While multilingualism and diversity have always been an integral part of Europe, they have also become important characteristics of many national education systems during the past two decades. The linguistic diversity of modern classrooms is shaped by 1) the presence of historical non-dominant language groups, which are being revitalised; 2) The growing mobility between countries which results in a variety of new languages and skills in the classrooms; and 3) changing educational and labour market demands that favour multilingual and multi-literate citizens.
Consequently, more and more young learners are growing up with several cultures and languages and may experience multiple transitions between different school systems and school languages. Raised in changing multilingual and multicultural environments, individuals may no longer identify themselves with one language and culture but rather with a range of languages and cultures acquired in different situations.
In the context of these social transformations, multilingualism is becoming more a way of life than a problem to be solved.
The task of education stakeholders is to create school systems that bridge these various linguistic and cultural realities and support the mobility of the pupils across Europe. Schools need to provide an education that supports the development of learners’ linguistic and cultural resources, while at the same time balancing these with social, cultural and political demands. The challenge at hand is therefore to offer a multilingual schooling system that supports the inclusion of all pupils in which they can develop their full potential linguistically, cognitively and emotionally.
Multilingualism is associated with cognitive, social, personal, academic and professional benefits. Contrary to popular belief, there is no negative effect of bilingual education on language development; studies have even reported a positive effect when compared to monolingual education, and even also an improvement in learning school languages. Moreover, research evidence suggests that valuing the unique language and cultural background of each pupil promotes academic success by boosting self-confidence and self-esteem. Furthermore, multilingual learners are likely to have better critical thinking and problem solving skillsfrom having gained multiple perspectives, and have greater cultural awareness.
Multilingual education is not yet a reality in most countries in Europe. Although there is evidence on the benefits of multilingualism, very few European countries presently support multilingualism at school and thereby miss an opportunity to capitalise on the advantages it brings to the learning process. Clearly, in many countries multilingualism poses entirely new challenges to the educational system. Oftentimes, a greater resistance to an articulated multilingual policy is encountered in geographical areas where less diversity is present than in highly diverse urban environment
The level of policy support and recognition of linguistic diversity and its benefits influences the way it is further operationalized into curricula and availability of support programmes for schools. Therefore, strategies, pedagogical concepts and organisational models for such language learning approaches are manifold depending on circumstances (e.g. demographic facts, professional qualification of staff), official language policies (assimilationist vs. pluralistic), and tacit attitudes towards linguistic and cultural diversity
Inclusive multilingualism curricula integrate the language dimension comprehensively and go beyond a simple opposition between monolingual and bilingual educational models or mother tongue versus foreign language. The Multilingualism Curriculum by Krumm and Reich (2013), for instance, explicitly focuses on the development of linguistic awareness, the ability to reflect on one’s own linguistic situation and to analyse others’ situation, the knowledge about languages and their significance for people and groups, the linguistic knowledge necessary for the comparison of languages, a varied range of learning strategies, and self-confidence as far as the pupils’ languages are concerned
Re-thinking teacher initial education and continuous professional development programmes is necessary to equip teachers with knowledge and competences to support multilingual education. Teachers report that they are expected to rely on their own resources regarding multilingualism, and often report that they lack support and relevant training. Research shows that simply relying on the accumulation of experience does not help to improve the situation.
Inclusive school culture and leadership is an important component of multilingual education. Whole-school development is advantageous, if not necessary, to successfully implement a pluralistic approach to language learning. When implementing a whole school language curricula concept, a positive attitude towards all languages is a necessary precondition.
Families and community are an important source of pedagogical experience and a part of the learning continuity. Research demonstrates that, for multilingual education to be successful, parents’ support is necessary, and consequently the way schools cooperate with the parents is crucial for success.
- Multilingual Education in the Light of Diversity: Lessons Learned, 2017
- The future of language education in Europe – Case studies of innovative practices, 2020
- Improving the effectiveness of language learning – CLIL and Computer-assisted Language learning, 2014
- Rethinking language education in schools, 2017
- Migrants in European schools – learning and maintaining languages, 2017