The language of friendship: Children’s views of making friends in culturally and linguistically diverse settings

Maryanne Theobald, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia (
Gillian Busch, Central Queensland University (CQU), Australia (
Megan Laraghy, Love St Lady Gowrie Kindergarten, Australia (

Background: Having a friend helps children feel like they “belong”. Talk is one important way to make friends. Educational settings are increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and such rich diversity brings the spotlight to the role that gestures, objects and adults might play in children’s peer interactions, and the strategies that children themselves use to make friends when they may not share a common language.

Aim: The study investigates young children’s views on making friends in culturally and linguistically diverse settings.

Method: We asked 72 children, aged 3-4 years old, about how they make friends when they do not speak the same language. The children attended an inner-city kindergarten where approximately 30% of the class had a first language background other than English. Children were asked to talk and draw a picture about making friends when there are language differences. Interpreters assisted so children could share their views in their first language. Conversations ranged from five mins to 30 mins and were video-recorded.

Results: 101 responses to the question, “How would you make friends if you don’t share the same language with someone else” were collected.  The responses were grouped according to categories based on the strategies identified. Three broad themes emerged: (1) interactive and non-verbal strategies (63 responses); (2) linguistic strategies (38 responses); and (3) inclusive attitudes (five responses).

Conclusions: The children’s accounts highlighted a willingness to overcome potential cultural and linguistic barriers for making friends, and create feelings of belonging. The children indicated the importance they placed on taking the perspective of others by sharing languages and using non-verbal strategies to make connections.

Implications for children: You can make friends with others even when you might not speak the same language by using toys, gestures and finding something you both like to do. 

Implications for families: You can support your child to make friends when children may not speak the same language by using strategies such as gestures, games or finding a common interest.

Implications for practitioners:  You can support children to make friends when they might not speak the same language by more purposefully using the first languages of children in the class every day; including objects, games and joint ‘projects’ to support playful exchanges; talking with children about their strategies to make friends and overcome potential barriers.

Funding: This study was funded by the Queensland University of Technology.

Key words: children’s voices, wellbeing, education, qualitative methods, friendship, culturally and linguistically diverse communities

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