Building on plurilingualism


In this section we look at different ways in which a wide range of languages can be considered in the language of schooling classroom. The activities offered deal with many themes that are typically present in the language of schooling curriculum: web-based texts, non-verbal communication, idioms, literary texts and texts from other genres, such as adverts and cartoons.


What will you learn in this section

The aims of the section are (see Marille, s. 33–36):

  • demonstrating the effort and ability to let all languages have a meaningful role in the classroom
  • showing respect for all languages
  • creating spaces for learners’ own languages, culture and traditions; making languages visible; and offering direct contact with various languages (including minority languages)
  • being able to productively make use of the transfer of resources and skills between languages and to design activities that engage learners’ full language repertoire.

Reflect on the key ideas

The role of first language

Research has clearly demonstrated that bilingualism has a significant positive effect in terms of cognitive flexibility, intercultural skills and identity development. The programmes in which students’ native languages are valued and promoted as resources for learning offer the most effective approach for supporting second language learners’ social, cognitive and academic growth in the language of schooling. As Jim Cummins (2000: 39) puts it: “Conceptual knowledge developed in one language helps to make input into the other language comprehensible.”

Therefore, effective language of schooling teaching does not close off options for the use of other languages in the classroom. Quite the contrary, it is important to remind learners that their native language is valuable and can be an advantage to learning new languages. The use of students’ mother tongues, if integrated into the curriculum, supports the academic and intellectual development of learners and enables them to better participate in curriculum activities and benefit from their full range of linguistic resources. It also strengthens students’ cultural and linguistic identities.

  • What is the role of other languages in the teaching tradition of the language of schooling in your region?
  • In your opinion, do you see a need for change in the tradition regarding the use of other languages?

Watch a video about Moises, a ten-year-old latino student in the US, who struggles to communicate in his new school with limited access to his native language. Then discuss the questions below.

  • Do you find the use of different languages disturbing in the classroom? Can you see what benefits and opportunities they bring?
  • How could teachers benefit more from students’ first languages and other language repertoires in the language of schooling classroom?

Learning two or more languages at the same time – do languages interfere with each other?

It is natural that learners compare and contrast first (L1) and second language (L2) as they work to understand patterns and expressions. They make mistakes and mix up languages. They use one language to better understand another. This is needed to become more competent in using and for controlling multiple language resources.

For what purposes do students typically use their L1s in the classroom?

  • They may explain, plan and structure tasks to each other

  • They may talk about aspects of L2 that cause problems

See and read more

Watch some classroom videos with a plurilingual approach.

Read more about these issues: Walqui & van Lier 2010. Scaffolding the academic success of adolescent English language learners: A pedagogy of Promise. WestEd. (especially pp. 58–62)


  • Basic tasks with a pluri-touch
  • Multilingual grammar project - students analysing language
  • Building on plurilingualism with literature and other genres
  • Plurilingual website analysis 
  • Cultural expressions and idioms
  • Intercultural role-play

Basic tasks with a pluri-touch

Have a look at the tasks below that are often used in the teaching of the language of schooling. Consider ways to fine-tune them in order to make use of students’ plurilingual resources. What added value would a plurilingual approach bring? How would it foster and advance the learning of core skills and content in the language of schooling classroom?

Think of examples of

  • how students could use their mother tongues and the foreign languages they have learnt at school in each task
  • how comparing similar texts in different languages might foster and advance learning with regard to the tasks
  • how to demonstrate the potential of students' language awareness when working with languages



Multilingual grammar project - students analysing language

Created and piloted by Kaisa Tukia, Finland

Read an example of practice from Finland. This project is about using plurilingual resources in learning grammar, and it was piloted in a Finnish language classroom (Finnish as the “mother tongue”) for 7th graders, 13-year-old students. The project was comprised of around 8 lessons.

The phases of the project are described on a general level so that you can organise a similar kind of project. You can read about the case study from Finland in the orange boxes.

After getting to know the project, discuss:

  • What is good about a project like this?
  • What kind of other projects like this can you think of?

Also take a look at the Developing collaboration part.


Building on plurilingualism with literature and other genres

Read the following text about using literature and a range of texts and genres in language of schooling teaching:

"Majority language [language of schooling] classrooms tend to include the study of literature as a major part of their curriculum. This includes a focus on the thematic content as well as linguistic devices which impact on the reader. In order to nurture an appreciation of diversity, various literatures, texts, discourses and genres should be included. These will reflect a range of cultural and linguistic contexts, and will also include texts which describe and develop empathy with plurilingual and intercultural experiences." (Marille, p. 26)

Part 1

  • Think of examples of these kinds of texts or discourses in the language of schooling curriculum that might reflect the diversity of cultures and languages. How are they dealt with usually? How is diversity discussed?
  • In which ways could literature-related activities help achieve the aims of promoting plurilingualism (see below) (Marille, p. 24)?

