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Teachers’ Perspectives, Practices and Challenges in Multilingual Education

Edited By Nagore Ipiña Larrañaga, Ainara Imaz Agirre, Begoña Pedrosa and Eneritz Garro

The aim of this book is to address teachers’ perspectives, practices and challenges in multilingual education. The book that brings together perspectives and practices in multilingual contexts could be of great interest for researchers, practitioners and stakeholders because it also provides ideas for pedagogical practice and new language policies. It covers key concepts such as emotional aspects of multilingualism, innovation in language teaching and teacher training and challenges in (foreign) language teaching.

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Chapter 1. Navigating between Languages: Multilingual Speakers’ Perceptions (Jasone Cenoz and Durk Gorter)

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Jasone Cenoz and Durk Gorter

Chapter 1 Navigating between

Languages: Multilingual Speakers’ Perceptions

Abstract: Nowadays multilingualism is an aim in education in the Basque Country and in other parts of the world. This chapter looks at the differences between monolingual and multilingual speakers and highlights the importance of using a multilingual lens such as “Focus on Multilingualism” when conducting research and teaching. The chapter also examines multilingual speakers’ perceptions on issues such as the advantages and disadvantages of multilingualism, multilingual language practices, multiple language acquisition, and emotional aspects of multilingualism. The last section of the chapter will discuss the implications of multilingual perceptions on language teaching and teacher education.

Keywords: multilingualism, multilingual education, minority languages, language teaching

1. Introduction

Multilingual education can be defined as “the use of two or more languages in education provided that schools aim at multilingualism and multiliteracy” (Cenoz & Gorter, 2015: 2). This definition implies that one of the goals of education is to achieve multilingual competence. In this sense, education cannot be considered multilingual just because students have different home languages if competencies in different languages are not considered a goal in education. Teaching languages has always been challenging but nowadays the challenges have increased for different reasons related to the profile of students and the curriculum. In the past, schools used to be linguistically quite homogeneous but nowadays there is a lot more linguistic diversity. Nowadays, the mobility of the population is reflected in the fact that in many European countries, students speak different home languages and some students have recently arrived. There are also challenges in the curriculum and one of them is related to the increasing role of English as the main language of international communication. Today, English is more important in the curriculum than English or other foreign languages in the past. English was introduced earlier, and it was often used as an additional language of instruction; in many cases, a specific level of English was required in higher education. The use of English or other second and foreign languages as languages of instruction in immersion and CLIL programs can ←15 | 16→also be challenging. In some areas, such as the Basque Autonomous Community, English is a third language after Basque and Spanish and in some cases even students also have a fourth language, French, in secondary school (Gorter et al., 2014). Students can have different home languages (Basque, Spanish, Romanian, Berber, Russian, etc.) and most of them have Basque as the main language of instruction even if Basque is only the home language for some students. There are Spanish and English classes and Spanish and English can be languages of instruction as well. French is usually taught as an optional subject. Multilingual education can take many shapes, and schools that aim at multilingualism can be found in different parts of the world and involve different types of languages, different pedagogies, and sociolinguistic contexts. However, it can be said that factors such as globalization, the mobility of the population or the protection of minority languages have added complexity to the teaching and organization of multilingual education. This complexity demands new competences from teachers but also new approaches that can deal with the diversity of students and the increasing role of languages in the school curriculum.

In this chapter, we propose a holistic approach to language teaching that tries to deal with the challenges multilingual education faces nowadays and implies softening the boundaries between languages. In the next section, we place our model within new trends in sociolinguistics and applied linguistics. Then we look at the language learner as a multilingual speaker who is different from a monolingual speaker and we discuss the way multilingualism is perceived and how multilingual speakers navigate between languages. The last section of this chapter looks at pedagogical implications.

2. Focus on Multilingualism

“Focus on Multilingualism” is an approach for teaching and research in multilingual education that relates the way multilingual speakers use their communicative resources in spontaneous conversation to the way languages are learned and taught at school. “Focus on Multilingualism” considers that boundaries between the languages in the curriculum should be flexible and not rigid as it has traditionally been the case (Cenoz & Gorter, 2014). This model has three dimensions: (i) the multilingual speaker; (ii) the whole linguistic repertoire; and (iii) the social context. Figure 1 represents these dimensions by placing the speaker and his/her repertoire in a circle inside the social context.

