The Backstory to Our “Doing Research Multilingually” Focus

Richard Fay, from the Researching Multilingually Team, looks back ….

A serendipitous cup of coffee ….
During a break in a seminar in Sheffield in 2009, Mike Byram was with one of his (then) PhD students, Shu-Hsin Chen, and I was with one of mine, Xiaowei Zhou.  The four of us shared experiences (in the Durham and Manchester Schools of Education respectively) of doctoral projects involving: Mandarin data and data analysis as well as English data and data analysis perhaps; researchers fluent in Mandarin and English; supervisors not fluent in Mandarin; and examination in English. We realised that we had sometimes similar but often differing assumptions about researching multilingually (RM-ly) and about how such research projects might be most appropriately supervised and examined.  The reflections on these issues would soon be more widely articulated through a conference paper and journal article.

Fay, R., Zhou, X. and Liu, T-H. (2010). Undertaking narrative inquiry bilingually against a monolingual backdrop. Paper presented at Narrative Matters 2010 – Exploring the narrative landscape: Issues, investigations, and interventions hosted by the CIRN in Fredericton, May 20th – 22nd 2010, New Brunswick, Canada.

Chen, S.-H. (2011). Power relations between the researcher and the researched: an analysis of native and non-native ethnographic interviews. Field Methods, 23(2): 119-135.

Am I allowed to do that?
Manchester doing RM
Then, in the first of a series of posters, we recreated the kinds of questions that had arisen in our supervisions, questions that not only reveal the curiosity of the researchers concerned, but also their need for permission to RM-ly and for guidance on how to do so.  In this formulation, we can trace our early conceptualisation of researcher thinking vis-à-vis RM-ly, one beginning with a triggering encounter, developing through an exploration of what RM-ly practice might involve, and then leading to purposeful researcher decisions.

The poster also links RM-ly possibilities and complexities not just with data and data analysis but also, potentially, with all the stages of a research project.

An Exploratory Seminar ….
Next, a two-day seminar – hosted by Durham University in June 2010 – brought together the RM-ly team (i.e. Prue, Richard, Jane and Mariam) for the first time.  It was advertised as follows:

“Many researchers, both doctoral and post-doc, collect and/or generate data in one or more languages and present them in another.  Such multilingual possibilities create both affordances and complexities but often the issues involved remain hidden and unspoken.  This is partly a matter of translation: sometimes researchers analyse and then translate, sometimes they translate and analyse, and sometimes a combination of the two.  The multilingual complexities also occur when, for example, researchers work with interpreters or other research facilitators, when they decide on the analytical procedures, and when drawing on literature in a variety of languages.  In this small meeting … we shall hear of researchers’ experience and data – and what decisions they made vis-à-vis the multilingual dimension of their work.  The seminar context means that the initial focus is on supervised research in English-medium universities but the meeting is exploratory with a view to a more substantial seminar at a later date.”

At this event, the processes of becoming aware of the possibilities for, and then mapping out the complexities of, RM-ly practice were seen in terms of the “the life-long developing researcher competence of all those involved in research” (e.g. doctoral students, supervisors, examiners, participants, interpreters, translators, and so on).  The seminar began with presentations in which the research was undertaken multilingually by a researcher using their own multilingual resources.  The discussion was then enriched with the presentations of two studies, each involving a multilingual dimension but being conducted by researchers without competence in (some of) the languages being used in the study (thus raising issues regarding the use of interpreters / translators as co-researchers). And we concluded with papers bringing insights from particular fields (e.g. Translation Studies) to bear on the RM-ly focus being explored.

A BAAL Colloquium ….ML Poster (BAAL) Attia
The Doing Research Multilingually (DRM) colloquium organised for the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL) Annual Meeting (September 2011) was framed as follows:

“Social researchers in differing applied settings have questioned the apparent neglect of the challenges raised by researching in contexts of linguistic and cultural diversity (Bradby, 2002; Kamler & Threadgold 2003; Temple & Edwards, 2002).  In applied linguistics, researchers have investigated the discourse of various multilingual contexts such as healthcare (Sarangi, 2005, Candlin 2005), legal settings such as asylum interviews (Inghilleri, 2004) and, notably, currently in education by the Mosaic research team (Blackledge et al., 2010-2013).  In this colloquium we bring together researchers from diverse linguistic backgrounds (Arabic, Bulgarian, Mandarin and English) and disciplines (intercultural communication, mainstream and language education) to interrogate their practices in generating, analysing and presenting data multilingually.  By bringing together these papers we seek to make transparent challenges faced by researchers and contribute to research practices in applied linguistics and beyond.”

