You are currently viewing Making space for multilingualism in education: getting started

Making space for multilingualism in education: getting started

Including pupil’s home languages in the daily routine and visual landscape of your school is rewarding and it has a significant impact on children’s self-expression, on the development of their identity and for making strong links between home and school.

Children’s “home languages” are not an added “extra” that the school can decide to embrace or reject, but they are a core part of children’s lives, so they cannot be rejected or considered superfluous. Research shows that children whose languages were rejected and who were punished for using their home languages in school felt insecurity and a sense of being outsiders.

Schools have the responsibility of not only welcoming children in the totality of their identity, but also to teach children about the value of language as an expression of who we are. In English speaking schools we can find unofficial policies that exclude languages or force children to use only English, both in class and during times when children socialise. Schools have also encouraged parents not to speak their mother tongue to their children, to make space for English or to improve English language skills.

These discriminatory practices which were commonplace for many years, are still found in some education settings. The motivation for forcing home languages out of the school have always been guided by a desire to do good for the children, but we now know that English-only policies that clearly exclude pupils’ home languages are misguided, not based on research evidence and detrimental for children’s health, wellbeing and education. 

One of the leading figures in the field of multilingualism in education, Jim Cummins, claims is several of his publications that rejecting a child’s language in the education setting means to reject the child (Cummins, 2001; 2009).

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