Indigenous Languages: A Toolkit for Teachers

The 21st of February is International Mother Language Day. This day is a celebration of the world’s cultural and linguistic diversity. For this year’s edition, we turn the spotlight on Indigenous languages to celebrate the start of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032) as declared by the United Nations.

Why are Indigenous languages so important?

Languages are like treasure chests, containing a wealth of centuries-old histories, cultures, world views and knowledge systems. With every language that is lost, we are robbing ourselves of our human diversity. This is not an issue that only concerns Indigenous peoples, as we all stand to lose if this process is not reversed.

Although a minority, Indigenous peoples protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Their languages hold valuable knowledge, for instance how to care for the lands, forest and water systems in a sustainable way. But also how to adapt, mitigate and reduce the risks associated with climate change.

Toolkit for Teachers

For educators who would like to join the celebrations of the International Mother Language Day and are interested in focusing on Indigenous languages, we gathered some valuable resources, ideas and information to help you get started. Open the Teacher Toolkit here: Indigenous Languages- Teachers package (1)

Indigenous languages are tied to many topics that are already discussed in the classroom:

  • Climate Justice, Climate Change & Sustainability
  • World Citizenship & International Solidarity
  • Cultural Diversity & Cross-Cultural Dialogue
  • (International) Human Rights & Anti-racism
  • Histories of Marginalisation & Colonisation (and their legacies)

What can you find in this resource kit?

  • Why should we all care about Indigenous languages?
  • Ideas to create a lesson on Indigenous languages
  • Relevant background information to dive deeper

Share your lessons with us!

Did you put some ideas in practice by designing a lesson about indigenous languages?
Let us know by sharing your experience, photos or videos via social media with hashtag:

The Language Friendly School Network starts the new year with 20 schools spanning four continents: Europe, North America, the Caribbean and Asia. Another milestone! We welcome the new schools with their teams, students, and families. 

The schools who joined our network in the last six months of 2021 are just as diverse as their students: they include three international schools; two language schools for newcomers and one regular public school. Together, the Language Friendly School network now represents over 7000 students.   

Network Meeting

During our next Network Meeting on Thursday January 13, we will give a warm welcome to the five most recently certified Language Friendly Schools: Kindercampus Zuidas (Amsterdam), Schakelklas Westland (Monster), Dulwich College (Suzhou), OBS Prinsenbos (Gilze), and Amstelland International School (Amstelveen). 

The Language Friendly School Network Meetings are a place where teachers, principals and parents meet, discuss and share ideas on how to make their school even more inclusive. At our next LFS Network Meeting three schools will present their favourite Language Friendly Activity. 


Interested in joining our Network Meetings? Have a look at the website to find out how to become a Language Friendly School! 

Welke rol voor beleidsmakers?

Op dinsdag 21 december 2021 van 19:30-21:00 uur organiseert het SIRIUS European Platform for Migrant Education in samenwerking met de Rutu Foundation for Intercultural Multilingual Education en onderzoeksbureau Risbo, de Vierde Nationale Rondetafel bijeenkomst. In verband met covid zal de bijeenkomst online zijn.

De SIRIUS National Round Tables worden elk jaar in 17 Europese lidstaten gehouden om inzicht te krijgen en creatieve oplossingen te vinden voor de verbetering van het onderwijs aan leerlingen met een migratieachtergrond in Europa. Het thema in Nederland is de rol van meertaligheid in het onderwijs. Met verschillende stakeholders (leerkrachten, ouders, opleiders) wisselen wij van gedachten en geven aanbevelingen hoe meertaligheid een prominentere plaats binnen het onderwijs zou kunnen vervullen.

Op 21 december staat de rol van onderwijsbestuurders en beleidsmakers centraal.

Wij nodigen u van harte uit om deel te nemen aan dit gesprek.

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mother helping her son to read in school library

The Language Friendly School – a network of schools that welcome all languages – supports school communities in achieving realistic goals that aim to include plurilingual learners in education.

