Children’s voice in investigating their use of multilingual abilities in learning to read in two or more languages in the Mauritian context

  • Evelyn Kee Mew Wan Khin

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Research in multilingual education and biliteracy has, over the last 30 years, increasingly questioned the monolingual bias while celebrating multilingualism as an asset for language acquisition. This study is located within the above paradigm shift, guided by the need to study multilinguals for who they are rather than as flawed forms of a monolingual native speaker. Based on the theoretical hypothesis that multilinguals have a multi-competence (Cook, 1991) – i.e., knowledge and use of two or more languages – that enables them to explore their language resources strategically, this study uses Hornberger’s continua of biliteracy framework (1989, 2003b) to better understand how multilingual children draw from their potential cross linguistic reservoir of abilities when learning to read in two or more languages simultaneously. This study focuses on the child’s perspective by giving voice to ten-year-old children. It is guided by their unique insights about the cognitive and social complexities underlining their concurrent reading acquisition in a multilingual context. This research also investigates factors that may facilitate or hinder their experiences of learning to read.

Using a case study approach that inscribes itself in the interpretivist paradigm, this study has been carried out in the Mauritian context which presents a fascinating and specific multilingual set-up. The chosen context is interesting for the biliteracy field as contrarily to most researched contexts, the child’s first exposure to reading usually takes place in his/her L2 and L3 concurrently, with no basics acquired in his/her L1.

Findings from the study highlight the importance of recognising children’s agency in developing biliteracy alongside the role of family, teachers, or other stakeholders. Another key contribution to knowledge focuses on the importance of exploring multilingual children’s Dominant Language Constellation (Aronin, 2016) in their concurrent reading acquisition, and therefore argues for a fluid and multidirectional rapport between languages of the multilingual child’s DLC for lexical access and meaning making of texts. Findings also highlight how colonial and monolingual legacies are embedded in multilingual children’s ‘knowledge’ about languages and thus impact on their own representations of these languages and hence their reading confidence in the latter languages.
Date of AwardJan 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorNadia Edmond (Supervisor) & PASCAL NADAL (Supervisor)


  • multilingualism
  • biliteracy
  • children’s voice
  • continua of biliteracy framework
  • dominant language constellation
  • language policy
  • multilingual abilities

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