As per the findings, more than half of the world’s population uses two or more languages in their everyday lives. A large body of research highlights the benefits of multilingualism. However, languages other than the medium of instruction in many classrooms today are still a major concern.
Even schools in countries generally considered multilingual often have their language policies, insisting on the use of ‘one language of instruction only when having students of diverse cultures and languages is more common in many classrooms today. However, it is undeniable that multilingualism’s scepticism still exists today and can be traced back to the first half of the 20th century.
Supporting multilingualism in the classroom can be a valuable pedagogical practice with positive effects on students’ academic performance and social and emotional well-being. Whether in a passive way by allowing students to use their home language or a more playful way by implementing teaching and learning practices that draw on more than one language (“translanguaging” is one such pedagogy, see, e.g. CUNY-NYSIEB), it is essential to view all students’ languages as resources rather than unwanted baggage on the way to “language of instruction only.”
This example is extracted from a CREDE research observation. Kisho, a 4-year-old boy who recently moved from Japan to Hawaiʻi, used mashed-up berries for painting with his teacher, Ms Rheta Cody, a four-year kid. Since he was new to Hawai’i, he asked things like, “What is in here?” while pointing out the berry dye and “Can you eat it? in Japanese. Ms Rheta, who knew Japanese, answered his questions in English and Japanese while also gesturing, pointing, and showing pictures on her camera. Later, Cody said, “Do not eat”, and repeated the Japanese word for “cannot eat” that Kisho had used.
The example shows how inclusive practices can benefit multilingual children and their peers: multilingual children have more opportunities to engage in learning, and peers discover many ways to portray the world. Like Cody, peers often enjoy hearing and learning a new word. Translanguage in their conversation created opportunities for the two children for conceptual and linguistic development, but they were essential for Kisho. He could ask questions in his mother tongue and be interested in the concepts of nature and art long before mastering English. His engagement grew, and he heard a new vocabulary used meaningfully.
Aside from these, several research reports claim that multilingual children are likely to have strong mathematical, conflict resolution, and executive skills. For instance, PBS explored that bilingual students solve math problems differently; they found that they solved word problems and all types of math problems uniquely. Unlike students who spoke only one language, bilingual students used their brains’ visual and spatial portions to resolve problems. Scientists continue to speculate on the causes of this situation. One theory explains that students visualize the elements of the problems in their heads (in other words, they are creating pictures to represent multiplying apples or two trains leaving a station at different speeds).
Another old report by the New York Times depict bilingual students have a host of advantages in education, including focusing on demanding tasks and solving difficult kinds of puzzles. Through dynamic language practices, teachers can assist students in making the most of their bilingual strengths.
A 2011 study found that allowing bilingual students to use both languages for discussion and problem-solving increased students’ mathematical productivity. The flexibility showed by bilingual students in the transition from one language to another also allows them to increase their creativity and solve problems that can improve their education in mathematics.
Additionally, research on Portugal highlighting the linguistics concerns detected a variety of strategies that teachers applied as responses to linguistic diversity, i.e., promoting Portuguese. Without involving students’ languages, using English as a mediation language between students’ languages and Portuguese, and using students’ languages in the teaching-learning process.
These strategies were not exclusive to each other; in fact, teachers in their everyday lives might have applied one or another as they prioritized Portuguese language development, communicating with students or affirming students’ linguistic identities. These main aims (developing language of schooling, connecting with students, valuing students’ identities) have been present in teachers’ practices in an intertwined way that shows teachers’ awareness of the multiple aims of education and that they somewhat tried to satisfy curricular, social, and students’ needs between the monolingual policy setting and the multilingual classroom reality. Throughout these dynamics, they developed several strategies that were seen as negotiating mechanisms developed in human interaction (McCarty, 2004; 2011; Shohamy, 2006) between teachers, students, and curricula; and that revealed possible fruitful starting points even in contexts primarily affected by monolingual policies (Hélot, 2010; Bonacina-Pugh, 2017; Mary and Young, 2018).