Approaches to Multilingual Learning



I have recently read an informative conference report in the EAL Journal by Graham Smith, Managing Director of The EAL Academy The ECIS ESLMT Conference 2017 was held in Copenhagen. ECIS stands for The Educational Collaborative for International Schools. It was primarily a conference about EAL in International Schools but Graham Smith broadened the focus to include other schools with EAL children. As educators, we should all be striving to keep learning so it is important to keep informed about where thinking is currently focused. In this blog, I’ll explore some of his thoughts and add some of mine.


A ‘Mother Tongue’ Free School?


In the report, Graham Smith gives a link to the free school proposed in Peterborough outlined at the conference by Nicola Claire.

Their vision includes the following,

‘Concordia Primary School will be a two-form entry school with a 30 FTE placement nursery. It will take children from the age of 3 to 11 years. It will open in September 2019 with two reception classes and a nursery.


At Concordia Primary School your child will be able to continue to learn their mother tongue language. Alongside, they will learn English. In KS2, they will have the opportunity to learn a third language. All languages will be taught using bilingual approaches to language teaching. This approach enables your child to engage with the languages they are learning in real, everyday situations.’


Putting my cards on the table, I am yet to be convinced of the overall positive benefits of both free schools and academies, particularly in the primary sector, as from my experience in England, they may be divisive, as this BBC article points out Furthermore, there may be a lack of coherence in the curriculum for children moving schools across the country as what they are taught becomes fragmented. However, perhaps the opportunity given to education experts and parents to take control of their children’s learning journeys will prove my current thoughts wrong.


Concordia and other similar schools may in fact become pioneers and help ‘ensure all pupils within the school have a voice that is listened to’ – an example of many actions schools can take to promote British values.


According to the British Council,

‘The rich diversity of England’s culture, society and language, which has evolved over centuries, is reflected in schools. Over 25% of pupils are from an ethnic minority background and almost one in six pupils speaks English as an additional language.’

Therefore, providing children who have English as an additional language with the learning environment to succeed by using their knowledge and understanding in their first language whilst at the same time accelerating their English development in order to be able to fully participate in the society in which they are being brought up is a difficult but vital task.


Message Abundancy

Pauline Gibbons gave a workshop and mentioned ‘Message Abundancy’ as a concept to help teach advanced EAL learners.  I must be honest – I had to look this term up.

In short, it means sharing learning in as many different ways as possible, including using:

*informal language

*charts and visuals


*prereading before exploring complex texts

*examples in videos and movies and on the internet, too.  


Looking at these examples, it is reassuring as Mantra Lingua’s resources address many of these message abundancy approaches. For example:


*the viVOS Artframe (for creative learning): this encourages informal and formal talk and provides a multisensory approach to learning


*the award-winning Kitabu e-booklub (Mantra Lingua's library of 520+ e-books): this is the world's largest interactive e-book range in dual language. Every story can be read or listened to, page by page, in the home language, in English, or in combination. This acts as an excellent form of prereading.


*the books themselves!: Mantra Lingua has a wide range of beautifully illustrated books available in English and in dual language options. There are classics such as Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’

and there are also many refreshing culturally inclusive options such as ‘Deepak’s Diwali’ Here is a great book that explains the Festival of Lights, the Rama and Sita story, things to make and recipes for the classroom. The book is set in contemporary Britain, where Dad has forgotten the sparklers, the fairy lights are broken, and, after hearing the story of Rama and Sita, Deepak is sure that Ravana the demon king is after him. Follow the link to find out more!

There are also books for the adults, too. One such example is ‘Bilingual Books Biliterate Children’. Teachers, parents and researchers will find the book invaluable. It explores the nature and benefits of bi-literacy and offers ideas and strategies for teaching young children languages.


Final Thoughts

There are many other interesting points raised in Graham Smith’s report and I urge those of you interested in EAL learning in particular, and education in general, to follow the link above and have a look if you’ve not yet done so.

Also, please explore our Mantra Lingua website for EAL learning goodies waiting for your perusal!


Extra Information about ECIS-ESLMT


From the ECIS-ESLMT website:  

‘Our New Name! (Multilingual Learning In International Education Committee)

We changed the name because we as a committee want to provide a platform to support all the teachers and educators who are striving to implement multilingual approaches in line with research at schools everywhere.


‘The ECIS English as a Second Language and Mother Tongue committee's role is to provide a forum where educators can learn about, discuss and reflect on best practice in the field of second language acquisition and mother tongue development.  Our intention is to inspire school communities to nurture the linguistic and cultural identities of their students in order to create successful multilingual, multi-literate global citizens.’