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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: February 2015

8 - Multilingual education and multilingual literacies


You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.

Geoffrey Willans


The centrality and growth of multilingualism worldwide has generated a linguistic reality that has given rise to new educational requirements. Advances in technology and the ever-growing demand for international communication and international mobility have led to the need for people to have command of more than one language. In addition, a greater recognition of minority languages in states that previously promoted monolingualism has produced an increase in multilingualism. Most of the world’s languages are minority languages. The need for literacy and communicative skills is changing, and the mobility of people across nations is generating ever more transnational multilingualism. This new multilingualism can jeopardise small languages, but it can also lead to the maintenance of the linguistic uniqueness of the different people who have come into contact with each other. The price of globalisation does not have to be the loss of ethnic individuality, identity or roots; it may bring with it a yearning for recognition of differences and the acceptance of otherness.

Multilingual education has become an urgent concern. It is a dynamic enterprise that involves multiple practices and challenges at various times for different individuals in diverse parts of the world. The importance of multilingual education is uncontested, for it has the role of protecting and maintaining different languages, speech communities, their identities and linguistic longevity. The ecological and sociocultural context of a multilingual world underpins the relationship between languages, and various policy strategies can be used to achieve a harmonious balance between all languages in a given environment (Haugen 1972; Hornberger 2003; Mühlhäusler 2003; Fill and Mühlhäusler 2001; Skutnabb-Kangas et al. 2003). This ecology of languages is reflected in multilingual education systems in which multilingualism is no longer a deficit but an asset, as stated, for example, by Baker (2002), who writes about the advantages of multilingualism for communication, culture, cognition, curriculum, cash and career.