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Review of  Language Alternation, Language Choice and Language Encounter in International Tertiary Education

Reviewer: Cecily Brainerd Corbett
Book Title: Language Alternation, Language Choice and Language Encounter in International Tertiary Education
Book Author: Hartmut Haberland Dorte Lønsmann Bent Preisler
Publisher: Springer
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Issue Number: 25.1262

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This volume is part five of a nine-book series entitled ‘Multilingual Education,’ edited by Andy Kirkpatrick and Bob Adamson and published by Springer, and is comprised of both monographs and edited volumes of empirical research on multilingual acquisition, language contact, and language use. The series’ goal is to help start a discussion of issues involved in language policy in government and education. While this series is aimed primarily at researchers in multilingual education and those involved in language-teacher education, chief stakeholders and policymakers in the field of language policy should also find this series both interesting and utile.

Volume Five of the ‘Multilingual Education’ series, entitled “Language Alternation, Language Choice and Language Encounter in International Tertiary Education,” is edited by Harmut Haberland, Dorte Lønsmann, and Brent Preisler, and has been composed with three objectives in mind: to address the multilingual reality of the field of tertiary education in this “global age,” to focus on not only English’s role as a lingua franca but also on the interaction between English and local languages, and to bring together empirical examples from separate corners of the world by showing cases from countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe. This eleven-chapter volume is divided into four parts based on the research goals of the investigations. The following are brief summaries of each chapter.

Part I -- The Local Language as a Resource in Social, Administrative and Learning Interactions

Chapter 1: “Kitchen Talk -- Exploring Linguistic Practices in Liminal Institutional Interactions in a Multilingual University Setting,” by Spencer Hazel and Janus Mortensen

This chapter contains a study that examines the management of linguistic diversity in social interactions by students attending an international university in Denmark. Data for this study come from audio-visual recordings of interactions that take place in an informal common space in the university known as the ‘kitchen.’ The kitchen is a social area where around 100 students from all over the world, but mostly Denmark and Europe, convene to eat, have coffee, flirt, gossip, etc. Unlike a classroom or administrative setting, where English is the established lingua franca, there is no official or formal language policy dictating which language the students should use while in the kitchen. In their analysis of the audio-visual recordings of kitchen interactions, the authors determine that language alternation between English and Danish occurs fluidly as different students join or exit the conversation. This study reveals that language choice plays an interesting role in identity work in this international setting. For instance, international students can assert their identity as international either through the use of Danish or English, but local students tend to use English as a means of positioning themselves as international. This chapter provides interesting insight into using both English and the local language as lingua francas for identity work.

Chapter 2: “Japanese and English as Lingua Francas: Language Choice for International Students in Contemporary Japan,” by Keiko Ikeda and Don Bysouth

This chapter is an examination of the use of Japanese and English as lingua francas among international students at a Japanese university by means of participant observation, audio recordings, and participant interviews. As in the first chapter, this chapter investigates the use of a local language as a lingua franca in interactions between international students, and the identity work performed by using a lingua franca. The authors find that the students often use English as a lingua franca when interacting with other international students as well as when interacting with local Japanese students on the university’s campus. The reasoning the authors give for this finding is that English is viewed as a “trouble-less” medium for communication amongst these groups of students. However, Japanese was utilized by international students among themselves, thus constructing a community of practice for the use of Japanese as a lingua franca.

Chapter 3: “Plurilingual Resources in Lingua Franca Talk: An Interactionist Perspective,” by Emilee Moore, Eulàlia Borràs, and Luci Nussbaum

This chapter analyzes conversational data taken from classrooms and service encounters between local and international students at two universities in Catalonia. This setting is inherently multilingual, as both Spanish and Catalan are legally co-official and commonly used in tandem within the same speech event. This study describes not only how speakers from distinct language backgrounds reach linguistic common ground, for instance, with a lingua franca, but also how students borrow linguistic resources from other languages (e.g. through code-switching) in their interactions in the lingua franca. In their analysis of the results, the authors demonstrate how code-switching is linked to participants’ presentation of the university’s ‘friendly’ face, or accommodating nature, which reaches a socio-institutional goal. Apart from this social goal, the students analyzed demonstrated the instrumental use of code-switching to accomplish tasks in classes nominally taught in English.

Chapter 4: “Language Choice and Linguistic Variation in Classes Nominally Taught in English,” by Hedda Söderlundh

Chapter 4 contains a study of the selection of language in an English-medium classroom in Sweden through an analysis of participant observation, recordings, and participant interviews. The author reveals that, while the classes are advertized as being taught in English, a more diverse set of linguistic resources are employed by participants. The participants in this investigation tended to align their language choice with the linguistic competence of their peers. As such, language selection differed between interactions of the class as a whole and work done by smaller groups or pairs of students.

