Multilingual classrooms are a growing reality in EU countries: more and more schoolchildren have a mother tongue different from the main language of instruction in school and need additional linguistic support. Teaching needs to adapt to various ways of strengthening language proficiency of immigrant learners with different linguistic backgrounds. In multilingual schools and classrooms, students may speak one language at home and another at school; some or all of the students are learning the language of instruction.
There are several types of and objectives for multilingual schools: schools welcoming newcomers who arrive as immigrants or refugees; international schools; schools with regional, minority or indigenous languages, such as Catalan in Spain, Occitan in France, Sami in Scandinavia; and, schools with bilingual education, where another language is partly used for instruction, for example, bilingual French-German classes for schools in the border regions of France and Germany.
Competences and proficiency in the learner’s native language should be appreciated and used as a resource for the whole class. Schooling involves building on resources and experiences that each child brings into the classroom, and this aspect is particularly relevant for linguistic and cultural resources and experiences. The multitude of languages brought to the classroom by migrant/minority children is a potential asset to individuals, schools and society at large.
Teachers need specific competences and resources to provide appropriate support to students who are learning the language of the school as a second or additional language. Good practice examples may be found all around Europe. If managed successfully, multilingual classrooms can help children make the most of their abilities, strengthen their cognitive skills and better succeed in school.
Parents may also benefit from language support. Schools can work in partnership with the voluntary sector to support language learning for parents with a migrant background. Language courses or family learning on the school campus can have positive effects on parental involvement in school and can improve learners' self-esteem, engagement and social integration, etc.
The European Commission and the Council of Europe work together with their respective Member States, researchers and other stakeholders to support efforts to adapt teaching methods and school management to the current multilingual realities. Both institutions are also funding projects promoting: innovative teaching methods, exchange of good practice, gathering of research data, and the development of material and resources for teachers working in linguistically challenging environments. The European Commission's financial support is managed through the yearly calls under Erasmus+, the European Union's programme for Education, Training, Youth and Sport.
Find out more:
The European Commission's web page on multilingual classrooms
Council of Europe, Languages in Education, Lanugages for Education, a platform of resources and references for plurilingual and intercultural education
European Commission's project on multilingual classroom
Díez, J., Gatt, S., and Racionero, S., ‘Placing Immigrant and Minority Family and Community Members at the School's Centre: The role of community participation’, European Journal of Education, Vol. 46, No. 2, 2011, pp.184-196. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3435.2011.01474.x
Ensemble project – promoting linguistic diversity and whole school approaches
Flecha, A. ‘Family education improves student's academic performance: Contributions from European research’. REMIE Multidisciplinary Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2012. P. 301. http://dx.doi.org/10.4471/remie.2012.16