Language Friendly School in Toronto, Canada

Language Friendly Schools welcome and value all languages spoken. Image of the Silver Creek School in Toronto, Canada.

The Rutu Foundation works to eradicate all forms of language based discrimination in education. We do this by supporting Language Friendly Schools. We also encourage international human rights bodies to clarify that such acts constitute human rights violations.

On 27 March 2020, the Rutu Foundation submitted an Alternative Report on Language Based Exclusion, Punishment and Discrimination in Dutch Education to the United Nations Committee which oversees the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Although quantitative data is lacking, there are strong indications that the practice of prohibiting students (and their parents) from speaking a language other than Dutch in school is widespread in the Netherlands. This includes stopping students from speaking their home languages with each other while playing on the playground. Or asking parents not to use their mother tongue with their children when they drop them off and pick them up from school. Continue Reading

Every year on the 21st of February we celebrate the more than 7.000 languages spoken in the world. But did you know that in most countries, the vast majority of students are not allowed to use their home languages at school and are sometimes even punished for it? Punishments can take many forms. As recent as 2009, little kids from India were forced to wear a sign around their neck that they would never speak their home language.

Why schools prohibit or punish the use of home languages

There are many reasons why schools prohibit, punish or discourage the use of home languages. Often it is well-intentioned, as teachers believe that this is the best way for children to learn the school language. However, these practices are harmful and there are much better ways this can be achieved. With happier kids, parents and teachers as a result! 

One of the main goals of the Language Friendly School programme is to help ensure that by 2030, the deadline of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, no child is punished for using his or her mother tongue at school.

During our second Language Friendly School webinar, we took a closer look at why Language Friendly Schools commit to encouraging their students in using their home language, and agree never to prohibit or punish them for doing so.

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Yesterday, some 25 participants from the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, Suriname, the UK and Belgium joined our first webinar on the Language Friendly School and learned how the concept was developed, how schools can join and why they should become part of this global network. The examples of language friendly activities shared by the Silver Creek School in Toronto, Canada were truly inspirational. You can find the slides of the webinar below. As extra bonus we’ve included some resources that you can use right away! For more information and to make sure you don’t miss the next webinar: email us at or subscribe to our newsletter.

A special blog post for International Women’s Day – by Linda Edvardsdottir

In the centre: Besigo, from Progreso, a Ngäbe indigenous community in Costa Rica.

When I was nineteen years old, I volunteered in Progreso, a Ngäbe Bugle Indigenous reservation in Costa Rica. Progreso is a rural community of Indigenous peoples who are spread across a large mountain side close to the Panamanian border. There is one school and education is regarded as very important by the Ngäbe people. To get to school some children must hike in tropical heat for up to two hours. The children often arrive to school exhausted, where they then start studying in Spanish, a secondary language to their own. When it rains, rivers tend to block the roads and the kids have to be sent home early, carrying with them homework in Spanish rather than in their own language.

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Multilingualism and Education  won the second prize for Best Education Book of the Year 2018 in the Netherlands. The award is handed out every year by the National Association of Educational Support Professionals (Landelijke Beroepsgroep voor Begeleiders in het Onderwijs).

Note for English speakers: the book is in Dutch, but inside the book you will find a code that provides access to the English version of most of the chapters.

About the book:

This publication of the Rutu Foundation, edited by Orhan Agirdag (researcher and teacher at the University of Amsterdam/Universiteit Leuven) and Ellen-Rose Kambel (director Rutu Foundation), provides access to the latest research findings and the social importance of multilingualism and multilingual education. 

Meertaligheid en onderwijs

Orhan Agirdag & Ellen-Rose Kambel (eds.)

isbn 9789024406661 | € 18,00

To order

Multilingualism and Education is a publication of Boom Uitgevers en the Rutu Foundation for intercultural and multilingual education.


“I believe every teacher must read this book at least once! Even if only because of these two sentences: The relationship between pupil and teacher is the key to school success and the relationship with the teacher is especially important for the well-being of the child!!! I soooo agree❣️❣️❣️” (Fatima Boutaka, teacher and mindfulness trainer)

“What makes “Meertaligheid en Onderwijs”unique, are the personal experiences.” (Didactief, March 2019).


Interview with editor Orhan Agirdag (Universiteit van Amsterdam/Leuven) in Caleidoscoop nr 1, 2019.

Interview with Ellen-Rose Kambel (Rutu Foundation) in De Ware Tijd, 11 mrt 2019.