Figure 1. Focus on multilingualism.

Traditionally teaching second or foreign languages has implied teaching one language at the time. The idea has been to isolate the target language from the influence of other languages. For example, some schools have tried to have a ←16 | 17→designated classroom to teach only English, and this classroom has only English on posters and charts on the walls. In some cases, even multilingual teachers pretend they only speak the target language and many teachers are ashamed of using the L1 when teaching a second or foreign language.

“Focus on Multilingualism” goes in another direction. It aims at establishing bridges that can link languages and stimulate the activation of students’ multilingual resources. The idea is to consider the learner as a multilingual speaker or emergent multilingual speaker who can use resources in his/her repertoire taking into account the characteristics of the social context. “Focus on Multilingualism” implies the coordination of teachers of different languages and also the coordination between language and content teachers. There can be many possibilities of coordination as we can see in Examples 1 and 2.

Example 1. Coordination between three language teachers: Writing a description in the 5th year of primary.

Main language of instruction is Basque. Students’ home language: Basque, Spanish, both or other.

Basque class: Miren, the Basque language teacher, explains how to write a description of a person in Basque. She explains the different elements that need to be included and the way these elements should be organized. Students write a description of one of their classmates.

Spanish class: Eli, the Spanish language teacher, shows a picture of a popular singer students know. Then students write the description in Spanish following what they have learned about the content and structure of descriptions in the Basque language class. The description of the popular singer in Spanish must have the same structure as the description of the classmate in Basque.

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English class: Jon, the English teacher, asks students to look at one of the pictures in their textbook and to describe somebody following what they have learned in the Basque class and practiced in the Basque and Spanish class. The description in English will be quite simple because the students’ level is not as high as in Basque and Spanish.

This is an example of coordination between three language teachers. The idea is that students follow a single model for descriptions in the three languages. The three languages reinforce each other when students write a description in each of the three languages and that they are not given different instructions at different times in each of the language classes.

Example 2. The three languages in the science class: Learning vocabulary

Language of instruction in the Science class: English. Main language of instruction at school: Basque. Students’ home language: Basque, Spanish, both, or other.

Asier is teaching science in English. He asks students to read a text about planets. Then students have to identify cognates by linking English words to Basque and/or Spanish words that have the same root. As it is a text on science, there are many cognates even in Basque that is a non-Indo-European language. Some of the cognates are “planet” (“planeta” in Basque and Spanish), “orbit” (“orbita” in Basque and Spanish), and “circular” (“zirkularra” in Basque and “circular” in Spanish).

In this example, students use resources from their linguistic repertoire so as to relate cognates in the three languages. The boundaries between languages are soft, and students are encouraged to use their knowledge of the three languages.

“Focus on Multilingualism” uses teaching strategies that go across languages and aims and building and reinforcing links so that students benefit from the use or their own resources in their linguistic repertoires (Cenoz & Gorter, 2017). These strategies can be labeled as pedagogical translanguaging because they have been designed by teachers to enhance language or language and content learning. Pedagogical translanguaging can be distinguished from spontaneous translanguaging and has its origin in bilingual education in Wales. According to Lewis, Jones, and Baker (2012) “the term defined ‘trawsieithu’ (translanguaging) was initially coined to name a pedagogical practice which deliberately switches the language mode of input and output in bilingual classrooms.” Pedagogical translanguaging as considered by Cenoz and Gorter (2019) includes the original use of translanguaging in Wales but goes beyond the alternation of input and output. It refers to explicit instruction and practice in the use of other strategies that promote the flexible use of student’s resources in their linguistic repertoire to support the development of multilingual competence. Translanguaging is also used to refer to spontaneous language practices that can take place in ←18 | 19→the classroom or outside the classroom. In this sense translanguaging has been defined by García and Sylvan (2011: 389) as “the process by which bilingual students and teachers engage in complex discursive practices in order to ‘make sense’ of, and communicate in, multilingual classrooms.” Translanguaging has a social justice perspective and advocates for the acceptance of immigrant students’ home language discursive practices at school.

