Multilingual Students' Writing in English: The Role of Their L1(s)

Research output: ThesisLicentiate Thesis


This thesis focuses on the languages of thought of multilingual students writing in English, a non-native language. The study examines which languages are used as languages of thought and what functions these languages serve for year-9 students (age 15-16) in a Swedish high school while writing an essay in English under exam-like conditions. The study sheds detailed light on individual differences among six multilingual students and the use of their different languages as languages of thought. Drawing on the translanguaging framework (García & Wei 2014), the theory of language mode (Grosjean 2008) and a model of the L2 writing process (Wang & Wen 2002), the study addresses the following research questions: a) Which of their languages do year-9 students draw on as languages of thought while writing an essay in English?, b) Are different languages used for specific purposes during the writing process?, and c) Do students feel helped by employing previously learned languages when writing an essay in English? Data consist of questionnaire responses (131 participants), think-aloud protocols (6 participants) and retrospective interviews (same 6 participants). Results show that the majority of the participants used Swedish, their L1 or L2, as a language of thought, and English, which is their L2 or L3. Participants who had another L1 in addition to Swedish used the other L1 to a very limited extent. Swedish was used as a language of thought for the purposes of generating ideas, structuring the essay, and when solving lexical problems. English was used for reading the essay prompt, formulating the English text and reading the participant’s own text. The other L1 was used only to a limited extent for context specific idea-generation about events that took place in a context where the other L1 was spoken. All six participants unanimously stated that drawing on their previously learned languages assists them when writing in English, most notably in lexical searches, but it also enables them to have a dialogue with themselves during the writing process. The present study, therefore, supports an inclusive language policy in English classrooms, not only of Swedish, but also of other languages represented in the classroom.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Specific Languages


  • Multilingualism, L2 Writing, language acquisition, Translanguaging, Language mode, English Linguistics
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Thesis sponsors
  • Swedish Research Council
Award date2015 Oct 10
Place of PublicationLund
  • Centre for Languages and Literature, Lund University
Print ISBNs978-91-87833-46-5
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Sep 1
Publication categoryResearch

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