing (Hutcheon, 2006). Elliott uses the idea of doing adaptation to develop a pedagogical approach. She argues that undertaking the process of adapting texts from one form to another offers new insight into the process and context of their production. As she puts it, “Doing adaptation opens insights, interpretations, and concepts inaccessible to conventional modes of theorizing, criticism, and expository writing about adaptations.It also offers new ways to engage the aesthetics of adaptations” (Elliott, 2014, p. 71).

This article uses the same concept of doing adaptation to closely read and characterise five films as multilingual adaptations of Australian multiculturalism. Framed in this way, the analysis goes beyond considering each film’s status as a representation—of Australian society, multiculturalism, migration, migrant subjects—to consider how each film has interpreted, explored, theorised, critiqued, and given expression to culture and identity. The analysis also raises questions about the effectiveness of Australian multiculturalism as a national framework in the context of an ongoing commitment to a singular national language, English (Australian Government, 2020). While it is not unusual for Australian films to include small amounts of dialogue in languages other than English, this series of films was selected because they use multiple languages and English subtitles. The article argues that this is key to demonstrating that Australian multiculturalism is not only culturally diverse, but also involves a multilingual and multiracial discourse.

The Films For Analysis

Each of the selected films, released between 1996 and 2007, adapts multiculturalism as a government policy and national ethos, and includes representations of Asian-Australian or other migrant subjects, as well as multilingual portrayals of Australian society. These films are: Floating Life (1996), La Spagnola (2001), The Finished People (2003), Footy Legends (2006), and Unfinished Sky (2007). Floating Life is a drama about a Hong Kong family who have migrated to Sydney, and demonstrates how more conservative representations of migrant subjects can be disrupted. Footy Legends is a comedy starring comedian Anh Do as a footy-mad Vietnamese-Australian man trying to raise his kid sister; in Footy Legends, there is a return to the genre of migrant comedy (Simpson et al., 2009), but for a twenty-first century audience. The Finished People, directed by Khoa Do and also set in Sydney, is a social realist film (a drama touching on pressing social issues) about a group of homeless youth. It examines the intersection between homelessness and the culturally diverse make-up of Australia’s underclass. La Spagnola is about a Spanish woman living in a remote Australian town with her teenage daughter. The narrative is a representation of Spanish migration, and while it remains fixated on European migrant identities rather than Asian-Australian, it is predominately in Spanish rather than English, making it quite different to other multicultural Australian films. Unfinished Sky is a romantic, crime drama in which an Afghani woman escapes sex-trafficking and is given sanctuary by a reclusive farmer who teaches her English.

Taken together, the films explore the lives of characters from Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, often in the characters’ native languages, thus relying on English subtitles for large parts of each film. Linguistically, the films include Cantonese (Floating Life), Dari (Unfinished Sky), English (all films), Spanish (La Spagnola), and Vietnamese (The Finished People, Footy Legends), a linguistic diversity that goes some way to reflecting the Australian population, but is far from the norm of the Australian screen. Together, the films were chosen because they all deploy subtitles and use two or more languages, and—in the context of an officially, English-speaking nation—can be defined as multilingual.

Australia as A Multicultural Nation

When Australia became a nation in 1901, it had a population of 3.8 million people, 22.6% of whom were born overseas. The majority of those new Australians were from the United Kingdom and Ireland (79.7%). The first pieces of legislation the Australian Parliament passed were the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901, the latter enabling the deportation of Pacific Islander indentured labourers. While racial language was left out of the actual legislation, White racial purity was the intention (Lake & Reynolds, 2008; Markus, 2003). At that time, people from only one Asian country—China—were included in census counts; they represented 3.5% of the population in 1901. In 2016, Australia’s population was 23.4 million, 26.3% of whom were born overseas. Where Australians from overseas were born has changed dramatically. Among the top ten countries of birth, China represents 8.3% and is one of six Asian countries listed. The United Kingdom remains the country of origin of the largest percentage of new Australians born overseas; however, that group now represents only 17.7% of the total overseas-born population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018). However, Australian multiculturalism continues to be contested.

With the development of multiculturalism as a new national ethos in the 1980s, Australia began to renegotiate its relationship with the Asia-Pacific region, and indeed its perceptions of its own national identity. In a landmark speech in Singapore in 1996, Prime Minister Paul Keating (ALP 1991-1996) spoke in detail about the relationship between Australia and Asia. Described as new regionalism, the outlook Keating described took into account Australia’s greater reliance on economic partnerships and trade with Asian nations, as well as a shift in defence-planning towards the idea “that Australia needs to seek its security in Asia rather than from Asia.” Appealing directly to national and regional values, Keating (1996) declared:

the values I believe in and most Australians believe in are precisely those that are often referred to in this debate as “Asian”. The importance of family, the benefit of education, the need for order and public accountability, the inherent value of work – most Australians I know would describe these as Australian values. (n.p.)

However, counter to new regionalist views, cultural debates shifted irrevocably to the Right just a couple months after Keating’s speech, when he was voted out of office and the Howard Government took power. In the same 1996 election, the Leader of the One Nation Party, Pauline Hanson, won a seat in the lower house. Famously, in her maiden speech, she conjured racist (“yellow peril”) arguments associated with the White Australia policy, which was officially abolished in 1975 (Lake & Reynolds, 2008). Hanson (1996) argued that the rate of Asian immigration was swamping Australia. Her comments reflected a growing climate of contestation towards multiculturalism, and represented a reassertion of Australia as a non-Asian (or as a White) nation, despite its being part of the Asian region and home to millions of Australians with Asian heritage—especially Chinese, Indian, and Vietnamese heritage.

Anderson’s (1983) theory of nations as imagined communities proposed that a nation is imagined because it is made up of vast groups of people who will never all meet, but who are unified by their shared belief in ideas about what makes up that nation and its people (Anderson, 2006). The concept of nations as imagined also explained diasporas; nations scattered across or beyond multiple borders. Building on and adapting Anderson’s (1983) theory, Taylor (2004) famously developed the concept of modern social imaginaries:

the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations (p. 23)

The current article argues that the representation of multiculturalism in Australian film both reflects and shapes the ways people imagine their lives in relation to others, within and across the borders of different nation-states. Indeed, film informs and shapes how Australians imagine what multiculturalism is. The article argues that the representation of multiculturalism in or through Australian film is a powerful influencer of ideas surrounding legitimate Australian nationhood. Taylor (2004) has further described the social imaginary as “that common understanding that makes possible common practices and a widely shared sense of legitimacy” (p. 23). Therefore, the current analysis takes the position that Australian film, especially as a nationally sponsored industry, is not only central to the ongoing construction of national identities, but also to the ongoing production of Australian cultural and multicultural heritage.

Australian Multicultural Cinema

In Australia, there is a strong tradition of filmmaking about the Australian nation and its people’s stories. Within this cinema, multicultural films have been defined as films “where the main character or characters are non-Anglo Australian” (Stratton, 1999, p. 75). Multicultural filmmaking is “an important medium for migrant representation because of the opportunities it affords to subvert traditional Anglo-Celtic narratives that house, support, and rehearse discriminatory or biased forms of national identity” (Jacobs, 2010, p. 105). However, in an Australian context, multicultural films are often not what Naficy (2001) defined as accented cinema, caught on the boundaries of national cinema consumption, easily differentiated from linguistic or cultural norms. In fact, Australian multicultural films are often widely-consumed examples of Australian cinema that have huge box office earnings at home and abroad, for instance, Strictly Ballroom (1992) (about a Spanish-Australian family, which made AUD$80 million), The Wog Boy (2000) (about a second generation Greek-Australian migrant, which made AUD$11.5 million), or Looking for Alibrandi (2000) (a coming-of-age narrative about Italian-Australian teenager, Josie, and which made AUD$8.3 million). While these amounts are not huge when compared to American film earnings, for Australian-made films they are significant.

As well as differing from accented cinema (Naficy, 2001), Australian multicultural films often differ for the most part from Marks’ (2000) concept of “intercultural cinema” (p. 11). Marks has argued that, as a medium, intercultural cinema negotiated place and culture in a transnational and postcolonial world. Marks has characterised culturally diverse representation in film as more akin to world cinema, arguing it transgresses national borders, existing within and across the boundaries of nation-states, and—to employ Taylor (2004)—conjuring new forms of modern social imaginaries. Dennison and Song (2006) define the concept of “world cinema” by its “situatedness” (p. 21), suggesting that it refers mostly to practices or products that are defined as non-Western. At times, the term world cinema has been interpreted as derogatory (Byrne, 1999). In the context of Australian film, world cinema is often used to refer to those releases that—to use Naficy’s (2001) or Marks’ (2000) concepts—are interpreted as accented or intercultural, and thus take up transnational and interstitial, as well as national spaces, for example, by representing non-White and non-English speaking characters. In Australia, these kinds of films—including films such as the ones analysed in this article—tend to be positioned outside the mainstream (of Australian culture and multiculturalism), and have very small box office earnings. In contrast, to much of Australia’s multicultural cinema (which is still focused through the language of English), the films analysed in this article include multilingual and multiracial diversity.

Multiracial and Multicultural Diversity

In Australian cinema (as in much of the rest of the world), there is a diversity problem even in multicultural filmmaking. There is a tendency to focus on White characters (Elder, 2007; O’Regan, 2002; Turner, 1999), or migrant subjects who are European (mostly Italian or Greek), conjuring the period of massive post-World War II migration. In this context, Asian-Australians often only receive limited representation: “bit parts” or “fleeting representation” (Simpson et al., 2009, pp. 33; 35), potentially including small parts within a larger group or chorus parts such as the Vietnamese-Australian characters in the first half of Romper Stomper (1992). Smaller cameos for comedic effect, for instance the Vietnamese pizza delivery boys in The Wog Boy (2000), or the drug dealer’s harem of young Asian men in Down Under (2016), may also be considered bit parts.

For example, in They’re a Weird Mob (1966), which is about an Italian migrant who arrives in Sydney in the bustling 1950s, there is only one Chinese character, a man who lives next door to the building site where Nino works and who drives a van with a golden dragon painted on the side. In this example, as well as many more recent ones, the Chinese-Australian man is stereotyped (Elder, 2007; O’Regan, 1996; Simpson et al., 2009). They’re a Weird Mob gestures to a global political situation in which communism posed an ever-present threat to the West, and to Australia’s uncertainty of its place in the Asia-Pacific region. While the Chinese-Australian man is depicted as a neighbour, he is also represented as different, silent, and culturally and physically apart from Nino (an Italian immigrant) and his White Australian friends. These examples suggest that Asian-Australian characters are simultaneously a constant fixture of Australian cinema and continuously limited in the roles they perform.

More recently, the character-motif of the Chinese cook (e.g., Sing Song in Australia, 2008) is an example of entrenched typecasting for people with Asian heritage (Bertone, 1998). Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (2008) portrays the homestead cook as a racist Asian stereotype. The cook, named Sing Song and played by Hong Kong actor Yuen Wah, is characterised as a loyal servant to the White station owners. He is denigrated and made fun of by his “Yellowface name, his frantic rants in Chinese, and his relegation to the feminine realm of the kitchen” (Hogan, 2010, pp. 69-70). In their detailed study of the representation of Asian characters in Australian film, Khoo et al. (2013) claim that even though Asian characters have been present in Australian cinema since the 1920s, they continue to be represented in stereotypical ways. Asian characters, especially Chinese and Vietnamese characters, tend to be associated with the “social problems of drugs, prostitution and gambling” (p. 25). In Australian cinema, it is often the case that Asian characters are marginalised or represented in token ways—what Turner (1989) calls a “social process” that is “seemingly extraneous to the process of gendered nation-building” (p. 33). The depiction of Asian characters in the examples just listed illustrates this theory. While there is a much larger body of research examining the ongoing exoticisation in Australian film and television of Asian-Australians (a term which, in itself, comprises many different nationalities and ethnicities), this article analyses some examples of Asian-Australian and multilingual representation (i.e., film) that act as adaptations of multiculturalism as a multilingual phenomenon in ways that foreground and sometimes give agency back to non-White or non-English speaking identities by representing multicultural and multilingual characters.

Multicultural Representation and Gender

However, as intersectionality reminds us (Crenshaw, 1986), race, culture, nationality, and language are also intersected by gender. It is common for young Asian women to be portrayed as caught up in sex-trafficking exploitation, such as in Australia Day (2017), where Lan Chang (Jenny Wu) is sex-trafficked. Analysis of films like these further provides insight into ways in which, even in multilingual films, female “ethnic” characters are frequently silenced (i.e., the character lacks agency or no sub-titles are provided for the character, meaning she cannot be understood by an English-speaking audience). Where male characters tend to have speaking roles, female migrant characters are frequently sidelined physically and verbally (through a lack of language), thus reducing their power in the context of the narrative and limiting the amount of screentime they receive. Through the lens of adaptation studies, these examples illustrate how multiculturalism has been interpreted as a multilingual and transnational discourse, yet also how it is intersected by gender.

What is Foreign-Language Film?

In Floating Life, multiple languages are used in addition to English, which is typically the language of the subtitles. The film was selected as Australia’s entry for “Best Foreign Language Film” in 1997 at the 69th Academy Awards; yet the nomination was refused. This is relevant because it indicates the interstitial space that Australian multilingual films (like those in other predominantly English-speaking countries) exist in: they are considered neither part of mainstream Australian film culture, nor officially part of the foreign-language sphere. In the rule book for the Oscars, a “foreign language film”—or now, an “international feature film”—is defined as “a feature-length motion picture … produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track” (Oscars, 2019). However, there have been many instances where multilingual films that meet the rule book’s criteria are deemed to have too much English and are therefore disqualified from nomination. Floating Life is an example of such a film.

Chan (2008), on the subject of the rejection of the Singaporean film Be With Me (2005) from Oscar nomination, argued that “[i]n a world that is becoming increasingly dependent on English for inter-cultural communication, the Academy’s conservative criteria in the Best Foreign Language Film category are starting to appear more and more out of sync with the social and cultural realities of the present time” (p. 98). For a multicultural film, missing out on an Oscar, a massive indicator of global success, is one thing; not even being able to be nominated (and therefore not having access to any associated world promotion) is a further barrier to reaching potential new audiences. The Academy’s exclusion criteria ensures that their awards primarily go to films in English, and implies that films made in other languages do not entirely fit in any available category, even though they reflect the multilingual reality of societies around the world.

Floating Life

Floating Life is about a family from Hong Kong who settle in Sydney. The Chan family arrive in Australia in a state of fear and unease. The sun is too bright, the native animals are deadly, and there is endless space. The parents keenly feel the distance from their ancestors, and the older daughter, Bing, who has been living in Australia for seven years on her own, enters a state of deep depression when she is unable to provide for her family in the way she wants to. Summarised by the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) as portraying “[a]n Asian family … caught between two cultures” (Byrnes, 1996), the film was critically acclaimed, but struggled to achieve the exposure many critics thought it deserved (Elder, 2007; Jacobs, 2011). Like many examples of accented cinema across the Western world (e.g., Marks, 2001; Naficy, 2001; Stam & Raengo, 2005), Floating Life reached a very specific international audience, excelling at international film festivals, but not necessarily at the box office. Floating Life appealed to a niche, film-going audience, and is no longer widely accessible for viewing (Byrnes, 1996). Without access to awards systems like the Oscars and the publicity and attention that awards garner, films like Floating Life risk being starved of publicity and distribution options (Chan, 2008). While Floating Life won a number of prizes, including the Silver Leopard Award at the Locarno International Film Festival and awards at the Hawaii, Hof, Locarno, Melbourne, Rotterdam, São Paulo, Seattle, and Singapore International Film Festivals, it made only AUD$141,138 at the box office. Therefore, while Floating Life is illustrative of alternative voices in both the Australian and multicultural film communities, and while it is widely-known by Australian film critics, its public recognition was limited.

Floating Life reflects director Clara Law’s family’s own experiences migrating to Australia, joining the many other Hong Kong-Chinese who settled there in the early 1990s (Byrnes, 1996). Law trained as a filmmaker in Hong Kong, where she worked before migrating to Australia in 1991 ahead of the British handover of Hong Kong to China. Despite its existential subject matter, including themes of alienation, depression, and intergenerational expectations, Floating Life was marketed as a comedy. The poster for the movie features the heads of the four members of the Chan family who come to live in Australia. In an image that recalls the White Australians walking on their heads in They’re a Weird Mob’s opening scene—which plays on the idea that the “land down under” is “upside-down”—the Chans are pictured at the top of the poster, looking down upon a made-up tableau where the Chan-father is squaring up to fight a large red kangaroo in the middle of a suburban street. This scene does not actually appear in the film, but is a stereotype of Australian past-times, one that illustrates the broader mythologies of Australian nationalism that the Chans must confront. The Chans’ upside-down faces literally turn the “land down under” right way up; it further suggests a story about outsiders looking in—or a story that is being told from the perspective of “outsiders-within” (Collins, 1986). As a critique of Australian identity, the Chans “drop in” to this inverted world. They are immediately different in the context of a White Australia, even though geographically they remain in the Asia-Pacific region.

Floating Life situates the audience’s gaze directly on the Chan family and the trials and tribulations of their integration. They mostly speak Cantonese, which is subtitled in English. The film’s entire focus is on the family unit, consigning the position of White Australians to the “periphery”, thereby reversing their insider-outsider status (Kim, 2009, p. 108). Father, mother, and brothers typically wear white sun hats and dark sunglasses. This choice of traveller-chic apparel makes the family look like perpetual tourists, also serving as a metaphor for their ongoing sense of alienation from and within Australian society. It also recalls Simpson et al.’s (2009) categorisation of the “tourist” in migrant representation, which describes a diasporic subject who can never be fully integrated into Australian culture. Unlike many other multicultural films, the Chans do not function to teach Australian characters a lesson (see Alex & Eve, 2015; Looking for Alibrandi, 2000). In fact, White Australian characters barely feature in Floating Life. Instead, the Chans’ story reveals the idiosyncrasies of Australian culture, making the culture seem strange from the perspective of new migrants looking in.

Unlike most multicultural films, the migration experience in Floating Life is portrayed as personal, complex, and specific to the Chan family, who are intersected by transnational and familial bonds (Jacobs, 2010). It is also shaped by the political reality of China regaining control of Hong Kong in 1997, which spurred significant migration from Hong Kong to Australia during the 1990s (Sherlock, 1997). Floating Life deals “with quandaries that are familiar to many migrants whose struggle to adjust to their new lives is characterised by a determination to break free of the past and the urge to maintain old connections” (Jacobs, 2010, p. 112). In the Australian context, and raising the issue of mono- versus multilingualism, the Chan family is made even more visible as migrants because of their Asian appearance, limited English, and commitment to speaking Cantonese in the broader context of English-speaking—“monolingual”—Australia, as authors from Bostok (1973) to Hordacre (2017) have theorised. The majority use of Cantonese despite English being Australia’s national language increases the Chans’ visibility linguistically, especially given the history of the White Australia policy. For example, one of the ways that the White Australia policy was enforced was by mandating a European-language dictation test, which was used as a mechanism to exclude any immigrants who were not seen as desirable future citizens (Reynolds & Lake, 2008)—the test could be given in English or, if officials chose, in another European language that the prospective immigrant may or may not have spoken. The Chans’ migrant journey and their experience of cultural integration and adaptation is one that bridges a divide between a past they had to leave, and their need to retain a connection to their cultural heritage. Floating Life is a classic Australian film about migration, as well as part of its multicultural heritage (Elder, 2007; O’Regan, 1996). It illustrates the prevalence of linguistic and cultural diversity in an Australian social context.