Both “Focus on Multilingualism” and translanguaging go against ideologies of language separation in the classroom and isolation of the target language. They share this perspective with other approaches that argue for flexible bilingualism, translingual practices, and the use of L1 resources in the classroom (Cummins, 2007; Creese & Blackledge 2010; Lin, 2015; Canagarajah 2013). These approaches go against traditional views of language separation and look at the way multilingual speakers use languages. In the next section, the characteristics of the multilingual speaker will be discussed in more detail.

3. The Multilingual Speaker

The concept of communicative competence is often considered as the aim of language teaching, and it implies that learners do not only need to know the grammar, phonology, or lexis of a language but also need to use the language in an appropriate way. Communicative competence has different dimensions including linguistic, sociolinguistic (or sociocultural), pragmatic (or actional), discourse, and strategic competence (Canale and Swain, 1980; Bachman, 1990; Celce-Murcia, Dörnyei and Thurrell, 1995; Cenoz, 1996). The European Common Framework considers linguistic competences, sociolinguistic competence, and pragmatic competence and also includes discourse as part of pragmatic competence and strategic competence as related to task performance (Council of Europe, 2001).

In order to be a competent communicator, speakers need to use all the dimensions of communicative competence, but if we consider that multilingual education can involve several languages, it is also important to consider which goals should be set for each of the languages or for all the languages in the curriculum (Sagasta, 2003a; Gorter, 2015).

The communicative skills of multilingual speakers have traditionally been compared to those of native speakers of each of the languages. Language learning has been seen as an endless road or an incomplete journey. Even multilingual speakers such as Rosemary Wildsmith (2009: 110) share this view: “So I continue on my linguistic journeys, realizing that they can never be complete. The challenge to try and complete them, however, will always be there.” Language ←19 | 20→learning can certainly be seen as an incomplete journey because we go on learning languages all our life but the problem is that very often native speaker competence has been associated with perfect, ideal competence in the target language.

However, it is important to take into account that “all knowledge of a language is partial, however much of a ‘mother tongue’ or ‘native language’ it seems to be. It is always incomplete, never as developed or perfect in an ordinary individual as it would be for the utopian, ‘ideal native speaker’ ” (Council of Europe, 2001:169). In fact, monolingual native speakers use their language in a social context and may use non-standard forms that are useful for them in everyday communication even if they are different from those in standard grammars and textbooks.

The idea of being perfect or almost perfect as a native speaker is so rooted among professionals in language education that it can be astonishing when this competence is challenged. Radmira Popovic (2009) reports an interesting reflection on this issue. She was born and raised in former Yugoslavia and had Serbo-Croatian (which also included Bosnian) as her mother tongue. As a result of political events nowadays, three languages are distinguished: Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian. After living for some time in the United States, she was told that she did not qualify for a job because she was not a native speaker of Bosnian. Apart from political and social issues related to the way languages have developed in former Yugoslavia, what it is really interesting is Popovic’s (2009: 40) reflection about native speaker competence and perfection: “Now my native speaker competency was challenged, and I was designated “imperfect,” with regard to my own mother tongue. It seems that I am fated to always approach perfection, but the ultimate prize is elusive.”

The idea of rejecting non-native speakers can also be seen in some job offers for native speakers of English. Llurda (2014) explains how non-native English teachers often suffer from low-esteem because they see themselves as inferior when compared to native teachers. The reference to the ideal monolingual speaker implies that in some teaching contexts being monolingual in the target language is considered as more desirable than being multilingual. An example of this ideology is reflected in the following quote by a young teacher in one of our courses, who did not agree with the recommendation to pretend he was monolingual: “I was told by my tutor to tell young pupils that I was the English teacher and couldn’t understand any Basque or Spanish. Her intention was not bad but I told her that that was a lie; it was not real and asked her why I should hide the fact that I am multilingual. I am actually very proud of it and I thought children should know that the goal was to be multilingual.”

