Webinar in partnership with Polylino: Exploring multilingualism

By India Dunkley
Tuesday, March 28, 2023

SPONSORED CONTENT It is increasingly important that bilingual and multilingual children are supported and celebrated in early years settings. Nursery World and Polylino brought together a panel of experts to discuss strategies for best practice. By India Dunkley

We know that multi-lingualism is now the norm on a global scale, and latest figures suggest that England could be heading in the same direction. According to Gov. UK, in 2021/22, almost one in three children in state-funded nurseries had English as an additional language. This can pose a challenge to practitioners. The aim of this panel discussion was to highlight practical strategies to support children and to also show that supporting multilingualism can be a joyful process.

Our panel members outlined ways to ensure all children are engaged in their setting's language and literacy learning. They also explored the benefits of multilingualism in the context of inclusive practice – demonstrating how best practice has a positive impact not just on the child itself but on other children, families, staff teams and community.


Penny Tassoni argued that, while there are cognitive benefits to promoting multilingualism, these are secondary to the emotional importance of embracing multiple languages. Emotional benefits include promoting a ‘sense of belonging’ by encouraging children to explore their cultural identities through language. She discussed how this can be seen as a journey whereby children gain greater access to information, as well as finding their own cultural identity.

These benefits are also felt by a child's peer group, as outlined by Dhanvanti Deshmukh. She explained that by embedding multilingualism into everyday practice, children are exposed to richer experiences and learn not to fear difference, but instead to celebrate it.

The session's first poll asked aboutthe increase the audience has seen in multilingual children. More than half said they have seen ‘many more’, 13 per cent ‘some more’, and just 2 per cent no increase.


The panel consensus when discussing how best to create inclusive environments was that an inclusive ethos begins with the attitudes of teachers and setting staff.

Louise Campbell White said teachers should ensure that the integration of other languages and cultures ‘is not done in a tokenistic way’ but is embedded into the culture of early years settings. She said while different languages should be celebrated, they should also be treated as ‘ordinary’, and this can be achieved by encouraging children to bring in foods they eat at home to act as access points for conversations that both celebrate and normalise the range of languages in their life.

These access points come in all different shapes and sizes and aren’t exclusive to food-related items, according to Tassoni, who said having some knowledge of the small things matters a lot more than one might expect. She argued that, while it is positive to celebrate a variety of cultural festivals, teachers should not underestimate the power of knowing simple phrases in children's native languages and acknowledging subtle cultural differences.

‘Some of the everyday things are more important than the big festivals. For example, noting that in some cultures, when a tooth is lost, it is a mouse that comes to take the tooth and not a fairy,’ she said. She also shared the small joys experienced by young children when comparing the words and sounds of home languages. She outlined how this exchange is particularly enjoyable at lunch times, offering a great way to socialise around differences and integrate a variety of cultural expressions.

Deshmukh supported this idea of socialisation and spoke about how it can also avoid running the risk of inclusion becoming tokenistic or inauthentic. She emphasised Campbell White's earlier comments by highlighting that the celebration of multilingualism must become routine and fully integrated into the culture of the setting. She said, ‘Children are very spontaneous, they have a natural way [and are] very sensitive and enthusiastic about communication. When that exposure is there at an early age, they tend to be more empathetic to each other, they tend to be more caring and supportive’.

However, the second poll of the session revealed that very little support is currently coming from local authorities. Just 18 per cent of viewers said they had received any dedicated multilingual resources.


Deshmukh emphasised the importance of recognising parents and carers as children's first-time educators before the child has entered the setting, and working to develop a relationship with them. At London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), parents are invited into settings before their child officially starts. In this time, a teacher can learn about the habits of a child, their native language, play patterns, sleep routine and any other relevant information.

There was agreement between the panellists that parents can be unwilling to encourage the promotion of a native language, as they see this as a disadvantage. In this case, Tassoni suggested parents should be encouraged to consider their long-term goals. ‘Does a parent want their child to be literate in their second language? Is there a concern about what others may think if a second language is used?’

Deshmukh responded to these questions by emphasising how important it is that parents understand that settings ‘want to celebrate diversity and want them to feel part of a community’.

She shared the experiences of some parents at LEYF who have come into the setting to share traditional stories with children, which has been both exciting and enriching for the children, allowing them to share their home cultures and also to be exposed to other stories and languages.


The final poll revealed that settings are increasingly using a wide range of resources. Dual-language picturebooks were the most popular, followed by translation apps and story sacks.

Craig Johnson highlighted how digital resources have expanded following the pandemic and spoke about how the general move towards digital resources can be productive, as long as they are used with intention. Digital devices can provide ‘meaningful and structured experiences’ and the responsibility of practitioners is to ensure there are valuable resources to embed in the literacy learning of children.

Polylino has more than a million users around the world and over 650 books in 60 different languages. Johnson emphasised that the aim of Polylino is not to create extra work for teachers, but instead to integrate multilingual teaching into existing practices, which avoids placing further pressures on them.

There was agreement on the crucial difference between simply translating texts and ensuring they are reflective and speak to the lived experiences of children from different backgrounds. Campbell White captured the importance of this by saying that ‘there is something really magical and so joyful about a child seeing themselves in a book and responding to that’. Campbell White followed this by stating that the job of educators is to ‘bring these stories to life and expand them’, exploring in detail the numerous elements of these stories, and always bringing this exploration back to the relationship that children have to the words on a page.

Deshmukh ended the webinar by suggesting a great way to ensure children are connecting with stories and celebrating the different cultural influences in their lives. Based on her experiences at LEYF, Deshmukh encourages all parents to write notes in books to translate either from or into a native language for children to read alongside their stories.

These notes then provide crucial access points for all children to find wonder in the words on the page, as well as spark questions and conversations about what the messages mean to each individual. This ensures that every child can both find themselves, and lose themselves, in a story.

About Polylino

Polylino is a market-leading online multilingual digital book service, originating in Sweden. It is used by over a million nurseries and pre-school settings across Scandinavia as well as Germany, USA and Canada. Polylino's mission is to engage all readers offering inclusivity and diversity; this is achieved through its collection of more than 650 online texts in over 65 languages. Polylino can be seamlessly integrated and used as a whole-class reading resource as well as a 1:1 tool with children, practitioners and parents/carers.


  • Penny Tassoni– early years author, consultant and trainer
  • Dhanvanti Deshmukh– nursery manager at LEYF
  • Louise Campbell White – early help advisor at Somerset Early Help Advisory Service (SEHAS) and the Early Years Alliance
  • Craig Johnson– founder and CEO of Giglets Education
  • Karen Faux – editor of Nursery World

A recording of the webinar, Multilingualism in the early years: celebrating every child, is available to view at https://bit.ly/3YR5Fu1

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