Welcoming all languages
A school is a meeting place where students, parents and staff - often from diverse backgrounds - are united to share and build up knowledge. A Language Friendly School is an answer to the increasing multilingualism present in schools across the world; a result of people migrating to other places seeking employment, reuniting with loved ones or escaping war and conflict. Within a Language Friendly School, everyone welcomes and values all languages spoken by the students, the parents and the school stakeholders.
All schools should aim to become linguistically and culturally inclusive, meaning they recognize and embrace their students’ multilingualism, and take action to give space to these languages within the school community.
A bottom-up whole school approach
Language Friendly Schools are schools that have developed a language plan involving all members of the school: students, teachers and staff. It is a plan that is adapted to the school’s own needs and aims at creating an inclusive and language friendly learning environment for all students.
A Language Friendly School-plan is flexible, realistic and allows for incremental changes. Small steps go a long way!
With the Language Friendly School, we envision a world in which:
- All children have access to a language friendly-learning environment where they feel accepted and valued for who they are.
- No child is punished for speaking his or her mother tongues in school by 2030, the deadline of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Why a Language Friendly School?
Increasing mobility means that worldwide, multilingualism has become the norm rather than the exception. More and more schools consist of students who speak another language at home than the one that is used at school.
Scientific studies show that students learn better and faster when they also learn through their mother tongue, rather than being limited to learning only through the school language.
Yet, it is estimated that over 200 million school children do not receive education in a language they understand. And in many countries, children are punished for speaking their home language at school. Punishments vary from forcing children to stand outside the school, taping off their mouths, being barred from lunch to being expelled from school altogether.
The reason why schools dole out such punishments is not because teachers don’t want children to learn. Quite the opposite: there is a deeply held (but mistaken) belief that the best way for children to learn a new language is to make them forget their first language and the sooner this happens the better.
But young children who are just learning how to read and write, need to build confidence in acquiring these new skills and adapting to the new school environment. Punishment will achieve the opposite: they lose motivation and it will even impact their learning.
By allowing students’ home languages in school, students get the chance to strengthen their cognitive and social skills. Not only does this improve students’ skills in the school language, but they also understand the subject better. And this enhances their chances for a successful school career and integration into the wider society, without losing the connection with their families, cultural backgrounds and knowledge.
An international commitment to children
All children have an equal right to an education that respects their cultural identity. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 29) provides that the education of the child should be directed to the development of respect for:
- the child's parents
- his or her own cultural identity, language and values
- the national values of the country in which the child is living
- the country from which he or she may originate
- and for civilizations different from his or her own.
Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
In 2015, 193 States adopted the Sustainable Development Goals and pledged to ensure that all boys and girls complete free, equitable and quality education by 2030.
According to UNESCO, ‘equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all is only possible when education responds to and reflects the multilingual nature of the society. Children, youth and adults require learning opportunities that are relevant to their lives and needs, in and through their own languages. Since SDG 4 is so foundational to the other Sustainable Development Goals, without mother tongue-based multilingual education the other 16 goals will remain unachievable.’ (UNESCO 2017)
By allowing students’ home languages in school, multilingual students get the chance to strengthen their cognitive and social skills
How to become a Language Friendly School
The Language Friendly School does not provide a blueprint of what schools must do. Rather, it starts with what schools need and what they can realistically accomplish.
At the very minimum, schools commit not to punish children speaking their mother tongue. For some schools this is already a significant step. By connecting with other Language Friendly Schools they can share good practices and teachers can be inspired to take a next step forward.
Our Roadmap shows what Language Friendly Schools commit to. The first section shows the basic requirements of becoming a Language Friendly School. The Roadmap also provides ideas for activities as a school and in the classroom. These are all optional.
Schools who wish to go further may consider the following steps:
Assessment of the situation
The school assesses its current situation. The process should start from the students’ perspectives. How do they feel if they are allowed/forbidden to speak their home language in the classroom or at the schoolyard? What about the teachers? The staff? And the parents? Taking into account the perspectives and wishes of the whole school community is essential. To ensure that all stakeholders are informed of all the pros and cons involved, information sharing sessions with multilingual education experts are strongly advised.
Formulating a language plan
Based on this assessment, a realistic set of educational and linguistic goals is formulated in the form of a school language plan, accompanied by a time frame when each goal should be realized. The plan should state how key figures within the school will encourage the students to make use of their languages as resources. Each teacher may define his/her own plan that may vary depending on the activity. Beware: The goal is to stimulate the student’s agency with regard to his/ her languages, not to restrict it. Examples of school language plans will be posted on this website.
Implementation of the goals
Depending on each school’s needs, the actions may include training of teachers in multilingual and mother tongue-based education; acquisition or development of multilingual teaching and learning materials, and/or designing ways of how parents and local communities can be involved in the implementation.
Monitoring and evaluation of the outcome
For a language plan to achieve its goals, active monitoring and evaluation is required. It is recommended to create a monitoring mechanism in which all stakeholders are represented (teachers, management, parents, students, other staff). This group would gather regularly to discuss what is being done and what can be improved. At regular intervals (every 3-5 years) the plan should undergo in-depth evaluation with all stakeholders (back to Step 1) and if necessary, adapted. The new plan will then be monitored until it is ready for another evaluation. In this way, new teachers, students and parents are continually included and the language plan stays relevant and up-to-date.
All schools are welcome to join. The network is open for primary and secondary schools; international, private, public and many more. If your school is interested in becoming a Language Friendly School, please fill out this form.
Benefits for Schools
- Language Friendly Schools have access to an online platform to share ideas with other schools on multilingual teaching strategies, with online videos and webinars and the latest research findings.
- Teachers and staff have the opportunity to meet each other during Language Friendly School Conferences; informal gatherings to exchange ideas, gather inspiration and make new friends from around the world.
The Language Friendly School is endorsed by leading experts in the field of mother tongue and multilingual education and the right to education of the child, including:
- Prof. Jim Cummins, University of Toronto, Canada
- Prof. Carol Benson, Columbia University, United States
- Prof. Carol Anne Spreen, New York University, United States
- Prof. Salim Vally, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
- Prof. Nathalie Auger, Université de Montpellier, France
To achieve the goal of significantly eradicating the global practice of punishing children for speaking their mother tongue by 2030 and to provide language friendly learning environments for all children, the Language Friendly School initiative requires a broad base of partners and supporters.
The Language Friendly School is an initiative of the Rutu Foundation for Intercultural Multilingual Education, a non-profit organization based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. For more information please contact: