Researching multilingually has always been a natural procedure for me. Having grown up in the Luxembourg context where my first language, Lëtzebuergesch, is not used for academic purposes, it was normal for me to rely on the school languages, German, French and later English, for study and afterwards for research. In fact, the absence of one strong first language encouraged me to compensate for the inevitable weaknesses that work in second languages entails by taking advantage of the wealth of available resources in three languages with their variety of cultural perspectives.
Knowledge of languages gave me a broad choice of universities in several countries. As a graduate student I had an opportunity to study comparative literature at the University of Alberta, Canada, where the integration of primary and secondary works in different languages was a condition for all research. This is where I became aware of some of the issues linked to researching multilingually: problems of translation for those languages you were not familiar with, the presence or absence of links between researchers writing in various languages, changing values and viewpoints, the need to rely on a specific comparative methodology, the challenge of properly appropriating a vast amount of material so as to avoid the accusation of superficial knowledge by experts in one language/literature.
When a couple of decades later, I became involved in educational projects at the newly founded University of Luxembourg, various aspects of multilingualism and intercultural approaches again became a main concern. Working now within a context of social sciences was a chance to apply Bakhtin’s views of dialogism, of heteroglossia, of centrifugal and centripetal forces, and of hybridity to learning spaces and the development of plurilingualism. This required focusing on new methodological and practical questions.
I joined the research unit “Language, Culture, Media, Identity” (LCMI) where we assume that almost by definition multilingually researching could not stay a single researcher’s solitary work. Whether for subsequent studies the teams consisted of a large international consortium (CLIL across Contexts: A scaffolding framework for teacher education), of a smaller, mostly Luxembourgish group of researchers and participants (The Plurilingual Portfolio: a transdisciplinary tool for discourse analysis in language and literature classes), of a more loosely linked group of conference contributors (Literature and Young Adults: a multilingual and cross-cultural conference) or of an international group of lecturers cooperating on the development of a course (Plurilinguisme, cultures et langues à l’école), many questions have remained quite similar. They reflect the specific linguistic, disciplinary and cultural stances that collaborators inevitably start out with, which we have always tried to respect and to integrate into a bigger enquiry.
The complexities of researching multilingually have appeared at different stages. To work together, researchers need to become aware of their own views and beliefs to be able to appreciate those of colleagues. This is a mutual process which reveals that key concepts are enriched by multiple perspectives. Common work then requires agreement on the purpose of the study and shared driving questions. Data collections are likely to let appear the difficulty of gathering comparable material as all language productions and documents are situated in communities of practice with a variety of underlying values and goals. So the negotiation of a common yet flexible framework is crucial; clearly defined criteria for the analysis are indispensable. Presentation of results can come in many forms and languages. Similarly, publication implies issues of editing conventions and style sheets; above all it raises the question of language(s) to write in: Can there be a juxtaposition of languages rather than one dominant language, or should there be a myriad of translations –redundant looking, and often requiring new interpretations?
These situations show that multilingually researching is only effective when researchers move beyond the addition of parallel, monolingual, monocultural endeavours. The true challenge seems to consist in finding a methodology and flexible working tools that truly integrate diversity with a view to collective findings, which an addition of separate studies could not have achieved. This is a huge challenge, also for evaluation, as evaluating experts may tend to analyse outcomes separately, gauging them against monolingual, mono-disciplinary expectations. Here, models of interdisciplinary research have proved and will hopefully continue to prove helpful (e.g. Allen F. Repko, Interdisciplinary Research: Process and Theory, 2008).