In contrast to many of Australia’s multicultural films, which focus on the lives of second-generation migrants (see Head On, 1998; Romper Stomper, 1992, 2018), Floating Life reveals some of the specifics of the migrant experience—missing home, being connected to multiple places and identities, and feeling like an outsider (Jacobs, 2010). The unsettledness or discomfort of the Chan family also reflects a growing political climate of anti-immigration sentiment in Australia at the time the film was made (for instance, the views of Far-Right politician, Pauline Hanson). While Floating Life does not directly address government immigration policy, Kim (2009) argues that the theme of home in the film is intersected by Australian policies of border protection. Floating Life suggests that “the hospitality offered to Asian migrants in Australia is haunted by the historical conditions in which Asian migration was encouraged in the years following the abolition of the White Australia policy” (Kim, 2009, pp. 108-109).

In the 1950s, Australia’s immigration program was extended to the Asian region, but in ways that revealed the extent to which discrimination associated with the White Australia policy was ongoing. In 1951, Australia adopted the Colombo Plan, which allowed students from Asian countries to study at Australian universities and, by 1957, immigration channels were opened to nations across Asia, but only to entrants deemed to be “distinguished and highly qualified”, amounting to just 100 entrants between 1957 and 1964 (Markus, 2003, p. 180). Even though immigration was increasing in rate and scope, documented limits to entry for non-White arrivals during this era show its management continued to be highly discriminatory; similar xenophobic sentiments continue to permeate portions of Australian society today.

In Floating Life, the Chan family’s sense of alienation is a metaphor more broadly for the historical discrimination against people from Asia by Australia’s migration system. Even though they have been allowed entry, they are not necessarily made to feel welcome. For instance, the Chan-daughter, Bing, who has lived longest in Australia, is positioned as both guest and host to her own family, causing the audience to rethink the binary nature of these roles; the film emphasizes the instability of the guest/host relationship. Kim (2009) argued that:

[h]ospitality in a national context is largely dependent upon the conceptualization of the nation as a home. … in spite of the conditional hospitality offered to Asian migrants in Australia, the Chan family is able to negotiate a tentative sense of home in Australia: their sense of home and belonging is not entirely contingent on the offering of hospitality by the nation in which they reside (p. 117).

Bing hosting her family in her own home serves as an allegory of the wider implications of nation-states hosting new arrivals. As Noble (2011) reminded us, Australia’s multiculturalism has often been imagined as made up of discrete cultural variances, or ranges of difference, that fit together as a set of “nationally defined cultures transplanted through migration” (pp. 829-830). Hage (1998) famously critiqued this system, which he called White multiculturalism, an assumption he argues is shared by proponents of multiculturalism and racists that Australia is first and foremost a White nation. Bing’s hosting role in Floating Life highlights the expectations placed upon both new arrivals and those who have been in Australia for longer, showing that the two roles rarely run in even alignment; this unevenness plays out in the film through Bing’s inability to bridge the worlds of her country of origin and her new home, Australia.

The different locations of the Chan family around the globe—Hong Kong, Australia, and Germany, where another daughter lives whom they speak to by phone—and their separation from their spiritual ancestors in Hong Kong, is less a depiction of the construction of Australian nationhood as it is a representation of the distance felt by many migrants from their former homes (Noble, 2011). The Chans’ geographical and spiritual distance also communicates a sense of shared and divided loyalty between the competing aspects of migrant lives: family, nation, and self (Elder, 2003; Jacobs, 2010; Stratton, 2011 ). Floating Life is an example of an alternative voice coming to light through Australian multiculturalism and migration. According to the idea of “doing adaptation” (Elliott, 2014), Floating Life shows that there are multiple and multilingual voices present in Australian society. Adapting and reframing an “Australian” narrative as a story of migration and multilingual identity, in this case foregrounding a story of migration from Hong Kong, largely told in Cantonese, opens new insights, interpretations, and concepts otherwise inaccessible in the theorising of Australian national identity. However, as constructions of multicultural nationhood, some voices are not necessarily as loud, or as well listened to, as others as demonstrated by Floating Life’s box office earnings: AUD$141,398.

La Spagnola

La Spagnola, which translates as “the Spanish woman”, is a comedy in Spanish and English. Famous Australian film reviewer, Margaret Pomeranz (2009) described it as unusual in the context of Australian cinema because it is what she called a “foreign-language Australian film” (n.p.). Like Floating Life, La Spagnola was Australia’s submission to the 74th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, but it was not accepted. The film made just AUD$477,197 at the Australian box office, which, like much other accented and intercultural cinema (Marks, 2000; Naficy, 2001), was a small amount compared to English-language films such as the adaptations of Mad Max (1985; 2015), or even Looking for Alibrandi (2000), which is about a family of Italian women (not dissimilar thematically to La Spagnola), but which is almost entirely in English.

La Spagnola was shot on location at the Caltex Refinery at Kurnell on the Botany Bay Peninsula south of Sydney. It is about Lola, who is Spanish, and her Spanish-Australian daughter, Lucia. It is the 1960s, and Lola, who has just discovered she is pregnant, has been left by her husband for a White Australian woman. Lola is portrayed as passionate, flamboyant, and exotic. Lucia, the daughter, is plain and bookish, desperate to fit in during an era of assimilation. Changing tack in the mid-twentieth century, assimilation rather than rejection was in force, grounded in the assumption that “immigrants could be culturally and socially absorbed” by a dominant White Australian society (Castles & Miller, 1993, p. 116). Mother and daughter must renegotiate their personal relationship against the backdrop of mid-twentieth century cultural conservatism. At the end of the film, both mother and daughter are far more socially integrated, reflected in Lola’s comparatively tamer demeanor and Lucia’s increased rebelliousness and zest. This suggests a creative interpretation or adaptation (Elliott, 2014) of contemporary multiculturalism, through a historical lens of assimilation: The characters achieve cultural sameness, rather than the right to individual expression. The film, released in 2001, also gestures towards critiques of multiculturalism, as the national discourse was moving into a post-multicultural phase in the early 2000s. Kymlicka (2010) defined post-multiculturalism as marked by the mischaracterisation of multiculturalism as a failed project; an exaggeration of the extent to which multicultural policies have been abandoned; and a misidentification of the actual limits or problems that multicultural discourse has encountered. Through its reference to the assimilation era, La Spagnola highlights, as well as questions, how far multiculturalism has come.

Writing about migrant cinema during the period that La Spagnola is set, Mischa Barr (2009) argued that anecdotal evidence suggests that continental cinemas, by which she means European-language films shown in Australia, “were predominantly patronised by educated, middle class Anglo-Australians, while foreign language popular cinema venues catered more specifically to migrant groups” (p. 1). By continental film, Barr means high-culture art films as opposed to foreign-language films, which, she argued, tended to be screened at migrant cinemas, and could include anything from popular international releases to subtitled Hollywood films. Thus, there is a separation between the sophisticated film-going elite and Australians with non-English speaking migrant backgrounds, “in part premised upon the severing of European ‘culture’ from European migrants” (Barr, 2009, p. 14). In contrast, La Spagnola, released in 2001, was very much received as an example of accented or intercultural cinema (Marks, 2000; Naficy, 2001), targeted and appreciated by a film-going elite, as remarked upon by Pomeranz (2009) in her reference to it as both an Australian and foreign-language film. Ironically, in the context of multicultural Australia, a foreign-language film is recast as high-culture.

By harking back to the 1960s in which La Spagnola is set, and when the “continental films” Barr describes came of age, La Spagnola crosses boundaries; it appeals to a “film-going crowd” in the early 2000s with an interest in cross-cultural narratives and multilingual texts, but also evokes the popular genres of comedy and romance and a retro aesthetic. Continental cinema helped to facilitate the move away from an understanding of Australia as a White, British, monocultural society (Barr, 2009, p. 14), but La Spagnola motivated a new discourse of multiculturalism at a time when an Australian film largely told in a language other than English was still an oddity. The film’s portrayal indicates more broadly that, while multiculturalism is a normative discourse and ideology in the Australian context (Lopez 2000)—accepted as fact that the population is both culturally diverse and tolerant of that diversity—multiculturalism as a national ethos is also popularly interpreted and conveyed through English. When it is not, this article argues, the intersection of multiculturalism and multilingualism gives rise to a reading of La Spagnola as an example of world cinema (Dennison & Song, 2006), crossing national and transnational boundaries to represent national/transnational/Australian/migrant subjects at the same time.

La Spagnola’s reception was predicated on its own identity as an artefact of cultural difference—non-English, or not entirely English-speaking, in contrast to the assimilatory White Australia or multicultural Australia in which it was set. La Spagnola is a nostalgic representation of early multicultural Australia, in which, through the migrants’ continued use of Spanish, (multi)cultural expression endured, and assimilation was deterred. As Fishman (2012; see also 1991; 2001) noted, one of the socio‐functions of language is to attain and augment intergenerational mother‐tongue transmission. Retaining the Spanish language in an Australian setting, as the characters do in La Spagnola, is therefore an example of resisting language shift.

The Finished People and Footy Legends

The Finished People (2003), set around the time of its release, was made on an ultra-low budget as part of a community project. The film production was derived from a series of video-making workshops that Vietnamese-Australian director Khoa Do taught in Cabramatta in Sydney’s south, a part of the city that has a low socioeconomic status. The film examines issues of homelessness, poverty, and drug use, and includes a diverse cast; local involvement in the film brought new stories and faces to the big screen, and promoted investment in the communities that the film represented. The Finished People dazzled critics; it relocated what began as a Community Cultural Development project from the suburbs to the “audiences of art-house cinema” (Brooks, 2008, p. 177), thus raising the project’s status among the cinema-going elite, and increasing its visibility among those in positions of power—a group who director Khoa Do was specifically hoping to address (Brooks, 2008). Therefore, by drawing “elite” support for the issues of an underrepresented community, The Finished People demonstrates there are benefits to filmmaking beyond the box office. Footy Legends (2006), the second film directed by Khoa Do, is, by contrast, a light-hearted comedy that channels Australia’s obsession with sport. It tells a redemption story through a social transformation narrative. Footy Legends only made a minimal return, AUD$382,243 worldwide, but it did solidify the successful career of the film’s star, Anh Do, who is a comedian, painter, TV personality, and the brother of the film’s director. Anh Do is also the author of a memoir, The Happiest Refugee (2010), in which he recounts his life as the child of a Vietnamese-Australian family struggling to make a living in Sydney. Do’s story is one of great achievement through hard work and social contribution, set against the backdrop of a family breakdown that is partially explained by the horrific circumstances that prompted the family’s migration to Australia.

An adaptation of the happy-go-lucky persona in Anh Do’s autobiography, the main character in Footy Legends, Luc Vu, is a young Vietnamese-Australian man, obsessed with rugby league, unemployed, and the sole caregiver of his kid-sister. When Luc is unable to fulfil his responsibilities, the welfare authorities—represented by well-known White-Australian actor Claudia Karvan—threaten to take his sister away. The choice of Karvan as actor here is significant, because her character stands in for the Australian Government’s institutions and political leadership, which is still predominantly White (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2018). To stop his sister being taken away, Luc reunites his high school rugby team and eventually wins a ute (Australia’s version of a flat-bed truck) in a local competition. The vehicle enables the men to start a rubbish disposal business, thus beginning a period of employment and greater contribution to Australian life and economy. Impressed by the family’s industriousness, the social worker (Karvan) does not remove the young sister, and the film ends with the suggestion of a flourishing cross-cultural romance between Luc Vu and Karvan’s character.

As well as subscribing to the notion of romantic love, Footy Legends perpetuates a philosophy of immigrant contribution, similar to that which Fleegler (2013) described in the American context in the 1950s and 1960s as a newfound recognition of migrant value. Footy Legends demonstrates how popular contribution-based attitudes remained in early-2000s Australia. Footy Legends checks the migrant-issues boxes of unemployment, family difficulties, and sporting prowess, and establishes Luc Vu and his teammates as firmly part of the Australian nation via the stereotypical theme of sport. Footy Legends also includes a number of so-called slapstick moments (Hansen, 1999; Simpson et al., 2009), reminiscent of They’re a Weird Mob and The Wog Boy.

Collins (2018) argues that Australian migration films are usually portrayed in either “comic or tragic modes” (p. 301). Migrant tragedies—which feature the inevitable downfall of the main characters—tend to be set in the past. Migrant comedies are most often set in the present, contemporary to their release, and paint multiculturalism in an aspirational light (Collins, 2018). Footy Legends is an example of the latter, in that Luc and his Vietnamese-speaking family encounter economic and social opportunity under the guise of a neo-liberal pursuit of progress. His desire to have a job is directly tied to his acceptance by Australian society. The film seems to suggest that if Luc tries hard enough, he will succeed, even though the reality, as noted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (2018), systemically disadvantages migrants such as Luc. Footy Legends represents the Vus as national, as well as migrant, subjects. They are Australian—and they aspire to become more so—as well as being linguistically different.

In contrast to Anh Do’s memoir, which is filled with Vietnamese-Australian friends and family, and unlike Floating Life’s focus on the Chans, in Footy Legends, Luc and his sister exist predominantly in a community of non-Vietnamese Australians. Enhancing Luc’s cultural difference is his racial identity in a sport (rugby league) that, within Australia, rarely attracts players of Vietnamese or, more generally, Asian backgrounds (Walter, 2020). As a result, the characters in Footy Legends represent individuals in their own right, with individual interests. Luc is obsessed with rugby, his sister is preoccupied with the care of her freshwater tortoise, and they both grieve for their mother, her death seemingly contributing to Luc and his sister’s ongoing fear of abandonment and social isolation. The film’s portrayal of Luc and his sister are positive, insofar as it gives the characters individual agency and universal relatability; yet it is also negative or simplistic, because the film represents the Vietnamese-Australian characters’ Otherness as non-specific and out-of-context, positioning them as representatives of a much larger but invisible group, again as outsiders-within (Collins, 1986). In this depiction, multicultural Australia is determined through the presence of a non-White Other and his family in the context of a majority White cast. Cultural difference, enhanced by language difference, is defined against the norm of White, English-speaking Australia.

While the approach of Footy Legends is much lighter than The Finished People, the two films similarly lack cultural specificity. The Finished People is a social realist film (touching on themes of drugs and homelessness) and Footy Legends is a feel-good comedy about a migrant son pulling himself up by the bootstraps. Despite the generic differences, the multicultural casts in both are a sign of what Yue (2000) and Brooks (2008) have both argued is a move towards post-ethnic representation in multicultural societies. Post-ethnicity is a representational strategy in relation to cultural diversity for adapting and subverting patronizing discourses of ethnic Otherness, and for re-negotiating directorial identity beyond the frame of ethnic filmmaker. The Finished People offered “a counter-vision to the Australian imagined community that has been anxiously reconfigured by assertions of a singular, homogenising national identity threatened by the different and the unassimilated” (Smaill, 2007, p. 43). Rather than portray limited or clichéd representations of characters based on or determined by their ethnicity, both films developed new ways of representing different, multiple, and complex identities through attention to diverse cultures, experiences, and languages.

Unfinished Sky

In Unfinished Sky, the migrant protagonist is also a woman; Tahmeena, an Afghani woman, escapes sexual-slavery in a rural Australian town and is rescued by a local farmer who falls in love with her, and later she with him. Where The Finished People is about a range of diverse characters, it is worth noting that Footy Legends represents a return to the mainstay of the male lead in the visual renegotiation of Australian national identity (Elder, 2007; Nile, 2001). In contrast, La Spagnola and Floating Life are predominantly about women, thus offering an alternative to the typical view of the nation portrayed on screen. This is particularly important in the Australian context, since even Screen Australia (2016)—the government funding and statutory body—has noted that Australia has a gender and diversity problem. It is notable that many of the multilingual films discussed in this article foreground women, and do so in ways that give agency to their characters despite their lack of English—not silencing or limiting the women by their accents (Ilott, 2018; Marks, 2001), a fact that further indicates that multiculturalism is intersected by both language and gender.

However, in the Unfinished Sky, while Tahmeena has most of her lines subtitled, thus enabling her to be understood by a mostly English-speaking audience, the film also portrays her as infantile rather than traumatised. That is, unlike the other two female-driven films discussed in this article, Tahmeena’s lack of English contributes to a child-like characterisation, reinforced, for example, when the farmer buys a child’s alphabet book to teach her English. The child-like representation is consistent with issues of power-imbalance between guest and host, new and old arrival. Hage (1998) referred to this power-imbalance as a White multicultural outlook that obscures alternate realities where White people are not the central occupiers of the national space. In the United States, Roediger (2005) argued that the term “new immigrants” is a “racially inflected” term that highlights the difference between “the whiter and longer established northern and western European migrants to the United States and … non-white Chinese and other ‘Asiatics’” (pp. 5-6). In Australia, as in other Western nations, the concept of  new immigrant  is similarly applied; in Unfinished Sky, the power difference is obvious in the positioning of the migrant subject as not only new, but child-like, because of her lack of English.

Over the course of Unfinished Sky, Tahmeena’s English improves, and in an unlikely romance-meets-crime-drama, she becomes the farmer’s lover. Beyond her language difference, however, Tahmeena’s cultural specificity as an Afghani woman in Australia is erased, especially given that the farmer’s attraction to her is explained by a photo that shows she is the spitting image of his late wife (who was not an Afghani refugee). This blurring effect, or ambivalence towards race or cultural background, is attributable to the fact that the film is an adaptation of a Dutch movie, De Poolse Bruid (“The Polish Bride”, 1998). Dutch actor Monique Hendrickx plays the rescued woman in both De Poolse Bruid and in Unfinished Sky, making the character’s identification as Polish or Afghani entirely arbitrary. Further, through the performance of broken-English and visual portrayals of “ethnicity”, Hendrickx’s portrayals in both films are examples of migrant-face (McCarthy, 2020). The result of the adaptation is to produce a stereotypical migrant or sex slave figure rather than a culturally-nuanced narrative of forced migration.

In the Dutch version of Unfinished Sky, which is called De Poolse Bruid, the farmer’s love interest is Polish. In the Australian version, she is Afghani and speaks Dari. These adaptation differences reflect the different contemporary events in each national context. The success of an adaptation relies on its relevance and meaning to its new audience; in this case, Unfinished Sky represents issues surrounding Australian multiculturalism and migration (Elliott, 2014). Hendrickx’s performance as both a Polish and an Afghani woman, respectively, serve as ongoing appropriation of cultural identities, and positions them as inferior to White culture. Unfinished Sky is also an example of an adaptation that accords more with its source text (De Poolse Bruid) than with the context to which it was transposed; in reality, it is likely that Tahmeena and her daughter would have been immediately deported under Australia’s strict policy of border protection, rather than humanely and speedily processed and allowed to stay in the country.

Multiculturalism Intersected by Gender and Race

The above representations of non-White female migrants to Australia are indeed problematic. Yet, to their credit, the female protagonists described above are at least given agency enough to speak in their own voices, which is in stark contrast to Australia Day’s (2017) portrayal of Lan Chang, a former sex-slave who speaks only in Chinese and is not translated or given subtitles, making her voice inaccessible to the film’s largely English-speaking audience. Further, while there are plenty of examples of nuanced Australian films depicting complex identities in multiple languages, there is also a long history of a lack of representation, or when representing Asian-Australian characters, doing so in stereotypical ways that drastically limit their agency by diminishing their power to speak and/or be translated and therefore understood by a majority English-speaking Australian audience. To give a brief example, in Red Dog (2011), which is not a foreign-language or international feature film, there are no Asian-Australian characters at all. Instead, when one of the characters babbles from heatstroke, he is diagnosed as “speaking Chinese,” which the scene seems to suggest (and as we might interpret as a racist dog whistle or undercurrent) is a diagnosable form of madness (Yue, 2000). Lack of or (mis)representation of non-White migrants in film is not unique to Australia. Film adaptations of White nationalist ideologies and immigration restrictions in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States in the early twentieth century (Lake & Reynolds, 2008), late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and other screen examples around the Western world, continue to echo historical lines of racial demarcation.

