Promoting Multilingualism and Linguistic Diversity in IB Schools

International organisations and institutions are currently asking schools to reflect on what knowledge and skills children need to develop today to succeed in an ever-changing tomorrow. Globally-mobile communities, such as international schools, have complex and shifting cultural and linguistic landscapes; they are fluid and ever-evolving. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) state that schools do not operate in isolation, but are instead influenced by external conditions and their relationships with students, teachers, parents community members.

It is important for schools to recognise that children need to nurture their multilingual talents to succeed in increasingly global and linguistically diverse environments.

Multilingualism on a global, national and local level

For many around the globe, linguistic diversity is the norm. Not only is it approximated that there are 6,909 distinct languages in the world, with 230 of these spoken in Europe, but it is also believed that more than half the people in the world live their lives using two or more languages. It is the harmonious coexistence of languages that enables people to develop intercultural understanding, appreciate cultural diversity and work together better. Multilingualism is what unites many different regions within countries and is at the core of many national identities. Even in multicultural cities, you can observe local dialects and languages coexisting with other international languages. It is helpful to understand how schools can often be located within this linguistic intersectionality, and how schools prepare their students to navigate their familial, local, national and global linguistic landscapes.

Multilingualism and the International Baccalaureate

The IB promotes itself as a multilingual organisation that operates in three official languages (English, French and Spanish) and provides resources in many others (Arabic, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Simplified Chinese and Turkish). In their document ‘What is IB Education’, the IB presents multilingualism as an important ingredient to developing international mindedness and emphasise that students should be encouraged to express themselves ‘confidently and creatively in more than one language’. It is important to note that the IB views multilingualism in a similar way to Switzerland and the European Commission, in that all language learning is essential (school, home, local, and previously learned languages). In every IB programme, the IB refers to how schools and educators can address, support and celebrate linguistic diversity. By acknowledging linguistic complexity and the benefits of multilingualism, the IB is the ideal educational system for preparing students for multilingual futures.

Multilingualism in Action

How institutions respond to linguistic evolution determines the extent to which linguistic resources are utilised for the benefit of society. Some schools recognize that plurilingualism is important. As a school and a community, If we believe the purpose of school is to prepare its students to navigate the multilingual world of today and tomorrow, it is essential that schools provide opportunities for students to develop their personal multilingual identities and connect with local languages in meaningful ways.


Anderson, S. R. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2019, from

Grin, F. (1999). Language Policy in Multilingual Switzerland-Overview and Recent Developments. Paper presented at the Cicle de confèrencies sobre política lingüística Direcció general de política lingüística Barcelona, 4 December 1998.

Grosjean, F. (n.d.). Myths about bilingualism. Retrieved March 17, 2019, from

IB (2014) Language and Learning in IB Programmes. Cardiff: IBO.

IB (2017). What is an IB Education? International Baccalaureate Organization, Cardiff: IBO.

Jacobs, H. H., & Alcock, M. H. (2017). Bold moves for schools: How we create remarkable learning environments. ASCD.

Kools, M., & Stoll, L. (2016). What makes a school a learning organisation?. OECD-UNICEF publishing, Paris.

Le News. (2017, February 14). Language defines national identity, says survey. What this means in multilingual Switzerland. Retrieved March 17, 2019, from

Schwab, P. (2014, October 1). The Swiss Parliament as a Plurilingual Forum. Retrieved March 17, 2019, from (2017, May 01). Key Statistics. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from

UNESCO, (2017). Languages Matter. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2019, from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s