Children Learning Multilingually in Home, Community and School Contexts in Britain

  • Jean ContehEmail author
  • Saiqa Riasat
  • Shila Begum
Part of the Multilingual Education book series (MULT, volume 7)


Our chapter presents findings from ongoing, longitudinal, qualitative research with primary-aged children, their families and teachers in a post-industrial, multilingual city in the north of England. The children are all multilingual in languages including Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Polish, Slovakian and English, with Punjabi and Urdu as the predominant languages. They attend different mainstream schools, and all attend a complementary, bilingual Saturday class, begun in 2003 and currently funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. The complementary class teachers, themselves bilingual and qualified mainstream primary teachers, aim to promote the children’s learning through a bilingual pedagogy which includes working with their families to benefit from ‘funds of knowledge’ (Gonzalez et al., Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities and classrooms. Routledge, New York, 2005).

The research findings are contextualised in both the wider sociolinguistic contexts (both local and global) of the children and the policy contexts of the English education system. The children belong to minority ethnic groups often identified in policy as ‘underachieving’ (DCSF 2008, p.4). It is argued that the system as a whole is overwhelmingly ‘monolingualising’ and shot through with tensions between promoting and celebrating ‘diversity’ while imposing ‘inclusion’ through a universal model of language development and assessment.

We work as co-researchers, benefiting from the synergies of our different expertise in language and sociocultural knowledge, and in research, academic and professional experience. This has particular benefits for observing in multilingual classrooms (both mainstream and complementary) and for analysing multilingual classroom interaction. Data have been collected in small-scale qualitative case studies of individual children and their learning in home, mainstream school and complementary class. These include photographs, video and audio recordings of classroom interaction and children’s work from both classroom contexts. These are contextualised in interviews with their mainstream teachers, observations in their classrooms and visits to their homes to interview their parents and observe family learning settings.

Drawing on sociocultural models of learning and theoretical frameworks offered by the concept of ‘funds of knowledge’, our chapter shows how tensions between diversity and inclusion play out in the lives of the families. Data reveal the family histories, both locally and globally, and their mediations with the different education settings that the children inhabit. They show how multilingualism is a normal and natural feature of their everyday lives, and how they construct their identities as members of second- and third-generation immigrant heritage British citizens. Data from mainstream contexts demonstrate how the children’s rich experiences of home and community learning are often invisible in their classrooms and in national régimes of assessment. They also show how mainstream teachers construct their professional roles and identities in working with multilingual learners in a monolingualising system.


Bilingual Pedagogy Home Language Language Diversity Mainstream School Heritage Language 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK
  2. 2.Bilingual Learning and Teaching AssociationBradfordUK

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