Many people in the world are multilingual but little know that speaking several languages brings numerous advantages to the development of the brain and mind. Multilingualism develops memory, concentration, rapid adaptation, attention, emotion regulation, and behaviour control. These cognitive skills are fundamental not only for language learning but also for knowledge acquisition in other domains, like mathematics, because they make it easy for a multilingual person to recognise elements, set goals, and solve problems quickly and efficiently.
With all being said, multilingualism has real advantages for people. Pre-school children can benefit from them the most because they are at the beginning of their developmental journey. That is why in those lucky classrooms that include children who are speakers of different home languages, multilingualism should be cherished as a resource and educators should develop both oracy in a home language and multiliteracies.
Bialystok, E. (2017). The bilingual adaptation: How minds accommodate experience. Psychological Bulletin, 143(3), 233-262.
Celic, C., & Seltzer, K. (2011). Translanguaging: A CUNY-NYSIEB guide for educators. New York City, NY: The City University of New York.
Chumak-Horbatsch, R. (2012). Linguistically appropriate practice: A guide for working with young immigrant children (2nd ed.). Toronto, CA: University of Toronto Press.
There are multiple activities that the teachers can use for the oral integration of all languages and cultures that children in the classroom represent.
Alike children’s oracy in their home languages, the development of writing and reading in home languages is extremely important. There are several activities that can be employed to enhance multiliteracies in the classroom:
Teachers suggest children making a book together. The book will contain the writing in all home languages that are present in the class. Each home language is given its own page in the book, and children write their names under their home language.
This activity allows the collaboration of teachers, children, and parents. Teachers suggest children designing a newspaper that will contain the information in different home languages and the language of instruction. First, children decide on a newspaper title together. Then, they appoint staff (publishers, journalists, photographers). Next, the newspaper’s size and the number of pages are planed together. The plan of article topics is also done with all children. The topics can concern class events, excursions, visitors, special days, celebrations, and so on. In other words, they reflect the everyday life of the class. At the production stage, parents are asked to help children to write the articles in their home languages and find photos and illustrations to articles. After the material is ready, teachers help children to prepare the layout. When it is time to present, the finished newspaper is read to the children. Parents are invited to participate too by reading their parts of the newspaper in their home languages.
In this activity, children are asked to present a book that has been read aloud to the class. To express themselves, each child is invited to use both Luxembourgish and their home language, meaning their full linguistic repertoire. Other children help to translate the words from their home languages to the rest of the class.
This activity is about reading a bilingual book in a language of instruction (Luxembourgish) and a home language (for example, in Arabic). In preparation for the activity, teachers need to borrow from the library or craft bilingual books in different home languages. The books can be created in the joined efforts of the school and families. Teachers can ask parents, school community members, and/or older students to translate the storybooks from Luxembourgish to the home languages. Teachers can also read the Luxembourgish text and directly ask the children in the class to translate some words into their home languages. Teachers themselves can also deliberately translate certain strategic words into the home languages while reading in Luxembourgish in the classroom and, in this way, prepare children for the vocabulary in home languages.
To implement this activity, parents are invited to come to the classroom. Teachers ask parents to participate in a bilingual book reading for children. First, a teacher reads the book in Luxembourgish, and then a parent reads the same book in their home language. After that, the book is read once again, but this time, page by page: a page in Luxembourgish followed by the same page in the home language and so on. Parents who read the story in their home language are asked to speak slowly and clearly and point to the pictures so that children have enough time to process the information in the new language and have some visualisation to connect the image to the new vocabulary. While reading the story in the home language, parents can ask children to translate some words from this language to Luxembourgish. They can also stop in the reading process and ask children, “What comes next?”, which enables the development of foresight. As the practice shows, children can grasp the meaning of the words in the new language and actively participate in the reading activity by answering the questions that the parent asks about the story.
Alike in the previous activity of bilingual book reading, teachers invite parents to create a book about cultural relevance and read it in the classroom. Children are then asked different questions like “Are the characters like you and your family? Have you ever lived in such a place or been there on holiday? Could this story have happened this year? What do you think, are the characters of your age? Are the characters in the story boys or girls? Do characters talk like you and your family? How often do you hear such stories? Have you ever had such an experience as described in the story?” By provoking discussion, teachers create a space of immersion in different cultures and languages for children.
Teachers suggest children crafting greeting cards dedicated to different holidays. The holidays can be from different cultures. For example, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, Ramadan, Hanukah, Chinese New Year, and so on. Children create the cards in their home languages and also in Luxembourgish.
Once a month, teachers ask children to write their name in Luxembourgish and in their home language (especially if their home language has a different script) and in a sign-in book.
Teachers encourage parents to go to the school library with their children and look at the books. Parents can borrow bilingual books or books in their home language from the library and read them at home to children. The next day, they can bring the books back and borrow new books. In this way, those parents who cannot read in the language of instruction can read to their children stories in the home languages. When these same stories are later read by teachers in the classroom in Luxembourgish, children already know the story plots and can understand them.
Teachers can also organise open days once or twice a week after school to meet parents and have time to discuss children’s progress, advice some books for home reading, and answer parents’ questions.
Teachers create lists of cognates, the words from different home languages that have the same linguistic derivation. For example, Banann (Luxembourgish) – Banane (German) – banana (French) – banana (Portuguese) – banan (Polish). At the same time, teachers create a list of false cognates, the words from different home languages that look similar but have different meanings. For example, actual (English) – aktuell (German). Teachers ask children to find the words that are cognates and the words that are false cognates. In this way, children critically assess languages and develop their multiliteracy. In case of correctly identified false cognates, children are asked to say which word would be correct, for example, actual (English) – wirklich (German). Additionally, children are asked to visualise the words.
This activity is a wordplay with visualisation. On a blackboard or a sheet of paper, a teacher draws a graphic that consists of four boxes (sections). The first box contains a word written in many languages, including Luxembourgish and the home languages of all children in the class. The second box contains a picture that serves as a visualisation of the word. The third box contains a synonym of the word. And in the fourth box, each child writes a word or a phrase that represent for them a personal connection to the word.
Teachers give each child a book with ten blank pages. Children are asked to draw pictures of familiar objects on the pages: the number of objects that children are allowed to draw on each page should correspond to the page number. In other words, children need to draw one object on the first page, two objects on the second page, three objects on the third page, and so on until ten. After that, children number the pages and write a word for each number in their home language. For example, they put the number ‘2’ on the second page and write ‘dois’ (Portuguese). Parents are also invited to help children in this literacy activity.
Not involving children, this activity is for teachers to keep track of students’ development of literacy in different languages. Teachers are invited to create a table in which they record the progress of children in reading and writing skills in Luxembourgish and in their home languages. The table includes the name and age of the child, the date, and the description of the child’s linguistic behaviour. For example, teachers can write “Demonstrates reading-like behaviour: holds book straight, flips pages, looks and points words”, “Recognises his/her own name written down”, “Likes to write symbols on the paper”, and so on.