Chapter 5: “Active Biliteracy? Students Taking Decisions About Using Languages for Academic Purposes,” by Christa van der Walt

Unlike the other four chapters of the first part of this volume, this chapter analyzes data taken from five semi-structured interviews to explore students’ biliteracy and academic writing practices. The starting point for this analysis is the concept of biliteracy developed by Hornberger (2009), as an example of multicultural or international education in which written communication exists in more than one language. The hybridity of the academic literacy of the students investigated in this study lead the author to the conclusion that, despite a widespread belief that multilinguals should only use one language at a time, these particular students make use of all languages at their disposal in order to complete a task.

Part II -- Using English as a Lingua Franca in Teaching a Foreign Language

Chapter 6: “English as a Lingua Franca: A Case of Japanese Courses in Australia,” by Duck-Young Lee and Naomi Ogi

In this chapter, the authors examine international students learning Japanese in an English-speaking classroom in Australia by exploring the students’ perceptions of learning a foreign language through English. This analysis also considers the use of English as a lingua franca in relation to the students’ identities as well as the balance between diversity and integration among the group of international students. Data analyzed in this chapter come from participant interviews. Previous studies (Ramburuth 2001; Ramsay et al. 1999; Andrade 2006; Stoynoff 1997) have reported that international students experience greater academic adjustment problems than domestic students, and that proficiency in the host language plays a large role in limiting academic achievement. However, some findings reported in this chapter show that this is not always the case. For instance, participants from Chinese and Korean backgrounds tended to feel that they had an advantage in this course compared to native speakers of English, which was the lingua franca of the course. Additionally, the Chinese and Korean students who reported feeling confident in their English proficiency noted that they even felt more comfortable when speaking English (compared to their native language) since they feel that they can speak more straightforwardly in English. An implication of the findings outlined in this chapter is the important role that the teacher plays in designing a course that considers and includes varied cultural and linguistic backgrounds in order to provide opportunities for students to experience internationalization.

Chapter 7: “‘Teacher! Why Do You Speak English?’ A Discussion of Teacher Use of English in a Danish Language Class,” by Mads Jakob Kirkbæk

This chapter contains an investigation similar to that of the previous chapter, except the target language being taught to the international students is Danish. Furthermore, this chapter examines the use of English as a means of translation and topic development, and considers the English used by the teacher. The author concludes that the teacher employs English in the classroom when he feels like he cannot adequately express himself in Danish due to the perceived Danish proficiency of his students.

Chapter 8: “The Use of English as a Lingua Franca in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language: A Case Study of Native Chinese Teachers in Beijing,” by Danping Wang

The final chapter in this part considers the use of English as a lingua franca by native speakers of Chinese teaching Mandarin Chinese as a foreign language to international students enrolled in Beijing universities. This case study seeks to answer questions about the native Chinese teachers’ beliefs and attitudes towards the use of English in teaching Chinese. The author concludes that the teachers’ language attitudes are influenced markedly by their own second language (L2) learning experience, L2 English proficiency, their own national identity, and their English language identity. The implications of this study suggest that theoretical support and guidelines should be provided to instructors in order to develop a pedagogy that will meet the needs of their multilingual international students learning Chinese.

Part III – Parallel Language Use: English and the Local Language

Chapter 9: “Stylistic and Pedagogical Consequences of University Teaching in English in Europe,” by Jacob Thøgerson

The sole chapter that comprises the third part of this volume takes place in a university-level English classroom in rapidly-internationalizing Denmark. The author makes use of a corpus of undergraduate lectures given by the same lecturer over a period of three weeks. In each week recorded in this corpus, the lecturer gives the ‘same’ lecture to five different seminar classes, three times in Danish and twice in English. The lectures are considered to be the same since the curriculum and objectives of the course were congruent, with the only difference from one recorded lecture to the other being the language used. The author determines that the stylistic differences that exist between the lectures in the lecturer’s native versus nonnative language may bring about pedagogical consequences. The lectures given in Danish seemed to be more informal and could be seen as a pedagogical attempt to bridge the gap between technical discourse and everyday speech. The lectures given in English tended to be more formal, and did not tend to bring the technical speech to a level that was more accessible to the students. The author of this chapter is not suggesting that instruction in English should be avoided entirely, but merely directs attention to the fact that a change in the language of instruction can also trigger a change in discourse register, and consequently, teaching style.

Part IV -- Language Policies and Language Ideologies in International Education

Chapter 10: “Expanding Language Borders in a Bilingual Institution Aiming at Trilingualism,” by Enric Llurda, Josep M. Cots, and Lurdes Armengol

This chapter brings the discussion back to the linguistic heterogeneity of Catalonia, but this time adopts the language-policy angle, while also addressing the attitudes of students towards multilingualism in its discussion. The authors reveal that the international students seem to view Catalan as an obstacle, and are surprised by its prevalent use in classrooms. The international students are reluctant to add Catalan, the local lingua franca, to their linguistic repertoire, and, in fact, wish that they were able to exclusively use Spanish, as they note that they attended a university in Spain specifically to hone their Spanish language skills. On the other hand, the local students report that they feel isolated from the international students due to the international students’ refusal to use Catalan. This chapter proves that broadening language horizons is not such an easy undertaking, and that resistance may arise at every level, from policy-making to students.

Chapter 11: “Language Practices and Transformation of Language Ideologies: Mainland Chinese Students in a Multilingual University in Hong Kong,” by Michelle M. Y. Gu

The final chapter of this volume examines the influence of language attitudes on the linguistic practices of Chinese students in Hong Kong and Mainland China. The author reveals that the students’ language ideologies transform over the course of their stay in a multilingual environment, most specifically in the realm of language alternation and choice. This chapter highlights the relationship between multilingualism and identity development, as well as the impact that multilingualism has on the construction of the students’ social networks.


This volume successfully reaches the goals of describing the linguistic ecology of the international university by incorporating empirical studies from various parts of the world, focusing on the role of English as a lingua franca, and incorporating the discussion of the sociolinguistic implications of globalization on tertiary education. One of the emerging phenomena of transnational mobility is the increased use of English as a lingua franca (Hughes 2008), which has proven to have been utilized when participants are not able to communicate in one another’s local language, meaning that the use of English as a lingua franca always arises in a multilingual community of practice (Kalocsai 2009). An analysis of this affirmation that centers on the international university also studies the multilingual international student community of practice, a population that seems to be ever growing in this global age. This volume examines the role of English as a lingua franca from the perspective of different loci, such as identity and its relation to the local language. On its own, each chapter offers an interesting analysis of language use and negotiation, and together, the volume presents a complete depiction of the linguistic diversity of the international university. This volume demonstrates that while English is a big player in the progression of internationalization in education, it is in no way on its own. Local languages are used in tandem with English in everything from teaching to learning to socializing to administrating in the international university, and languages are constantly being switched between, borrowed from, and blended. The contributions to this volume demonstrate that, instead of adopting either the ideology that English exists as the only true world language (Blommeart 2009, de Swaan 2010), or that “world languages” must exists only in the plural (Ammon 2010), both positions can be put forward.

This volume is geared more towards a research-based audience than perhaps a different volume of the same series. That being said, I believe that this volume would be quite accessible to researchers, educators, and students alike. The contributions to the book are thoughtfully organized into parts, which could make this volume a good choice as a text for perhaps a seminar or other compartmentalized course. Any one of the chapters in this volume could be read on its own as a discussion of language encounters in the international university, but still, the chapters cohere nicely in the volume as a whole.

As this volume confirms, language encounters in the international university are an enormous vein for research. As the world continues to grow smaller and tertiary education becomes even more internationalized, this field of research will only prove to be increasingly fertile, further developing the potential for future analyses.


Ammon, Ulrich. 2010. World languages: Trends and futures. The handbook of language and globalization, ed. Nikolas Couplad, 101-122. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Andrade, Maureen Snow. 2006. International students in international education. Journal of Research in International Education 5(2): 131-154

Blommeart, Jan. 2009. The sociolinguistics of globalization. The new sociolinguistics reader, ed. Nikolas Coupland and Adam Jaworski, 560-573. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

de Swaan, Abram. 2010. Language Systems. The handbook of language and globalization, ed. Nikolas Couplad, 56-76. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hornberger, Nancy. 2009. Multicultural education policy and practice: Ten certanties(grounded in indigenous experiences). Language Teaching 42(2): 197-211.

Hughes, Rebecca. 2008. Internationalisation of higher education and language policy: Questions of quality and equity. Higher Education Management and Policy 20: 111-128.

Kalocsai, Karolina. 2009. Erasmus exchange students: A behind-the-scenes view into an ELF community of practice. Apples – Journal of Applied Language Studies 3(1): 25-49.

Ramburuth, Prem. 2001. Language diversity and the first-year experience: Implications for academic achievement and language skills acquisition. Journal of the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition 13(2): 75-93.

Ramsay, Sheryl, Michelle Barker, and Elizabeth Jones. 1999. Academic adjustment and learning processes: A comparison of international and local students in first-year university. Higher Education Research and Development 18(1): 129-143.

Stoynoff, Steve. 1997. Factors associated with international students’ academic achievement. Journal of Instructional Psychology 24: 56-68.
Cecily Brainerd Corbett is a lecturer of Spanish and a PhD student at the University at Albany, State University of New York in the Hispanic and Italian Studies Program. Her main areas of research interest include language contact, intraspeaker variation, interactions between native and nonnative speakers, and language and identity.

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