Metacognition in multilingual development:

From multilingual children to polyglots

Obergurgl (Austria)

September 18-21, 2019



The DyME research group and the Department of English at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, are pleased to invite scholars, researchers and postgraduate students working on metacognition and multilingualism to submit abstracts to the conference Metacognition in Multilingual Development: From multilingual children to polyglots, which will be held at the University Center in Obergurgl, Austria, from 18th to 21st September 2019. The conference starts on the 18th September in the late afternoon with the reception and ends on 21st at 1 pm.

Metacognition is an essential tool for lifelong learning and flexibility in rapidly changing multicultural and multilingual societies. The conference aims at providing theoretical insights into the relevance of research on metacognition in multilingual development in a variety of settings.


We welcome papers on a wide range of topics including:

  • Multilingual awareness
  • Metacognitive abilities and awareness
  • Language learning strategies
  • Subjective theories on learning
  • Self assessment
  • Language maintenance and management
  • Metacognition in teaching

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Dr. Ellen Bialystok, OC, PhD

Metacognition: Where Language and Thought Converge


The search for bilingual effects on metalinguistic and metacognitive ability in children has long been a central part of the research effort to understand the effects of bilingualism more broadly. Although the initial question was motivated by interest in language-specific development, the research was crucial in revealing the extent of these effects for nonverbal processing. This talk will describe the main developments in this research over the past 40 years and explain how the search for metalinguistic differences between monolingual and bilingual children led to the identification of powerful effects of bilingual experience on cognitive development. 

In the early stages of this research, the prevailing view was that language and thought developed in separate tracks with little influence on each other. However, the shift from nativist to more cognitive-based (or interactionist) models of language acquisition opened the possibility for language-thought interactions in developing these skills. Placing nonverbal cognitive processing into the definition of metalinguistic ability led to hypothesis that bilingual experience could directly influence cognitive outcomes, whether or not there were linguistic implications.

Subsequent research over the past 20 years has uncovered a rich and complex set of findings demonstrating the deep interactions between language and thought and the compelling ways in which bilingualism modifies cognition. These effects are traced to the constant need for bilinguals to constantly select the target language from the jointly-activated competitor, creating an ongoing need for selective attention. Such differences in selective attention between monolinguals and bilinguals have been found across the lifespan, beginning in infancy. Because of the centrality of selective attention in all cognitive processing, these differences have enormous consequence for cognitive performance.


Dr. Carol Griffiths 

What is successful language learning?


Throughout history, there have been some who appear to be extraordinarily successful at learning languages, from Mezzofanti in the 18th century (who evidently knew around 70 languages) to more recent polyglots such as Alexander Arguelles, who, according to his own website, can read “pretty much anything that has been written” in 38 languages. But how do they do it?

Adopting a case study approach, this talk will take a look at two contemporary learners who appear to have been more successful than average. With his record of 13 languages, and a lifetime spent teaching language, Andrew (from USA) claims the status of a hyperpolyglot. Although he does not claim to know as many languages, in the high-level IELTS exam, Gökhan (a teacher of English at a university in Istanbul) managed to achieve a band score of 9 (which is reckoned to be at native-speaker level), a rare achievement for an adult who has done all his learning in a foreign language environment (Turkey)

This paper will compare these two learners, who, although in some ways different, are similar in that they both achieved high levels of language learning success in their varying ways. It will also consider their cases in the light of various factors which are often believed to influence language learning (including aptitude, age, beliefs, culture, ethnicity, identity, strategies, style, autonomy, personality, motivation, investment, gender, affect).

These factors will be further examined by reporting a small-scale study in which a group of successful learners was asked to rate the factors on a scale from 5 (strongly agree) to 1 (strongly disagree) according to their own perceptions. The results from this study will then be compared with the findings from the case studies described above in an effort to extract some general insights from the data.

The talk will conclude with some final thoughts about achieving success in language learning.



Nick Ellis
University Michigan, United States

Gessica de Angelis
Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Asta Haukas
University of Bergen, Norway

Philip Herdina
Leopold Franzens Universität Innsbruck, Austria

David Lasagabaster
University of Pais Vasco, Spain

Daniele Moore
Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada

Judit Navracsics
University of Pannonia, Hungary

Anat Stavans
Beit Berl College, Israel

Eva Vetter
University of Vienna, Austria

Magdalena Wrembel
Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland



Ulrike Jessner-Schmid

Emese Malzer-Papp

Elisabeth Allgäuer-Hackl

Manon Megens

Monika Kirner-Ludwig


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