Innovative approaches to support the linguistic development of young plurilinguals

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This paper synthesises emerging findings from three studies concerning the experiences of plurilinguals in Scottish primary schools, each demonstrating the positive effects of innovative approaches to language learning. Together, they reveal the transformative significance of meaningful encounters in local multilingual contexts for learners’ developing plurilingual identities. From this shared discovery, we consider implications for pedagogy and teacher education relating to young language learners, drawing both on the specific Scottish policy context and more broadly, on recent developments associated with the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).Over the last decade, two factors underlie significant changes in provision to promote plurilingualism in Scotland. Firstly, the school population has become increasingly multilingual, with 9% of pupils reported as knowing at least one other language in addition to English, and some 150 other languages recorded (Scottish Pupil Census, 2019). Secondly, the 1+2 Approach (Scottish Government Languages Working Group, 2012), which aims to ensure that all pupils begin acquiring one new language (‘L2’) from age 5 and another (‘L3’) from age10, contrasts with previous language education policies in that it starts from an inclusive position. 1+2 implies that all pupils in Scottish schools are plurilinguals in the making. Most come from English-speaking homes, but, as everyone starts learning an L2 from age 5, all are on course to become plurilingual in time. Some may already speak two or more languages quite fluently, and have opportunities to develop these languages in and out of school, and to become pluriliterate. Plurilingualism thus consitutes a continuum, with emergent plurilingualstowards one end, and more proficient, pluriliterate plurilinguals further along the line. Furthermore, 1+2 recognises that English is not necessarily students’ ‘first’ language’ (‘L1’), and therefore that English may be recognised and supported as L2. It provides space for learning and developing pupils’ other languages, particularly in the context of L3.Realising the potential of 1+2 presents many challenges for teachers, local authorities (municipalities) and other organisations concerned with language learning and teaching. Planning language learning opportunities for children with diverse backgrounds, in terms of language learning and experiences of language use, requires considerable ingenuity. Our studies investigated three innovative projects designed to explore, support and develop the plurilingual potential of upper primary pupils (age 10 and above). These initiatives were possible principally because the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence (Scottish Executive Curriculum Review Group, 2004) is predicated on teacher agency rather than a centrally prescribed curriculum (Priestley, Biesta, & Robinson, 2015), an orientation reflected in 1+2. In particular, the L3 space offers considerable scope for educators to develop their own models. Author 1 studied the impact of a multilingual creative writing project[1] on pupils’ developing plurilingual identities. Author 2 investigated the cultural dimension of L3 Mandarin provision, with an emphasis on pupils’ own perspectives on their learning experiences, in order to understand what elements of this provision were most engaging, and most likely to encourage learners to see themselves as emergent plurilinguals. Author 3 researched the involvement of plurilingual parents in L3 projects, exploring the potential to promote positive orientations towards the learning and use of the languages offered among all pupils involved, whether or not they had encountered these languages before. All three studies reveal the importance of astrong intercultural dimension to L3 provision and, critically, of local encounters with others who speak the languages in question. Pupils valued, and were keen to develop, their abilities to communicate in other languages, or across languages, when presented with local opportunities in which the rationale for plurilingual engagement was clear
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2020
EventECER: Educational Research (Re)connecting Communities: (Conference Cancelled) - University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Aug 202028 Aug 2020


ConferenceECER: Educational Research (Re)connecting Communities
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • pluralinguals
  • linguistic developments
  • plurilingualism in Scotland


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