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Monolingual ideologies about the superiority of native speakers have been contested. Multilingual ideologies consider that multilingual speakers are not the sum of several monolingual speakers because they have a different type of competence that cannot be compared to that of monolinguals. As Canagarajah (2007) says, the type of competence speakers of English as a Lingua Franca have cannot be separated from their multilingual experience. In fact, learners in a globalized world have rich and dynamic trajectories and these experiences influence their learning process at school (Cenoz & Gorter, 2019). Multilinguals can be regarded as skilled communicators because they can communicate in different languages (Block 2007; Jenkins, Cogo & Dewey, 2011). Already some years ago, Cook (1992) used the concept of “multicompetence” to refer to the complex type of competence, which is qualitatively different from the competence of monolingual speakers (see also Cook & Li, 2016). The important point here is not that non-native speakers find native speaker competence as unreachable but that they have a different type of competence because they are multilingual speakers. Hall (2016, 2019) prefers the term “repertoire” to competence or multicompetence to refer to the totality of an individual’s language knowledge because it “captures the variable mix of heterogeneous, multilingual, and multimodal constructions that L2 learners draw on and develop in their diverse public, material, and digital contexts of use” (Hall, 2019: 87).

Another interesting development related to the repertoire is the concept of “building on plurilingual repertoire” included in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) companion volume (Council of Europe, 2018). This is related to the idea already included in the CEFR that speakers do not keep languages and cultures “in strictly separated mental compartments, but rather builds up a communicative competence to which all knowledge and experience of language contributes and in which languages interrelate and interact” (Council of Europe 2001: 4). Plurilingual and pluricultural competence has three dimensions: building on pluricultural repertoire, plurilingual comprehension, and plurilingual repertoire (Council of Europe, 2018). The last two dimensions are closely related to “Focus on Multilingualism” and pedagogical translanguaging. Tables 1 and 2 show some of the descriptors for these two dimensions.

Table 1. Examples of Descriptor for “Plurilingual Comprehension” (Council of Europe 2018: 160)


Can recognise internationalisms and words common to different languages (e.g. Haus/hus/house) to:

- deduce the meaning of simple signs and notices;

- identify the probable message of a short, simple, written text;

- follow in outline short, simple social exchanges conducted very slowly and clearly in his/her presence;

- deduce what people are trying to say directly to him/her, provided they speak very slowly and clearly, with repetition if necessary.


Can understand short, clearly written messages and instructions by piecing together what he/she understands from the versions in different languages.


Can use what he/she has understood in one language to understand the topic and main message of a text in another language (e.g. when reading short newspaper articles on the same theme written in different languages).


Can use his/her knowledge of contrasting genre conventions and textual pattern in languages in his/her plurilingual repertoire in order to support comprehension


No descriptors provided


No descriptors provided


Table 2. Examples of Descriptors for “Building on Plurilingual Repertoire” (Council of Europe 2018: 162)


Can use a very limited repertoire in different languages to conduct a very basic, concrete, everyday transaction with a collaborative interlocutor


Can use words and phrases from different languages in his/her plurilingual repertoire to conduct a simple, practical transaction or information exchange.


Can exploit creatively his limited repertoire in different languages in his/her plurilingual repertoire for everyday contexts, in order to cope with an unexpected situation.


Can make use of different languages in his/her plurilingual repertoire during collaborative interaction, in order to clarify the nature of a task, the main steps, the decisions to be taken, the outcomes expected.


Can respond spontaneously and flexibly in the appropriate language when someone else changes to another language in his/her plurilingual repertoire.


Can interact in a multilingual context on abstract and specialised topics by alternating flexibly between languages in his/her plurilingual repertoire and if necessary explaining the different contributions made.

