Multi-competence as the red wedge


Multi-competence: 'knowledge of two or more languages in the same mind' (2012)
Working definition of multi-competence
(2016): 'the overall system of a mind or a community that uses more than one language’.

L2 user: a person who uses an L2 for any purpose (as opposed to an L2 learner)

Note: this site is beginning to feel rather out-of date. See recent publications to get a better idea, whether Cook & Li Wei (2016), The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Multi-competence or Online Writings or Consequences paper (rejected).

Old sources 

Multi-competence: Definition 2012  Some annotated references on multi-competenceMC reading   MC quotes up to 1999 

Information pages

Premises of Multi-competence (2016 chapter)

YouTube on Multi-competence

YouTube on L2 User

Evidence for multi-competence

Background to the L2 User Perspective

Bilingual cognition

Bias in SLA methods

The changing L1 in the L2 user's mind

Multi-competence and UG

Bilingual cognition sources

The native speaker and multi-competence

Using the L1 in language teaching 

Multi-competence- Black Hole or Wormhole?

Multi-competence: the Home Movie reel 1

Definition of native speaker 

Multi-competence and effects of age

of L2 users

  • the L2 user has other uses for language than the monolingual,
    like code-switching and translation

  • the L2 user's knowledge of the second language is typically not identical to that of a native speaker in syntax, vocabulary etc

  • the L2 user's knowledge of their first language is in some respects not the same as that of a monolingual

  • L2 users have different minds from monolinguals

  • L2 users have slightly different brain structures

The Integration Continuum
see Cook 2003

Multi-competence: A declaration of independence for the L2 user (abstract of a talk given at a Toronto conference where no other speaker on a symposium turned up due to the threat of SARS)

The concept of multi-competence, defined as 'the compound state of a mind with two grammars', started as part of an argument that UG-oriented SLA research had ignored the problem of two co-existing grammars in the same mind (Cook, 1991). It became clear that this concept could be used in many aspects of language knowledge such as the relationships between the two or more phonological systems, lexicons (Laufer, 2003), pragmatic systems (Pavlenko, 2002), syntactic processes (Cook et al, 2003), sets of concepts (Cook et al, 2002), leading to the idea of an integration continuum between the two or more languages in multi-competence (Cook, 2002). Particular developments from multi-competence were: 
- the re-evaluation of the use of native speakers as the norm in favour of L2 users in their own right
- seeing transfer as a two-way process in which the L1 in the L2 user's mind is affected by the L2 as well as the reverse (Jarvis, 2003)
- looking at the benefits of L2 acquisition on other aspects of the user's linguistic competence and cognition (Kesckes & Papp, 2000). 
This has had repercussions for language teaching, in particular seeing its goal as being successful L2 use, not imitation L1 use, and re-instating the valued role of the first language in the classroom. A distinctive research methodology has evolved of comparing L2 users with native monolinguals in both L1 and L2 with a view to establishing the uniqueness of L2 users rather than their deficiencies. Going back to its origins, the power of the concept is, however, that it essentially describes the potential state of any human mind: approaches in linguistics or psychology that restrict language acquisition and use to monolinguals fail to account for what any human mind can do (Satterfield, 1999) and what statistically probably the majority of minds in the world have done.

References for talk

Cook, V.J. (1991), 'The poverty-of-the-stimulus argument and multi-competence', Second Language Research, 7, 2, 103-117, 1991

Cook, V.J. (2002), 'Background to the L2 user', in V.J. Cook (ed.) Portraits of the L2 User, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters (2002), 1-28

Cook, V.J. et al (2002), 'Bilingual Cognition', panel presented to the EUROSLA conference, Basel

Cook, V.J., Iarossi, E. Stellakis, N. & Tokumaru, Y. (2003), 'Effects of the second language on the syntactic processing of the first language' in V.J. Cook (ed.), Effects of the L2 on the L1, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters, 193-213

Jarvis, S. (2003), 'Probing the limits of L2 effects in the L1: A case study' in V. Cook (ed.), Effects of the L2 on the L1, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters, 81-102

Kecskes, I. & Papp, T. (2000), Foreign Language and Mother Tongue. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum

Laufer, B. (2003), 'The influence of L2 on L1 collocational knowledge and on L1 lexical diversity in free written expression', in V. Cook (ed.), Effects of the L2 on the L1, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters 19-31

Satterfield, T. (1999), Bilingual Selection of Syntactic Knowledge: Extending the Principles and Parameters Approach, Kluwer

MC Day 07


MC Day 08