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Our Multilingual Community
By Lorna Caputo, First Language and EAL Coordinator

The ISZL Language Survey Results Part 1

In April of 2018, sixty-five percent of ISZL families participated in the ISZL Language Survey. The purpose of the survey was to learn more about the language profiles of ISZL students and their families so that we could further strengthen our commitment to intercultural awareness and developing multilingualism at ISZL. Using the results, we have created a comprehensive language profile of the school community, providing us with detailed information on the languages used by our students and their families, as well as an overview of the beliefs and attitudes of parents towards multilingualism and language learning. The findings of the survey will be published over the course of the school year, and in this first part we look at the number of languages spoken in our community and how this compares to Switzerland.

International organisations, including UNESCO, OECD and the IBO, have recognised that multilingualism is on the rise, and are prioritising their investigations into linguistic diversity across the globe. Likewise, the Institute of Multilingualism and the Federal Delegate for Plurilingualism are promoting the benefits of multilingualism here in Switzerland. Graddol (2006) suggests that demographic change significantly impacts how languages develop. The manner in which institutions respond to linguistic evolution determines the extent to which linguistic resources are utilised for the benefit of society.

The ISZL Language Survey results highlight how similar language use is in both the ISZL community and Switzerland as a whole (2016 statistics reported by SwissInfo). Our survey reports that 72% of ISZL families use two or more languages, compared to the Swiss average which is 64%. Breaking that down, 34% of ISZL families use two languages, compared to the Swiss average of 38%; 27% of ISZL families use three languages, compared to the Swiss average of 19%; and 11% of ISZL families use four or more languages, compared to the Swiss average of 7%. These results show just how much in common ISZL has with the wider Swiss community into which we are embedded. 

In a recent article on Culture and Global Citizenship, Barry Dequanne asked us to explore the question ‘Who Are We?’. I believe that our conception of identity, both as individuals and members of groups, is in a perpetual state of flux in spite of our best efforts to anchor ourselves in time and place (what ontologists describe as a constant ‘state of becoming’). It is important to note that globally-mobile communities, such as international schools, have complex and shifting cultural and linguistic landscapes, and are never fixed in their identity; hence, the answer to ‘who we are’ as a community will always be fluid and ever-changing.

The ISZL language survey results show that parents identify 60 different languages as being their first languages and that 53 languages are being spoken to their children. The languages identified as being used with ISZL children at home are Afrikaans, Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bengali, Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, Cantonese, Castellano, Catalan, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, Filipino, Flemish, French, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Irish, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malay, Malayalam, Mandarin, Marathi, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Spanish, Southern Sotho, Swedish, Swiss German, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Xhosa and Zulu. These results show just how diverse our community is and how our students develop a natural and authentic global awareness through their inclusion in, and membership of, such a linguistically diverse community.

There will be more language survey results very soon, so in the meantime, if you are interested in engaging with more discussion on bi- and multilingualism, please join the ISZL VLE Multilingual Forum.




Council of Europe Language Policy Portal. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2018, from

IBO (2014) Language and Learning in IB Programmes. Cardiff: IBO.

Institute of Multilingualism. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2018, from

OECD (2018), The Resilience of Students with an Immigrant Background: Factors that Shape Well-being. OECD Reviews of Migrant Education, OECD Publishing, Paris. (2017, May 01). Key Statistics. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from


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