Supporting children’s multilingual voices in the early years: Recommendations from international experts

Sarah Verdon, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Sharynne McLeod, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Van Tran, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Kate Margetson, Charles Sturt University, Australia (

Background: There are many known cognitive, academic, social, emotional and economic benefits to support multilingualism. More than half of the world’s children are multilingual and the transmission of languages that are embedded in a child’s identity of being, belonging and becoming is a child rights issue. However, in many English-speaking countries, including Australia, the monolingual mindset of privileging “English-only” persists, resulting in many children losing their home language upon school entry.

Aim: The aim of this research is to investigate insights into home language maintenance practices for supporting multilingualism across the early years.

Method: Interviews were conducted with 12 international experts in the fields of children’s multilingualism and home language maintenance. Experts were linguists, psychologists, researchers, educators and speech-language pathologists based in Australia, the US, Sweden, Vietnam, Portugal, Canada and Belgium. 

Results: Five key themes emerged regarding the support of multilingual development in the early years: (1) Visible and valued, (2) Attitudes matter, (3) An ecological approach, (4) Make it fun, and (5) Hard but worth it. Each of these themes will be discussed and translated into practical applications for parents, educators and other professionals.

Conclusions: The effective transmission of languages requires collaborative actions between home, school and community. With support, children can realise their potential as multilingual speakers. 

Implications for children: It’s amazing when you can speak more than one language, there are many exciting activities that you can do at home and at school to make your language learning really fun!

Implications for families: There are many benefits to passing your home language onto your child. There are so many things you can do to support your child’s home language learning including reading books, listening to music, playing games, telling stories and going to community events.

Implications for practitioners: Many families seek professionals’ advice about whether to maintain their home language with their children. The answer is yes! There are many things you can do to support home language maintenance, the most important of which is starting with a positive and supportive attitude and making the language visible and valued in your environment.

Funding: This project was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP DP180102848)

Key words: professionals’ voices, wellbeing, communication, multilingualism, bilingualism, home language maintenance, language education, diversity, health, international communities, qualitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: