Our multilingual city

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It is very common nowadays to walk around any city or large town in Ireland and hear many different languages. Main streets are populated with road signs in Irish and English and with shop fronts that signal the presence of ethnic food, with signs written in Chinese, Arabic and Polish.
We often pass by signs and posters written in unfamiliar languages, we hear sounds that we cannot recognise… but how do we react?
The goal of the Multilingual Cities project, part of the Language Explorers initiative, is to encourage children to start observing and appreciating the diversity of languages we encounter in our everyday life.
We developed and piloted the project in collaboration with two inner-city schools in Dublin, and the children really enjoyed taking part.
The Language Explorers activity book also includes two pages that can be used as inspiration to get started on designing the city.
In this video produced by NCCA as part of the Primary Language Toolkit, you can hear the experience of one of the teachers who implemented this approach during a Language Explorers session.

One question we often get asked is whether Language Explorers “works” also for children who only speak English at home. The answer is yes!
The activities include English, Irish and other languages the children use with their family members of have learned in other contexts.
Children who know English and Irish can use these two languages while learning about similarities and differences with the languages their classmates use.
Children are extremely inquisitive, and once they have fun with languages they start asking so many questions!

We had many discussions in class about words such as traffic, car and shop, trying to figure out similarities and differences between languages. For example, did you know that the word traffic is trafic in Romanian, traffico in Italian, trafik in Turkish and trafiki in Swahili?
Reflecting on similarities and differences between sounds and spellings can be fun and it can help children to feel confident about their language abilities.
For a child who doesn’t speak any additional language (yet!) knowing that a new language has plenty in common with their first language can help to build confidence and stimulate the child in making links between the two languages, which are a great help for any second language learner.

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Bilingual children get to use their mother tongue in this activity and they see it visually represented on the poster. This multilingual city has a space for every child and welcomes every language. When children engage in this activity they place themselves, their home, their family and their immediate surroundings in the city, because this is their own multilingual city.
In this city, where ice cream shops and toy stores feature prominently, the names of these shops are in Romanian, Urdu or Lithuanian, the shop keeper is called Marius or Hina and they welcome you to their city in their own mother tongue.
The message for bilingual children is that all of their languages matter and that this knowledge they have, which is usually associated with spaces outside the classroom, is indeed valued by the school and by their friends.

Dr Francesca La Morgia

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