Students and faculty in higher education come to our campuses with varied linguistic backgrounds.  This linguistic diversity ranges from the domestic student who spent years in immersion schools becoming bilingual in English and Spanish, to the immigrant student who grew up speaking Vietnamese at home and doing school in English, to the Native American graduate student working to learn her heritage language of Ojibwa, to the international faculty member from India who speaks Hindi and Tamil in addition to English, and to the endless other university members who have unique linguistic backgrounds and repertoires that often go unrecognized.  

Unfortunately, linguistic diversity is too often seen as a problem to overcome and can become a source of discrimination.  Yet, embracing varied linguistic skills as resources and assets is an important part of campus internationalization as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.  

With language comes culture, including diverse perspectives and worldviews.  By drawing on the full extent of their linguistic knowledge, multilingual students and faculty have so much to contribute and can enhance the learning experience for all.  

Encouraging students to draw on all their languages also supports their learning, including ongoing language and identity development (see Lau & Van Viegen, 2020).  However, this is only possible if individuals trust they can bring their full selves, including their languages, to campus and to the classroom. 

  • Assume multilingualism and linguistic diversity as the norm.  
  • Find out the languages represented in the classroom.  You could use a student intake survey at the beginning of the semester and then regularly reference these languages positively in the classroom.
  • Invite perspectives afforded by different languages/cultures, especially those represented in the classroom.   
  • Include mention of language in diversity statements.
  • Repeatedly highlight the benefits of bi/multilingualism.  This could include oral statements in class, syllabus statements, and classroom practices and encourage using and drawing on various linguistic resources.
  • Emphasize the shared responsibility of both the speaker and the listener in successful communication. 
  • Invite students to use any language to interact with course content & participate in class and encourage translation and interpretation to be inclusive.
  • Help all students development awareness of their own linguistic identities and possible biases toward other languages, varieties/dialects of English, or accents.
  • Design assignments and assessments that encourage students to draw on their varied languages;
  • Model positive linguistic curiosity.

Busch, B. (2018). The language portrait in multilingualism research: Theoretical and methodological considerations. Urban Language and Literacies236, 1-13.

Lau, S. M. C., & Van Viegen, S. (2020). Plurilingual pedagogies: An introduction. In Plurilingual Pedagogies (pp. 3-22). Springer, Cham.

Lee, A. (2021, July, 15).  Build Language Justice.  Anti-Racism Daily.  ​​

Lin, A. M. Y. (2020) From deficit-based teaching to asset-based teaching in higher education in BANA countries: cutting through ‘either-or’ binaries with a heteroglossic plurilingual lens.  Language, Culture and Curriculum, 33:2, 203-212, DOI: 10.1080/07908318.2020.1723927

North Carolina State University Language & Life Project. (2014, February 5).  Language Diversity at NC State [video]. Campus Diversity Project: Educating the Educated.

Page, C. (2022). Linguistic racism, deficit constructions, and the othering of international students. In C. Cho &  J. Corkett (Eds.), Global perspectives on microaggressions in higher education: Understanding and combating covert violence in universities (pp. 26-44).  Routledge.

Schreiber, B. R., Lee, E., Johnson, J. T., & Fahim, N. (Eds.). (2021). Linguistic Justice on Campus: Pedagogy and Advocacy for Multilingual Students. Multilingual Matters.

Subtirelu, N. C., Lindemann, S., Acheson, K., & Campbell, M. A. (2022). Sharing communicative responsibility: training US students in cooperative strategies for communicating across linguistic difference. Multilingua.

Van Viegen, S., & Zappa-Hollman, S. (2020) Plurilingual pedagogies at the post-secondary level: possibilities for intentional engagement with students’ diverse linguistic repertoires.  Language, Culture and Curriculum, 33:2, 172-187, DOI:10.1080/07908318.2019.1686512

Wolfram, W., & Dunstan, S. (2021). Linguistic inequality and sociolinguistic justice in campus life: The need for programmatic intervention. In Linguistic discrimination in US higher education (pp. 156-173). Routledge.