How researchers can draw on their multilingual resources when undertaking their research: “Researching Multilingually” doctoral researcher workshops

By Prue Holmes, Durham University

Doctoral researchers, when undertaking their research, must often work multilingually during various phases of their project, e.g., with supervisors, gatekeepers and participants in the research site, translators and interpreters, people in the community in the data collection and dissemination phases, and with multilingual discursive artefacts. Or researchers may find that their monolingual practices—whether in their first language or another—are challenged by their interlocutors in the research context. Yet, our research has found that, while there are pockets of multilingual practice in the literature, there are few established resources available to researchers (Holmes, Fay, Andrews, Attia, 2013). While some universities in some countries (e.g., Germany, Luxembourg) embrace the use of more than one language in doctoral theses, in many universities, e.g., in the Anglo-speaking world in particular, a monolingual approach prevails: English is prioritised, de rigueur, as the language of communication, along with monolingual expectations and practices. In this researcher context, doctoral researchers will find little guidance from methodology textbooks and doctoral training programmes (e.g., those offered by the ESRC) on how to draw on their multilingual resources in the doctoral research process; further, their supervisors are likely to be tied to the monolingual policies and practices present in these Anglo-speaking universities.

To address this need, an important strand of the “Researching multilingually at borders” project has involved developing and offering workshops to doctoral students. The workshops aim to develop doctoral researchers’ awareness of the affordances and opportunities of their linguistic resources in the research process, and how they might draw on these resources as they plan their study, undertake their literature review, make methodological choices, and present their data and/or multilingual artefacts in their thesis and publications. Through our research (in both the earlier “Researching multilingually” network project (AH/J005037/1), and the current “Researching multilingually at borders” project (AH/L006936/1), we have found that doctoral students are not always aware of the possibilities of including other languages in their research. For example, typical questions are: “am I allowed to include Chinese references in my literature review”, “which languages should I analyse my interviews in: Russian or English?”, “should I translate all of my data from Arabic to English?”, “can I present my data in my thesis in another language and translate it, or should it all be in English?”. Through our research, we have found that doctoral students express unawareness of the opportunities and complexities afforded by their multilingual researcher resources, uncertainty, and a lack of confidence and agency. (See Holmes, Fay, Andrews, & Attia, 2016, for a more detailed account of how researchers can draw on their multilingual researcher resources in the research process).

The “Researching Multilingually” Translating Cultures (RMTC) hub have given several workshops on this theme. In the workshops we explain our theoretical approach to researching multilingually, which includes researchers making intentional choices, recognising and accommodating the research/researcher spaces and contexts of the research, managing multilingual and intercultural relationships, and responding to ethical issues posed by the presence of multiple languages in the research site. We illustrate these opportunities and challenges through case studies, as well as the experiences of the workshop participants.

The most recent workshop was to doctoral researchers in the Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, in July 2016. Of the 15 participants, only one had English as a first language; the remainder were international students from non-English backgrounds, and all had experience of engaging in and/or with multiple languages in their research contexts.

Realising the value of our doctoral workshops, the AHRC funded a workshop for Arts and Humanities doctoral researchers in London in February, 2016. Again, the researchers came from multiple language backgrounds, and from multiple disciplines in the arts and humanities and social sciences; their multilingual data drew from human interaction, digital and media communication, and artefacts.

We have also offered workshops at two doctoral summer schools at the University of Helsinki; at Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland; and at the University of Cambridge. Our very first workshop was supported by the North-East Doctoral Training Centre at Durham University and emerged out of our initial “Researching Multilingually” project (AH/J005037/1).

The next doctoral workshops are:

Researchers’ linguistic resources and their impact on the doctoral experience” Thursday, 20th October, 2016, 11.00-16.00, Durham University (which precedes the project conference “Education and Migration: Languages Foregrounded”);

“Researching multilingually: Possibilities and complexities” Saturday, 21st January, 2017, 11.00-17.00, Senate House, University of London.

If you would like to know more about these workshops, or you would like to attend, please contact Dr Prue Holmes or Dr Mariam Attia

The “Researching Multilingually Translating Cultures” (RMTC) hub members are: Prue Holmes, Richard Fay, Jane Andrews, Mariam Attia


Holmes, P., Fay, R., Andrews, J., Attia, M. (2013). Researching multilingually: New theoretical and methodological directions. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 23(3), 285-299.

Holmes, P., Fay, R., Andrews, J., & Attia, M. (2016). How to research multilingually: Possibilities and complexities. In H. Zhu (Ed.) Research methods in intercultural communication (pp. 88-102). London: Wiley.

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