Part 2

How would you use texts from the following genres in the language of schooling classroom to help achieve the aims mentioned above?

  • Advertising
  • Cartoons
  • A novel presentation (students read a novel and present it to others)
  • A piece of news
  • Music lyrics (e.g. rap music)

Choose one of the genres and develop (in small groups) one classroom activity. Bear in mind the aims.

Part 3

Share and discuss:

  • Introduce the activities to the whole group. Are there similar approaches? What activities might help achieving the aims?
  • What aims do you find most important? Which ones are the hardest to accomplish?


Plurilingual website analysis

(Partly adapted from an activity by Astrid Guillaume 2007, LEA project)

Websites that are culturally interesting are those that have been adapted or localised to meet the needs of a specific country. Examples include McDonalds, Lancôme, Renault, Mercedes, Dior, Chanel, etc.

The aim of these websites is to sell a product. That is why the nonverbal messages and cultural adaptations are essential in reaching the target audience. The approach and content differ in each country website. With a contrastive analysis of the websites, it is possible to define the communicative strategies implemented in and for each country. The analysis can reveal certain cultural, social or religious characteristics and stereotypes of different cultures. Moreover, this is a good activity to explore a language that you do not speak using the cues from similar websites in languages you know.
Explore some country specific websites of a big global company, such as McDonalds. You can find a list of the web country codes here.

For example:,,,,,,,,,,,,

Part 1: Cultural characteristics

Answer the questions below. What other questions come to your mind?

  • Compare the appearance of the country specific websites. How do the colours, shapes, designs, layouts and web effects differ? How do the offered online activities differ (e.g. build your own menu on the McDonald’s US website)?
  • What can you say about the video commercials or music in different sites?
  • What conclusions can you draw from the cultural differences? According to the website, what is valued in each country? What have you based your conclusions on?

Part 2: Language work

  • How easy is it to navigate a site whose language you don’t know? What about those with different writing systems? What helps you to move around and make guesses about the content?
  • Look at a website whose language is related to a language you know (Italian or Portuguese to Spanish, Danish or Norwegian to Swedish, Estonian to Finnish, etc.). Build a small list of vocabulary with the help of the website. What else could you learn about that language?

Part 3: Reflection

  • What did you learn from these tasks?
  • How could these kinds of activities be implemented in the language of schooling teaching? What kind of aims might they help achieve?


Cultural expressions and idioms

Part 1

In  language of schooling textbooks there are usually a lot of cultural expressions, idioms, metaphors and proverbs. Understanding them can be challenging not only for the students learning the language as their second language, but also for the native speakers of the language of schooling.

Look at some textbooks and collect these kinds of cultural expressions. Where do they come from? Can you identify their source? How would you explain them to a student who has no idea what they mean? In what ways could you illustrate their meaning? Practice with fellow teachers.

Part 2: Working with idioms

(from Mirrors and windows, p. 77)

For example, in English people say “excuse my French” when they swear and they “take a French leave” when they leave quickly without a word. It’s interesting to note that the French will say “filer à l’anglaise” (“Take an English leave”), as well as Hungarians and Poles, in the same situation. Note, however, that there are expressions carrying positive judgements about the same culture(s) in the same or other languages.

Look at a collection of idioms from a variety of languages. It is interesting to observe how languages are full of pre-conceptions about people from other cultures. These stereotypes in our mother tongue are sometimes funny, sometimes ironic, but obviously some of them carry a negative judgement that helps spread prejudices very early in childhood. We internalise these idioms as we grow up often without ever questioning their meaning.

See if you can find similar idioms in the languages you speak, but try to avoid the offensive ones. If you can, try to look up the historical roots of these expressions. The origin of these idioms sometimes reveals interesting information about the relationship between two cultures.

Part 3: Reflection

  • How would you use these kinds of multilingual idioms in the language of schooling classroom?

Also, take a look at the multilingual grammar project.


Intercultural role-play

The following role-play is an excellent way to raise one's awareness of the importance of differences in non-verbal communication. The activity  should be conducted by the teacher educator.

Before or after:

Follow-up questions for student teachers after the activity:

  • How could you benefit from the ideas and emotions that emerged during this activity in your own teaching?
  • How would you use this kinds of activities or role-plays in the language of schooling classroom?


Developing learning environment