The AHRC Researching Multilingually Network Project (AH/J005037/1)
Building on the Exploratory Seminar and the Colloquium, as led by Prue Holmes at Durham, the RM-ly team successfully secured an AHRC Networking grant under the Translating cultures theme (December 2011- November 2012).  This project aimed explore how cultures are translated through research and data collection processes.  It was positioned as follows:

“Many researchers nowadays find themselves in research contexts where there are multilingual communities, or they are working on projects that involve people and/or events in other cultures.  In these situations, they often find that they need to conduct interviews in another language, or use a language which is foreign to interviewees; or they may be required to interpret or translate a dialogue, event or document from one language to another.  In these contexts researchers are often faced with methodological, practical, and ethical dilemmas as to how to interpret and explain differences in linguistic intent and meaning.  Similarly, participants in these projects sometimes feel that they have been misrepresented through processes of translation and interpretation.  Thus, the potential for misinterpretation and misunderstanding in translating cultures-through language-is immense.  Yet little information about these linguistic processes is available, either in the literature or via research methods training programmes.”

In practice, the resulting research network enabled 35 researchers to discuss their RM-ly practice as part of three two-day seminars.  All of this project activity can be explored via the legacy website for the networking project.

Attia, Mariam - Reflexivity in Multilingual Research PracticeDuring this networking project, we worked closely with our “sister project”, the ESRC-funded Researching Multilingualism, Multilingualism in Research Practice project hosted by the MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism at the University of Birmingham.  Further ‘sister-ing’ is now possible as members of that team have a new project (Translation and Translanguaging: Investigating Linguistic and Cultural Transformations in Superdiverse Wards in Four UK Cities) under the same AHRC funding as our new project.

Dissemination ….
Some of the insights raised were presented at conferences (including BAAL 2012) and through a special issue of the International Journal of Applied Linguistics.

‘Mapping multilingualism in research practice: The view from two networks’
A four-paper Colloquium presented at the 45th Annual Meeting of the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL) “Multilingual Theory and Practice in Applied Linguistics”, hosted by The University of Southampton, 6th -8th September 2012. This papers in the Colloquium included:

  1. Andrews, J. and Martin-Jones, M. (2012). ‘Developing multilingual research practice for new times: A challenge to the institutional status quo’.
  2. Martin, D. (2012). ‘Participants’ research fields, approaches and sites: the view from the ESRC RDI project on Researching multilingualism, multilingualism in research practice’.
  3. Attia, M. and Fay, R. (2012). ‘Tracing researcher trajectories: The view from the AHRC research network, Researching Multilingually’.
  4. Fay, R. and Holmes, P. (2012). ‘Acknowledging and making space for multilingual research design and practice: Towards a policy statement’.

International Journal of Applied Linguistics – 2013

IJAL Nov 2013 CoverInternational Journal of Applied Linguistics, 23(3) – special issue on ‘Researching Multilingually’ (eds. Andrews, J., Holmes, P. and Fay, R., 2013)

  • Andrews, J., Holmes, P. and Fay, R. (2013). Introduction. pp.283–284.
  • Holmes, P., Fay, R., Andrews, J. and Attia, M. (2013). Researching multilingually: New theoretical and methodological directions. pp.285–299.
  • Stelma, J., Fay, R. and Zhou, X. (2013). Developing intentionality and researching multilingually: An ecological and methodological perspective. pp.300-315.
  • Andrews, J. (2013). “It’s a very difficult question, isn’t it?” Researcher, interpreter and research participant negotiating meanings in an education research interview. (pp.316-328).
  • Phipps, A. (2013). Linguistic incompetence: Giving an account of researching multilingually. (pp.329-341)
  • Ganassin, S. & Holmes, P. (2013). Multilingual research practices in community research: The case of migrant/refugee women in North East England. (pp. 342-356)
  • Bashiruddin, A. (2013). Reflections on translating qualitative research data: experiences from Pakistan. (pp.357-367)
  • Androulakis, G. (2013). Researching language needs using ‘insiders’: mediated trilingualism and other issues of power asymmetries. (pp.368-384)

And the rest, as they say, is history, or rather, the rest is this new AHRC-funded Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law and the State project …..

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