Read more in Dutch

International Mother Language Day on 21 February 2019 coincided this year with the International Year of Indigenous Languages and was celebrated worldwide with blog posts, events, the release of new reports and a film festival. Here are our top picks:

Mother Tongue Education is changing lives in Thailand Children learn to read and write in their home language before bridging to the national language through a specially designed Thai language acquisition curriculum. The results in the region have been stunning.

More Examples of Succesful Mother Tongue Education That children learn better when they understand the language is an indisputable fact. For International Mother Language Day, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) reviewed the results in three countries: Eritrea, the Gambia and Uzbekistan.

School celebrations:  International Mother Language Day was celebrated
in Suriname with reading in Sranan Tongo, the Creole language that is spoken throughout the country but not taught in schools. In Canada, Amsterdam and The Hague, schools organised various activities including songs, dances and games to celebrate the multiple languages children bring with them school.

Indigenous peoples are losing their knowledge. We must make sure education is not part of the problem.

Listen to the podcast: the Permanent Representative to the UN of Bangladesh was asked why his country initiated International Mother Language Day and why should we even try to protect languages?

I Too was Reborn

I Too was Reborn: a beautiful short film made by the Mapuche School of Filmmaking and Communication

Mother Tongue Film Festival The Smithsonian’s Mother Tongue Film Festival in Washington, D.C. celebrates cultural and linguistic diversity by showcasing films and filmmakers from around the world. It opens on International Mother Language Day and has four days of free screenings.

The Guide to Language Rights of Linguistic Minorities produced by the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, was translated into the Tibetan language and released on International Mother Language Day.

Mother Tongue: The Most Beautiful Gift We have. A blog post written by one of the editors of the new book ‘New perspectives on Translanguaging and Education’.

1, 2, 3…4 Mother Tongues


I was born in The Netherlands and have a German father and Ghanaian mother. We spoke 4 languages at home (Dutch, Twi, English and German). Even though I always loved the fact that I understand multiple languages, at times it would feel a bit overwhelming.
If my mom would talk to me in Twi I would respond in Dutch or English. Or when a German family member would ask or say something I would tell my father what I wanted to say and ask him if he could respond for me. Now I can say that I am proud that I represent multiple languages and nationalities. I think that is why I always have been eager to travel the world and explore more languages, nationalities and cultures. I have been to Ecuador for an exchange program of six months, where I learned Spanish (language #5). Hopefully one day I will add a sixth language.

Not Cool!

I was born in the Netherlands but my parents are from Japan so when I was a child I had to attend both Dutch and Japanese school. I really disliked going to the Japanese school because it was on Saturdays. Six days of school is not cool. Keep reading Yuki’s story.Now I’m so thankful…

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Mixing Mother Tongues


I was raised in a bilingual household where my family spoke Spanish and Dutch to me all the time. Only when I started going to school I began to notice that it was only my family who was able to understand me when I spoke a mix of Dutch and Spanish. My parents decided to return to Argentina for a year when I was 7. Keep reading Shantal’s story.

In Argentina I attended a school where only Spanish was spoken. I was welcomed with open arms. Not only my family helped me understand the difference between my two mother tongues, but also the teachers and students. I never felt left out or excluded, even if I accidentally mixed the two languages or didn’t know a certain word in Spanish. I remember they were patient and encouraging.

Back in The Netherlands I became aware why it was that people couldn’t understand me when I spoke Spanish. After that I never had any problems of miscommunication or exclusion by peers in the Netherlands. I remember I only had to take extra Dutch classes during school hours which was mandatory for all bilingual students to help us keep up with the same level as the native speakers.

I am very grateful for my parents for my bilingual upbringing. My mother always told me that languages are like keys to open doors and I fully agree with that. Communication is a big part of being able to understand somebody else and therefore important in going forward in harmony with your surroundings.

The month of October is dedicated to Indigenous people in the Philippines. This year, after two years of hard work, the Negrito community – considered the oldest civilization of the Philippine archipelago – partnered with the National Museum of the Philippines to open a permanent exhibition entitled “Tradition, Ecology and Knowledge Among Philippine Negrito Communities”.

This is a profound shift away from the traditional museum displays which feature ethnic and cultural themes and where the people themselves have little say in how their culture is presented. What makes this exhibition so unique and a cause for worldwide celebration is that the Negrito people themselves, who have been historically marginalized and still today are looked down upon, helped set up the exhibition and verified that everything was done correctly and respectfully. This they did with the help of the volunteer team from Sentrong Pagpapalakas ng Negritong Kultura at Kalikasan (SPNKK). Continue Reading