Embracing Plurilingualism in Early Childhood Education:

A Pathway to Inclusive Learning

Imagine being at a bustling kindergarten in the UAE, surrounded by a dynamic mix of children from different cultural backgrounds. Some chatter in Arabic or English, while others seamlessly switch to Urdu, Hindi, or Malayalam. This vibrant mosaic of languages is not just a visual delight but a testament to the significant power of plurilingualism.

Plurilingualism refers to an individual’s ability to use multiple languages flexibly, with varying degrees of proficiency, across different contexts. It recognizes the unique linguistic repertoire of an individual and the cultural understanding and competence that emerge from it (Garcia & Otheguy, 2020). Plurilingualism is different from the more familiar concept of multilingualism, where the latter targets the broader societal language landscape, such as the presence and use of multiple languages within a particular society, without addressing the language proficiency or use by the individuals in this society (Auer, 2022).


Plurilingualism refers to an individual’s ability to use multiple languages flexibly, with varying degrees of proficiency, across different contexts.


While plurilingualism emphasizes the individual’s holistic language repertoire and dynamic, fluid language use to communicate effectively, multilingualism considers languages as separate systems that coexist within a community and is more concerned with policies and practices that manage societal language diversity.

Therefore, plurilingualism is a skill that holds immense significance, particularly in countries with substantial immigrant or expatriate populations. In the context of globalization and transnationalism, embracing plurilingualism has emerged as a critical aspect of Early Childhood Education (ECE). For instance, plurilingualism is integral to the European Council’s language policy, promoting the idea that learning multiple languages from an early age enriches communication and leads to a greater understanding and appreciation of the other.Children are highly receptive during their early formative years and can readily acquire the languages in their realm. Therefore, integrating plurilingualism into the classroom offers numerous benefits, including fostering a broader intercultural understanding and appreciation of diversity (Cummins, 2014). By embracing plurilingualism, educators can create inclusive learning environments where every child feels understood and valued, thereby promoting a sense of belonging among all students, irrespective of their linguistic or cultural backgrounds. In kindergarten and primary schools, as children shape their identities and develop their worldviews, their exposure to different languages and cultures lays a foundation for tolerance, empathy, and respect and opens doors to new perspectives.

Plurilingualism also enhances children’s cognitive development. Studies reveal that multilingual individuals often demonstrate enhanced problem-solving abilities, increased creativity, and superior cognitive flexibility and mental capacity, which, in turn, paves the way for future academic success and lifelong learning (Muszynska, 2015). Thus, by integrating plurilingualism into the curriculum, schools can equip students with a holistic educational experience that prepares them to navigate the complexities of a globalized world. In addition, by embracing plurilingualism, educators can actively cultivate an environment where linguistic diversity is not only accepted but also celebrated.Recognizing the value of a plurilingual environment leads us to actionable steps for practical implementation in the classroom. Drawing on insights from academic research, the following are some effective practices* that can help educators create a linguistically and culturally rich atmosphere:

  • Celebrate plurilingualism and multiculturalism: Organize cultural events or presentations where students can share their languages and cultural traditions with the class. This fosters cultural appreciation and allows students to feel valued for their linguistic heritage. Encourage students to use their linguistic repertoire to understand and express themselves in the target language.
  • Multilingual labeling: Transform your classroom into a language immersion experience. Create a multilingual classroom by labeling objects and using vocabulary in different languages.
  • Embrace students’ languages: Celebrate the languages students bring to the classroom. For example, acknowledge greetings in their home languages and encourage them to know greetings in other languages. Incorporate student-created posters with multilingual greetings on the classroom door.
  • Multilingual brainstorming: During brainstorming sessions, allow students with shared languages to generate ideas in their native languages and then come together and present them in the target language. This fosters collaboration and reinforces vocabulary in both languages.
  • Language buddy: Create a “language buddy” system where students from different language backgrounds work together. This allows students to support each other’s learning and practice of the target language while learning about each other’s languages.