Most recently, the Language Friendly School had the opportunity to discuss the processes of implementation and the changes that have occurred since adopting Language Friendly approaches at eight Language Friendly Schools across the Netherlands and in Canada.

What drives administrators and teachers to opt for a Language Friendly approach?

The administrators and teachers who were interviewed* for this project hold varying levels of familiarity with linguistic and cultural diversity.

Some advocated for the Language Friendly School approach in an attempt to reconcile their own experiences as young children who faced challenges due to linguistic differences and lack of representation in education. Others saw the need in their communities as a result of the growing number of linguistically and culturally diverse migrant families in their schools.

Significant improvements in student and parent participation

One of the most striking results of these interviews is that teachers and school administrators have seen significant improvements in student and parent participation and engagement in the life of the school.

The Language Friendly School created opportunities for communication between students, their families, and community partners. Participants shared many innovative teaching practices developed by teachers and members of the school as a whole, including students. All have a common goal: to facilitate exchange and celebration of diversity in education for better learning and a more inclusive environment.

Analysis of the interviews presents important insight into what changes can be made to support plurilingualism in traditionally monolingual settings.

The final report will provide a more detailed explanation of both the pedagogical and structural changes that have already been applied, as well as those that have yet to be implemented at the participating schools. We will also explore in greater detail the behavioral and attitudinal changes of all members of the school community in response to the move toward more intentional practices that support linguistic and cultural inclusivity in education.


* Interviews were conducted by Priscilla Boyce (Rutu Foundation) and analysed by Dr Emmanuelle Le Pichon-Vorstman and Reshara Alviarez (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto).

Frequently Asked Questions about the UN Committee’s report on the Netherlands

In August 2021, the UN Committee Against Racial Discrimination expressed its concerns about discrimination of multilingual children in the Netherlands. The committee confirmed that restricting or punishing children for speaking their mother tongue in the school environment is discriminatory and that the Netherlands should take measures to ensure that this does not happen anymore.

We can imagine this report raises questions for teachers such as:

Does a teacher need to speak all their students’ languages?

Internationally, the best practice for multilingual children is considered to be mother tongue based multilingual education: offering children instruction in a language they know best, while also including the dominant language.

With many different languages in the classroom, it may be practically difficult – but not impossible! – to provide instruction in each language. How do you it? How can teachers make space for all languages in the classroom? In a series of blog post, we will try to answer your questions.

The good news is: it is absolutely not necessary for teachers to speak every language! You can still use the wide variety of languages present in the classroom, without understanding the languages themselves. Here are some examples:

  • One of the Language Friendly Schools show how they value and use linguistic diversity in this video.
  • Video about multilingualism in the classroom

The Language Friendly School

The Rutu Foundation founded the Language Friendly School – a school label and a global network – as a response to the increasing multilingualism in schools around the world. Language Friendly Schools embrace the linguistic diversity of all students, their parents and the entire school community. The network of Language Friendly Schools  support each other in developing language inclusive approaches in their own contexts. Do you want to know more about the Language Friendly School or learn more about language inclusive practices? Read more on the Language Friendly School website.

Read more about the UN Committee’s report here.

For English, click here

Genève – Op 25 augustus j.l. heeft het VN-Comité inzake rassendiscriminatie Nederland aangemaand maatregelen te nemen zodat meertalige leerlingen niet beperkt of bestraft worden als zij op school hun moedertaal spreken. Het Comité zegt zich zorgen te maken over discriminatie die leerlingen met een migratieachtergrond ondervinden binnen het Nederlandse onderwijs. Het gebruik van de thuistaal mag, op grond van het VN-Verdrag inzake rassendiscriminatie, niet worden verboden.

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UN: Dutch schools must welcome mother tongues

Geneva – On the 25th of August 2021, the UN Committee Against Racial Discrimination urged the Netherlands to ensure that multilingual pupils are not restricted or punished when using their mother tongue at school. The Committee expressed its concern about discrimination experienced by pupils with a migration or minority background in Dutch education. Based on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the use of the home language may not be prohibited in the school environment.

Prohibiting mother tongues common practice at Dutch schools
In the Netherlands, it is still common to prohibit speaking other languages at school than Dutch. For example, a teacher recently explained in a national newspaper (Volkskrant 18/2/21) that when she catches her students speaking their own language in class, they are forced to copy pages from a Dutch dictionary during lunch break. This was presented as a good practice. Parents are also frequently asked to speak only Dutch with their children when picking them up or taking them to school. The Rutu Foundation recognizes these practices. Ellen-Rose Kambel, director: “Unfortunately we have been receiving and collecting these signals for years. It is still widely believed that restricting the home language will help students to learn the Dutch language.”

However well-intentioned, research shows that discouraging or punishing by condemning home languages has exactly the opposite effect. When school rejects part of the child’s identity, it restricts the child’s social-emotional and cognitive development. For example, at schools where students are punished for using their home language, these students were found to perform worse in comprehensive reading than at schools where their languages are welcomed. The students feel greater shame for who they are and have less confidence in their future.

A form of racial or ethnic discrimination
With these conclusions and recommendations, the Committee has confirmed that restricting or punishing the use of the mother tongue at school by multilingual pupils with a migration or minority background constitutes a form of discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnicity. The Committee recommended that the Netherlands expands its teacher training to include multilingual education. Within one year, the Netherlands must report back to the Committee on the measures it has taken to implement the recommendations contained in paragraph 20 (a), (b) and (c).

Discrimination in education
19. The Committee is concerned by reports of discrimination of students with ethnic minority and immigrant backgrounds, including that they are more likely to receive a lower assessment from their teachers for secondary school admissions than what they could receive on the basis of their school results. The Committee is further concerned that:
(a) Students with ethnic minority or immigrant backgrounds continue to face discrimination with respect to obtaining internships, which negatively impacts their future prospects on the labour market;
(b) Multilingual students with an ethnic minority or immigrant background are allegedly restricted from or punished for speaking their home languages in the school environment;
(c) The COVID-19 pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on the education of children from ethnic minority groups and with lower socio-economic status (art. 5).

20. The Committee recommends that the State party take measures to increase equal opportunities for all children in education, regardless of their background, and monitor the effectiveness thereof. The Committee also recommends that the State party:
(a) Ensure that all children receive an adequate assessment from their teachers for secondary schools, without discrimination including implicit bias, based on race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin;
(b) Take measures to combat and prevent discrimination in accessing internships, develop protocols or guidelines that teachers can follow when students report such discrimination, and ensure that teachers are aware of these protocols;
(c) Take measures to ensure that multilingual students from ethnic minority groups are not restricted from or punished for speaking their home languages at school and expand teacher training on multilingual education;

The UN Committee on Racial Discrimination is the supervisory body of the International Convention Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The members are independent experts who base their conclusions and recommendations on reports received from the State, the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights and NGOs. As a Member State, the Netherlands is obligated to report on its compliance with the Convention every five years.

Language Friendly Schools

In a special report to the Committee, the Rutu Foundation presented its findings based on interviews, newspaper and research articles. An estimated 25 per cent of the Dutch population speaks an additional language at home. In the larger cities, more than half of the school children are multilingual, speaking dozens of different languages. Instead of restricting the use of these languages, schools should welcome them as a rich source for learning and communication to the benefit of all students.

The recommendations of the Committee should not be interpreted to mean that schools are required to offer instruction in all the languages spoken by their pupils. Students should be allowed to use their home languages with their friends or their families at the school grounds or in the hallways. In addition, teachers can use the student’s languages as part of the learning process. For example by allowing small groups of students who speak the same language to solve a problem among themselves and report back in Dutch. More good practices of using students’ language diversity as a learning resource, can be found at Language Friendly Schools. This is a global network of primary and secondary schools who welcome and value all the languages present in the school. There are currently 12 schools certified as Language Friendly Schools in the Netherlands.

