BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career


What Do International School Teachers Believe About Multilingualism?

By Dr. Samantha Olson-Wyman and Dr. Esther Bettney Heidt
What Do International School Teachers Believe About Multilingualism?

International school communities are often rich with cultural and linguistic diversity. However, their instructional models often prioritize proficiency in an accepted standard variety of English as the desired and favored outcome for students (Hayden & Thompson, 2016; Spiers, 2016). This push for English is reflective of larger global educational trends which has serious consequences in terms of linguistic diversity. Phillipson (2010) argues the world-wide emphasis on English language teaching contributes to linguistic capital dispossession as English is valorized at the expense of local, national, or the students’ home languages. Ives (2013) argues, “whether or not individuals, institutions or states ‘choose’ (seemingly freely) to learn, teach or facilitate English, the spread of English is part and parcel of unequal power relationships” (p. 662).

In recent years, critical scholars have drawn attention to problematic language ideologies in which teachers believe English proficiency is more valuable than supporting students’, families’, and teachers’ multilingualism. This type of hegemonic language ideology is aligned with practices that marginalize and devalue linguistic diversity and is detrimental and problematic for students both in regard to their learning as well as their linguistic identity formation (Abernathy, 2020; Čeginskas, 2010). If we know that certain types of language ideologies are detrimental to students, how can an examination of teachers’ language ideologies shift international schools toward more inclusive and equitable learning communities?

What are language ideologies?

Language ideologies are complex and multifaceted. Much of the existing literature defines language ideologies with relative consistency as a set of beliefs, judgements, opinions, and feelings about language and its use (Abernathy, 2022; Fitzsimmons-Doolan et al., 2015; Kroskrity, 2010; Piller, 2015; Wollard, 1998). Language ideologies are often shared by social groups, are formed more from a social than from a linguistic standpoint and guide the underpinnings of language use (Kroskrity, 2010; Piller, 2015). They inform how individuals view languages, how and why hierarchies of languages are constructed and enacted in certain social spaces, and why certain languaging practices are considered more valuable than others.

Language ideologies seek to justify particular ways in which language is used (Fitzsimmons-Doolan et al., 2015). For example, hegemonic language ideologies reflect a hierarchical view of languages, in which  particular languages or language varieties are seen as more valuable. Chang-Bacon (2021) argues, “language ideologies do not necessarily reflect the actual language practices of a given community. Instead, they reflect beliefs, or dominant ideas of what language practices are presumed to (or supposedly ought to) look like within these contexts” (p.4). Language ideologies are influenced by the societal context in which they are formed and reflect issues of power and societal power dynamics (Chang-Bacon, 2021).

What does research tell us about language ideologies in international schools?

As part of a research-practice partnership through the Multilingual Learning Research Center (MLRC) School Network, Dr. Samantha Olson-Wyman, Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning Specialist at the American School of Guatemala (CAG), and Dr. Esther Bettney Heidt, MLRC School Network Researcher, are currently exploring how to better understand teachers’ language ideologies, how they might impact multilingual school communities, and how educators might shift toward more inclusive beliefs about language which support multilingual students, their families, and their communities.

Dr. Olson-Wyman (2023) and Dr. Bettney Heidt (2022) conducted distinct but related research studies about language ideologies in international schools. Olson-Wyman (2023) conducted a quantitative, non-experimental, survey-based study that sought to identify what English medium international school teachers believe about language, what the components of their language ideologies are, and what factors influence these ideologies. Interestingly, Olson-Wyman’s study found that the demographic factors of race/ethnicity, age, years spent internationally, regions taught in, and a focus on multilingual learners in teacher preparation had a significant influence on teachers’ language ideologies. One particular finding revealed that despite how long a teacher has taught internationally or how many regions they have taught in, they can still hold linguistically uniformed ideologies specifically when considering their beliefs about language and identity/morality as well as beliefs about correctness. Olson-Wyman’s study also indicated that if a teacher’s pre-service preparation included a focus on multilingual learners, their beliefs about the utility of non-standard varieties of English tended to be more linguistically informed, embracing linguistic pluralism and the equality of language varieties.

Through a parallel qualitative study, Bettney Heidt (2022) examined teachers’ language ideologies as part of a larger case study conducted at Colegio Colombiano (CC), a K-12 international school in Colombia. Over the course of five months, Bettney Heidt collected data through classroom observations, teacher interviews, and a teacher questionnaire. While in her original study, Bettney Heidt documented types of ideologies held by faculty at CC, her initial analysis did not include teachers’ descriptions of why their ideologies shifted from hegemonic to counterhegemonic. In comparing her findings to Olson-Wyman’s study and conducting a secondary analysis of her data, Bettney Heidt found key experiences teachers described as impacting their language ideologies across three main areas: personal language learning and immersion, professional learning through participating in action research projects, and through enacting and reflecting on counterhegemonic practices. 

