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Institute of Education

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Q&A with Professor Li Wei

Li Wei is Chair of Applied Linguistics and Director of the Centre for Applied Linguistics at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE). He is the incoming Director and Dean of the Institute.

What does your role involve?
As Chair of Applied Linguistics and Director of the Centre for Applied Linguistics, I lead the applied linguistics and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) subject group. We offer three Master's programmes, and PhD supervision in a range of topics in applied linguistics and TESOL.

Tell us about your research specialism.
My own specialism is in bilingualism and multilingualism. I study and teach topics such as how children acquire multiple languages simultaneously; what cognitive and socio-cultural impact learning multiple languages has; how families and communities decide which language to use to whom and when.

What's the most important thing you've learned from your students about the subject you teach?
The creativity of bilingual and multilingual language users. My students come from very diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. We discuss their experiences of learning and using multiple languages in class.

From these discussions, we gain a better understanding of the nature of human languages and human sociality."

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list.
I am working on a Leverhulme-funded project with colleagues in the Great Ormond Street Hospital Institute of Child of Health, looking at the impact of early exposure to two languages (childhood bilingualism) on brain structures and functions, using neuroimaging technologies. The project aims to provide new answers to a number of theoretical questions about the cognitive benefits of childhood bilingualism.

I am also collaborating with colleagues in the US on Translanguaging in the context of language education of minoritised and racialised bilingual learners.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
Launching the series of International Symposia on Bilingualism, which is now a key international conference that takes place all over the world every two years, and the International Journal of Bilingualism (SSCI), both in 1997. I have also helped to launch a number of other journals and book series including the Applied Linguistics Review (SSCI), and Guides to Research Methods in Language and Linguistics (Wiley).

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I joined UCL in January 2015, though I had various connections with UCL and the IOE. Before joining UCL, I was Pro-Vice-Master of Birkbeck College, University of London, and before that I was Head of School of Education at Newcastle.

What other piece of research outside of your own subject area interests you?
I am particularly interested in any research on the evolution of the human brain in relation to the environment and the relationship between culture and thought. I am also interested in decolonisation theories as applied to education.


Professor Li Wei will take up the post of Director and Dean of the IOE from 1 July 2021.