Skip to main content Accessibility help

Is multilingualism linked to a higher tolerance of ambiguity?*

  • JEAN-MARC DEWAELE (a1) and LI WEI (a1)


The present study investigates the link between multilingualism and the personality trait Tolerance of Ambiguity (TA) among 2158 mono-, bi- and multilinguals. Monolinguals and bilinguals scored significantly lower on TA compared to multilinguals. A high level of global proficiency of various languages was linked to higher TA scores. A stay abroad of more than three months was also linked to higher TA although the effect levelled off after one year. Growing up in a multilingual family had no effect on TA. These findings show that a high level of multilingualism makes individuals more at ease in dealing with ambiguity, but we acknowledge that a higher level of TA can also strengthen an individual's inclination to become multilingual.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Jean-Marc Dewaele, Department of Applied Linguistics & Communication, Birkbeck College, 30, Russell Square, London WC1B 5DT,


Hide All

A previous version of this paper was presented at the Eighth International Symposium on Bilingualism in Oslo in 2011. We would like to thank the participants and the anonymous reviewers for their excellent feedback on an earlier version of this paper. Thank you also to Ruxandra Comanaru for her statistical advice.



Hide All
Aronin, L., & Singleton, D. (2012). Multilingualism. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Bakalis, S., & Joiner, T. (2004). Participation in tertiary SA programs: The role of personality. International Journal of Educational Management, 18, 286291.
Baran-Lucarz, M. (2012). Ego boundaries and attainments in FL pronunciation. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching, 2 (1), 4566.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., & Luk, G. (2012). Bilingualism: Consequences for mind and brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16, 240250.
Budner, S. (1962). Intolerance of ambiguity as a personality variable. Journal of Personality, 30 (1), 2950.
Carlson, J., & Widaman, K. (1988). The effects of study abroad during college on attitudes toward other cultures. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 12 (1), 117.
Chapelle, C., & Roberts, C. (1986). Ambiguity Tolerance and Field Independence as predictors of proficiency in English as a second language. Language Learning, 36, 2745.
Cook, V. J. (2002). Introduction: Background of the L2 user. In Cook, V. (ed.), Portraits of the L2 user, pp. 128. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Cook, V. J. (2010). The relationship between first and second language acquisition revisited. In Macaro, E. (ed.), The Continuum companion to second language acquisition, pp. 137157. London: Continuum.
Denissen, J. J. A., Neumann, L., & van Zalk, M. (2010). How the Internet is changing the implementation of tradi-tional research methods, people's daily lives, and the way in which developmental scientists conduct research. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 34 (6), 564575.
Dewaele, J.-M. (2010a). Emotions in multiple languages. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dewaele, J.-M. (2010b). Multilingualism and affordances: Variation in self-perceived communicative competence and communicative anxiety in French L1, L2, L3 and L4. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 48, 105129.
Dewaele, J.-M., & Li Wei, (in press). Multilingualism, empathy and multicompetence. International Journal of Multilingualism, doi: 10.1080/14790718.2012.714380. Published online by Taylor & Francis, September 10, 2012.
Dewaele, J.-M., Petrides, K.V., & Furnham, A. (2008). The effects of trait emotional intelligence and sociobiographical variables on communicative anxiety and foreign language anxiety among adult multilinguals: A review and empirical investigation. Language Learning, 58 (4), 911960.
Dewaele, J.-M., & Stavans, A. (in press). The effect of immigration, acculturation and multicompetence on personality profiles of Israeli multilinguals. The International Journal of Bilingualism, doi: 10.1177/1367006912439941. Published online by Sage, April 26, 2012.
Dewaele, J.-M., & van Oudenhoven, J. P. (2009). The effect of multilingualism/multiculturalism on personality: No gain without pain for third culture kids? International Journal of Multilingualism, 6 (4), 443459.
Dörnyei, Z. (2007). Research methods in applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ely, C. (1995) Tolerance of ambiguity and the teaching of ESL. In Reid, J. M. (ed.), Learning styles in the ESL/EFL classroom, pp. 216217. New York: Heinle & Heinle.
Eysenck, S., Eysenck, H. J., & Barrett, P. (1985). A revised version of the Psychoticism scale. Personality and Individual Differences, 6, 2129.
Furnham, A. (1994). A content, correlational and factor-analytic study of 4 Tolerance of Ambiguity questionnaires. Personality and Individual Differences, 16, 403410.
Furnham, A., & Ribchester, T. (1995). Tolerance of ambiguity: A review of the concept, its measurement and applications. Current Psychology, 14 (3), 179199.
Gosling, S. D., Srivastava, S., Pand, O., & John, O. P. (2004). Should we trust web-based studies? A comparative analysis of six preconceptions about internet questionnaires. American Psychologist, 59, 93104.
Herman, J. L., Stevens, M. J., Bird, A., Mendenhall, M., & Oddou, G. (2010). The Tolerance for Ambiguity Scale: Towards a more refined measure for international management research. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 34, 5865.
Kinginger, C. (2008). Language learning in study abroad: Case studies of Americans in France. Oxford: Blackwell.
Korzilius, H., Van Hooft, A., Planken, B., & Hendrix, C. (2011). Birds of different feathers? The relationship between multicultural personality dimensions and foreign language mastery in business professionals working in a Dutch agricultural multinational. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35, 540553.
McCrae, R., Costa, P. T. Jr., Ostendorf, F., Angleitner, A., Hrebícková, M., Avia, M. D., Sanz, J., Sánchez-Bernardos, M. L., Kusdil, M. E., Woodfield, R., Saunders, P. R., & Smith, P. B. (2000). Nature over nurture: Temperament, personality, and life span development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78 (1), 173186.
McLain, D. L. (1993). The MSTAT-I: A new measure of an individual's tolerance for ambiguity. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 53, 183189.
Nishida, H. (1985). Japanese intercultural communication competence and cross-cultural adjustment. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 9, 247269.
Oxford, R., & Ehrman, M. (1992). Second language research on individual differences. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 13, 188205.
Pervin, L. A., & Cervone, D. (2010). Personality: Theory and research (11th edn.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Regan, V., Howard, M., & Lemée, I. (2009). The acquisition of sociolinguistic competence in a study abroad context. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Reiterer, S. M., Singh, N. C., & Winkler, S. (to appear). Predicting speech imitation ability biometrically. In Stolterfoht, B. & Featherstone, S. (eds.), Investigating language interpretation: Perspectives from the Fourth Linguistic Evidence Meeting. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Rubin, J. (1975). What the ‘Good Language Learner’ can teach us. TESOL Quarterly, 9, 4151.
Rubin, J. (2008). Reflections. In Griffiths, C. (ed.), Lessons from good language learners, pp. 1015. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schrauf, R. (to appear). Using correspondence analysis to model immigrant multilingualism over time. In Duarte, J. & Gogolin, I. (eds.), Linguistic super-diversity in urban areas – research approaches. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Seravalle, V. (2011). Native, non-native and near-native accent: The mediating role of identity in performance vs. perception. Ph.D. dissertation, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Wilson, R., & Dewaele, J.-M. (2010). The use of web questionnaires in second language acquisition and bilingualism research. Second Language Research, 26 (1), 103123.
Yashima, T. (2010). The effects of international volunteer work experiences on intercultural competence of Japanese youth. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 34, 268282.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Is multilingualism linked to a higher tolerance of ambiguity?*

  • JEAN-MARC DEWAELE (a1) and LI WEI (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.