What this also demonstrates is that, while films such as those discussed are typically categorised as foreign-language films in Australia because they differ from the English-language norm (Stratton, 1999), globally, they may not be officially judged as foreign-language. In Australia, these films stand out as world movies, or alternative kinds of narratives to those that are marketed as classically Australian (often involving adaptations of White colonial history or mythology; McFarlane, 1993; O’Regan, 1996), simply because they demonstrate linguistic diversity. The versions of Australianness constructed by Floating Life, La SpagnolaFooty Legends, The Finished People, and Unfinished Sky are, as a result of the use of multiple languages, transnational as much as they are national. They are nuanced and diasporic representations, implying that what is multicultural exists in an ever-growing web of global cultural diversity and connection (Simpson et al., 2009). They are multicultural films, but they are also adaptations of migration and multiculturalism that foreground a transnational perspective through languages other than English.

Conclusion: An Ongoing Problem

Australia, like many multicultural nations, has an ongoing problem with diversity—and representing the extent of that diversity—in its national products, such as film. By using multiple languages, the films discussed in this article are examples of more inclusive visions of Australian national identity. They are accented and intercultural cinema (Marks, 2000; Naficy, 2001), and multicultural films (Stratton, 1999), and they are adaptations of multicultural policy (Elliott, 2014), creatively interpreting such policy as not just culturally—but linguistically-diverse. While the Oscars offer an opportunity to reach mass audiences, as this analysis demonstrates, being able to speak in one’s own language(s) or being translated to English for a majority English-speaking audience to understand, is the first step to being adequately represented in film culture. Australian non-English language films deconstruct the notion of a fixed Australian identity by invoking multiple languages and cultures. They reveal characters who are embedded in individual and family projects and whose identities are complex, constitutive, and intersectional (Crenshaw, 1989). They also reveal the many different communities that multicultural Australia gives rise to, nationally and transnationally, and the languages required to move between and within those different spaces.

The results of this analysis speak to the ongoing diversity problem on the Australian screen. As revealed in the textual analysis, when multiple languages are present in a film, it is far more likely for the film to be categorised as world cinema (Dennison & Song, 2006), or as a transnational representation of migration, rather than an adaptation of Australian nationhood told through a multicultural lens. It is far more likely that a film will be considered multiracial and multicultural when multiple languages are present. As interpretations or adaptations (Elliott) of multiculturalism as a concept, the films analysed in this article also reinforce the creative interpretation of multiculturalism as part of Australia’s national heritage as a contemporary, rather than historical, phenomenon. With the exception of La Spagnola, each film is set at the time it was released—a trend in multicultural filmmaking, which enables a culturally-diverse present to be contrasted with a fictional, exclusively White past.

In historical Australian multicultural film, migrant subjects are usually at the point of almost fitting in, often shown to be implicitly Australian, but still in contrast to a more established form of being Australian that is historically grounded or has the historicity of White or colonial versions of Australian nationhood (Elder, 2007). This article has shown that this is also the case for multilingual Australian films. Australian film has developed a permanent tradition of culturally-diverse filmmaking, while simultaneously and continually disproportionately favouring White Australia. The result is a contextualisation of multiculturalism as a form of national heritage within an overarching commitment to the idea of a White or English-speaking Australia, even as it becomes ever more dissonant with the experience of actually living in Australia. Evoking multiple languages in film is an expansion of multicultural discourse, but it is also a reminder that Australia is officially an English-speaking nation—and that for the time being, multilingual and multicultural portrayals in film remain outside the norm.


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Teacher Identities in Heritage Language Education: The Case of Greek Heritage Language Teachers in Montreal and Toronto

Research Study

Emmanouela Tisizi, McGill University


In this article, I focus on Greeks in Canada, an ethnolinguistic minority greatly concerned with preserving their language, and I explore ways to improve Greek Heritage Language Education (HLE). Improving Greek HLE in Canada is important, as there are now many third-and-fourth-generation Greek Heritage Language (HL) learners who have minimal knowledge of their HL and whose only opportunity to use it is in Greek schools (Aravossitas, 2016; Damanakis, 2010). To this end, the present narrative study, framed within critical poststructuralist sociolinguistics, focuses on the identities and perceptions of pedagogy expressed by eight Greek HL teachers teaching in primary and secondary Greek schools in Montreal and Toronto. By adopting narrative inquiry and using semi-structured interviews and identity charts, I shed light on the participants’ teacher identities. The field texts are analysed narratively and thematically (Butler-Kisber, 2010). The findings suggest that there is merit in using translanguaging strategies in the HL classroom. Most importantly, Greek HL teachers in Montreal and Toronto reveal similar understandings of their role and identify similar shortcomings of Greek HLE in their respective settings. These findings suggest that the various Greek communities in Canada would be most successful in the mission to preserve Greek if they worked together.


Dans cet article, je me concentre sur les Grecs au Canada, une minorité ethnolinguistique très concernée par la préservation de sa langue, et j’explore les moyens d’améliorer l’enseignement de la langue d’origine (LO) grecque. L’amélioration de l’enseignement de la LO grecque au Canada est importante, car il y a maintenant de nombreux apprenants de troisième et quatrième génération de LO grec qui ont une connaissance minimale de leur LO, et dont la seule possibilité de l’utiliser est dans les écoles grecques (Aravossitas, 2016; Damanakis, 2010). À cette fin, la présente étude narrative, encadrée dans la sociolinguistique poststructuraliste critique, se concentre sur les identités et perceptions de la pédagogie de huit enseignants de LO grecque enseignant dans des écoles grecques primaires et secondaires à Montréal et Toronto. En adoptant une enquête narrative, et en utilisant des entretiens semi-structurés et des graphiques d’identité, je vise à faire la lumière sur l’identité des participants. Les textes de terrain sont analysés de manière narrative et thématique (Butler-Kisber, 2010). Les résultats suggèrent qu’il est utile d’utiliser des stratégies de translanguaging dans la classe de LO. Plus important encore, les enseignants de grec comme LO à Montréal et à Toronto révèlent une compréhension similaire de leur rôle et identifient des défauts similaires de l’enseignement de la LO grecque. Ces résultats suggèrent que les diverses communautés grecques au Canada réussiraient le mieux dans la mission de préservation du grec si elles travaillaient ensemble.

KeywordsGreek language and culture, heritage languages (HL), heritage language education (HLE), teacher identities.

Mots-clés : langue et culture grecques, langue d’origine (LO), éducation aux langues d’origine, identités des enseignants


In the Canadian context, the term heritage languages (HLs) is used to refer to “any language other than English and French” (Cummins, 1991, pp. 601-602), that is, any language spoken by ethnolinguistic minorities. Linguistic minorities are understandably concerned about preserving their languages, as research has shown that within three generations HL speakers tend to fully replace their HL with the host society’s dominant language(s) (Campbell & Christian, 2003; Valdés, 2001). The issue of HL maintenance does not only concern the minority communities though. Preserving one’s HL and culture is beneficial for their sense of group membership, as well as their personal, social, psychological, and even cognitive development. Therefore, language maintenance can facilitate both the HL speakers’ overall identity formation and their integration in the host society (Cummins et al., 2005; Fishman, 1996; Valdés, 2005). Maintaining HLs therefore is beneficial not only for the ethnolinguistic minorities, but also for the societies that host HL speakers and are concerned with their successful integration.

HLs are maintained either informally at home or formally through HL education (HLE) programs. HLs may be formally taught in public and private schools or through programs organised and supported by the various minority communities (Cummins, 1992). Indeed, the minority communities are the ones primarily responsible for funding their own HL maintenance programs. Although Canada is officially multicultural, its public funds are mainly allocated to its two official languages, English and French (Haque, 2012). While the maintenance of HLs is a challenging task to organise and support, many minority communities are willing to invest in it to ensure the intergenerational transmission of their language and culture (Trifonas & Aravossitas, 2014).

Situating the Study

The findings reported in this article stem from a larger research study (Tisizi, 2020) that focused on the Greek ethnolinguistic minority group in Canada, which is particularly concerned with preserving its language and culture (Aravossitas, 2016; Constantinides 2001, 2004; Damanakis 2005, 2010). Through the present study, I seek to contribute to the improvement of Greek HLE in Canada by examining the identities of Greek HL teachers teaching in primary and secondary schools in the greater metropolitan areas of Montreal and Toronto. Indeed, the examination of language teacher perceptions and self-identification is important for understanding their decision-making processes and practices, as they can either help engage language learners or alienate them (Blommaert, 2010; Pavlenko, 2003). In addition, the present study is based on the assumption that providing Greek HL teachers with the opportunity to open up about their perceptions and practices can help them critically reflect on their role as HL teachers in creating more inclusive environments that will improve the experiences of Greek HL learners.

Today, Greek language courses are offered on weekdays and on Saturdays in schools that are founded by Greek communities, Greek parishes, and other institutions across Canada (Aravossitas, 2016). Even though there are several Greek communities across the country (Aravossitas, 2016; Constantinides, 2004), it is estimated that over 80% of the 250,000 Greeks currently in Canada reside in or close to Montreal and Toronto (Library and Archives Canada, 2016). For this reason, the research reported in this article focused on Greek HLE in these two locations. More specifically, the study focused on the experiences of eight Greek HL teachers teaching in primary and secondary Greek schools in the greater areas of Montreal and Toronto, and its aim was to examine their understanding of their role as Greek HL teachers. Ultimately, it was hoped that the participants, as well as other Greek HL teachers who will learn about the study, would reflect on their teacher identities and instructional practices in order to create educational environments that are welcoming for all Greek HL learners.

An additional reason why I wanted to focus on Greek HL teachers in the greater areas of Montreal and Toronto was because I wanted to examine how, if at all, the tension between English and French affects Greek HLE in Montreal, as opposed to Toronto, where English is undeniably the dominant language (Statistics Canada, 2016). While English and French both have official status in all other Canadian provinces, French is Quebec’s only official language since 1974 (Haque, 2012). This renders French Quebecers a “fragile majority” (McAndrew, 2012), greatly concerned about preserving their language and rights. This has had a great impact on the province’s policies and practices regarding language teaching.

