No learning without understanding: plurilingual practices in the classroom

Image: Leonardo Toshiro Okubo /

Most children today grow up in a context where more than one language is spoken, leading UNESCO to state that “without mother-tongue-based multilingual education the other 16 Sustainable Development Goals will remain unachievable.” So how can education better reflect the multilingual nature of society? These four projects represent an effort to improve the situation.

AVIOR: multilingual material for children with a migrant background

Avior Project

The star Avior is one of the brightest in the night sky, but it is not visible from the northern hemisphere. In assuming this name, the AVIOR project alluded to the numerous skills that migrant children bring to the classrooms and that often remain hidden from their teachers.

AVIOR primarily benefited pupils between the age of 4 and 8 who spoke a different language at home and at school, honing both their literacy and their numeracy. The project developed bilingual resources in seven different language pairs by translating high-quality monolingual resources; organised study visits where teachers, teacher trainers and parents could exchange best practices; and created local networks of parents, communities and schools through its case studies. All of the project’s major outputs are collected in the AVIOR handbook.

AVIOR was an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership that ran from 2016 to 2019. It engaged research and training centres, NGOs and network organisations from six countries: Croatia, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands.

EOL: learning environments where modern languages flourish

How can we place languages at the heart of teaching and learning? According to the EOL programme, a language-friendly learning environment is highly dependent on the interplay of culture, structure and people. A holistic approach can engage school actors across the board – language teachers, subject teachers, teacher educators and school heads – and alert them to the importance of languages for a democratic society.

The EOL website provides many of the resources needed to make language-friendly learning environments a reality. These include:

EOL is a programme of the Council of Europe that ran between 2016 and 2019.

Language-friendly school network

Language-friendly project

The project Language-Friendly School does not have a blueprint for the ideal language plan. Schools are encouraged to develop their language plan individually, flexibly, and (if needed) incrementally. However, the project does suggest a road map that can support plurilingualism through various activities and ideas.

At the very minimum, schools that aspire to the “language-friendly” label should commit to the left column of the road map: not punishing children for speaking their mother tongue. Schools that wish to go further may follow the right column, too, as well as the four-step process of assessing the situation, formulating a language plan, implementing their goals and monitoring the outcome. All interested schools can join the Language-Friendly School network by filling out this form. They then gain access to an online platform where they can exchange multilingual teaching practices, and an invitation to the project conferences.

The Language Friendly School is a 2019 initiative by the Rutu Foundation for Intercultural Multilingual Education in the Netherlands.

DivEd: language awareness and cultural responsiveness

DivED Project

“Teachers’ actions matter in supporting or undermining students’ potential for fully participating in the larger society with all of its dimensions of power and privilege”: this is one of the overarching themes of the DivEd project, which is aimed at teachers-in-training as well as in-service teachers. Through its two-pronged approach, DivEd seeks to support culturally and linguistically sensitive pedagogies in Finland.

A host of resources are already available in Finnish, including but not limited to language-friendly and culture-friendly practices for teachers, relevant material for early childhood education, picture cards and tips for distance learning.

DivEd is an ongoing partnership among Finnish and Swedish universities, which began in response to changes in the Finnish national curriculum adopted in 2014.

To discover ongoing and past EU-funded projects in school education, please go to the Erasmus+ Project Results Platform.