Embracing Multilingualism at Schools

Roma Chumak-Horbatsch is a professor at Ryerson University and works at the School of Early Childhood Studies. She developed Linguistically Appropriate Practices (LAP) to enhance language learning for new students, primarily immigrant students, who have little to no understanding of the school language. LAP has been implemented in diverse sectors such as childcare centres, family programs, full-day kindergartens, and classrooms across Ontario and beyond.

Within classrooms, children ask language-related questions, share books, demonstrate their growing knowledge about their native language as well as the languages of their friends. As a result, parents reported an increase in their children’s eagerness to speak and learn their home language. Undergraduate students from early learning centres describe LAP as a bridge between their home and school. They further stated that it creates a comfort zone for children who do not speak English.

Roma Chumak-Horbatsch

Professor Emeritus Roma Chumak-Horbatsch has a long history that connects with her passion for languages. She has worked as an educational consultant, classroom teacher, professor, professional development leader and speaker, field placement supervisor, and as a mentor for graduate and undergraduate students as well as teachers. Furthermore, Prof. Chumak-Horbatsch has collaborated in the past with settlement workers, speech and language pathologists, families in addition to community leaders. Her areas of expertise include language acquisition, childhood bilingualism, and multilingual pedagogy. Engagement with children helps her to receive a better understanding of language-rich teaching and learning dynamics.

Her research-based and field-tested resources about multilingualism have been applied by teachers globally and transformed the classroom into multilingual and multiliterate environments. The main focus is to provide tasks and activities to explore students’ prior language knowledge and their linguistic as well as literacy skills. Moreover, newcomer children are included and encouraged to connect with classmates. They support these students in learning the school language and aim to deliver a sense of purpose and belonging.

Linguistically Appropriate Practices

The number of immigrant children in Canadian cities keeps rising continuously. According to studies, more than 50% of students in Toronto are non-English speakers. Moreover, childhood professionals are uncertain about how they can meet the needs of newcomer children. Hence, they have to rely on efficient guidance for teaching languages effectively. Current classroom practices reported that for the majority, the requirements for language and literacy are not met, which increases the demand for effective language teaching. Linguistically Appropriate Practice create successful guidance to fulfil such needs.

LAP is directly designed for early childhood professionals to enhance the understanding of the language reality of immigrant children. It is structured to acknowledge the dual lingual and literacy needs of these children and to provide support throughout the process of discovering their two language worlds. LAP focuses on encouraging all children to participate in language and literacy activities through actively posing questions and seeking answers related to languages and language learning together with engaging in discussions and sharing ideas. As immigrant children, also called English Language Learners (ELL), enter the stage of acquiring the school language, they begin their journey as bilingual speakers, which is a significant period in their life.

LAP is structured into 3 parts:

1. The first part reports on the presence of newcomer children globally including within metropolitan centres that house a big population of immigrants. The segment draws attention to different aspects of the children’s language, their lives, abilities, capacities, potential, and the difficulties they face when they join a classroom where a language is spoken that they do not comprehend. It also outlines the dynamics of bilingualism.

2.  In the second part of LAP, early childhood professionals are welcome to participate in the LAP challenge which is to become promoters of young newcomers developing bilingualism. Following this, classrooms are accommodated to multilingual and multiliterate environments.

3. Section 3 of LAP incorporates more than 50 activities and ideas and tips for their implementation for language learning and teaching. The incorporation of LAP has benefits for children, families, and professionals. It supports children through encouraging them to participate in personal as well as group identity discussions and answers to questions such as “Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? Where do I belong?”. Moreover, LAP teaches children about important language and social science, geography, and further assists in developing math skills. It aids immigrant as well as newcomer children to build bridges between their two language worlds and to be able to foster their home language. Concerning childhood professionals, through the adoption of LAP, they develop skills such as identifying different languages, becoming a language learner and bringing linguistic diversity to liveliness in the classroom.

Multilingual Teaching

According to Prof. Chumak-Horbatsch, multilingual teaching is an inclusive pedagogy that reflects, supports, extends, and enriches the social and linguistic realities of every language learner. Due to the increase of linguistic diversity in schools, teachers shift their teaching from a monolingual to a multilingual focus. Multilingual teaching challenges the traditional language separation and connects the home language to the school language and shifts its local curriculum to the global view.

Multilingualism is like a tree. The leaves and branches, which are visible, include classroom activities, multilingual practices, initiatives, and projects about languages. The roots, which are the invisible part, consist of bilingual and learning theories, frameworks alongside orientations that support and interpret this pedagogy. The health of the roots has an impact on the state of the leaves and the branches. Hence, both parts are connected and vital for functioning, which means if one part of the tree is affected, the other part may also suffer. Understanding this theory will help to sustain multilingual teaching and provide a clear vision for multilingual teachers.


Globalization, international migrations, transnational population mobility have changed the linguistic diversity of schools globally. According to UNICEF’s document “Uprooted”, it has been reported that 50 million children have left their home country since 2016. As these children enter schools and childcare centres, the language richness of the school population rises significantly. Hence, monolingual teaching does not operate in language-rich classrooms. Multilingual teaching is a powerful pedagogy for linguistically diverse schools and classrooms for enriching all learners. Gary Howard stated, as our world continues to become more diverse, so must we grow as well!

“A different language is a different vision of life.” Federico Fellini

Final words: SIETAR Austria and The Multilingual Garden would like to express their appreciation and gratitude to Prof. Roma Chumak-Horbatsch for participating in this journey of spreading awareness on the importance of multilingualism and sharing effective methods of how to improve language learning and teaching through Linguistically Appropriate Practices (LAP).

You can find further information about Prof. Roma Chumak-Horbatsch at: https://www.ryerson.ca/early-childhood-studies/about/people/faculty/roma-chumak-horbatsch/

Furthermore, we are grateful to Dr. Karin Martin for leading The Multilingual Garden and continually acknowledging the value of multilingualism for our societies.

References and Sources:

YouTube Link to Linguistically Appropriate Practices (LAP) & Multilingual Teaching with Prof. Chumak:

Information about The Multilingual Garden: https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-multilingual-garden/?trk=ppro_cprof&originalSubdomain=at

Information about the School of Early Childhood Studies: https://www.ryerson.ca/early-childhood-studies/

Picture of Prof. Roma Chumak-Horbatsch: https://www.ryerson.ca/early-childhood-studies/about/people/faculty/roma-chumak-horbatsch/

Link to the Cover Image: https://kbimages1-a.akamaihd.net/7073080c-8f47-4156-9d94-6d579c95b07e/1200/1200/False/linguistically-appropriate-practice.jpg

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