October 2018
Angelica Galante, Concordia University, Montreal, Québec, Canada

In the past decades, the field of TESOL has been primarily concerned with teaching English through a monolingual framework, that is, with the use of English as the only medium of instruction. This monolingual tradition has been based on assumptions that students would learn best if they were immersed in the target language and did not use other languages. Often, instructors who have taught EFL or ESL, including myself, have been asked to implement an “English-only” policy in the classroom and reward students who abide by it. Recently, however, applied linguistics research has called for a plurilingual turn in TESOL (see overview in Taylor & Snoddon, 2013), which encourages the use of students’ languages and cultures in classroom practices to maximize the learning experience.

What Is Plurilingual Instruction?

The plurilingual turn in TESOL has emerged as a response to the increasing linguistic and cultural diversity inherent in many urban centers worldwide (Kubota, 2016). Plurilingualism puts forth the notion that people can make use of languages and dialects to communicate with others, including code-switching, and proficiency levels in these languages vary depending on communication needs. For example, a person may be proficient in one dialect of Spanish (L1) and one dialect of English (L2) but also know a few expressions in other languages and dialects. These languages and dialects are part of people’s plurilingual repertoire, which also includes cultural knowledge, such as behaviours, values, and customs in different cultural contexts. In societies with increasing linguistic and cultural diversity, developing plurilingual and pluricultural competence is timely so speakers can use their repertoire to access information in different languages as well as appropriately communicate with people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Plurilingual and Pluricultural Competence

Besides the linguistic and social dimensions of English, such as grammar, vocabulary, and pragmatics, plurilingual and pluricultural competence (PPC) should not be neglected in TESOL. PPC is a relatively new competence in language pedagogy and refers to the need of using language and cultural knowledge flexibly when communicating with others (Council of Europe, 2018). For example, one can read an article written in Brazilian Portuguese, write a summary about it in English, talk about the summary using Azorean Portuguese, and listen to a podcast about the same topic in Spanish. Language users can code-switch when communicating, especially when their interlocutors know the same languages. This mix is not considered a deficiency; it is in fact a rich resource that has agentive power: Speakers may use different languages to establish close connections with others and improve efficiency in communication.

Recently, the new Companion Volume of the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR) has introduced PPC descriptors to guide language teaching and learning and can help shift TESOL pedagogical orientations from monolingual to plurilingual (see a list of descriptors in Council of Europe, 2018, p. 157).

Research on Plurilingualism in Language Teaching

A solid body of international research on plurilingualism exists, and results have largely been positive suggesting that plurilingual instruction enhances learners’ motivation, agency, and metacognition, among other factors (see overview in Galante, 2018). However, there is a paucity of research examining the benefits of plurilingual instruction compared to monolingual instruction, the latter being a tradition in TESOL. To address this gap, I conducted a quasi-experimental study in an adult English for academic purposes (EAP) program in a Canadian university located in Toronto, the most multilingual city in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2016).

The Study: A Comparison Between Plurilingual and Monolingual Instruction


The study investigated the extent to which a plurilingual approach would impact international students’ perceived PPC levels compared to a monolingual approach, as well as students’ and teachers’ perceptions of overall affordances and challenges of plurilingual instruction. Seven teachers were recruited, and each taught two sections of an Academic Listening and Speaking course: one using a plurilingual approach (treatment group, n = 79) and one using a monolingual approach (comparison group, n = 50). All of the students had international status (study visa) and were from Turkey, Russia, Japan, Korea, Ecuador, and China, with the vast majority from China (84%).


Ten plurilingual tasks, designed in collaboration with the teachers, were delivered in the treatment group, and 10 monolingual tasks were delivered in the comparison group, one per week. While the monolingual tasks were regular EAP tasks, the plurilingual tasks included an element of PPC, which was based on the PPC descriptors of the CEFR (Council of Europe, 2018). For example, while one monolingual task required that students match the definition of idioms to their meanings and use them in an oral monolog in English, the plurilingual tasks required that students reflect on idioms in the languages of their repertoire and orally discuss whether the idioms had the same meaning across the languages and cultures they knew. In one of the classes, for example, students explained that the idiom reach for the stars has an equivalent translation in Chinese but with a slightly different meaning compared to English: In Chinese, reach for the stars has a negative connotation that refers to unrealistic goals. All tasks (both plurilingual and monolingual) lasted approximately 30–40 minutes each.

