Engaging newcomers in (language) learning: four tips from the EDINA project

Image: Adobe Stock / Chinnapong

A newcomer in class who does not yet speak the language of instruction sufficiently to be able to follow the lessons can be quite a challenge for teachers. How do you handle that? How do you support their educational needs in such a way that fully engages their language acquisition and multilingual background?

In the Erasmus+ project EDINA (EDucation of International Newly Arrived migrant pupils) and its successor EDINA GoPro, we explored these questions in collaboration with policymakers, schools and researchers from Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. Their education systems and how they deal with newcomers differ greatly, but that is what makes it interesting. The question is not which approach is best, but rather what can we take from these different methods to enhance the (language) education of newcomers across Europe.

Therefore, we present four EDINA tips to inspire you as a teacher! Regardless of subject, every teacher contributes to strong language education.

1 - Home languages are an asset

The different languages spoken by newcomers are often viewed as an obstacle to learning the school’s language of instruction. Yet, from research we know that a student’s home language can support their learning of the language of instruction. So, try to embrace multilingualism in your classroom. In primary education this could be done for example by making languages visible in the classroom using pictures, drawings or a map of the world. In secondary education, you could ask students to complete a ‘language passport’ to gather information about the languages they speak, compile glossaries with subject-specific words or have students read or write stories in their home languages. There are many ways to actively and positively engage multilingualism in learning and build a bridge to the school’s language of instruction through interactions and tailored tasks.

2 - Focus on growth, not the finish line

Newcomers are often expected to learn the language of instruction and connect with their classmates as quickly as possible. But this is a process that often takes years. It can be frustrating if they don’t succeed in connecting quickly. With this in mind, focus on their growth rather than the targets they should achieve. Small victories are crucial to maintain their motivation. Provide tailored tasks and feedback, while collaborating with your colleagues. Focus on what newcomers can do and what they do well, and less on what they cannot yet manage. In this respect, school leaders also have an important role: to ensure a school-wide policy with a focus on growth. In this way, you as a teacher will feel supported in your approach.

3 - Well-being at school is the main thing

Cognitive performance is important and will be better achieved if you feel comfortable at school. With newcomers, that isn’t always easy, especially in the beginning. Oftentimes, they have been through a lot and have just arrived in a new and unfamiliar place with a language they do not yet understand. So, ensure they feel safe and supported, and focus on building social connections to allow them to fully integrate into the class group. Also, give parents an active role at school to make them feel involved, and create opportunities at school (or at home) for students to talk about how they feel.

4 - Do it your own way!

As a teacher, you are a trained and experienced professional. Nonetheless, it can be challenging to adapt your lessons to a diverse and multilingual audience.  But that is the beauty of teaching: it is a personal and professional quest that never ends. Continuous self-reflection and consideration of the best ways to help your students is what gives you satisfaction as a teacher. Collaborate with your colleagues and find more information or inspiration on our EDINA website.


Steven Delarue works as a policy advisor at the Ghent Centre for Education (City of Ghent), with a focus on language and multilingualism, non-native newcomers and diversity.

Sergio Baauw is a teacher-researcher of Spanish Linguistics in the Department of Spanish Education at Utrecht University.