What are the implications of this research?

First and foremost, these research findings call for self-reflection as educators. Ideologies are complex, multifaceted, and deeply personal. Furthermore, the act of educating is human and though we aim to use research to inform the field and provide direction, it doesn’t apply in the same way for every individual in every context. Taking time to consider your personal beliefs around language and how they might be impacting your practice is important.

In addition, we would be remiss not to acknowledge that international school teachers often work within systems and these systems, at times, inherently support and promote hegemonic ideologies. At a schoolwide level, and in an effort to mitigate the potentially negative influence of experience teaching in international schools, this research suggests that ongoing professional learning for teachers in counter-hegemonic language development practices, especially those that have spent more time internationally, would help to diminish the development of potential hegemonic-aligned beliefs which in turn impact practice.

Furthermore, these findings indicate both pre-service and ongoing professional learning opportunities, including engaging with and in research relevant to multilingual learners, promotes counter-hegemonic ideologies. International schools have a unique opportunity to create space for this important work, helping their faculty to be well-equipped in serving their multilingual learners.

Where can I delve more into research about multilingual teaching and learning in international schools?

The American School of Guatemala (CAG) will host a MLRC Research Symposium on January 27-28, 2024. The MLRC Research Symposium is a unique two-day opportunity for international educators – teachers and leaders – to engage deeply in existing research about multilingual learners, connect with global education scholars, inquire together about shared problems of practice, and discuss innovative strategies for serving multilingual learners. The MLRC Research Symposium provides an opportunity for participants to develop a research-informed approach to improving school-wide systems by identifying strengths and goals for improvement. Throughout the two days together, participants will engage in disciplined inquiry with other participants with similar interests and questions, as well as spend focused time with their own school-based team to identify important problems of practice.



Abernethy, F. H. (2022). Critical Inquiries into Language Ideologies and Pedagogies in a Linguistically Diverse, Reform-Minded Urban Middle School (Order No. 29209740). [Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database.

Bettney, E. (2022). “Speak English – don’t be lazy!”: Exploring decolonial approaches to multilingual education through a case study of an international school in Colombia. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison]. ResearchGate.

Ceginskas, V. (2010). Being "the strange one" or "like everybody else": School education and the negotiation of multilingual identity. International Journal of Multilingualism, 7(3), 211.

Chang-Bacon, C. K. (2021). Monolingual language ideologies and the idealized speaker: The “New bilingualism” meets the “Old” educational inequities. Teachers College Record, 123(1), 1-28.

Fitzsimmons Doolan, S., Palmer, D., & Henderson, K. (2017). Educator language ideologies and a top-down dual language program. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 20(6), 704.

Hayden, M. & Thompson, J. (2016). International schools: current issues and future prospects. Symposium Books.

Ives, P. (2009). Global English, hegemony and education: Lessons from Gramsci. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 41(6), 661-683.

Kroskrity, P. V. (2010). Language ideologies: Evolving perspectives. In J. O. Östman, J. Verschueren, & J. J., (Eds.) Handbook of pragmatics highlights: Society and language use. (192–211). John Benjamins.

Olson-Wyman, S. (2023). Embracing Linguistic Diversity or Perpetuating Prejudice: A Study of International School Teachers’ Language Ideologies. [Doctoral dissertation, Wilkes University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database.

Phillipson, R. (2010). Linguistic imperialism continued. Routledge.

Piller, I. (2015). Language ideologies. In K. Tracy (Ed.), The international encyclopedia of language and social interaction. Wiley. url=

Spiers, R. (2016, August). The art of international school headship. RSAcademics.

Woolard, K. (1998). Language Ideology as a Field of Inquiry. In B. Schieffelin, K. Woolard, & P. Kroskrity (Eds.), Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory (pp. 3-47). Oxford University Press.


Dr. Samantha Olson-Wyman is a Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning Specialist at the American School of Guatemala (CAG) in Guatemala City.

CAG LinkedIn:
CAG Instagram:

Dr. Esther Bettney Heidt is a School Network Researcher at the Multilingual Learning Research Center, part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education.

Esther LinkedIn:
MLRC LinkedIn:
MLRC Facebook:

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:


01/17/2024 - Edel
Fascinating research! I really enjoyed this and it is something I have often reflected on as I work in schools that push for their students to speak English ONLY. How do we honour and value their native language in these international schools? What role do school leaders and parents play? In my experience, students normally end up reading and writing better in English than their native language. I've had some pretty great conversations about this with the native language teachers at my current school. Often, it comes down to school identity, values, and mission. Furthermore, as an international teacher, learning to speak the local language shows your students and school community that you value it, regardless of how "useful" it is to you in the world.