Like many others, my interest in multilinguality starts with my personal story: I grew up in a bilingual (Spanish/English) household in Mexico City; learned French at school; moved to the UK to do postgraduate study and now live with my multilingual family in Scotland. My first degree was in Latin American literature and I have specialized in children’s literature, with a particular focus on reader response and picturebooks. I work in a School of Education, so literacy is also part of my research and teaching. When I moved to Scotland, schools were having to deal with the consequences of Dispersal Programme, in which asylum-seeking and refugee families were sent from London to settle in Glasgow, as well as the influx of immigrants from countries that had just entered the European Union (McGonigal and Arizpe 2007). I was interested in how schools were responding to these new students and intrigued by how children from a diversity of backgrounds would interact in the classroom. It seemed to me that picturebooks and especially wordless narratives had the potential to support both literacy and intercultural teaching and learning.
The international Visual Journeys Project (Arizpe, Colomer and Martínez-Roldán 2014) grew out of this interest. It involved immigrant and non-immigrant children from different countries responding to the same wordless narratives: Flotsam by David Wiesner and The Arrival by Shaun Tan. The aim was to explore how the children construct meaning from visual images in complex narratives in order to create strategies that will develop their critical literacy skills, as well as help them reflect on their own or others’ experiences of migration, journeys and foreign worlds. The research teams involved in this project were based in the following universities: the University of Glasgow in Scotland (Dr Evelyn Arizpe, Dr Maureen Farrell and Ms Julie McAdam); the Autonomous University in Barcelona (led by Prof. Teresa Colomer); Teachers College, Colombia University (led by Dr Carmen Martinez-Roldán) and the University of Bologna (led by Dr Giorgia Grilli and Dr Marcella Terrussi). The diverse and multilingual nature of this inquiry raised many challenges but it also resulted in the creation of a convivial space for shared inquiry as a form of intercultural exchange and learning for everyone involved.
I then led a follow-up project, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation: Journeys from images to words: Examining the efficacy of visual meaning-making strategies in the development of inclusive communities of critical readers. This project aimed to use the findings of the Visual Journeys inquiry and have an impact at practitioner level. The team was keen to evaluate the image-based approach in a diverse, whole class setting with children of mixed ability literacy and language levels working with their own teachers as well as EAL teachers (Arizpe et al, 2014). The project was awarded the 2013 BCF/BERA/Routledge prize for joint development work between schools and universities (www.journeys-fromimagestowords.com).
Most of my research is done with children and young people and is concerned with providing them with creative literary resources (such as picturebooks) and a space to bring their life and literacy experiences to their response to texts (‘the word and the world’, as Freire put it). Literary fiction, including visual and sometimes even wordless narratives, provides opportunities for understanding oneself and others and the use of more than one language to discuss texts, especially visual texts, opens up alternative interpretative possibilities. Working mulitlingually lends itself to exploring multimodal methodologies as well as multiliteracies. It can lead to different ways of considering, for example, empathy with characters or the aesthetic elements involved in the construction of a text. Of course, the sharing of texts through different languages and cultures also brings with it the challenge of conflicting interpretations but the negotiation and conversation becomes an invaluable part of the learning process for everyone – teachers, students and researchers.
I look forward to continuing research in these areas and linking them to some of the work that will be emerging from the Researching Multilingually project and to that of other network participants.
Arizpe, E., Colomer, T. and Martínez-Roldán, C. with Bagelman, C., Bellorín, B., Farrell, M., Fittipaldi, M., Grilli, G., Manresa, M., Margallo, A.M., McAdam, J., Real, N. and Terrusi, M. (2014). Visual Journeys through Wordless Narratives: An international inquiry with immigrant children and The Arrival. Bloomsbury Academic.
Arizpe, E., Bagelman, C., Devlin, A. M., Farrell, M. and McAdam, J. (2014) Visualising Intercultural Literacy: Engaging critically with diversity and migration in the classroom through an image-based approach, Language and Intercultural Communication. Published online 15 May.
McGonigal, J. and Arizpe, E. (2007) Learning to Read a New Culture: How immigrant and asylum-seeking children experience Scottish identity through classroom books. Final Report. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. November 2007. Published online at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2007/10/31125406/0