Institute of Education


Q&A with Professor Li Wei

What is your role and what does it involve?
I am Chair of Applied Linguistics and Director of the Centre for Applied Linguistics. I lead the applied linguistics and TESOL (Teaching English to speakers of other languages) group. We offer three Master's programmes, and PhD supervision in a range of topics in applied linguistics.

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 capacity of bilingual and multilingual language users. My students come from very diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. I 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.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
Launching the series of International Symposia on Bilingualism in 1997, now a key international conference that takes place all over the world every two years, and the International Journal of Bilingualism (SSCI, A&HCI).

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I joined the UCL Institute of Education in January 2015, though I had been a professorial research associate in UCL's Deafness, Language and Cognition Centre since 1996. Before joining UCL, I was Pro-Vice-Master of Birkbeck College, University of London.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list.
I am working on two major projects: An AHRC funded large grant project on Multilingual practices in diverse cities, as part of the Translating Cultures programme, and a British Academy special project on the Cognitive Benefits of Language Learning. The former is a four year empirical project involving a huge interdisciplinary team of researchers in several universities across London, Birmingham, Leeds and Cardiff, and the latter is a systematic review and synthesis of research evidence to promote language learning.

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.