Language Education Policy Studies
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Plurilingual or Multilingual?

Question: How can we use both words--plurilingual and multilingual--in the same sentence? Here is a brief explanation:

Some approaches to this question maintain that plurilingualism is the ability to switch between different languages in different contexts--for example one at work and another at home and another at a local shop.

Multilingual applies from the outside, for a description, such as society, people, policies.

Multilingual also implies separate wholes--for example a person speaks three languages: Spanish, a separate language from Arabic, separate language from Berber, and so on.

Plurilingual implies the spaces in between or the systems of making meaning. A person who draws on Spanish (prior knowledge, or resources such as dictionaries or other content material) to make sense of what they learn in English is practicing plurilingualism (similar to translanguaging strategies).

Plurilingual is not the same as codeswitching. Another way to imply the meaning given here would be to use the term dynamic multilingualism. Tochon (2016) gives the following definition:

Plurilingualism, a buzzword in language teaching studies, has grounded its progressive stance in the way we conceptualize language education. The term is a borrowing from French, which differentiates the prefixes multi and pluri with a new conceptual distinction: multilingualism would keep languages distinct at the individual as well as societal levels while plurilingualism, would focus on languages interrelations in the dynamic process of language acquisition (p. 23).

European Union documents use the word plurilingual, please see the link below.

The video below gives a narrative of a plurilingual person.

"Story of a Plurilingual". The concept of plurilingualism is explained through this personal narrative. The video project "My plurilingual story" can provide language students with a unique opportunity to explore their linguistic repertoire and encourage them to learn more languages as well as the languages their peers know.


Tochon, F. (2016). Policy for Peace is Multilingual. In K.M. Harrison  & F. V. Tochon (Eds.). Policy for Peace: Language Education Unlimited. Blue Mounds, WI (USA): Deep Education Press.

More references coming soon.

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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Harrison, K. M. (2018). Making Empathetic Multilingual Environments in Schools: Multi or pluri?. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from:
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