Does a teacher need to speak all the languages of their students?

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.