Data Collection and Analysis

To measure PPC levels, I designed and validated the PPC scale, a 4-point Likert scale with 24 items that asked students to either agree or disagree with the items. The PPC scale was applied to both groups at the start and at the end of the EAP program, 3 months later, to examine if there would be any differences over time and across groups. In addition, weekly diary entries asked students to write their perceptions, both positive and negative, about the plurilingual tasks. To further gather students’ perceptions of plurilingual instruction, two more data collection instruments were used: classroom observations at three different times—Weeks 1, 5, and 9—in all seven treatment groups (total of 21 observations), as well as focus groups with students at the end of the program to gather general information about tasks in their EAP program, with no explicit mention of the plurilingual and monolingual tasks. Finally, semistructured interviews with all seven teachers were conducted at the end of the program to elicit their perceptions of both affordances and challenges of plurilingual instruction compared to monolingual instruction. Following a concurrent embedded design (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011), data from classroom observations, learner diaries, and focus groups were analyzed inductively, and data from the PPC Scale and teacher interviews were analyzed deductively.

Plurilingual Instruction Is More Beneficial Than Monolingual Instruction

The goal of the study was to examine potential affordances and challenges of plurilingual instruction compared to monolingual instruction, as well as determine whether there would be differences in students’ perceived PPC levels depending on the instructional approach and over time. Analyses from student diaries and focus groups indicate several affordances of plurilingual instruction, including the enhancement of cognition, plurilingual and pluricultural awareness, empathy, English and additional language learning, and critical thinking, among others. From the students’ viewpoint, no challenges of plurilingual instructional pedagogy were found but students indicated challenges relating to translating from one language to another as well as the need to maintain a monolingual posture with monolingual speakers outside of the classroom.

Teachers unanimously reported preference for plurilingual instruction, as it validated students’ plurilingual practices, challenged monolingual ideologies, and offered an engaging environment in which students took the role of the teacher. All of the instructors suggested that teachers implement plurilingual instruction in the future and argued for the need to “give up” their power in class and allow students to develop agency over their own plurilingual and pluricultural practices. In addition, strategies used by the teachers, such as translanguaging and cross-linguistic/cross-cultural comparisons, gradually became part of the EAP curriculum. Finally, PPC scale data were analyzed using a repeated measures ANOVA and post-hoc independent samples t-tests, with results indicating that students in the treatment group had a statistically significant increase of perceived PPC levels over time compared to students in the comparison group. These results show that plurilingual instruction was more beneficial than monolingual instruction for PPC improvement.

Implications for TESOL

This study is significant as it provides evidence from multiple data sources and viewpoints that plurilingual instruction in TESOL offers benefits that are not afforded by monolingual instruction. Pedagogically, a practical achievement of this study is that it opens up possibilities for validating students’ plurilingual practices and enhancing the language learning experience in ways that are not possible if monolingual instruction remains unchallenged.

As an ending thought, teachers who wish to implement plurilingual instruction in their classes can make use of PPC descriptors suggested in the CEFR Companion Volume (Council of Europe, 2018) and ensure that implementation suits their contexts; thus, teachers need to analyze their language program, student population, and administrative support (or lack thereof). Ultimately, by inviting students to share their languages and cultures in the English classroom, teachers are not only teaching the English language but also equipping students with skills to develop PPC, a competence needed for the 21st-century societies that are linguistically and culturally diverse.


Council of Europe. (2018). Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment-companion volume with new descriptors. Strasbourg, France: Author. Retrieved from https://rm.coe.int/cefr-companion-volume-with-new-descriptors-2018/1680787989

Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Galante, A. (2018). Linguistic and cultural diversity in language education through plurilingualism: Linking the theory into practice. In P. P. Trifonas & T. Aravossitas (Eds.), International handbook on research and practice in heritage language education (pp. 313–329). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Springer.

Kubota, R. (2016). The multi/plural turn, postcolonial theory, and neoliberal multiculturalism: Complicities and implications for applied linguistics. Applied Linguistics, 37(4) 474–494.

Taylor, S. K., & Snoddon, K. (2013). Plurilingualism in TESOL: Promising controversies. TESOL Quarterly, 47, 439–445.

Statistics Canada (2016). Linguistic diversity and multilingualism in Canadian homes. Retrieved from http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016010/98-200-x2016010-eng.cfm

Angelica Galante is assistant professor in applied linguistics at Concordia University in Montreal, Québec, Canada. Visit http://www.breakingtheinvisiblewall.com to learn more about her research and the plurilingual tasks used in the study.