Dr Leah Davcheva

I live and mostly work in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria. My first language is Bulgarian but a couple of other languages, namely Ladino, English and, to some extent, Russian, have played comparably important roles in my personal and professional life over the years.  Moving between languages has always been at the core of what I do in my professional contexts – TESOL work, intercultural education projects, training and research activities. It accounts for much of the excitement and curiosity generated, as well as for those endless moments of effort, aiming to get meanings across and be understood. That said, I hasten to add that the thrust of my efforts has mostly been instrumental, i.e. trying to respond to the language challenges as they occurred and thus clear the roads to understanding, rather than become drawn by the multilingual processes in their own right.

A shift away from this fairly pragmatic outlook occurred when Richard and I began collaborating in our Ladino Experiences research project. Following the well-trodden path of instrumentally oriented translations, i.e. making the stories I have gathered in Bulgarian available to Richard, and aiming for comprehensibility and not for artistic effect, I was in for a surprise. Our plan did not quite work. It gradually dawned on me, being the one who did the field-work and developed relationships with our storytellers, that translation was by no means the only key to doing research multilingually. It certainly got us, well and fast, through the first hoops of linguistic access but it did not quite capture the emerging ethos of our research. Its three languages – English, Bulgarian, and Ladino – each had a role to play and a contribution to make, and it was important that we recognise this and make suitable space for the multilingual processes to unfold and yield results. Achieving a balance between our insider and outsider positions, making sense of and then learning from the emotional charge of the stories, identifying and respecting the linguistic boundaries we came across, are only some of the issues which arose from the multilingual nature of our research.

We have yet to discover and, why not, produce our own tools, to help us and others engage fully with the potential that this process affords.

And lastly, there is the promise and motivation to seek out the possibilities from the two research projects that I did in the past (see Davcheva, 2006, and Davcheva, Fay and Byram, 2011). Looking back in time, I now recognise I had been researching multilingually without actually bringing the process into any level of awareness. But it should never be too late to transform experience into learning.


■  Davcheva, L. (2006). Mutuality in Action. London: Counterpoint, British Council.

■  Davcheva, L., Fay, R. and Byram, M. (2011) Zones of Interculturality in Postgraduate Doctorate Supervision. In: Dervin, F., Gajardo, A. & Lavanchy, A. (eds.), Politics of Interculturality. (pp.127-149). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.