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“Accept All Pupils as they are. Diversity!” – Pre-Service Primary Teachers’ Views, Experiences, Knowledge, and Skills of Multilingualism in Education



Schools across Europe are experiencing a growing number of multilingual pupils; however, teachers claim to be generally underprepared for dealing with this ever-increasing linguistic and cultural diversity. Initial teacher education often pays insufficient attention to multilingualism, thus there is a call for research on what pre-service teachers learn about the topic during training. Against this background, this small-scale exploratory study sets out to explore pre-service primary teachers’ (a) views of multilingualism in education in general, (b) experiences of multilingualism in education as trainee teachers, and (c) self-perceived knowledge and skills acquired and developed during training, in the context of the Netherlands. Based on 195 survey responses, descriptive statistical analyses indicate that the sampled pre-service primary teachers have slightly positive views of multilingualism in education, specifically regarding their opinions on the role of multilingualism in education, focusing on school and home languages, and their tolerance of multilingualism in the classroom and at school. A qualitative content analysis reveals that several pre-service primary teachers have had general experiences of teaching pupils with migrant backgrounds, such as in transition classes (Dutch: schakelklassen), and of teaching pupils who communicate with each other only in their home languages. Challenges in teaching multilingual pupils are also reported, such as the implications of being unable to understand pupils’ home languages. Regarding their self-perceived knowledge and skills, the content analysis shows that some pre-service primary teachers in this study are aware of how to encourage collaboration between multilingual pupils to involve their languages in their learning, and have knowledge of language comparison and awareness approaches that can be implemented in multilingual classrooms. A concerning finding, however, is that according to pre-service primary teachers’ self-reported communication skills for multilingual pupils, there is a tendency to use simplified language, which may have a negative impact on pupils’ language development. These findings highlight the need for further research that employs a mixed-methods longitudinal approach to gain insights into the depth of knowledge and skills acquired during training and how views of multilingualism in education influence classroom practices. This study further reveals shortcomings of primary teacher education in the Netherlands regarding the topic of multilingualism, which are followed up by preliminary recommendations for improving training programmes; for instance, training institutions should aim to collaborate with more multilingual schools where pre-service teachers can gain first-hand practical experience.