Changing Australia’s monolingual mindset

We aim to strengthen children’s self-esteem and self-identify through developing their heritage language in meaningful social activities.

Recent Census data shows more than 23 per cent of Australians speak a language other than English at home, yet many young children who enter school speaking a language other than English will lose it by the time they graduate Year 12.

Professor Paola Escudero, an expert in Linguistics and Language Learning at the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University is dedicating her life’s work to challenging this, Emily Campbell writes.

Little Multilingual Minds

In addition to being a Chief Investigator at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Dynamics of Learning, Professor Escudero is the brains behind the Little Multilingual Minds (LMM) program, a newly developed heritage and second language extension program for young children.

“LMM was created in response to the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse families to boost children’s heritage language skills, promote second language learning and education opportunities during early childhood,” Professor Escudero said.

“The project enhances and extends children’s heritage language input during early childhood and primary school years and supports families with children learning a second language other than English.

“The LMM philosophy centres around developing children learning and language(s) best through play and enriching social activities.

“We aim to strengthen children’s self-esteem and self-identify through developing their heritage language in meaningful social activities.

“I have done a lot of work researching how to connect and compare adult second-language learning to how babies learn a language from the beginning.

“With LMM, the goal was to combine my interest in children’s development and play-based learning with the expertise I have gained after 20 years of studying and working in language learning and education,” she said.

“The ultimate goal is to empower Australians to embrace this country’s rich linguistic diversity to change the monolingual mindset to a multilingual and multicultural view, which supports greater empathy, social awareness and a better ability to understand and know about the world,” Professor Escudero said.

Pilot program success

Professor Escudero and the research team at Western Sydney University were recently awarded a prestigious ARC Linkage Project grant of more than $350,000 over the next three years to continue research-driven heritage language learning programs for early childhood education centres around Australia.

A successful pilot Spanish LMM program was launched at Amigoss Spanish Bilingual Childcare, Glebe in 2021 and a Vietnamese program trial was recently completed at Goodstart Early Learning, Braybrook, in conjunction with an advocacy group VietSpeak.

Professor Escudero is thrilled with the outcomes of the pilot Spanish and Vietnamese LMM programs which she said have surpassed her greatest expectations.

“Towards the end of the Vietnamese pilot, the facilitator sent us emails saying she’d be so sad when the program finished, and the children were already speaking full sentences after only having two half-hour sessions per week,” she said.

“The facilitator explained they can already introduce themselves, talk about colours and talk about the very hungry caterpillar in Vietnamese.

“Our facilitators are all native and fluent speakers trained in the LMM method to deliver completely implicit learning and intentional learning, but intentional teaching of the subject and the content, not just the language.

“Content and language integrated learning has been done for adults, but we’re the first program that uses it overtly and explicitly for children, apart from total immersion programs.

“The method involves lots of positiveness and repetition, which works wonders,” she said.

Another positive outcome of the pilot programs Professor Escudero mentioned was the huge confidence boost to many heritage language speaking children who participated in the LMM pilot.

“In some cases, the facilitators have been able to easily ascertain that the heritage language children undertaking an LMM program in their heritage language are as proficient as native speakers of the same age,” Professor Escudero said

“We would have assumed that because they’re born in Australia, they’re not at the same level of proficiency because they haven’t had the opportunity to practice and show that.”

Representation and repetition key

Professor Escudero explained there are numerous benefits for children under five associated with bilingualism and multilingualism and plenty of ways adults can support children to learn and maintain a second language.“For multilingualism to continue through the lifespan, children need to use their languages in as many contexts as possible outside of their homes, and they also need to see their languages represented in written form,” she said.

“Young families are often busy and lack community support to transmit and maintain their heritage language to their young children,” she said.

“The best way for early childhood education professionals to promote and support bilingualism and multilingualism in young children is to facilitate home language or foreign language exposure at early learning centres.

“However, using effective child-directed speech to teach a second language requires a naturalness and confidence which can only be achieved if the adult is fluent in the second language.

“It’s challenging to express positive emotion, repeat words, sing, rhyme and read using child-directed speech if we are not fluent in a language.

“That’s why LMM has been carefully created to help early childhood education staff and centres unravel their potential to celebrate and fulfil high-quality bilingual and multilingual early learning.

“In 2021 when we did the first Spanish pilot of six months, we had a couple of children who were shy and didn’t want to attend readiness for school, but through LMM we did readiness for school in Spanish, and they loved it.

“They were heritage language speakers of Spanish and just didn’t relate to the topics in English,” she said.

Get involved with LMM

Professor Escudero said LMM is keen to expand and is looking to partner with early childhood education centres around Australia to establish LMM programs in more preschools, kindergartens and playgroups.

“I encourage IEU members interested in having a second language program in their centre to reach out and contact me for more information,” she said.

“LMM is designed to be highly flexible and adaptable using the Australian Early Years framework, so we can organise facilitators and a suitable program that best suits the needs of a centre and the community.

“We are not a language teaching institution or a business; we are just a group of researchers interested in helping change Australia’s monolingual mindset.

“Multilingualism gives you different perspectives, and that’s what I’d love to give to every child in Australia.”

For more information about LMM, visit or contact Professor Paola Escudero via email to

Multilingual = Multi-benefits
Socio-cultural benefits: A young child’s first language or ‘mother tongue’ allows them to socialise, learn, communicate and understand the world. However, when children speak another language, they gain access to the views and perspectives associated with it, which teaches them different ways of thinking, expressing feelings and experiencing the world.

Interpersonal benefits:
Multilingualism links children with family, friends and the wider community, which is vital for youngsters’ wellbeing, socialising and development.

Cognitive benefits:
Research demonstrates that multilingualism improves children’s attention control, problem-solving and executive functioning. It promotes cognitive flexibility, creative thinking and has been linked to better mathematics ability and heightened logic.

Future benefits:
Being fluent in more than one language makes travelling easier, encourages international friendships and can improve a person’s career prospects. Research also suggests it may delay the onset of dementia later in life.


Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021, Cultural diversity: Census, ABS, viewed 30 January 2023, .