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Celebrating Multilingual Literature.

September 26, 2022
6 minute read

For those working within the early years sector, it soon becomes clear the power of words and the ways in which we introduce this to our children from a young age. You probably already celebrate literature in many different ways within your setting, from world book day to having a dedicated reading corner. But how do we celebrate multilingual literature and what are the tools needed to incorporate this into your daily lesson plans?

In this blog post we will explore the meaning of multilingualism, how early years settings can celebrate literature with children who are EAL learners and the role it plays in supporting any additional languages.

What do we mean by multilingual?

When we talk about multilingualism, it means the use of more than one language. In the UK, pupils who are multilingual speak another language aside from English. It also means that in most cases English will not be the first language. It is interesting to know that 21% of the primary aged population have English as an additional language. (National Literacy Trust). These are our EAL students and it is increasingly important for early years settings to be aware of the needs for inclusivity amongst this group.

If a speaker only has one language, this is known as monolingualism.

When we think about multilingualism, it may also be helpful to consider not just the language used, but the different cultures and backgrounds that having children who speak multiple languages in your setting may have. 

As keyworkers for the children in your setting, you will already have a sound understanding of a child’s specific needs and know how best to support them.

How do we support and celebrate multilingualism in the early years?

You are probably already well versed in what is expected within the EYFS about promoting diversity and cultural backgrounds within an early years setting. There are now many resources available to support your children who speak more than two languages and who may have English as an additional language.

When we talk about multilingualism, it is best to think about the wider picture and not just focus on the spoken words, but to learn about a child’s culture and background. Areas to consider would be what traditional food do they eat at home? Are there any special holidays that they celebrate? Who lives in the family home?

Your EAL pupils need to know about their identity; it is important to promote this from a young age and is a great opportunity to share this with their peers. It will help children to feel included and build the relationship between children and adults alike. Perhaps the children in your setting could share their favourite food or their favourite phrase for saying hello or goodbye.

Early years practitioners need to have a sound knowledge of the children within their care: their cultural and linguistic backgrounds, as well as family relationships. This can be built upon as you grow your working partnerships with families within your setting.

Above all, one of the best tools at your disposal is that of literature. Books offer stories that children will enjoy and want to read time and time again, this repetition is advantageous when learning a new language.

By selecting books that really celebrate a child’s cultural background, will promote a sense of pride and build confidence for the child. It also offers the chance for other children within the group to expand their minds and learn about new cultures and words.

Multilingualism should be supported and promoted as well as celebrated within the early years. It stimulates brain development and helps children learn as they are thinking of their own ideas in two (or more) different languages.

How literature supports EAL students:

Through reading books together, children develop their language and understanding of the world around them. This applies to children who speak one, two or more languages but is particularly advantageous to those where English isn’t a first language.

Children soon pick up certain words or behaviours of those around them and the same thing happens when they are reading. Certain words and phrases may relate to things they have seen or heard their peers doing, and they start to copy certain words and find they are able to join in more with play times.

Children’s picture books are used as an instrument to provide opportunities where children can then talk about their own experiences. Children within the early years will also enjoy reading books where they see their culture represented. This highlights the importance of children who are multilingual recognising that this is part of their identity.

We also want children to grow up with a love for reading, so while literature supports your EAL students, it also encourages others to pick up a book and read independently or in small groups.

A report from the National Literacy Trust found that multilingual young people enjoyed reading in their free time more than their monolingual peers.

Nearly 3 in 5 (56.4%) multilingual young people say that they enjoy reading in their free time, which is higher than the percentage of their monolingual peers who say this (46.3%).”

The report is an interesting read, you may enjoy reading the rest of it which you can do on the National Literacy Trust website. The report looks at children in an older age bracket but supports the importance of introducing literature from a very young age.

If children develop a love of reading from a young age, this is more likely to continue with them into adulthood.

If you are looking for more ways to celebrate multilingual literature, have a think about your own setting and the children who may benefit from reading certain books together.

Remember, Polylino is a multilingual digital picture book service for nurseries and primary schools to use with children aged 0-7 years old.

It is a brilliant early years resource with a library of books being read aloud in over 65 different languages. Polylino fully supports early years reading with our range of EYFS books, making reading fun and all the while supporting language development in early childhood.

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