These descriptors are some examples that confirm the importance of new trends that soften the boundaries between languages so that multilingual speakers use their resources. The fact that these trends are included in the CEFR could strengthen their use in language teaching in different countries. It is still early to know if the specific descriptors really reflect the different scales, and how they are related to the other aspects of communicative competence. Another ←21 | 22→ ←22 | 23→important point to be seen in the future is how these descriptors will be used in language teaching and language assessment. Even if the CEFR was already highlighting the interaction between languages in the 2001 publications in most cases, the scales have been used for each language in isolation without taking into account the competence multilingual speakers have in all the languages in their repertoire.

In this section, we have seen that multilingual speakers are different from monolingual speakers because of their trajectories and the complexity and dynamism of their repertoires. Multilingual speakers use languages according to the communicative needs of their interlocutors. Monolingual speakers use only one language for all communicative functions and situations but multilingual speakers use their broad linguistic repertoire in different ways depending on the context. In the next section, we will focus on multilingual speakers’ voices and the way they use their languages.

4. Multilingual Speakers’ Voices

In this section, we are going to focus on multilingual speakers’ voices by looking at the way they perceive the advantages and disadvantages of multilingualism, their use of the languages in the repertoire, and the way they perceive the interaction between these languages. The multilingual voices in this section come from two sources. Some are from the narratives of multilingual speakers who reflect about their own trajectories involving different languages (Todeva & Cenoz, 2009) and others are from graduate students at the University of the Basque Country who have Basque, Spanish, and/or English as a first language.

Perception of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Multilingualism

Multilingual speakers tend to perceive more advantages than disadvantages associated with multilingualism. A powerful image is given in a narrative by Charles Kowalski (2009: 171), an American multilingual speaker, who considers that learning a new language is “like adding a new window to your house, looking out in a new direction, towards a new country or culture.”

This idea of a new window to your house is described in other words by Chimwemwe Kamanga (2009: 126). He describes his use of several African languages and other languages such as English, French, Chinese and Esperanto: “My knowledge of different languages makes me aware of different cultural issues that are engraved in the languages. Consequently, multilingualism impacts on my manner of thinking, expressing myself and interacting with different people. My different languages have made me more tolerant of ←23 | 24→the differences of the peoples of the world. Therefore, being a multilingual has helped to transform my world view from a narrow beginning to a much wider present. Learning new languages gives me a sense of enrichment.”

The idea of getting a wider idea of the world is also described by a 26-year-old female graduate student with Basque and Spanish as her first languages and English as a third language:

I have come to the conclusion that speaking multiple languages brings a special sensibility to the person who speaks them. I believe that a multilingual person can in fact empathize with people belonging to other cultures in a deeper level. In other words, in my very own experience, I have noticed that multilingual people seem to be more open-minded, receptive and tolerant towards other identities in general terms. Moreover, I have observed that being able to communicate in several languages gives a person a wider view of the realities of the world and, consequently, the understanding of the world changes dramatically.

Apart from adding new windows to enjoy different views and perspectives, multilingual speakers also see practical advantages. Chimwemwe Kamanga (2009: 119–120) also sees the value of multilingualism as he describes in the following excerpt:

For example, one day while I was at Chiya Lagoon in Nkhotakota, negotiating the price of fish with the indigenous fish mongers, I spoke the Nkhotakota dialect of Chicheŵa in order to incorporate correctly. Chiya Lagoon is a place in Nkhotakota, one of the districts in the Central Region of Malaŵi, which is particularly famous for its nice fish. As such, many people passing through the place want to have ‘a taste of the place’. Because of this popularity, the fish are very expensive. By negotiating the price in the language of the land, I was able to persuade the sellers to give me a good price as a ‘brother’.

The economic advantages are also related to the job market as described by an English L1 graduate student: “Being multilingual can be a reason for a better job chances on the labour market and through that for an international and intercultural career.” Some students also added that being multilingual gives advantages when acquiring additional languages and when traveling.

In sum, we can see that multilingualism is seen as a rich personal experience that opens new windows and provides the opportunity to get to know about other cultures and become more tolerant. Multilingualism also has some practical advantages that can be seen, among others, when traveling, learning other languages, or in the job market.

Multilingual speakers find more advantages than disadvantages associated with multilingualism but they also discuss some disadvantages. The most common disadvantage is the interference from different languages. For example Hamzah Henshaw (2009: 167), who has English as his L1 but speaks several ←24 | 25→languages, explains in his narrative: “The fruits of my multilingual exposure seem to be most evident in the area of grammar and reading. As for other language skills, particularly speaking, I find that my multilingual background is sometimes a hindrance, as a second language often interferes with the production of a third or fourth.”

Rosemary Wildsmith (2009: 110), who has English as an L1 but speaks several other languages, also finds this difficulty: “This mixing of languages on a fairly regular basis causes some confusion, as words from all the other languages pop up in a totally unpredictable manner whenever I attempt to retrieve words from my mental lexicon.”

The idea of not being the ideal monolingual speaker because of multilingualism is mentioned as a disadvantage of multilingualism by a graduate student with English as L1: “It also seems reasonable to me to say that being multilingual might be detrimental to one’s own fluency in a language. Perhaps knowing two or more languages would mean that one’s grasp on each of those languages is weaker than a monolingual’s. I would venture to say that it takes an incredible amount of cognitive ability to have a comparable lexicon in two languages as a monolingual speaker in each of those languages.”

As a related topic this Basque L1 student considers the difficulty of reaching perfection in all the languages: “However, not everything is positive about being multilingual, as there are some disadvantages: the more languages you know the less possible you can reach the perfection in any of them because some issues can arise, such as interferences from one language to another and mixing vocabulary or even grammar of different languages.”

In sum, the disadvantages associated with multilingualism refer to the use of different elements of the linguistic repertoire while communicating in one of the languages and the idea of not reaching the competence of an ideal monolingual speaker.

Navigating between Languages

Multilingual speakers use the languages in their linguistic repertoire in different ways. The languages can be used for different functions or sometimes more than one language is used for the same function. Table 3 shows the use of Basque, Spanish, and English by three multilingual graduate students in the Basque Country. The three of them are fluent in the three languages and have courses in the three languages at the University.

Table 3. Basque Speakers Language Use Patterns

Even if the table only shows the language use patterns of three multilingual speakers, there are several points of interest. The first is that these speakers, who ←25 | 26→are fluent in the same languages and share other characteristics such as living in the same area and being students in the same master, show differences regarding the use of the three languages. For example, there are substantial differences in the use of English for reading novels or watching movies. Ainhoa uses Spanish, Asier uses English, and Idoia uses the three languages for reading novels and only English for watching movies.

It is interesting to see how Spanish, which is the dominant language in the Basque Autonomous Community, is used for many functions. Ainhoa uses Spanish for all functions, in some cases along with other languages. It is also interesting to see that Asier and Idoia, who are younger than Ainhoa, use English for many activities. The three students use English for their studies but the younger students use English for leisure activities as well.

What is more interesting as related to the characteristics of the multilingual speaker is that the three multilingual speakers use Basque, Spanish, and English depending on the activity and the interlocutor. In comparison, a monolingual speaker would use only one language for all activities and with all interlocutors. ←26 | 27→As multilingual speakers use only one language for certain activities but two or three languages for others, they cannot possibly have the same experience as monolingual speakers.

It is difficult to isolate multilingual competence without referring to the whole linguistic repertoire. Ainhoa has a high level of proficiency in Basque and English but she may have to make more of an effort to read newspapers in these two languages because she is used to reading newspapers in Spanish and she does not need the other two languages for this activity in her everyday life. Neither of the three multilingual speakers uses English to speak to a doctor but this is not related to their proficiency but to the fact that they live in the Basque Country.

By adopting a holistic multilingual view, we can consider that the three speakers are competent multilingual speakers who can carry out many activities by navigating between languages according to the context. They are different from monolingual speakers because they use one, two, or the three languages in their repertoire to carry out different activities. Another important aspect of multilingual competence is that it is dynamic. The languages used by the three multilingual speakers can change (Table 3) if they have new interlocutors or circumstances in their lives change. As multilinguals, they will navigate between languages but the patterns of use could be completely different even if they go on living in the same country.

