At SchoolSphero Team
Multilingual learning strategies are designed to acknowledge diversity and celebrate it in the classroom.

Diversity is in every classroom: students come from different backgrounds, have different skills, and speak different languages. Multilingual learning strategies are designed to not only acknowledge this diversity but to celebrate it with the aim of helping all students achieve success in academics and beyond. The ability to speak—and further, to learn—in multiple languages is invaluable. Multilingual learning and encouraging students to hone their multilingual skills could have lasting benefits for young learners throughout their lives.   

What is multilingual learning?  

Multilingual learning refers to the process of teaching students who regularly engage with more than one language. For example, in the U.S. a student may be in a school where instruction is English-based while Spanish is the primary language at home. Effective multilingual learning fosters a welcoming environment for those students and uses research-based instructional strategies to support their learning. 

A multilingual learning environment is most successful when educators create an inclusive environment that celebrates language diversity and encourages students to improve their mastery of multiple languages by forming connections between words and ideas.    

Getting Started with Multilingual Learning   

A good place to start with multilingual learning (or any type of learning) is to consider who you’ll be teaching, what they know, and where they come from. Chris McCormick, Sphero Education Content Manager, finds that WIDA, a consortium that has put together a helpful framework for multilingual learning, offers excellent key considerations when teachers are developing instruction for multilingual learners. Teachers can ask:  

  • What are their previous educational experiences? 
  • Have they recently arrived in the U.S.? 
  • What are their cognitive and behavioral strengths, needs, and abilities? 
  • What are their personal experiences?  

These considerations allow teachers to customize instruction for their students which will not only make it more effective from an academic standpoint, but also create a more welcoming and engaging environment for their learners.   

Best Strategies for Multilingual Learning  

For educators working with multilingual learners, one of the most important things to remember is that a positive teaching foundation translates across language barriers. This means that effective teaching strategies based on empathy and acceptance should easily translate from monolingual to multilingual learners. That said, there are some helpful strategies we want to highlight when it comes to multilingual learning.  

Create a welcoming environment  

Students learn their best when they feel welcome and safe, so creating an inclusive classroom environment is key. This can be achieved in many ways, such as offering learning materials that relate to a variety of different identities and experiences, using multilingual labels, and inviting students to share their language or culture.  

Make it fun  

Making multilingual learning fun for students not only helps them acquire new languages more effectively, but it also fosters a positive attitude toward language learning. Roosevelt Elementary English as a Second Language Teacher, Dana Finneran, utilizes ELD STEAM in her classroom to create a more engaging learning environment, Finneran says.

“We select missions or tasks that are meaningful to students and connect to language standards and classroom content. We have learned that ELD STEAM is a safe time and place for translanguaging, in fact, it's encouraged! We have also learned that using the different Sphero robots provides students with academic language opportunities in real life.”  

Engage with families  

As an educator of multilingual learners, making connections with a student’s family is invaluable. Not only does it invite parents or guardians to be active in the student’s learning process, but it can also provide teachers with insights into the student’s home language and culture that can be brought into the classroom.  

Scaffold learning 

Scaffolding is an educational strategy in which the teacher provides support as needed to students to help them establish independent learning skills. This can involve modeling or demonstrating lessons, prompting students with helpful questions, and creating connections that will help students absorb knowledge.  

Consult multilingual learning standards  

When planning a curriculum for multilingual learners, there are many resources at your disposal, including standards developed by WIDA. Using these standards as a framework for instruction can streamline your planning process, improve outcomes, and develop a welcoming environment for all students.  

Chris re-emphasizes that many teachers implement these approaches already. “Most of these strategies are not new to teachers and are not unique to multilingual learners,” he says. “Good instruction is good instruction, regardless of the language being used.”   

Benefits of multilingualism  

Ultimately, encouraging students to feel comfortable in more than one language can have many positive impacts, ranging from social benefits, like being able to speak to and understand a wider number of people, to neurological benefits, such as improved brain plasticity. Here are just some of the key advantages that multilingualism can have over the course of a student’s life:  

Expands understanding of other cultures  

One of the biggest benefits of being multilingual is that it opens up our understanding of other people, cultures, and places. While traveling, speaking more than one language can allow you to more thoroughly immerse yourself by communicating directly and learning from others’ lived experiences.  

Enhances understanding of primary languages   

By learning a new language, students can gain a stronger understanding of their primary language. In other words, learning another language’s grammar, verb conjugation, and expressions can illuminate their primary language’s structure and traits. In the long run, this can help students master each language they speak and learn new languages more easily.  

Creates job opportunities  

As our world becomes increasingly connected and globalized, the ability to communicate in multiple languages offers a massive competitive advantage, particularly as students grow up and enter the job market. Companies and organizations are keen to recruit people with multilingual skills and it can open doors for them to work internationally.   

Increase the ability to switch between tasks   

Research suggests that people who are bilingual are better at switching between tasks than those who speak a single language. One study looked at three different groups of bilingual children and compared their performance on a series of cognitive tasks to monolingual children and found that "all of the bilinguals could switch from one task to another more rapidly than could the monolinguals." It seems that the ability to "toggle" between two or more languages improves one's ability to switch between tasks more generally.  

Improves cognitive function  

Evidence suggests that learning multiple languages can actually shape the brain and improve its ability to reorganize and adapt. Recent studies have also shown that multilingualism has a positive effect on cognition as you age and can help fend off things like dementia.  

Dynamic multilingual learning

The beauty of multilingual learning is that it permeates all subjects: students can learn new vocabulary and practice their language fluency while doing art, math, or science. Sphero’s STEM kits and STEAM activities are a great fit for a multilingual classroom and can get kids engaged in multiple levels of education at once.  

At school