Content Module 2: Global Englishes and Multilingual English Speakers

5 Multilingualism

Have you ever heard the term ‘multilingual’ or ‘multilingualism’ before? One is often used to describe a person and the other to name an ability. Which one do you think refers to a person? What does it mean?

When you come across similar terms, you can make sense of them by thinking of them as belonging to a ‘word family’. You can find out more about words in a word family by looking them up in a dictionary. The dictionary entries will tell you what parts of speech the words are, what they mean individually, and how they are used in different sentences.

What is ‘multilingualism’?

One way to understand such terms as ‘multilingual’ is to break them down into smaller parts. For instance, the word ‘multilingual’ can be separated into two parts: ‘multi’ and ‘lingual’. The term ‘multi’ is a . The word ‘multi’ comes from the Latin word ‘multus’, which means ‘many’. The word ‘lingual’ comes from the Latin word ‘lingua’, which means ‘language’. When you combine the two words, a unique meaning is derived.

The word ‘multlingual’, when used as an adjective, refers to someone who can use many languages. When the ‘ism’ is added to this word, the meaning becomes more abstract. In this case, ‘multilingualism’ refers to the ability to use two or more languages, including sign language, for communication.

An effective reading comprehension strategy is to connect a concept that you read with your own experiences. For instance, based on the explanation above, would you consider yourself a multilingual person or not?

Do you think there are benefits to being multilingual? What might those benefits be?

Watch this video of school children in the U.K. who speak more than one language and also want to learn more languages.

Listening and Reading Comprehension Task

As you watch the video (with captions on as needed), think about what is interesting or surprising. Did you agree or disagree with something in the video?

How does the ability to speak two or more languages impact the speaker and the way in which s/he communicates with others?

Watch the talk titled ‘Citizens of the World: The Multilingual Child and Adult’ below by Dr. Edwin Gerard, given at a TEDx event in 2013, about multlingualism in children and adults.

Listening Comprehension Task

Dr. Gerard makes a reference to two sources and cites those sources to describe the benefits of multilingualism in children. What sources does he refer to and what information does he cite? Watch the video and locate the information. 

Recognize your own perspectives.

At one point in his talk, Dr. Edwin Gerard says, “You can’t really scratch the surface[1] of another culture, if you don’t speak…the language of that culture.” Would you agree or disagree with this statement?


  1. The expression 'scratch the surface' can be understood in two different ways. Look up the definitions and then try to understand which of the two definitions applies to what Dr. Gerard was saying in the video.

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Demystifying Academic English by Rashi Jain is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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