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Professor Li Wei

Visiting Professor at Birkbeck.

Dip TEFL, BA (Beijing Normal), MA, PhD (Newcastle)
Academician of Academy of Social Sciences (AcSS), UK
Fellow of Royal Society of Arts (FRSA)

Contact details

Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication



Personal background

  • I am Manchu-Chinese born in Beijing, China. I have a Diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) and a BA in English Language and Literature from Beijing Normal (Teachers) University.
  • I taught English at high school level for two and a half years and at university level for one year and spent a year on a Master.s degree programme in 20th-century American poetry when an opportunity arose for me to go to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England to teach Chinese in the then newly-established East Asian Centre at the University there.
  • I did a part-time MA in English Language Studies (with TESOL) while teaching Chinese language, politics and society. I was then awarded a Ridley Fellowship to pursue a PhD in Speech Sciences. I later became a Research Associate working with Professor Lesley Milroy. Together we worked on a series of sociolinguistic projects on language choice and language shift in the Chinese community in the North East of England.
  • I was made Professor of Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University in 1998. I was Director of the University's Centre for Research in Linguistics between 1999 and 2002 and Head of the School of Education, Communication & Language Sciences between 2002 and December 2006.
  • Since January 1st 2007, I have been Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication at Birkbeck College, University of London. I am also Pro-Vice-Master for Research of the College and Director of the Birkbeck Graduate Research School.
  • Outside my academic life, I enjoy reading non-fiction, travelling, and eating out. I am married to Zhu Hua, another Manchu-Chinese, and we have two sons, Andrew and Timothy, both pupils at the University College School in Hampstead.

Professional Responsibilities and Affiliations

  • I am Principal Editor of the International Journal of Bilingualism (Sage), Co-Editor of Applied Linguistics Review (De Gruyter; with David Block), Chinese Language and Discourse (Benjamins; with Hongyin Tao and KK Luke), and Global Chinese (De Gruyter, with Diao Anbin)
  • I am book series editor for the Guides to Research Methods in Language and Linguistics (Wiley-Blackwell), and co-editor of Studies in Chinese Language and Discourse (Benjamins) and Trends in Chinese Language, Culture and Society (De Gruyter). I was series editor for Child Language and Child Development (Multilingual Matters) until 2010.
  • I am Chair of the University Council of General and Applied Linguistics (UCGAL), UK (
  • I am a member of Panel A (Psychology, Education, Linguistics) of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) research grants assessment panels.
  • A am an assessor of the Education sub-panel of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE), UK
  • I am a member of the Nominations Committee of the Academy of Social Sciences, UK
  • I founded the International Symposium on Bilingualism in 1997 and was Chair of the ISB Steering Committee between 2005 and 2011. I am currently a member of the ISB Steering Committee.
  • I chaired the Linguistics Subject Panel for the ESRC main recognition exercise for postgraduate research training in 2005 and the interim exercise in 2007.
  • I have also been a member of the Language and Communication Study Section, Biobehaviour and Behavioural Processes Integrated Review Group, Centre for Scientific Review, National Institutes of Health, USA.
  • I was a member of Commissioning Committee and Convenor of the China Panel, HEFCE/ESRC/AHRC, Language-Based Area Studies Initiative, 2005-6.
  • I have delivered keynote speeches at many international conferences including AILA and ISB, and given talks in Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Libya, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the USA

Research Interests

  • My personal take on Linguistics is driven by my belief in the constitutive nature of linguistic practice. Human beings construct their social space (including identity, personal relations, ideology) through strategic use of language. Consequently, I am less interested in how language works in abstract forms and more in how human beings use language (and other communication resources) in real-life situations. From this perspective, I also see Linguistics as offering a method of studying human sociality, human cognition and social structures.
  • My main research interest is in the broad area of bilingualism and multilingualism, which includes Bilingual and Multilingual First Language Acquisition (BAMFLA), early second language acquisition (ESLA), speech and language disorders of bilingual and multilingual speakers, the pragmatics of codeswitching, bilingual education, and intercultural communication. My current work focuses on the creativity and criticality of multilingual speakers.
  • I am also interested in Asian philosophies (especially Confucius, Taoist and Buddhist philosophies) and linguistic pragmatics, the concept of 'self' in different cultures, and the application of Conversation Analysis to intercultural and cross-lingual professional communication.
  • My research interests connect with other disciplines and research areas including diasporas studies, cultural memory, anthropology and qualitative psychology.

Research and Teaching

Research Projects

  • I am involved in a range of research projects on multilingualism, social cognition and creativity; cognitive control of codeswitching; family language policy; Global Chinese; Chinglish and translanguaging creativity; multilingual and multimodal inferencing: noticing, selective attention, multitasking, moment analysis; multicompetence and everyday linguistic creativity; multilingualism in the Chinese diaspora worldwide; and translanguaging in bilingual education.
  • I am co-investigator on a large AHRC project ‘Translation and translanguaging: Investigating linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities, (£1,973,527, 2014-18. AH/L007096/1) with colleagues in Birmingham, Cardiff and Leeds. Co-investigator: Zhu Hua (Birkbeck).
  • Between 1988 and 2000, I was involved in three consecutive ESRC-funded research projects on language maintenance and choice in the Chinese community in Tyneside in the North East of England.
  • In 2006-8, I worked on another ESRC-funded project on multilingual practices of complementary schools in England (RES-000-23-1180), with Angela Creese and Adrian Blackledge at Birmingham, the late Peter Martin at University of East London and Vally Lytra formerly at King.s College, London.
  • I was also involved in a number of ESRC seminar series on the assessment of language development of multilingual children, and complementary schools for multilingual, minority ethnic children.
  • I have also been involved in a number of other research projects on grammatical profiling of normally developing and speech disordered young English-speaking children (Nuffield Foundation) and reliability of identification and referral of speech and communication disorders in young non-standard or non-native English-speaking children (ESRC).

Areas of Research Supervision

  • I have supervised PhD students on topics ranging from EFL learners' listening strategies to lexical selection in speech production. But the majority of my previous supervisees worked in areas of bilingualism, multilingualism and intercultural pragmatics.
  • Applications for PhD research in the following areas are particularly welcome:
  • codeswitching: interactional architecture, psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic mechanisms, creative use
  • bilingual and multilingual first language acquisition (BAMFLA), including the development of codeswitching in early childhood
  • early additional language acquisition (EALA), i.e. acquisition of second and additional languages before the age of three
  • speech and language disorders in bilingual and multilingual speakers
  • linguistic pragmatics and Confucius philosophy: the expression of self and personal opinions, discourse markers

Recent publications


  • Ofelia Garcia and Li Wei (2014) Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and Education. Basingtoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Li Wei (ed.) (2014) Applied Linguistics. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell
  • Li Wei (ed.) (2011) The Routledge Applied Linguistics Reader. London: Routledge
  • Vivian Cook and Li Wei (eds) (2009) Contemporary Applied Linguistics. Vol. 1 Language Teaching and Learning. London: Continuum. Paperback edition, 2011.
  • Li Wei and Vivian Cook (eds) (2009) Contemporary Applied Linguistics. Vol. 2 Linguistics for the Real World. London: Continuum. Paperback edition, 2011.
  • Li Wei (ed.) (2009) Bilingualism and Multilingualism: Critical Concepts in Linguistics. Vol. 1 Linguistic and Developmental Perspectives. London: Routledge
  • Li Wei (ed.) (2009) Bilingualism and Multilingualism: Critical Concepts in Linguistics Vol. 2 Psycholinguistic and Neurolinguistic Perspectives. London: Routledge
  • Li Wei (ed.) (2009) Bilingualism and Multilingualism: Critical Concepts in Linguistics Vol. 3 Sociolinguistic and Interactional Perspectives. London: Routledge
  • Li Wei (ed.) (2009) Bilingualism and Multilingualism: Critical Concepts in Linguistics Vol. 4 Applied Perspectives. London: Routledge
  • Li Wei and Moyer, M. (eds) The Blackwell Handbook of Research Methods on Bilingualism and Multilingualism. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008. Winner of the British Association of Applied Linguistics Book Prize 2009.
  • Li Wei (ed.) The Bilingualism Reader. (1st edition, 2000, 2nd edition 2007) London: Routledge
  • Auer, P. and Li Wei (eds) Multilingualism and Multilingual Communication. Handbook of Applied Linguistics Vol. 5. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2007. Paperback edition, 2009.
  • Zhu Hua, Seedhouse, P., Li Wei and Cook, V. (eds) Language Learning and Teaching as Social Inter-Action. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007
  • J.-M. Dewaele, A. Housen and Li W, (eds). Bilingualism: Beyond Basic Principles. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2003.
  • Li W, J.-M. Dewaele, and A. Housen (eds). Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2002.
  • Li Wei (1994) Three Generations Two Language One Family: Language choice and language shift in a Chinese community in Britain. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Special Issues of Journals:

  • Li Wei (ed.) (2014) ‘Multilingualism and Superdiversity in Action’. Special double issue of Multilingua, 2014: 4/5
  • Li Wei (ed.) (2012) Language Policy and Practice in Transnational, Multilingual Families and Beyond. Special issue of Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 33.1.
  • Li Wei (ed.) (2010) BAMFLA of Chinese Children. A special issue of the International Journal of Bilingualism, 14, 1.
  • Li Wei and Peter Martin (eds) (2009) Tensions and Conflicts in Classroom Code-Switching. A special issue of the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 12,2
  • Li Wei (ed.) Conversational Code-Switching. A special issue of Journal of Pragmatics, 37: 3, 2005
  • Li Wei (ed.) Chinese Language, Culture and Communication. Special double issue of Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 7: 3&4, 1996

Recent journal articles:

  • Li Wei and Zhu Hua (2013) Translanguaging identities: Creating transnational space through flexible multilingual practices amongst Chinese university students in the UK. Applied Linguistics (doi:10.1093/applin/amt022)
  • Zhu Hua and Li Wei (2014) Geopolitics and the changing hierarchies of the Chinese language: Implications for policy and practice of Chinese language teaching in schools in Britain. Modern Language Journal (Spring issue)
  • Li Wei (in press) Translanguaging knowledge and identity in complementary classrooms for multilingual minority ethnic children. Classroom Discourse
  • Li Wei (2013): Negotiating funds of knowledge and symbolic competence in the complementary school classrooms, Language and Education, DOI:10.1080/09500782.2013.800549
  • Dewaele, Jean-Marc and Li Wei (to appear) Attitudes towards code-switching among adult mono- and multilingual language users. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
  • Dewaele, Jean-Marc and Li Wei (2013) Is multilingualism linked to a higher tolerance of ambiguity? Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. 16 (1), 231-240
  • Dewaele, Jean-Marc and Li Wei (2012) Multilingualism, empathy and multicompetence. International Journal of Multilingualism. 9 (4), 352-366
  • Li Wei (2011) Multilinguality, Multimodality and Multicompetence: Code- and mode-switching by minority ethnic children in complementary schools. Modern Language Journal, 95,3. pp. 370-384
  • Li Wei, (2011) Moment Analysis and translanguaging space: Discursive construction of identities by multilingual Chinese youth in Britain. Journal of Pragmatics. 43: 1222–1235
  • Li Wei and Wu, Chao-Jung (2009) Polite Chinese children revisited: Creativity and the use of codeswitching in the Chinese complementary school classroom. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. 12,2: 193-212
  • Li Wei (2010) Voices from the diaspora: Changing hierarchies and dynamics of Chinese multilingualism. International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 205 pp. 155–171
  • Li Wei and Mayouf Ali Mayouf (2009) The effects of the social status of the elderly in Libya on the way they institutionally interact and communicate with younger physicians. Journal of Pragmatics, 41,1: 136-146
  • Chien, Ching-ning Chien, Kao, Li-hua and Li Wei (2008) The Role of Phonological Awareness Development in Young Chinese EFL Learners. Language Awareness, 17,4: 271-88

Book Chapters

  • Conceptual and methodological issues in bilingualism and multilingualism research. In The Handbook of Bilingualism and Multilingualism (2nd edition) (eds) Tej Bhatia and William Ritchie. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Pp. 26-52 (Sole author)
  • 2013 Codeswitching. In Oxford Handbook of Sociolinguistics. (eds) Robert Bayley, Richard Cameron and Ceil Lucas. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. 360-378 (Sole author)
  • 2013 Who’s teaching whom? Co-learning in multilingual classrooms. In Stephen May (ed.) The Multilingual Turn: Implications for SLA, TESOL and Bilingual Education. London: Taylor & Francis
  • Li Wei (2010)  The early acquisition of English as a second language: The case of young Chinese learners of English in Britain. In Annick De Houwer and Antje Wilton-Farnklin (eds) English in Europe Today. pp. 95-112. Amsterdam: Benjamins
  • Li Wei and Wu, Chao-Jung (2010) Literacy and socialisational teaching in Chinese complementary schools. In Vally Lytra and Peter Martin (eds) Site of Multilingualism. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books. pp. 33-44
  • Li Wei and Zhu Hua (2010) Changing Hierarchies in Chinese Language Education for the British Chinese Learners. In Linda Tsung and Ken Cruickshank (eds) Teaching and Learning Chinese in Global Contexts. pp. 11-27. London: Continuum
  • Li Wei (2010) Contact. In Jürgen Jaspers, Jan-Ola Östman and Jef Verschueren (eds) Society and Language Use. Pp. 127-139. Amsterdam: Benjamins
  • Li Wei (2010) The nature of linguistic norms and their relevance to multilingual development. In Madalena Cruz-Ferreira (ed.) Multilingual Norms. Pp. 397-404. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang
  • Li Wei, Zhu Hua and Wu, Chao-Jung (2009)   Doing Britishness: Multilingual practices, creativity and criticality of British Chinese children. In Nigel P Thomas (ed) Children, Politics and Communication: Participation at the Margins. Bristol: Policy Press. pp. 123-144
  • Li Wei (2008)  Research perspectives on bilingualism and bilingual education. In Encyclopaedia of Language and Education, Vol. 10. Eds, K.A. King and N.H. Hornberger, pp. 137-150. London: Springer
  • Li Wei (2008)  Contact. Handbook of Pragmatics. Edited by Jan-Ola Östman and Jef Verschueren. Amsterdam: Benjamins