The Difference Between Multilingualism and Plurilingualism, Simplified

February 20, 2018

Sarah Eaton - blog - iStock photoStudents sometimes ask me what the difference is between multilingualism and plurlingualism. Because these concepts are also linked to monolingualism and bilingualism, I’ll explain each one here.

Monolingualism – The ability to speak only one language proficiently.

Bilingualism – The ability to speak two languages proficiently (though not necessarily perfectly).

Multilingualism – The ability to speak many languages proficiently (though not necessarily perfectly).

Plurilingualism – The capacity and competence to learn more than one language, as well as the value of linguistic tolerance within individuals and countries. It is associated with intercultural competence and democratic citizenship. This term is often used to talk about language education and policy. (For more details, see Council of Europe source referenced below.)

When we talk about proficiency, we are usually talking about a person’s ability to communicate in a language. Sometimes people also call this fluency, though the two terms have different meaning to those with linguistic training.

Please note, linguists and those with training in second language acquisition may (rightfully) contend that these definitions are simplified. My objective here is to offer clear and straightforward explanations, without too much technical jargon. If you are interested in digging deeper into these concepts, I encourage you to explore some of the resources I have listed in the references.


Boeckmann, K. B., Aalto, E., Abel, A., Atanasoska, T., & Lamb, T. (2011). Promoting plurilingualism – Majority language in multilingual settings  Retrieved from

Council of Europe. (2007). From linguistic diveristy to plurilingual education: Guide for the development of language education policies in Europe. Retrieved from

Psaltou-Joycey, A., & Kantaridou, Z. (2009). Plurilingualism, Language Learning Strategy Use and Learning Style Preferences. International Journal of Multilingualism, 6(4), 460-474.


Share or Tweet this: The Difference Between Multilingualism and Plurilingualism, Simplified

This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.


5 Questions to ask before taking a contract teaching job in the languages or literacy field

April 24, 2014

Too many language and literacy professionals grovel for work. They’ll take teaching, editing or translating jobs that require long hours, lousy pay and poor working conditions because they are afraid that if they don’t they might not get another offer.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When you exude confidence to your school or the organization who is contracting you (e.g. the client), you earn their respect. Here are 5 questions to ask yourself when you are considering a contract job as a language or literacy professional:

Business - Group - team hands

#1: Will I like working with these people?

Let’s face it, people who work in languages and literacy often have a vested interest in the students or clients they serve. It’s not just the learners you want to think about though. How does the management treat its staff? If the Executive Director is a micro-manager and you are a big picture thinker, is that really going to be a good fit for you? If the office staff are miserable because they hate their jobs, are you really going to like working in that environment?

You owe it to yourself to find out what the people are like that you would be working with. If you get that nagging feeling that these folks aren’t “your peeps”, do yourself a favour and walk away. Chances are you’ll be miserable if you take the job. In the kind of work we do, people matter. At least, they should. If people don’t matter, why would you want to work there?

#2: How do the organization’s values align with my own?

This is a big one. You need to be honest with yourself about what matters to you deep down. If you believe that genuine effort, commitment and participation are the most meaningful aspects of learning, then you’d hate working in an organization that bases marks on standardized testing.

I was once raked over the coals by a department head because my final grades didn’t fit  onto a bell curve. My students’ marks were too high. It happened that it was a particularly good group of students.  The department head didn’t care. She wanted a statistically perfect bell curve for the final grades “to maintain the integrity of the department”. (Baloney. The integrity of a language teaching department can never be represented by a bell curve of marks.) I was told in no uncertain terms that the next semester my class record book needed to reflect grades that fit onto a standard bell curve. There was no “next” semester. I choose never to teach for them again.

If an organization’s values are not aligned with your own, you’ll hate the work and you’ll hate yourself for working there. Seek out schools and clients who believe what you believe.

#3: How are the working conditions?

Are you given your own desk or work space or are you required to share? Are the facilities where you work clean and sanitary? Is parking readily available (at a fair price)?

How are the psychological and emotional conditions of the workplace? Is there a culture of oppression? Do the folks who work there constantly feel demoralized, grumpy or stressed out?

I recall one client who didn’t pay their staff particularly well, but the “extras” they offered them included free parking, a catered lunch every Friday and a work environment where laughter filled the hallways during break time and folks enjoyed a genuine sense of camaraderie and friendship. As a result, they had staff who never wanted to leave and a long line of applicants who would give anything to work there.

The working conditions, environment and relationships at a workplace matter.

#4: How are the hours?

It is not uncommon for teaching organizations to fail to pay for the time required for you to prep your classes, grade student work or perform associated administrative duties. But what if they did? That would definitely be worth considering.

Are you required (or implicitly expected) to sit on committees as part of your professional volunteer service to the organization? Are you constantly being asked to help develop (or revise or “refresh”) curricula for no additional pay?

All of these extra tasks add up. Time is a limited resource. Every extra volunteer task you are asked to take on is time you can not spend doing something of our own choosing, such as spending more time with your family, engaging in leisure activities or even taking on more paid work elsewhere.