The present study is framed around the following questions: (1) How do Greek HL teachers in Montreal and Toronto understand and/or reflect upon their teacher identity and their perceptions about language teaching? (2) What similarities and differences can be identified between the responses of teachers based in Montreal and teachers based in Toronto?

Literature Review

My understanding of identities and languages as social constructions is largely shaped by critical poststructuralist sociolinguistics (Makoni & Pennycook, 2007). Critical poststructuralist sociolinguistics acknowledges that power is both exercised through and reflected by language, and therefore languages are seen as sites of struggle, that is, sites where power relations are either challenged or maintained (Hall, 1997; Norton, 2013; Weedon, 1997). Critical poststructuralist sociolinguistics also focuses on individuals’ language practices, rather than the languages themselves. More specifically, it examines how people negotiate their sense of self through their language choices (Norton 2010, 2013). The power embedded in languages creates social inequalities that people either perpetuate or challenge, while negotiating their own identities (García, Flores, & Spotti, 2017; O’Rourke, Pujolar, & Ramallo, 2015; Weber & Horner, 2017). Identities are seen as discursive constructs that are dynamic and flexible (Bucholtz & Hall, 2005; Norton 2013; Pennycook, 2010). People perform (Butler, 1990) their identities in their interactions with others, and through these interactions their identities are constantly evolving. Identities are thus constructed intersubjectively (Taylor, 1992), that is, they are constructed through a dialogic process (Bakhtin, 1981) with others. How identities and languages are constructed is an important consideration of this study.

Teacher identities are conceptualized as in-practice and in-discourse (Norton & Toohey, 2011; Varghese, Morgan, Johnston, & Johnson, 2005).  In-practice teachers’ identities include the teachers’ concrete practices, whereas the in-discourse identities focus on the teachers’ language practices and critical reflexivity. In sum, Varghese et al. (2005) have emphasised teacher practices, reflexivity, and meta-awareness. They have also highlighted the fact that teacher identities are created discursively through language practices. To fully understand teachers’ identification practices, one must examine both their practices and their reflexivity. Indeed, the present study focused on the types of tasks and activities that Greek HL teachers prefer to use. This includes their assessment methods, their grouping strategies, as well as the learning goals they set and the expectations they hold for their students. The study also provided opportunities for the participants to reflect on their teacher role, their language practices in the HL class, and their attitudes towards their students.

The practices and identities of language teachers are closely connected (Norton & Toohey, 2011) and can play an important role in either engaging or alienating learners (Blommaert, 2010; Pavlenko, 2003; Tsui, 2007). Indeed, Kanno (2003) found that language teachers often assign imagined identities (Norton, 2013) to their students, that is, they envision where learners should belong based on their backgrounds and abilities and impose identities on them. Kanno (2003) argued that this tendency, which can limit the learners’ agency, can be avoided when teachers reflect critically on their beliefs and ideologies. Ayers and Schubert (1994) argued that teachers’ identities and perceptions about teaching should be at the core of research on language learning and teaching. They introduced the notion of teacher lore and invited teachers to share their stories and reflect on their practices to improve both their teaching and that of other teachers. Indeed, the teachers’ identities and perceptions should be at the epicentre of research on teaching, as they shape the teachers’ practices and the way they view teaching.

Feuerverger’s narrative study (1997) demonstrated that HL teachers in Toronto struggled to establish a sense of professional identity, to the extent that they even had difficulty in claiming a physical space in the schools where they taught. Wu, Palmer, and Field (2011) focused on Chinese HL teachers in a Sunday school in South Texas. According to this study, HL teachers viewed their job as voluntary and held the opinion that parents are the ones primarily responsible for teaching HLs to their children. Lee (2002) and Lee and Bang (2011) focused on Korean HLE in the United States and highlighted the need for professional development programs for HL teachers. Studies, like the aforementioned, reveal that HL teachers can feel marginalised and insecure about their job and suggest that their professional identities—and subsequently their teaching—can be improved with professional development programs.

Contrary to these studies, Kim and Kim’s (2016) study of three Korean HL teachers in the United States demonstrated that Korean HL teachers had strong teaching identities. The Korean HL teachers’ beliefs about the importance of their teaching role affected their instructional practices and their students’ learning experiences. Kim and Kim (2016) highlighted the importance of encouraging HL teachers to reflect on their identities and positionality towards their students, as these are reflected in their teaching and can affect the learners’ own attitudes towards their HL. HL teachers’ instructional practices are affected by their beliefs about students and their understanding of their role as HL teachers. When teachers are given opportunities for critical reflection and professional development, both their teaching and the learners’ experiences can be improved.

Translanguaging in the Language Classroom

In educational contexts such as HL classes, where the students’ backgrounds can be highly diverse (Cummins, 2014), one is likely to encounter instances of translanguaging (García 2007, 2009). Coined by Williams (1994), it first described the pedagogical practice of students receiving input in one language and producing output in another and since has been expanded to include people’s flexible linguistic practices both inside and outside school (García, 2007). Translanguaging has been associated with bi/multilinguals’ ability to communicate by making use of their full linguistic repertoires and has been defined as “the multiple discursive practices in which bilinguals engage in order to make sense of their bilingual worlds” (García, 2009, p. 45). Rather than considering bi/multilinguals’ languages as obstacles to the learning of a target language, supporters of translanguaging view them as resources that can be leveraged to make meaning (Canagarajah, 2018; Cummins, 2017; Otheguy, García & Reid, 2015).

Bi/multilinguals use translanguaging spontaneously, but translanguaging can also be used strategically by teachers to model and encourage the use of multiple languages in the classroom (García & Sylvan, 2011; Williams, 2012). Whether strategically planned or spontaneous, translanguaging refers to dynamic and flexible discursive practices that disrupt the power imbalances among languages in the class, increase student engagement and motivation, and can transform the students’ relation with minority languages and their overall view of multilingualism (Cenoz, 2017; García & Kleyn, 2016). Indeed, recognising the students’ multiple languages as resources and allowing them to make use of their full linguistic repertoires can be transformative and beneficial both for their language learning and for their overall personal development. The teachers’ own identification, along with their perceptions of language and language teaching, largely shape their willingness to adopt translanguaging and create safe environments where students feel free to use all their linguistic resources to learn.


For the purposes of this research, I focused on Greek HL teachers teaching in primary and secondary Greek schools in the greater metropolitan areas of Montreal and Toronto. In the greater Toronto area, there is one Greek day school, whereas, in the greater Montreal area, there are five trilingual (French, Greek, English) day schools. There are also afternoon and Saturday Greek schools in both locations. Once I obtained clearance from my university’s Research Ethics Board, I contacted gatekeepers in both areas by email and asked them to inform the teachers about the study. I purposefully selected eight participants (four from each location), making sure to include teachers working in different educational contexts and having different backgrounds. More specifically, I recruited both Greek-born and Canadian-born participants, as well as teachers working both full-time and part-time. I considered it important to examine the perceptions of teachers from different backgrounds, as I was seeking to understand the ways in which their experiences affect their understanding of their role as Greek HL teachers. Information on the participants’ backgrounds is included in Appendix A.

After selecting the teacher participants, I contacted them individually to set up initial appointments.  To ensure the anonymity of the participants, no sessions were held on school premises. I held three sessions with each teacher, during which they were asked to complete written tasks and to participate in semi-structured interviews (Denzin & Lincoln, 2018). I also asked the teacher participants to create their own identity charts, a tool which allows individuals to visualise aspects of their identity by creating a chart that includes their character traits, the roles they assume, and any other information that they deem relevant (Gordon, 2013). By combining visual modes of representation (e.g., the identity charts) with interviews, the aim was to provide rich opportunities for critical reflection, which then served as the basis for discussion in the subsequent sessions. The duration of each interview session ranged from thirty minutes to one hour. The sessions were conducted over the span of eight months from August 2018 until February 2019. The sessions were audio-recorded and transcribed for analysis using narrative inquiry.

Narrative inquiry examines how people make sense of their lived experiences, how they construct personal accounts of these experiences, and how they position themselves in relation to the social world (Butler-Kisber, 2010; Chase, 2011; Pinnegar & Daynes, 2007; Riessman, 2008). The participants were invited to reflect on their experiences in the HL classroom and on how these experiences have informed their teacher identities. I used Labov and Waletsky’s (1997) narrative framework to restructure the participants’ original narratives according to the framework’s six parts (i.e., abstract, orientation, complicating action, evaluation, resolution, and coda). After analysing the field texts narratively, I also identified common themes across the teachers’ perceptions (Butler-Kisber, 2010). The reason for using thematic analysis was not to undermine the differences in the teachers’ perceptions. On the contrary, thematic analysis was used to bring the field texts together, while respecting the divergence in the teachers’ opinions.


Teacher Identities In-Practice

To understand the Greek HL teachers’ practices, I asked the participants to describe the types of activities they use in the HL class. From their responses, there was a general agreement that individual activities are their preferred type of activities for HL instruction. Six participants reported their preference for individual activities and argued that group tasks and projects lead to noisy classrooms that are hard to control, especially in supplementary education programs. In Niki’s words:

Each student works on their own. I rarely ask students to form groups; I don’t really like this method. When I tried it out in the Saturday school, the children were very noisy. Like, panic! And when we play games, the same thing happens. It is easier in the other school. Because it is a day school and children tend to respect you more.

A second reason was presented by Maria, who believed that students are given ample opportunity to work on their teamwork skills in the Canadian educational system. She found that individual work is preferable, as it offers a clearer image of the students’ language skills, since they do not get to “hide behind their team.” Maria noted:

Generally, I avoid group projects, because teamwork is already strongly supported in all educational levels here in Quebec. The students know how to do group projects – but they do not know how to speak Greek well. So, I try to reinforce their personal effort, rate their individual performance and assist them. I want them to make a real effort and not hide behind a team.

