Multilingualism tends to be seen as a characteristic in the individual: we “are” either monolingual, bilingual or multilingual. Research provides no clear answer to the question of how well we must speak a second or third language to be considered bilingual or multilingual. Researchers at Linköping University have instead chosen to see multilingualism as a social practice - something we “do” rather than “are”.

Increasing internationalisation and migration puts matters of bilingualism and multilingualism on the agenda in education, working life and everyday life. Current research into multilingualism is subject-wide and touches upon areas such as ethnicity and integration.

In individual and development-related research, there is normally a distinction between two main types of bilingualism:

  • simultaneous bilingualism, where that the individual meets and begins to develop two languages as early as the early language development period (around 0 – 3 years)
  • gradual bilingualism, where the second language is developed after this period, i.e., when the development of the first language has already been underway for several years

Here we study language production, often via problem and error analysis, primarily to map out cognitive processes and important factors in individuals' multilingual development.

Research that highlights social processes instead focuses on the interplay between the users of a language. Seeing multilingualism as a joint activity provides new knowledge of language use and social life. The picture of the process of people learning a language is thereby also given nuances.

At Linköping University there has long been an internationally well-established conversation research. Researchers have studied bilingual and multilingual interplay in different spheres of society, such as education, government agencies and the service sector. The activities studied include preschool, university, SFI, emergency calls, court trials, TV entertainment and various forms of interplay via ICT.