Focus on Multilinguilism: Its Potential Contributions to SLA Theory and Research

Adrienne Wai Man Lew

Abstract


Posited as a “holistic” approach to the study of multilingualism and multilingual competence in educational contexts, Focus on Multilingualism (Cenoz & Gorter, 2011) attempts to bring together the fields of (1) second language acquisition (SLA), and (2) bilingualism/ multilingualism studies – both in (a) theory and (b) research methodology. It has even been argued – from a language ecological perspective – that there is more validity to this new approach than its traditional counterparts, given its proximity to the way languages are used in a social context. Specifically, FOM differs from SLA and bilingualism in that it takes into consideration the individual roles as well as the interplay of (i) the multilingual speaker, (ii) the entire linguistic repertoire (i.e., the multiple languages spoken by the learner), and (iii) the context, such as seeing the linguistic landscape as an additional source of language input (see, for example, Cenoz & Gorter, 2008). While this emphasis on the interconnectedness and mutual support across the learner’s different subsystems during the course of development and social interaction may appear somewhat in spirit with the sociocultural and/or complex systems approaches to SLA, FOM apparently gets ahead in that it avoids comparing the competence of multilingual speakers against the benchmarks of the native speaker of the target language(s). As will be illustrated below, while FOM has the potential to supplement current approaches to SLA in certain aspects of theory and research, it unavoidably also has its limitations.

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