  • Linguistic connections: Model experimentation with different languages. Explicitly teach students how languages connect. Compare sentence structures from different languages, identify cognates, and highlight pronunciation similarities or differences. Invite students to contribute.
  • Media and songs: Use movie clips or excerpts in different languages to engage students and expose them to various accents and cultural nuances. Also, learning through songs in multiple languages is a fun way to practice pronunciation, rhythm, and vocabulary. Many children’s songs have multilingual versions available online, or you can create simple songs with your students.
  • Plurilingual class projects: Design projects in which students present information in multiple languages, showcasing their linguistic skills. This can be a multilingual brochure, podcast, or play. Invite their parents to help.
  • Multilingual classroom library: Curate a diverse classroom library that includes books, magazines, and other resources in various languages. This provides opportunities for independent exploration and exposure to different cultures and languages.

*Adapted from Garcia, 2009 and D’warte & Slaughter, 2024.

By incorporating these activities, teachers can create a stimulating learning environment that celebrates plurilingualism and empowers students to become confident users of multiple languages. Hence, to fully capitalize on the advantages of plurilingualism in ECE, educators need to have a comprehensive understanding of the principles and practices of this approach to navigate the rich tapestry of languages and cultures in today’s classrooms. By integrating modules on plurilingualism into teacher education programs, educational institutions can empower future educators with the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate the complexities of linguistically diverse classrooms. Hence, teachers could view linguistic diversity in class not as a challenge but as a valuable asset that enriches the educational experience for all students.

In conclusion, plurilingualism centers on building bridges, breaking down barriers, and unlocking the magic of language diversity. Embracing plurilingualism in ECE sends a powerful message about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusivity. It recognizes the unique linguistic and cultural contributions that each child brings to the learning environment, fostering the children’s belonging to the classroom and school. By valuing and celebrating linguistic diversity, educators not only honor the rich cultures within the classroom but also lay the groundwork for a more tolerant, empathetic, and culturally enriched society.



  • Auer, P. (2022). 5 ‘Translanguaging’ or ‘Doing Languages’? Multilingual practices and the
  • notion of ‘Codes’. In Multilingual Perspectives on Translanguaging (pp. 126-153). Multilingual Matters. https://doi.org/10.21832/9781800415690-007
  • Cummins, J. (2014). Mainstreaming plurilingualism: Restructuring heritage language
  • provision in schools. Rethinking Heritage Language Education, 1-19.
  • D’warte, J., & Slaughter, Y. (2024). Examining plurilingual repertoires: A focus on policy,
  • practice, and assessment in the Australian context. In S. Melo-Pfeifer & C. Ollivier (Eds.), Assessment of plurilingual competence and plurilingual learners in educational settings: Educative issues and empirical approaches (pp. 62-75). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003177197-5
  • Garcia, O. (2009). Translanguaging as a bridge for understanding in bilingual education.
  • Educational Researcher, 38(1), 13–24.
  • García, O., & Otheguy, R. (2020). Plurilingualism and translanguaging: commonalities and
  • divergences. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 23(1), 17–35. https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2019.1598932
  • Muszynska, B. (2015). Ways of measuring the effectiveness of bilingual education programs
  • in primary schools in Europe. Retrieved from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Ways-of-measuring-the-effectiveness-of-bilingual-in-Muszyńska/62d8cb4ad0a3c1145c1c147724132d08cc065d61

Dr. Mona El Samaty has over 20 years’ experience in education, including teaching English as foreign language (TEFL), research, and teacher education. Dr. El Samaty received the 2021 Leithwood Award for Outstanding Thesis Award of the Year from the University of Toronto, besides other grants and awards. She has served in Lecturer and Assistant Professor positions in higher education in Egypt, the UAE, and Canada, both in TEFL and teacher education. She also served as academic advisor, supporting graduate students at the University of Toronto with their theses. Dr. El Samaty has spoken in over 30 international research conferences. Research interests include: teacher education, teaching methods that promote student-centered learning, qualitative research, and sociolinguistics.


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