The two participants who held a different opinion were Anna and Stella, who reported using both individual and group activities, and found the latter more appropriate for evaluation and revision purposes. In sum, the majority of the participants reported being more comfortable using individual activities in the HL class. They linked group activities to classroom management challenges and an imprecise understanding of the students’ language level.

The participants all reported a preference for conventional methods, such as assigning dictation, reading comprehension activities, essays, and student revision activities. Their main focus is grammar and vocabulary teaching, as well as the improvement of the students’ oral expression in Greek. However, five participants admitted that there are times when students seem to lose interest and appear to be disengaged and unmotivated. In such instances, they explained that they turn to more unconventional methods such as board games, karaoke, music, arts and crafts, and dancing to win over their students. As Sofia explained:

You need to find what works for each of them. For instance, I have found that some children enjoy music so I teach them songs in Greek. I explain the words so that they understand what the song is about and they like this. Others prefer crafts, so I ask them to make something using the alphabet letters. With other children we play games and they like it—things like snakes and ladders or Monopoly, but they must speak Greek during the game […] So, you should not focus on just teaching them Greek. You need to find what will win them over.

The Greek HL teachers’ preference for individual activities and conventional teaching methods can give the impression that their overall approach to teaching is conservative and teacher-centered. However, a closer examination of the participants’ teaching strategies reveals their sincere caring for their students and their willingness to drastically adjust their teaching to win over the Greek HL learners when needed. When met with student disengagement, Greek HL teachers become inventive and resourceful to win over their students by linking their teaching to the students’ interests and personal realities.

Language Practices in the HL Classroom

To understand teachers’ language practices, I started by asking them to describe their linguistic repertoire, which “is understood as a whole, comprising those languages, dialects, styles, registers, codes, and routines that characterize interaction in everyday life” (Busch, 2017). All eight participants characterised themselves as being fluent in Greek and English, and five of them (all four participants from the greater Montreal area and one from Toronto) also reported being fluent in French. The four participants from the greater Montreal area found French to be an invaluable tool for their future in Quebec and expressed a general appreciation for the French language. In contrast, three of the teachers from the greater Toronto area stated that their knowledge of French was either minimal or non-existent, and expressed no interest in improving it. Kostas, a participant from the greater Toronto area, stressed that although he had received instruction in the language, he felt that he had no opportunities or reasons to use the language outside the French classroom. In sum, the participants’ linguistic repertoires were affected by their region’s linguistic landscape. The participants from the greater Montreal area considered trilingualism as indispensable for their life and future in Quebec, whereas participants from the greater Toronto area reported using English and Greek only, and saw no need in learning French.

Struck by the difference in their perceptions, I also asked the teachers to describe their students’ relationship with French. Once again, the participants from the greater Montreal area highlighted that French is indispensable for their students and argued that their students realise this, despite often feeling that French is forced on them. On the contrary, the participants from the greater Toronto area noted that their students receive instruction in French—because the teaching of Canada’s official languages is mandatory—but hardly ever use it. Indeed, the participants from Toronto stressed that, just like them, their students choose English for their interactions, and even go as far as to question the need to learn any other language. Sofia explained:

It is not just that they love this language. They also have this perception that since they know English, they do not need to learn anything else. Unfortunately, everyone here shares this opinion […] Because English is an international language, you don’t really need to know anything else. If I were one of them, I probably wouldn’t want to learn any other language either. Why bother? Everyone speaks English.

The participants’ reports suggest that the dominance of English in the greater Toronto area has affected not only the students’ relation to French but also their relation to any language other than English.

Many of the participants believed that the only language that should be used in the Greek HL class is Greek. They explained that many students do not use Greek at home with their families. They argued that using another language, such as English, in the HL class would reduce the learners’ much needed exposure to the target language and stall their HL learning. In fact, the participants seemed to be judgmental of some of their colleagues whom they found to overuse English. In Lena’s words:

I know teachers who were born here and they speak English to children. They sing songs in English, because it comes easier to them. If you ask a parent which teacher they would prefer, one who was born here and has been working for twenty-five years as a teacher or an inexperienced teacher who has just arrived from Greece, they will choose the second. Because they have a very good command of Greek.

This comment reveals the importance that is placed on students receiving adequate exposure to their HL, which in the teachers’ minds is linked to the teachers’ own ease with the language, and ultimately whether or not the teachers are Greek-born. Evidently, the assumption here is that, contrary to Canadian-born teachers, their Greek-born counterparts are native speakers and therefore better suited for teaching the language to Greek HL learners.

The teachers also referred to several Greek school policies that are in place that officially mandate them to keep the languages separated when teaching. Surprisingly, when asked whether they found that language separation works well in the HL class, all participants reported that they sometimes have to switch to more flexible language practices because students become disengaged. The teachers noted, for example, that despite the school policies—and their own beliefs about the need to only use Greek—they often feel compelled to use English or French in the HL class, as they find that this facilitates the students’ understanding and engagement.

However, the participants argued that they do not use languages other than Greek freely. They reported having created their own rules about what is and what is not acceptable when it comes to using multiple languages in the HL class. They admitted using languages other than Greek for instruction-giving as well as for vocabulary and grammar teaching. The teachers highlighted that the HL class is in most cases a mixed-abilities class, and therefore using English—and in fewer cases French—for giving instructions is a way to ensure that all students, irrespective of their familiarity with Greek, can understand the teacher. The teachers also appeared to have realised that allowing students to make connections across all their languages actually helps them learn and retain new information in Greek. For example, Anna noted:

What I found is that now children are confused. Because they cannot make the necessary connections in their heads with words. For instance, I once taught a third-grade class, and I talked to them about paradise. And they couldn’t understand the word in Greek, παράδεισος, so I said “paradise” and it was like an epiphany for them. And I also mentioned the French word “paradis” and wrote all three of them on the board. I was very impressed by this.

In short, although the participants found it very important to ensure that their students receive ample exposure to Greek, they also intuitively realised the advantages of using languages other than Greek when teaching. Whether for teaching vocabulary and grammar, or for strengthening the students’ comprehension, all participants reported using multiple languages in the HL classroom while trying to maintain a balance between their use and student use of Greek. 

When discussing the use of languages in the HL classroom, George focused not just on the receptive skills of the HL learners but also on their productive skills in Greek. He argued that when students are allowed to use all their languages to communicate, they become more motivated and end up producing more output in Greek, thus improving their oral skills. George also associated this with the HL teachers’ attitude towards less advanced students and insisted that the teacher must hold high expectations for all students, giving them opportunities to practice the target language while drawing on all their languages. In his words:

It is essential for students to feel that you do not exclude them from the rest. For them to know that you have expectations for them and that they need to make an effort. Even if their phrases are half in Greek and half in English, even if their grammar is wrong. If you show them that it is ok if they make errors or if they have to use some English words too, they will want to show you that they can make it; you can see that they find it easier to produce oral speech and that they progress.

This quote raises the issue of teachers’ expectations for students and how the teachers’ attitudes can affect the learners’ motivation and ultimately help improve their language abilities. George realises that he can help students to develop their Greek linguistic capabilities by creating safe spaces where they can take risks using all the resources at their disposal.

Teacher Identities In-Discourse

To examine how the participants reflect on their role, they were asked to create a visual representation of their identity(-ies). They were asked to create two identity charts: one to represent their identities before becoming teachers and one to represent their current teacher identities. The participants were free to include as many categories as they needed and to work on the two charts in whichever order they preferred. When the participants decided that their identity charts were complete, they presented and reflected on them.

The majority of the participants found that their identities had been transformed since becoming HL teachers. Lena, a teacher with over twenty years of experience in Montreal’s Greek schools, explained that before becoming a teacher, she was very self-involved. She found it very hard to receive criticism, even when it was constructive. Becoming a teacher had made her more patient, more understanding, and generally a happier person (See Figure 1). Similarly, Stella elucidated that becoming a HL teacher had increased her empathy and understanding and had amplified her willingness to learn and collaborate with others. 

Tisizi Figure 1
Figure 1: Lena’s identity charts before and after becoming a teacher (with translation)

Many participants shared the belief that while their main personality traits have remained the same, becoming HL teachers had magnified these traits and enriched their overall identities. Sofia found that becoming a teacher had made her more patient and flexible. Novice teacher Niki explained that after becoming a HL teacher, she felt more independent and vigorous. Anna elucidated that character traits like patience, dependability, and the ability to listen as a mediator had all been augmented after becoming a HL teacher.

Other participants focused on a sense of responsibility. George explained that becoming a HL teacher had increased his awareness of the importance of his Greek heritage. He felt that it was his responsibility to inspire his students and communicate his passion for the Greek language and culture to them. Similarly, Kostas elucidated that since becoming a HL teacher, he considered it essential to be involved in the Greek community. He viewed himself as a role model for his students at all times and not just while in school (See Figure 2). Kostas noted:

I am always a role model. For the students, but also for everybody else. For example, going out and getting drunk; I think I am not allowed to do that anymore, because now I am a teacher. I am a teacher for our children. There are many things that stress me out now that I am a teacher, and all I think about is how to inspire the youth.

For these participants, being a Greek HL teacher was not limited to teaching a language. In their eyes, this profession came with additional responsibilities, such as setting the right example for students and finding ways to maintain their connection to the Greek language and culture.

Tisiki Figure 2
Figure 2: Kostas’s identity charts before and after becoming a teacher (with translation)

Most participants had similar understandings of what it takes to be a good HL teacher. They felt that Greek HL teachers must have an excellent command of the Greek language and must stay on top of developments in the pedagogical field. They found that it was their responsibility to also affirm their students’ identities and constantly find ways to inspire them by making them appreciate Greek. Additionally, all participants were adamant about the importance of teaching the Greek language and culture together, since they are interconnected. Thus, any attempt to teach them separately cannot portray the wholeness of the “Greek phenomenon.” In Anna’s words:

We cannot teach the language without referring to customs for example. And I think when we teach those together, we provide a complete overview of the Greek phenomenon—because it is a phenomenon […] The way we teach Greek here, by connecting everything, […] it makes more sense.

