Psychology of multilingualism: social and cognitive aspects

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 3
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Linguistics

Module overview

The course will cover the following areas:

  • Introduction to theory of and methods in social psychology
  • Language and identity in multilingual contexts and individuals
  • Language attitudes of and towards multilinguals
  • Multilinguals, norms and stereotypes of language use
  • Introduction to theory of and methods in cognitive psychology
  • Language acquisition in multilingual settings
  • The mental lexicon in multilinguals
  • Executive control in mulitlinguals
  • Language, thought and multilingualism
  • Multilingualism and the brain

We live in a multilingual world. The languages we speak and that are spoken around us shape the way we think and behave. This course will introduce basic concepts and methods in the social and cognitive psychology of multilingualism,. To do this, we will introduce how our language-related thoughts, feelings and behaviours are influenced by other people, and what the underlying cognitive mechanisms and processes of multilingualism are. We will start by looking at how language(s) shape our identity and attitudes and how we are perceived and stereotyped. We will then proceed to the cognitive questions relevant to multilingualism, exploring how multilinguals learn languages. We will investigate how their lexica are structured, what advantages they have in controlling attention through improved executive control, and how they think. Finally, we will look at the neuropsychological aspects of multilingualism by investigating which parts of the brain are involved in producing and perceiving more than one language.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of this course, students should

  • have mastery of the basic concepts in social psychological and cognitive psychological aspects of multilingualism
  • have familiarity with the basic theories and methods in these fields
  • be able to specify the complex interactions of social mechanisms governing behaviour, construction of identity, attitudes and perception of multilinguals
  • be able to determine the cognitive processes and the resulting advantages of multilingualism
  • be able to define the neurological organisation of the multilingual brain.


A total of 10 weeks teaching with 3 hours classroom contact per week.

Method of assessment

One essay of 2,000 words due on day 5, week 10 of the term in which the course is taught (20%), one group presentation (20%) and fieldwork (60%).  The fieldwork will require students, in small groups, to design and conduct a small experiment and analyse the data in a poster session.

Suggested reading

Key readings only: a full reading list will be provided at the start of the course.

Bhatia, T.K. & Ritchie, W.C. (eds) (2012). The Handbook of Bilingualism and Multilingualism, Second Edition, John Wiley & Sons.

Bialystok E, Barac R (2011). "Emerging bilingualism: Dissociating advantages for metalinguistic awareness and executive control". Cognition 122: 67–73.

Bialystok, E., and Feng, X. (2009) Language Proficiency and Executive Control in Proactive Interference:Evidence from Monolingual and Bilingual Children and Adults.
Brain and Language. 109.2-3/93–100.

Bialystok, E., Craik, F.I.M., and Freedman, M. (2007) Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia. Neuropsychologia 45.2/459-464

Cenoz, J.; Hufeisen, B. & Jessner, U. (eds) (2003) “The Multilingual Lexicon”. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.

de Groot, A.M.B.  (2011). Language and cognition in bilinguals and multilinguals: An introduction. New York-Hove: Psychology Press.

Faust, M. (Ed.) 2012). The Handbook of the Neuropsychology of Language. Blackwell.

García, O. and Kleifgen, J. 2010. Educating Emergent Bilinguals. Policies, Programs and Practices for English Language Learners. New York: Teachers College Press.

García, Ofelia. 2009. Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. Malden, MA and Oxford: Basil/Blackwell.

Harwood, J. & Giles, H. (Eds.) Intergroup communication: Multiple perspectives (p. 65-92). New York: Peter Lang.

Pavlenko, A. (Ed.)(2009). The Bilingual Mental Lexicon: Interdisciplinary Approaches. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters

Sachdev , I. and Bourhis, R. (2005) 'Multilingual Communication and Social Identification.' In: Harwood, J. and Giles, H., (eds.), Intergroup Communication. Multiple Perspectives. New York: Peter Lang, pp. 65-91.

Sachdev, I. (2004) 'Identity, Language Use, and Attitudes: Some Sylheti-Bangladeshi Data from London, UK.' Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 23 (1). pp. 49-69.

Sachdev, I. & Brown, I. (2009). Bilingual behaviour, attitudes, identity and vitality: some data from Japanese speakers in London, UK, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, p1-17.

Todeva, E. & Cenoz, J. (eds)(2009) The Multiple Realities of Multilingualism. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules