Multilingual Education typically refers to "first-language-first" education, that is, schooling which begins in the mother tongue and transitions to additional languages. Typically MLE programs are situated in developing countries where speakers of minority languages, i.e. non-dominant languages, tend to be disadvantaged in the mainstream education system. There are increasing calls to provide first-language-first education to immigrant children from immigrant parents who have moved to the developed world.
Components of Multilingual Education (MLE)
- "Strong Foundation" - Research shows that children whose early education is in the language of their home tend to do better in the later years of their education (Thomas and Collier, 1997). For more information about the effect of "Language of Instruction", see Bilingual education.
- "Strong Bridge" - an essential difference between MLE programs and rural "mother tongue education" programs is the inclusion of a guided transition from learning through the mother tongue to learning through another tongue.
Related to the emphasis on a child's mother tongue is the implicit validation of her cultural or ethnic identity by taking languages which were previously considered "non-standard" and making active use of them in the classroom. Multilingual Education in that sense underscores the importance of the child's worldview in shaping his or her learning.
Stages of an MLE Program
A widespread understanding of MLE programs (UNESCO, 2003, 2005) suggests that instruction take place in the following stages:
- Stage I - learning takes place entirely in the child's home language
- Stage II - building fluency in the mother tongue. Introduction of oral L2.
- Stage III - building oral fluency in L2. Introduction of literacy in L2.
- Stage IV - using both L1 and L2 for lifelong learning.
MLE proponents stress that the second language acquisition component is seen as a "two-way" bridge, such that learners gain the ability to move back and forth between their mother tongue and the other tongue(s), rather than simply a transitional literacy program where reading through the mother tongue is abandoned at some stage in the education.
Based on the theories of Multilingual Education that are spelled out here, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa have adopted a thematic approach to multilingual education. Using a seasonal calendar within a relevant cultural context has provided a space to the tribal children of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh to rediscover their culture through their language.The Multilingual Education in this approach emphasizes first language first in the child taking the socio- cultural curriculum in to classroom culture and then bridge to second language. In addition to the basic theory of Paulo Freire on critical pedagogy, Gramscian theory on education, Lev Vigostky's scaffolding and Piaget's theory of cognition is applied in the Multilingual Education. The unique thing in this approach is to involve the community in creating their own curriculum and minimise the theoretical hegemony, thereby creating a new set of people who believe in the ethics of creating and sharing knowledge for the society than to limit it to the theoreticians.
- Language education
- Bilingual education
- Multilingual Education Programs (SIL)
- Mother Tongue / Biliteracy Programs (UNESCO)
- For further information, please refer to the MLE Manual of Susan Malone, and Denis Malone published by UNESCO, Bangkok
id21 insights. Available online at 
- Cenoz, Jasone. 2009. Towards Multilingual Education. Bristol: Multilingual Matters 
- NMRC - National Multilingual Education Resource Center (JNU, India) 
- UNESCO. 2003. Education in a multilingual world. Available online here.
- UNESCO. 2005. First Language First: community based literacy programmes for minority language contexts in Asia. Available online here.
- Walter, Steven. 2000. Explaining Multilingual Education:. Information on Some Tough Questions, University of North Dakota Working Papers in Linguistics. Available online here.
- Zsuzsanna Fagyal Lecture: Implementing M+2: Multilingual Education in the EU - European Union Center at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
- Carole Benson, The importance of mother tongue-based schooling for educational quality (2004), UNESCO.
- Kosonen, Kimmo. First Language–Based Multilingual Education Can Help Those Excluded by Language. Payap University. Chaing Mai.