Chapter 12. Multilingual higher education between policies and practices

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This paper explores multilingualism at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, an officially trilingual institution of higher education in Italy. By discussing examples of institutional communication and informal student interaction, and relating them to official language policies and social actors’ reported practices, the study aims to provide insights into how institutional trilingualism is viewed and translated into practice in the context under examination, and on how, in more general terms, linguistic diversity can be an advantage rather than a drawback in higher education.The emergence of two different models of multilingual education is discussed, showing how multilingual practices – sometimes in tension with official policies – can enhance participation and knowledge co-construction. Analyses of service encounters document the role played by social actors’ multilingual competence in accomplishing their communicative goals, while the examination of students’ informal peer-interaction highlights the impact of social networks on the development of multilingual repertories.


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