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Prof Wei Li
UCL Institute of Education, University College London
20 Bedford Way
Tel: 020 7612 6524
  • Professor in Applied Linguistics
  • IOE - Culture, Communication & Media
  • UCL Institute of Education
  • 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, qualitative psychology, and cognitive science.

Research Groups
Research Summary

  • I am involved in a range of research projects on multilingualism, social cognition and creativity; cognitive control of codeswitching; family language policy and intergenerational learning; 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 currently leading two research projects:

    Early Childhood Bilingualism: Effects on brain structure and function (Leverhulme, 2018-2021), with colleagues in the Great Ormond Street Hospital Institute of Child Health;

    Family Language Policy: A multi-level investigation of multilingual practices in transnational Families (ESRC: 2017-2019), with colleagues in Birkbeck and Bath.

  • I was 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, Birkbeck, Cardiff and Leeds until 2018. http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tlang/index.aspx
  • 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 colleagues in Birmingham, East London and 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 am currently a CI for the ESRC seminar series ‘The Multilingual University: The Impact of Linguistic Diversity in Higher Education in English-dominant and English Medium Instructional Settings’ (ES/M00175X/1) http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk/project/30BB4D07-5AE1-4480-BE4C-CD526A651AF9
  • 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).

Teaching Summary
Research students

Wingyee (Jenifer) Ho, PhD

Yi Wang

Tiancheng (Peter) Chen

Kevin Wai Hin Tai


  • I am Principal Editor of the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism (Taylor Francis; SSCI. ISSN 1367-0050), Co-Editor of Applied Linguistics Review (De Gruyter; SSCI; with David Block and Christina Higgins. ISSN 1868-6311), Chinese Language and Discourse(Benjamins; with Hongyin Tao and KK Luke. ISSN 1877-8798), and Global Chinese(De Gruyter, with Diao Yanbin. ISSN 2199-4382). I am book series editor for the Guides to Research Methods in Language and Linguistics (Wiley-Blackwell), Contemporary Applied Linguistics (Bloomsbury), and Language Policies and Practices in China (De Gruyter), and co-editor of Studies in Chinese Language and Discourse (Benjamins). I am the founding editor of the International Journal of Bilingualism (Sage, SSCI, ISSN 1367-0069). I was series editor for Child Language and Child Development (Multilingual Matters) until 2010
  • I am Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (AcSS), UK, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), UK.
  • I was Chair of the University Council of General and Applied Linguistics (UCGAL), UK 2012-5.
  • I was a member of Panel A (Psychology, Education, Linguistics) of the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) research grants assessment panels until 2014.
  • I was 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 AAAL, IPrA, and ISB, and given talks in Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Libya, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the USA.
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