The participants explained that HL teachers must have strategies to inspire HL learners and communicate to them the importance of preserving a connection to their HL. The teachers reported using photos from Greece and personal stories to motivate their students. They also noted that younger students are often motivated to learn Greek when it is pointed out to them that this will help them communicate better with their Greek-speaking relatives. Older students are more determined to learn Greek when they are told that being fluent in multiple languages can improve their future employability. Maria reported having class discussions about the benefits of multilingualism in general, while Kostas, Lena, and Stella noted that they often refer to the specific advantages of speaking Greek to win over their students. Most importantly, teachers explained that they often feel that they must affirm their students’ identities as HL speakers and provide them with reasons to appreciate their heritage. For instance, Lena noted:

I tell them about words in medicine, which are all Greek, I tell them about democracy and how proud they should be of the Greek language. All people should be speaking this language. This language that gave us medicine, physics, mathematics—is there another language that has done all that? […] I try to inspire them; I make them feel proud of being Greek.

The participants admitted that students losing interest in HL learning is a frequent occurrence, and each of them explained that they had developed their own strategies to keep the learners motivated. Whether by using visuals or by highlighting the advantages of knowing multiple languages (and Greek in particular), the teachers’ common aim was to reignite the learners’ interest in learning Greek.

While all other participants found that becoming a Greek HL teacher had substantially affected their identity, Maria did not share the same opinion. She decided to create only one identity chart and none of the categories that she chose to include were directly related to her role as a Greek HL teacher (see Figure 3). She was convinced that becoming a teacher had not altered her identity in any significant way and therefore found no reason to create two separate identity charts. She stressed that being a Greek HL teacher was not her first job, as she had held administrative positions in the past where she had to develop her organisational and communicative skills. While she admitted benefiting from these skills as a HL teacher, she argued that such skills are essential for all professions and are not exclusive to language teaching.

Tisiki Figure 3
Figure 3: Maria’s identity chart (with translation)

The teachers from both locations explained that Greek HLE faces certain challenges that cannot be counteracted by their efforts alone. Lack of funding, lack of specialised teacher training, lack of appropriate resources and materials, and large class sizes were just a few of the difficulties they named. While most participants had strong teacher identities and a sense of responsibility towards HL learners, they admitted that they do not always feel equipped to accommodate all their students’ needs. The aforementioned challenges, coupled with the fact that many of them had no background in education, made them feel that professional development opportunities are greatly needed to improve their work.


How do Greek HL teachers in Montreal and Toronto understand and/or reflect upon their teacher identity and their perceptions about language teaching?

Most Greek HL teachers who participated in the study strongly identified with the role of the language teacher. They fully assumed the responsibility to teach Greek to their students and held the opinion that HL instruction is more effective when linguistic and cultural aspects are taught together. They considered it their duty not only to teach the Greek language to their students, but also to affirm the students’ identities as HL learners and to act as their role models both inside and outside school. In fact, they each had their own unique way of winning over their students and inspiring them to maintain a connection to the Greek language and culture.

In general, the participants reported that they preferred more traditional ways of teaching and were convinced that offering ample exposure to Greek is the best way to ensure the students’ success in HL learning. Even so, all participants realised that conventional teaching and monolingual strategies often prove inadequate to keep the Greek HL learners engaged. The teachers were genuinely interested in engaging their students in Greek learning. They reported that they use unconventional teaching strategies and multilingual use to win them over when students become disengaged. Despite their preference for conventional and monolingual teaching strategies, all participants were willing to alter their approach to HL teaching in the interest of improving student engagement.

Indeed, despite their monolingual beliefs (fueled by the Greek schools’ mandate to keep the languages separated while teaching) all eight participants acknowledged that using various languages in the HL class could be helpful for students. The Greek HL teachers highlighted that using the students’ shared languages in a mixed-abilities class helps ensure that all learners understand the teacher. The participants also understood that using multiple languages serves as a scaffold. This allows students to make connections between prior knowledge previously acquired in English and French and new knowledge in Greek. Thus, they used two or three languages when teaching grammar and vocabulary and highlighted similarities across the languages. The participants’ intuitive adoption of the aforementioned practices reveals that they understand some of the benefits of translanguaging and that they are willing to try new approaches in order to reignite their students’ interest in Greek learning.

Aside from some notable exceptions (Blackledge & Creese, 2014; C. Lee, 2019; Prada, 2019), there are not many studies on the use of translanguaging in the HL class. This lack of attention to translanguaging appears to stem from the belief that HL learners require ample HL exposure in order to successfully learn the language. This is a view also expressed by this study’s participants: the more a learner is exposed to a target language the more likely they are to successfully learn it. Indeed, this hypothesis has been corroborated by research (Collins & White, 2011; Lightbown & Spada, 2013; Turnbull & Arnett, 2002). While providing ample exposure to Greek is indeed essential for Greek HL learners’ success in learning their HL, it is equally important to create safe environments where students are not marginalised along linguistic lines (Tse, 2001). Indeed, despite their monolingual beliefs, the participants of this study recognised that allowing the use of multiple languages in the HL class was a way to motivate HL learners and to strengthen student connections to Greek. They recognised that using multiple languages in the HL class can have a positive impact on the learners’ receptive and productive skills in Greek. They additionally argued that drawing student attention to similarities across their shared languages helped students make connections and to consolidate new knowledge.

However, the benefits of translanguaging are not limited to helping students understand instructions and using their dominant languages as scaffolds. Proponents of translanguaging suggest that using multiple linguistic resources in the classroom, and allowing students to do the same, facilitates the learning of a target language and can boost the learners’ confidence in using it (Creese & Blackledge, 2010; Little & Kirwan, 2018; Seltzer & Collins, 2016). Researchers have also suggested that translanguaging pedagogy focuses on learners’ agency and affirms their identities (García, 2009), transforms the students’ understanding of multilingualism (García, Johnson, & Seltzer, 2016), and leads to a more equitable education (Canagarajah, 2011; García & Kleyn, 2016). It is therefore evident that while Greek HL teachers understand some of the advantages of translanguaging, they are currently not aware of its full potential. The fact that the participants are not familiar with translanguaging pedagogy and mainly rely on their intuition to win over their students is not surprising, as many of them have no background in education or pedagogic studies. Their intuition and experience in the HL class clearly lead them to the adoption of unconventional strategies and the use of multiple languages. It is likely their understanding of the principles and benefits of translanguaging pedagogy would be further developed if they had access to specialised training.

What similarities and differences can be identified between the responses of teachers based in Montreal and teachers based in Toronto?

The study also revealed differences in perceptions between participants from the two locations. A noticeable difference was revealed when the participants reflected on their linguistic repertoires. All teachers working in the greater Montreal area described themselves as trilinguals and noted that they use all three languages in their everyday interactions. They also considered French a valuable tool for their students’ and their own life in Quebec. On the other hand, the participants working in the greater Toronto area reported using only English and Greek for their daily interactions. Most of them showed no interest in learning French noting that, although their students are familiar with French, they too hardly ever use it. They further argued that their students saw no use in learning any language other than English, given the language’s status as an international language. These differences in participant perceptions reflect the differences in the linguistic landscapes of the two locations. Clearly, the dominance of English in Toronto was mirrored in the participants’ almost exclusive use of the language for their daily interactions. Similarly, the tension between French and English in Quebec was reflected in the teachers’ acknowledgement of the necessity to know both official languages. Interestingly, despite the differences in their linguistic repertoires, all teachers had come to the realisation that using the students’ multiple languages can help improve student learning and engagement. This paradox indicates that Greek HL teachers intuitively acknowledge the effectiveness of some translanguaging strategies in the HL class.

Despite the differences in how Greek HL teachers in the two locations viewed their linguistic resources, their teacher identities and pedagogical strategies were largely similar. The participants considered it their responsibility not only to teach the Greek language to HL learners but also to introduce them to the Greek culture, to instil pride for their Greek origins, and to generally inspire them to maintain a connection to their Greek national identity. The participants from the two locations also identified similar obstacles that Greek HLE in Canada needs to overcome. These common obstacles are linked to financial hurdles, the lack of teacher training, and specialised teaching materials for HL instruction. These findings echo the call of Aravossitas and Oikonomakou (2017, 2020) for more funding, teacher training, and teaching resources for Greek HLE.


The findings of this research suggest that Greek HL teachers would benefit from specialised training in translanguaging pedagogy. After receiving training in translanguaging, they may recognise that leveraging all of students’ linguistic resources can be transformative and empowering for students, not just on a cognitive level but on social and psychological levels. If they were to abandon the idea that using multiple languages is appropriate solely for the purposes of grammar and vocabulary teaching, the teachers could truly embrace the power of translanguaging pedagogy to engage learners and improve their overall learning experience. Indeed, there are various strategies and materials that Greek HL teachers could use to encourage students to use their full linguistic repertoires. They could model translanguaging themselves by using their various languages strategically to communicate to students that this practice is acceptable, thus validating all their languages. They could allow students to use all their languages for tasks such as brainstorming, interacting with their peers, or keeping notes, and Greek only for other tasks, such as writing essays and completing grammar activities. The teachers could also use activities that validate linguistic pluralism, such as language biographies, language portraits and dual books, among others (Celic & Seltzer, 2013). Introducing translanguaging in Greek HLE would allow students to understand their teachers and peers better. It would also increase student engagement, inspire them to take risks in the HL class, help them to make connections between their languages, and ultimately improve their ability to use Greek.


This study demonstrated that Greek HL teachers in Montreal and Toronto have similar understandings of their teacher roles and identify similar aspects of Greek HLE that require improvement. The similarities in the participants’ perceptions indicate there is promise in working together in order to advance the educational mission of preserving the Greek language and culture in Canada. Keeping the students engaged and stimulated, by using their full linguistic repertoires, can help Greek HL learners feel more comfortable in their learning, stay in Greek schools, and find significant improvement in their Greek language competencies.


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Appendix A – Participants’ Profiles