In a public preschool, I’m observing a group of children playing around in a big room. This is the first day I’m spending with these 3- to 5-year-old children. After a long morning, this is the after-lunch break.

While I’m silently sitting on a bench in the room, a girl (a 4 year old) approaches me; after a few seconds she decides to sit next to me on the bench and asks me:

–        Ch: What is this?  – pointing to my notebook

–        R: It is a notebook

–        Ch: No, I mean, what is this language? – and with her finger she points to a short heading on my notebook with the name of a Portuguese university,

–        R: Oh, this is Portuguese, do you know it?

–        Ch: What is it?

–        R: It’s a language spoken in Portugal,  and also in Brazil. Do you know any other languages?

–        Ch: Yes, I speak three languages: Arabic, English and Italian

–        R: Wow, you speak three languages

–        Ch: Mhmm, no, Arabic and Italian

–        R: Ok, so not English

–        Ch: No… I speak Arabic and Italian. Somebody gave me two brains, an Arabic one and an Italian one, two voices. Somebody else has a brain like mine.

–        R: Who?

–        Ch: My brother S., my brother Y., my brother M., my brother, my father and I.

–        R: And  your mother?

–        Ch: Yes, but my mum wants a child every day

–        R: I see

–        Ch: I feel like I have a brain that is very… I have two brains, I feel like my brain is cut in two halves.. I imagine it like this, when I know what to do with my brain. They gave me a new Italian brain, the Arabic one is the old one

–        R: So, you feel like you have two brains

–        Ch: Yes, but I just feel like they are two. 

–        R: Whom do you speak Arabic with?

–        Ch: Always with my mum. […]

The conversation continues for another few minutes, she tells me some words in Arabic and she counts up to 40 in Italian. She is very satisfied with this. 

After break time, while the children walk towards their classroom, I tell the teacher about this conversation. She is very interested in listening to it and she tells me: ‘She has never told me anything about it.’

I tell her that my notebook with a heading in Portuguese probably worked as a trigger for this conversation and that without it I wouldn’t have had access to this self-disclosure.

Answer the following questions

Focus on the case:

  • What do you think about how this child imagine her multilingual mind?
  • What emotions do you think she link to her multilingual competence?
  • What do you think is the role of the school about all the languages of children with a migrant or different cultural background?


Focus on your experience:

  • Did you ever listen children talking about their home languages? Or in their home languages? What do you think about it?
  • Do you ever try to talk with the children of your classroom about their home languages? …or about what they feel about their home language?
  • Is there any visibility (books, signs, notices) in your classroom or school of the different languages spoken by children and families?
  • Do you implement any strategies/practices to work on valuing multilingualism, language repertories and competences?

Themes: Exploring and understanding one's multlingual self and Promoting multilingualism in the classroom

Resource type: Observe and reflect

Tags: multilingualism

Age range:

Available in: Czech, English, and Italian