Unit 1: Connecting global and local issues

Activity 6: Multilingualism as a resource

Estimated time: 20 minutes

Learning Objectives

  • To understand the importance of language for one’s identity.
  • To value linguistic and cultural diversity.

Resources needed

  • Internet

Exercise 1: Using multilingualism as a resource

In the first activity of this module, you engaged with the term multilingualism. This activity will guide you through further aspects of multilingualism and explore the possibilities of using multilingualism as a resource.


Let’s start with some facts.

Do you know how many countries there are and how many languages are spoken worldwide? Have a guess!

The United Nations recognizes 195 countries and Ethnologue distinguishes between more than 7100 languages and dialects. Ethnologue explains that some of these languages are spoken by very few people and about 40% of these languages are endangered.

This means that on average, more than 30 different languages are spoken in each country. There is no such thing as a monolingual country!

Exercise 2: How multilingual is your country and your school?

For the next exercise, please have a look at the country you are currently living in and the languages spoken there. How many official languages does this country have? Feel free to look it up online if you are unsure.

Please share your answer in the space below:

Zimbabwe has the most official languages with 16 – and remember that official languages are not the same as languages spoken in a country!

Which other languages are spoken in your country that do not have official language status?

The website “Infoplease” offers information on the official languages of numerous countries. You may want to have a look at it to answer the above question about your country. Looking through the information provided on the website, you can see that some countries are incredibly multilingual! Numerous languages are spoken by their inhabitants. Moreover, something else can be observed: Some countries have one official language for the country as a whole but additional official languages in some regions, such as Frisian in the Fryslân province, Netherlands or Slovene in Carinthia, Austria.

Exercise 3: Multilingualism in the classroom

The last exercise has shown how many languages are spoken in some countries. Numerous schools are trying to find the best way to include their learners’ multilingualism. Please read the article “Promoting multilingual approaches in teaching and learning” to learn more about how to use multilingualism as a resource.

One key concept that this article introduces is translanguaging. This means that learners use their first language and the language of classroom instructions simultaneously. The article explains how including students’ prior knowledge, in this case their first language, is a key-characteristic of successful teaching. It also states that promoting multilingualism may benefit the learners’ identity development and how they feel about their home cultures and languages. The benefits of multilingualism are thus well documented and teachers around the globe are eager to incorporate it into their teaching.
Thinking of the subject(s) you teach and the information you received in the article, how could you foster a multilingual classroom? Please share your thoughts below.

Activity completed!

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