The Acquisition of Additional Languages

Research on third language acquisition has indicated that bilinguals can also use these resources to learn additional languages and have advantages when learning a third language (see Cenoz, 2003, 2013). Some of these studies involve Basque, Spanish, and English. For example, Sagasta (2003b) reported that Basque-Spanish bilinguals who had a higher level of proficiency in both languages scored higher on writing skills in English as a third language than Basque-Spanish bilinguals who had a lower level of proficiency in Basque.

The positive effect of bilingualism on third language acquisition has been associated with having broader linguistic repertoire, metalinguistic awareness, and learning strategies. Bilinguals and multilinguals have a broader linguistic repertoire and can use their own multilingual resources when learning additional languages. Multilingual speakers can develop metalinguistic awareness and reflect about the possibility of using their own resources when learning an additional language. Elka Todeva (Todeva 2009: 61), who is a multilingual speaker with Bulgarian as L1, says the following in her narrative: “Through the years I realized, for instance, that even though my L1 is a Slavic language, it ←27 | 28→shares many words with French, Italian, English, and German. Some of this shared lexicon is the result of direct borrowing from these four languages, while another part came from Latin. This awareness of lexical units belonging to multiple languages greatly facilitated my vocabulary learning in Spanish.”

This comment shows that even when languages are not closely related and do not belong to the same family, a multilingual speaker can benefit from a broader linguistic repertoire. Elka Todeva can possibly benefit from her repertoire to a larger extent because she has a high level of metalinguistic awareness because of her education and career in applied linguistics and language teaching in higher education. Studies on third language acquisition show that bilingual learners have a high level of metalinguistic awareness because they can think about language in a more abstract way and look at it as an object (Lasagabaster, 1998; Jessner 2006). Multilingual speakers can also develop a wider range of learning strategies that help them to learn an additional language. Bowden, Sanz, and Stafford (2005: 122) reported that “They look for more sources of input, make an early effort to use the new language, and show self-direction and a positive attitude toward the task.” Kemp (2007) and Psaltou-Joycey and Kantaridou (2009) also reported that multilingual learners learning an additional language used more strategies than second language learners.

Studies on multilingual speakers learning additional languages have shown that they have advantages over monolingual learners of a second language when they use the resources they have in their linguistic repertoire. “Focus on Multilingualism” uses translanguaging pedagogies and strategies to reinforce the use of the multilingual repertoire and to develop metalinguistic awareness and benefit from multilingualism. Leonet, Cenoz and Gorter (2017) report a pedagogical intervention implemented in the 5th and 6th grades of Primary Education. The intervention aimed at using pedagogical translanguaging to develop language awareness and metalinguistic awareness (see also Cenoz & Arocena, 2018; Cenoz, Leonet & Saragueta, 2019). The following is an example of an activity.

Linguistic landscape in your town. Students take pictures of the linguistic landscape and discuss in groups the languages that are found in the language signs in their town. The aim is to reflect about the languages and relate them to their own linguistic practices both at school and outside school so as to become aware of the languages in their repertoire and in the town. A second exercise is aimed at developing metalinguistic awareness by analyzing the names of some of the shops and comparing them in the three languages. They look at words such as “loredenda”, which is “flower shop” in Basque and compare it to “floristeria” in Spanish. They see that the structure of the Basque and English words is the same (lore + denda= flower + shop) while the Spanish word is different.

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With this example, students get awareness of themselves as multilingual speakers and relate the languages in their repertoire with the languages they find in the linguistic landscape of the city. By exploring the linguistic signs students can also look at the status of the different languages. Furthermore, they can activate strategies that relate the resources in their multilingual repertoire so as to benefit from their multilingualism (Gorter, 2017). When they see that two languages that have a different origin such as Basque and English share the same structure in the case of some compound words they can use their own languages as a resource when learning additional languages.

4. Teaching Implications

The traditional ideas of using only the target language in the class and having the monolingual native speaker of the target language as a reference are challenged in this chapter for different reasons. The first reason is that it is not fair to compare monolingual to multilingual speakers when they are different. The second reason is that by ignoring multilingual resources in their repertoire multilingual speakers cannot benefit fully from their own multilingualism. In this chapter, we look at multilingual speakers and their characteristics and also at the way resources from his/her repertoire can be used by using pedagogical translanguaging strategies that soften the boundaries between languages. Adopting these strategies is a challenge for teachers, and in this section, we look at the main points that can be addressed in the classroom. First, we will look at the development of language awareness and metalinguistic awareness and then we will discuss teacher development and coordination.

Developing Language Awareness and Metalinguistic Awareness

Multilingual speakers have trajectories that are different from those of monolingual speakers, and it is important to acknowledge and respect these trajectories and to give value to all the languages. The curriculum may include only some of the languages in the linguistic repertoire, particularly in the case of immigrant students, but teachers can create situations in which other languages are discussed and valued. The descriptors to build a plurilingual repertoire and develop plurilingual comprehension proposed by the Council of Europe (2018) and presented in tables 1 and 2 can be extremely useful to acknowledge the resources of the whole linguistic repertoire and how they can be helpful to learn other languages.

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In bilingual and multilingual contexts, the development of language awareness is also linked to the status and use of the different languages. For example, in the Basque Autonomous Community the minority language, Basque, is widely used in education but students are not always aware of their own contribution as speakers of this language. Students’ awareness of the social context where multilingual speakers use their repertoire is extremely important. Multilingual speakers may face situations in which they are expected to use only one language and situations in which spontaneous translanguaging using elements from different languages in their repertoire is appropriate. The development of language awareness is necessary to identify the different ways a multilingual speaker can navigate between languages.

The role of the teacher is crucial to look at the progress in the development of multilingual competence without considering students as deficient speakers of the target language. Multilingual speakers are different from monolingual speakers and not the sum of several monolinguals.

As we have seen, bilinguals can have advantages over monolinguals learning additional languages and these advantages are linked to their broader repertoire, the higher development of metalinguistic awareness, and their enhanced learning strategies. Language teachers and researchers in applied linguistics usually have a high level of metalinguistic awareness and learning strategies but students usually need help to benefit from their own multilingual repertoire. Pedagogical translanguaging as shown in the example of the linguistic landscape can be used to help students to use their multilingual resources. The example shown in this chapter can be useful for the development of vocabulary but pedagogical translanguaging can be used in many different ways and at different levels. Vocabulary development by softening boundaries between languages includes apart from compounds, derivatives, or cognates among others. Pedagogical translanguaging can also be applied to grammar, pragmatics, pronunciation, or discourse.

Teacher Development and Coordination

The tradition of language separation is very strong, and it is a real challenge to soften the boundaries between languages and to implement pedagogical translanguaging. However, there is a need for multilingual competence to be developed and for students to benefit from their own linguistic repertoire. There are several points that need to be addressed to face the challenge of a real “Focus on Multilingualism” in school settings.

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1. All teachers need to develop a sensitivity toward language already during their training. Nowadays in a diverse and multilingual world, all teachers face challenges related to multilingualism and they need to be aware of their students’ multilingual repertoire.

2. Coordination between teachers should not be limited to teachers of the same subject but should also include the coordination between teachers who teach different languages and the coordination between language and content teachers.

3. An important step can be to develop an integrated curriculum for the languages taught at school. This implies the coordination between language teachers so that the teacher of each language designs his/her lesson plan taking into account the language elements that are being taught in the other languages. In the case of integrated curricula, each language teacher teaches only in the target language. The coordination can be very positive but pedagogical translanguaging goes further because it uses the different languages in each class. Coordination is desirable also in the case of pedagogical translanguaging but it is not strictly necessary.

In sum, “Focus on Multilingualism” and pedagogical translanguaging aim at developing language awareness, metalinguistic awareness, and learning strategies so that multilingual speakers benefit from their own multilingual repertoire and are valued as multilingual speakers.


This work was supported by the MINECO/FEDER [Grant number EDU2015-63967-R] and the Basque Government [Grant number DREAM IT-1225-19].


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