Ch. 2: Multicompetence

What do you think of the idea of ‘multicompetence’?  How does this idea differ from bilingualism or multilingualism?  If multicompetence is the norm, what are the implications for how we think of native speakers?  How might this impact the way we do research in SLA?

4 Responses to “Ch. 2: Multicompetence”

  1. Anna says:

    Viewing “multicompetence” as the norm is an interesting approach to language acquisition. Cook argues that since the majority of people around the world have at least some knowledge of another language, language acquisition researchers should orient research from the basis of people having knowledge of more than one language.

    This approach will affect how we view native speakers because of the interplay between the different languages known and to what extent the different languages are understood and/or used and how that affects the native language. Cook argues that the knowledge of any other language affects our native language. (Cook cited in Selinker and Gass, p.30). Therefore if researchers come from a perspective of everyone having, to a certain extent, multicompetence, it opens up new factors as to how much and to what extent this other knowledge affects subsequent acquisition.

    While I think multicompetence is interesting and more and more applicable in today’s globalized society, I question to what extent knowing a few words in another language affects language acquisition. The word rendezvous is a French word, does that mean that anyone that knows that meaning of that word has multicompetence? Tamale? Taco? How far does Cook’s definition of multicompetence go? If one takes it in the strictest sense of multicompetence is any knowledge of a foreign language, I wonder if there would be any purely monolingual people.

    Perhaps that’s what Cook wants to emphasize: the importance of seeing people as being biologically or socially hardwired for more than one language, shifting the SLA perspective from how just one language affects language learning but rather researching how different languages interact and affect one another.

  2. Mohamed Mwamzandi says:

    Bilingualism, multilingualism and multicomptence are terms that are different but closely related. Anna’s defination of multicompetence revolves around Cooks defination of multicompetance as having the knowledge of two or more languages in one mind. Bilingualism is being able to effectively communicate in two languges. Multilingualism is being able to effectively communicate in more than two languages. A major issue of debate among language scholars has been the level of competance of speakers of more than one language hence the terminology multicompetance.

    In multicompetance, one would want to know the level of knowledge of the bilingual or multilingual speaker. Studies in crosslinguistics would be relevant if the level of competance in the acquired languages is of reasonable importance. The influence of Swahili language, for example, is recognizable in both my spoken and written English, and the vice-versa. To the contrary, French: a language I learned upto high school without attaining any reasonable level of competence; has no influence on my native language use, Swahili or English.

    As Anna points out, language research should look at second language acquisition with a broader perspective. The base of research in second language acquisition should not be the “transfers” of native language to second language, rather, language influence should be looked at as a two-way relationship. However, research in crosslinguistics influence should consider the competance level of the bilingual or multilingual speaker in the languages involved.

  3. Zubair says:

    It would be easy for me to express my idea of multicompetence and its difference with bilingualism, in contrast to competence vs. performance.
    Competence is said to be the knowledge of a particular language in an individual’s mind while the performance is the ability to put that knowledge into practice e.g speak, write or read, but there is a point to understand that competence and performance may vary in the same individual , somebody may be very good at any language knowledge but may not be able to communicate well.
    Multicompetence means having more than one language in mind and that person can use both or all the languages that he or she has in mind, the person is considered a bilingual.
    Like relation between competence and performance , multicompetence and bilingualism also differ in the same manner. An individual may comprehend more than one languages but may not be able to communicate or use the other language which makes him multicompetent but not a bilingual.
    If multicompetence become a norm the native speakers may loose the superiority over the non-native speakers because as in most cases non-native speakers are good at receptive skills in comparison to communicative skills. If multicompetence becomes the critaria differences can be significantly reduded in native and non-native language abilities.
    For this change of norm the focus of SLA research will be multicompetence rather than bilingual ability.

  4. Sean Cooper says:

    Multicompetence is an interesting concept because it defies the typical idea held in the United States. Many people in the US seem unaware that knowledge of multiple languages is the norm around the world. In fact, many people see learning another language as some kind of sacrilege against the tenets of ‘Merican freedom, or something like that (I don’t believe in the idea, so not quite sure). It seems silly that people can remain so blissfully unaware of the world around them. I think it would be a great thing for children in the US to get to pick a second language to learn and actually learn it communicatively.

    Getting back on track, I was most interested in Cook’s claim that “there are effects of multilingualism on how individuals process their native language” (p30). I feel that this is true through my own experiences. I like to consider myself a fairly competent Japanese speaker, and feel that it has played an important part in my life. I spent a long time of my life surrounded by Japanese language. Now, when speaking English, I find myself searching for a word that is non-existent in English, and I have to pause and explain the word that I had wanted to say. I think that this is the case in many languages. English doesn’t have a single word for “it’s been a long time since I saw you/it” or “that brings back memories” and I sometimes have trouble dredging up these long expressions that I have replaced in my mind by single words.

    This then goes back to the question, what are the implications for the idea of “native speaker”? Does the fact that I have learned another language and am guilty of sometimes thinking in my L2 mean that I have been disbarred from English native speaker status? I think (and hope) not. Rather, I think the term “native speaker” should be revaluated. If indeed most people around the world are multilingual, doensn’t that make the monolingual (i.e. American in the sad but true joke) an interesting case-study? I feel that SLA research has much to learn by comparing monolingual native speakers and bilingual native speakers of a language and seeing if anything interesting pops up.

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