For some learners and teachers, English is a third, or fourth language, not a second. You may already encourage learners to use their own language to support learning, reflecting your multilingual society. A multilingual classroom sees learners' own languages as an asset, a rich resource. This contrasts with the traditional view seen in 'English-only' policies and classrooms. When learners use their own language, it supports their learning. There is evidence to show that when learners develop competence in multiple languages, this can have a positive effect on their general cognitive skills and overall academic performance, and enable them to access information, communicate and use cultural knowledge in interactions with people from diverse backgrounds' (Galante, 2019). Learning English multilingually benefits learners in many ways, increasing active engagement with language learning, cognitive and critical thinking skills, cultural empathy and confidence when communicating. From our research and work with teachers, the six elements of this professional practice that most teachers ask for help with are:
1. Recognizing and valuing the multilingual nature of societies, schools and classrooms
The language used in classrooms may be only one of many used in the whole teaching and learning community. The 'official' languages of a country (those used in school and in law) may not be shared by learners' families and caregivers. An inclusive learning environment requires there to be no barriers to access or participation, but language is often the biggest excluder of all.
2. Giving my learners appropriate opportunities to use their home languages
Learners can develop faster when they are able to use familiar, home languages to understand learning content, and show others that they understand. In the case of English taught as a school subject, this means supporting learners' understanding of new language. The languages we already know help us to learn new ones and develop our understanding of how they work.
3. Using strategies that encourage inclusive education
In multilingual communication, speakers move between their different languages, treating themas an integrated system. This process is called translanguaging. Teachers can direct learners to use different languages at different stages in a lesson to help them communicate. This will be 'multisensory' - using more than one sense (e.g. seeing and hearing) - and involve communicating 'multimodally' with different resources, e.g. writing, speaking and gestures.
4. Making pedagogical choices that respect and capitalize
Learners and teachers make sense of their own and each other's worlds with language in many ways. Teaching and learning benefit from diverse language resources - the more connections made between languages, the deeper the learning involved.