PLL2016 Colloquium: Multilinguals in contexts

Multilinguals in contexts: lessons from visual narratives

Paula Kalaja (University of Jyväskylä, Finland) & Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer (Universität Hamburg, Germany)

This colloquium focuses on multilingual subjects in specific contexts and reports a total of six papers on aspects of being multilingual, accessed by visual means, including drawings, photos, and computer-generated artefacts. This is followed by a critical evaluation of the studies and discussion of the lessons learnt from using visual narratives for these purposes.
Overall, what the studies to be reported have in common is, firstly, that they focus on multilingual subjects, all having English as a linguistic resource to some degree; secondly, they make use of visual data, possibly complemented with other sources of information; and thirdly, they make use of multimodal analysis. However, the pools of data have been analyzed within a variety of methodological frameworks or from different theoretical starting points. There is further variation, firstly, in the contexts where the studies have been conducted (ranging from European countries including Finland, Germany and Spain, to South Korea and Brazil); secondly, in the aspects of being multilingual addressed such as identities, literacies, social integration, beliefs about the languages in the repertoire of a multilingual subject, using and learning or teaching these; and thirdly, in the type of participants involved in the projects. These range from young people, some with a refugee background, studying English (and/or German) or content through English to university students and pre-service teachers of English.
The studies illustrate cutting-edge research on multilingual subjects, with innovation in the ways of collecting and analyzing visual narratives. All the studies acknowledge the added value of using visual narratives, possibly complemented with other types of data, to make sense of the identities of multilingual subjects in different sociolinguistic and learning and/or teaching contexts.

Visual accounts of Finnish and Greek teenagers’ perceptions of their multilingual language and literacy practices
Anne Pitkänen-Huhta (University of Jyväskylä, Finland) & Anastasia Rothoni (University of Athens, Greece)
This paper focuses on Finnish and Greek teenagers’ visualizations of their personal relationship to their first language (Finnish or Greek) and the second/foreign language English, which is widely used in the everyday lives of these young people. The paper is based on two ethnographically oriented research projects. Theoretically the studies draw on socially oriented research on literacy practices and language learning and in recent studies on dynamic multilingualism. The focus in this paper is on participant generated visualizations. The participants were invited to visually portray their emotions and reactions to the titles ”English and I” and ”Finnish and I”/”Greek and I” through hand-made drawings, photo collages, computer-generated artefacts or any other self-selected means of expression. These visual products were further used as prompts for focused discussions with participants. The visual data were first analyzed in their own right as artefacts in terms of the visual information they provided and the meanings communicated by the data themselves and, secondly, in terms of the way participants discursively made sense of and reflected on their visualizations verbally. By analyzing the visual data and their accompanying verbal interpretations, we were able to get insight into the different symbols through which teenagers describe their relationships to the two languages (English and Finnish/Greek) and what this might reveal about the way teenagers view themselves in relation to the two. The analysis of the visualizations points towards the complexity of language identities and to complex language practices with intertwined meanings, which again tells about the blurring of boundaries between languages and the mixed uses of all available linguistic resources to reach personally meaningful purposes.

Looking at language through a camera lens

Liss Kerstin Sylven (University of Gothenburg, Sweden)

In a recent large-scale, longitudinal research project, CLIL and non-CLIL students were followed throughout their three years at upper secondary level in Sweden, and a number of various studies from different perspectives, primarily focusing on students’ development in their L1 Swedish, and their L2/FL English, were carried out. In order to investigate the role of individual differences in the form of learner beliefs, four students (two male and two female) were involved in the qualitative sub study focused on in this paper, which was guided by the following research questions:

  1. Is it possible to use a camera to capture individuals’ views of and feelings and beliefs about languages?
  2. Are there differences in results between students in CLIL and non-CLIL contexts?
  3. Are there differences in results between genders?

The participants were asked to take photos illustrating first, their L1, and second, the L2/FL English. They submitted between 15 and 50 photos each, which were thematically organized. Subsequently, an interview on a one-to-one basis took place with each one of the four informants. The interviews lasted between 30 minutes and two hours. During the interviews, the thematic organization and the photos themselves were discussed. Analyses were inspired by grounded theory; a thematic ordering of the photos in combination with the transcripts from the interviews was done until saturation was reached. Preliminary findings reveal affirmative answers to all three RQs. This paper will discuss these results, and the pedagogical implications they may entail.

Social integration as portrayed in visual narratives by refugees in Germany

Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer (Universität Hamburg, Germany) & Alexandra Schmidt (G17 & G2, Germany)

In this paper, we will present, analyze and discuss visual narratives collected from recent refugees – coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey, (Kurdistan) and Romania – and attending German and English language courses in Hamburg during the school year of 2015-16. The data were collected in a secondary school in Hamburg, during a German lesson in February 2016. A total of 12 students were asked to produce a drawing divided into two parts: “my life today” (“mein Leben heute”) and “my life in a year’s time” (“mein Leben in einem Jahr”). The aim of the task was twofold: first, to capture the actual sociolinguistic, economic and educational conditions surrounding the life of recent refugees in Hamburg; and second, to grasp their expectations of social integration in Germany.

In order to accomplish the task, the students were told to make use of drawings as well as other semiotic resources, such as their multilingual repertoires (which potentially include English, Arabic, German, Dari, etc.). The teacher, also a co-author of this paper, made an attempt to explain the task clearly enough for them to understand it linguistically, but avoided influencing them in terms of outcomes.

In this paper, and following a multimodal analysis, we seek to answer the following research questions: 1) which elements of sociolinguistic, economic and educational life circumstances are portrayed by this group of refugees?; 2) how different are the lives they portray and the lives they imagine for themselves in a year’s time and what can be said about their integration in the host society?; and, 3) what roles seem to be assigned to their linguistic resources in the integration process?

Unraveling English learner identity through a multimodal lens: from ’Past/Current’ to ’Future’

So-Yeon Ahn (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea)

Identity formation signifies how an individual makes sense of oneself and others, how this relationship to the world is negotiated and reconstructed across time and space, and how an individual imagines the possibilities for the future (Danielewicz, 2001; Trent, 2012; Norton, 2013). Thus, to better understand the identity construction, this study examines the process of identity formation and transformation and thereby investigates multifaceted and multilayered identities. Borrowing from the notion of imagined communities and identity (Pavlenko & Norton, 2007), the study explores how 161 Korean undergraduates negotiate and presuppose their ’past/current’ and ’imagined’ English language learner (ELL) identity through their drawings and descriptions of the images. All participants were asked to draw a past or current image of themselves before learning English and their imagined selves after achieving high levels of English proficiency. Following the completion of drawings, students provided narrative accounts of the two images. A social semiotic, multimodal narrative analysis was then employed to the data as these visual and narrative elements encode various representations and engage onlookers in the interpretation and negotiation of the world (Jewitt, 2009; Kress, 2010). The findings underscore how the transformation from past/current to imagined or desired ELL identities spans several dimensions: psychological, physical, vocational, relational, and experiential. With detailed description of each dimension, the study explores the weight and affordances of English in the current global educational context. Moreover, the study yields insights into the purposes, beliefs, and attitudes of EFL learners toward English learning and the desired transformation of ELL identity.

Drawing the profession: A narrative inquiry of EFL teachers’ identity (re)construction

Ana Carolina de Laurentiis Brandao (UNEMAT, Brazil and Birkbeck, University of London, UK, Brazil)

This study visually explores the process of identity (re)construction experienced by six Brazilian EFL pre-service teachers’ as they designed and implemented English activities at state schools. Pre-service teachers were between the first and third year of their undergraduate Portuguese-English language teaching degree. The field texts come from an ongoing PhD project that discusses their experiences in a teacher initiation project. These texts include journals, conversations, and visual narratives (photos and drawings). In particular, the drawings composed by pre-service teachers, described in recorded conversations, are studied through a storied perspective on teacher identity. The theoretical framework draws from language teacher development, professional identity, and narrative concepts on teacher knowledge and context. Field texts are analysed for their holistic-content (Lieblich et al., 1998) taking into account a critical visual methodology (Rose, 2012) and the three-dimensional narrative inquiry space (temporality, sociality, and place) (Connelly & Clandinin, 2006). EFL teachers’ visual narratives capture their struggles with pupils’ lack of interest and discipline, their own lack of proficiency, and going beyond isolated grammar topics and vocabulary. They are composed, for instance, of figures of teachers and pupils (or their absence), combined with metaphors. Although visual narratives are challenging to analyse, by drawing teachers are given the opportunity not only to synthesize but also to make sense of stories that cannot easily be told about their process of identity (re)construction.

Understanding multilingual contexts. Languaging and knowledging with visual narratives

Theresa Zanatta & Isabel Civera (Universitat de Barcelona, Spain)

This paper reports on a sociocultural, ethnographic research project conducted at the Faculty of Education, at the University of Barcelona, involving the use of visual narratives as a tool for creating opportunities for meaningful interaction where collaborative conversations, shared meaning, languaging and knowledging happen. The aims of this study are to:

  1. Explore student teachers’ beliefs, attitudes, knowledge and feelings about EFL learning and teaching in multilingual contexts.
  2. Explore the use of visual narratives within the teaching / learning process in a teacher education degree programme.
  3. Contribute towards a greater understanding of effective and innovative instructional practices to both sensitize teachers and students about plurilingualism and to leverage the linguistic and social capital of the primary students our student teachers will be teaching in the future.

The study also furthers our understanding of: what visual narratives offer us as researchers and teacher educators, what we have learned about meaningful interactions through the use of visual narratives, what these meaningful interactions look like as a result of working with visual narratives, and implications for teacher education.


Bach, H. (2008). Visual narrative inquiry. In L. Given (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of qualitative research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 939-941. doi:

Barkhuizen, G. (2011). Narrative knowledging in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 391-414.

Kalaja, P., Dufva, H. and Alanen, R. (2013). In G. Barkhuizen (Ed.), Experimenting with visual narratives. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 105-131.

Melo-Pfeifer, S. (2014). The role of family in heritage language use and learning: impact on heritage policies. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism.

Spencer, S. (2011). Visual research methods in the social sciences. New York: Routledge.

Swain, M. (2006). Languaging, agency and collaboration in advanced second language proficiency. In H. Byrnes (Ed.) Advanced language learning: the contribution of Halliday and Vygotsky. New York: Continuum, 95-133.