More information:



Communications Internship 

Application Deadline: September 1, 2021
Timeframe: 01/09/21-15/12/21 

The Rutu Foundation is seeking a creative, motivated, and proactive intern with an interest in languages and education for a part-time (8 hours/week) Marketing and Communications position. We are an award-winning international non-profit based in Amsterdam committed to advocating for multilingual education. As our Communications Intern… read more here


Multilingual Education/Language Friendly School Intern 

Application Deadline: September 1, 2021
Timeframe: 01/09/21-15/12/21 

The Rutu Foundation is seeking a committed, motivated, and proactive intern for a part-time (16 hours/week) Multilingual Education position. Read more here


Marketing & Development Intern 

Application Deadline: September 1, 2021
Timeframe: 01/09/21-15/12/21 

The Rutu Foundation is seeking a motivated and proactive fulltime or part-time intern for our Marketing and Development position. Read more here


On Saturday 3 April 2021, De Dubbeldekker, a public primary school in Hilversum, the Netherlands, celebrated its official certification as a Language Friendly School. “This means that we welcome the cultural identity of our students, which includes multilingualism,” explained the principal, Jacqueline van den Bor.

During the covid-proof celebration, the school raised a flag with the Language Friendly School-logo and offered ‘language friendly school’-cakes to the small group of parents, teachers and students who had gathered.

For De Dubbeldekker, multilingualism is not perceived as a problem, but as a strength. “The use of the mother tongue will never be prohibited anymore at our school”. Lidy Peters, the support coordinator (interne begeleider) said: “It is wonderful to see students’ delight when they are asked to provide knowledge about their home language.”

Becoming a Language Friendly School

The Dubbeldekker-school team had already started professional development courses on integrating multilingualism in their teaching strategies, when teacher Pauline Simons heard about the Language Friendly School.

Using the Language Friendly School Roadmap, the team mapped out what they were already doing and then which language friendly-activities they would like to develop further in the future.

As part of the Language Friendly School network, the Dubbeldekker will have access to an online toolkit, a library and most importantly: experienced colleagues to exchange ideas with.

The Language Friendly School is a programme of the Rutu Foundation. The network is growing fast. Starting with two schools in Amsterdam in 2019, there are now 13 Language Friendly Schools in The Netherlands, Spain, Canada and the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba.

For more information: visit the website or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Linkedin.

Interested in becoming a Language Friendly School? Sign up here to receive more information.

Children love picture books. And picture books are a great way to introduce children to reading and to build their vocabulary. For children from ‘small language’ communities, however, there are not many children’s stories available. In May 2020, the Rutu Foundaton launched the campaign #GiveATranslation. The challenge was to translate 100 stories in one month. Volunteer translators translated more than 130 children’s stories from the website Storyweaver into 18 different languages. One of those languages was Papiamento. The mother tongue of the majority of children in Aruba, a Caribbean island that is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands with a population of 100,000 people.

One year later, the Language Project (Proyecto Idioma) of the Department of Education Aruba (DEA) has the pleasure of announcing the publication of 21 digital stories in Papiamento, with more on the way for a total of 60 children’s stories. These have been translated from tales on the website StoryWeaver and published to it’s innovative online platform, which provides free and open access to multilingual reading material for kids in order to reach as many kids as possible on a global scale.

With the publication of these translations, the Language Project at DEA hopes to promote reading and language development among Aruban kids in Papiamento, the mother tongue of the majority of children in Aruba. In this way, the Language Project hopes to protect and preserve our beloved Papiamento.

Kids, parents, educators and others interested can access the e-books in Papiamento on the StoryWeaver website here.
You can also access them via the DEA websites: and

Happy reading! / Lesa dushi!