Your employer (or client, depending on your relationship with you) may not intend to “suck you dry” in terms of your time, but it happens more often than it should. Contract employees want to say, “Yes” because they think it will help position them for a full-time job should one arise. That may be the case… but it may not. Be honest with yourself and ask if all these “extras” you are taking on are really worth it.

 #5: How will this work maximize or help me develop my professional skills?

Would you be doing the “same old, same old”, teaching a subject you’ve taught for 20 years and if you are honest, are kind of bored of?

Conversely, are you being asked to teach courses that you’ve never taught before and the work would require you to put in dozens of hours of development time?

Is the work challenging for you in a way that you find inspiring and engaging? Are you growing as a result of your work? Are you learning new skills that will make you more marketable?

I’ve seen too many adjuncts, sessionals or contractors take any job they’re offered because they are afraid that if they don’t, the sky will fall in and they’ll never get hired again anywhere. You’re not “just a contract teacher”. Schools need you as much as you need them. Finding the right fit is more important to your long-term health and professional growth than taking any old job that might come along.

You are a language (or literacy) professional. And professionals don’t grovel or beg for work.

Treat every opportunity as a two way street. Interview the organization to see if they are a good fit for you. Make sure the work aligns with your areas of expertise and interests. If not, walk away. If you don’t, you could miss a real opportunity that’s just around the corner.

It’s your career. Be in charge of it.


If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: 5 Questions to ask before taking a contract teaching job in the languages or literacy field

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Language and Literacy Teachers as Leaders

March 18, 2010

Language and literacy teachers and tutors are instructional leaders. Every day they act as role models for the students that they teach. They are a source of inspiration, motivation and encouragement. For the most part, they also lead by example. When a literacy tutor teaches a learner to read, write and learn the alphabet, it is because they have also learned it themselves and they are sharing what they themselves have learned. Many foreign language teachers have lived and taught abroad. They understand the difficulties in grasping a foreign grammar and new vocabulary, as well as culture shock and learning how to “be” in a new place.

Here are 5 tips for celebrating your role as a Language Leader:

1. Share stories with your learners.

Humans connect through stories and shared experiences. Tell your students about your own experience as a learner, or a story about someone you know. Think of a student you have who is struggling. Then go back into your memory banks and find an anecdotal story about you or someone else that may help your learner in some way – to provide relief, inspiration or hope. I advise changing the names of characters in your stories, to protect the innocent, of course. But it OK to share stories about former students who have overcome similar difficulties and succeeded. Connecting through stories is a powerful way to lead.

2. Share your own tips for success.

Students sometimes struggle to find strategies that will help them succeed. One way they figure out what will work for them is to get tips from those who have already done the same. As a teacher, you act as a leader when you share your tips that will help others succeed. For example, I had trouble learning to roll my “rr” when I was learning Spanish. I had previously studied French and my “r”s were too far back in my throat for Spanish. I struggled with the new sound of the trilled Spanish “rr”. My teacher gave me the tip of practicing it in the shower. (Seriously!) I practiced every day in the shower until I could do it.

As a teacher I passed that same tip on to my own students, telling that that practicing every day for just a few minutes is important. The method of doing it while doing something else that is pretty routine and does not require much “deep thinking”, also helps to decrease anxiety. It worked for me and my students tell me that it works for them too. They appreciated the tip! Every teacher has good learning tips. What are some of your personal success tips that you can share with your learners?

3. Show your humanity.

Adults have this thing about failure. Children are less self-conscious about it until they learn that it’s bad to make mistakes. Adult learners may have feelings of shame or stigma about what they don’t know. As a Language Leader you want to show your learners that it is not only OK to make mistakes and not know things, it is inevitable! What we don’t know creates a space for us to learn in. No one knows everything and we all have the capacity to learn. When you’re working with your learners find ways to take yourself down off whatever pedestal your learners may want to put you on and show them that you are just as human as you are.

4. Laugh with your learners.

Along with showing your humanity comes laughter. I tell my students about the time when I was giving a presentation as a young college-age student who was studying Spanish. I concluded my presentation, which was an anecdote about my experience studying abroad in Madrid with the line, “Y al final me quedé bien embarazada.” A few people in the class broke out into laugher and my teacher stifled her laughter. What I said was “I finished up good and pregnant”. What I meant to say was, “At the end of it all, I was really embarrassed.” Oops! Needless to say, there was no pregnancy involved, but there was embarrassment – both during the initial incident and during my class presentation. And I learned to say it properly in Spanish – “Me dio mucha vergüenza.”

I share that story with my students so they can see my humanity. We have a good laugh over it and hopefully, they learn from my mistake!

5. Encourage learners with a “can do” attitude.

Every now and again we all become discouraged. When this happens, it’s easy to say, “I can’t do it”. As a Language Leader, your job is to say, “Oh yes you can!” I tell my students that I am actually a very slow learner, which is true. I tell them about times I wanted to give up and didn’t. I tell them that by tapping into their own personal determination and perseverance, they will learn to read and write the way they want to. They will learn their verb conjugations. More importantly, they will empower themselves to gain new skills and experience the world in new ways – that their effort will be worth it.


Share this post: Language and Literacy Teachers as Leaders

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


%d bloggers like this: