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Multilingual identity development in the languages classroom: The why and the how

I begin this talk by defining multilingual identity and considering how it has been researched to date, before discussing why its development might be important in a school context and beyond. Two main reasons are offered. First, that a multilingual identity might not only sustain students’ investment in their language learning and language maintenance, but might lead to academic gains more generally. Second, that a more multilingual mindset might lead to enhanced personal consonance and cohesion in schools and communities. Premised on the idea that all learners are in fact multilingual, whether they identify as such or not, a case is made for using the language classroom as a site where learners are (explicitly) offered the agency to develop their multilingual identity. Thinking about ‘the how’, I present a model that provides a structure within which students might explore the extent of their current linguistic repertoire, their linguistic identity and identifications and which offers them the agency to (re)negotiate these in terms of a multilingual identity. A teaching programme – “We are multilingual” (WAM) – built on this model and empirically tested in a range of secondary schools in England is briefly introduced. Results from our research with school-aged language learners are discussed throughout.