Can you speak only English but still be multilingual?

Multilingual image
Katy Terry

Can you be a monoglot and multilingual? It’s likely that for most people the answer would be a resounding, “no!”. But could that be placing unnecessary limits on our understanding of language?

According to a study commissioned by the British Council, around 75% of adults in the UK are unable to hold a conversation in any language other than their native English. However, we all grow up with the capability of using more than one language, something evident by the code-switching we all perform (perhaps subconsciously) in our daily lives as we communicate with our different ‘tribes’. Consider the vocabulary and grammar you use when talking to old school friends compared with the language you use at a job interview, or with your grandma, or with a new acquaintance. Moreover, we all have an innate ability to creatively play around with our language, whether or not we choose to expand these skills by learning a second language.

 Jamila Lyiscott, a poet and educator, explores this concept in her spoken word essay Broken English filmed for TED.

“Let there be no confusion / Let there be no hesitation / This is not a promotion of ignorance / This is a linguistic celebration”

Find out more about the Creative Multilingualism programme.

Explore our seven research strands.

Modern (Foreign) Languages – a fractured identity?


Multilingual image: By Fluss (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons