Linguistic Landscapes as an Activity to Support Multilingual Learners in Mainstream Classrooms (by Jennifer Burton)

From March 17 to October 11th, 2022, the Canadian government approved 302,071[1] temporary resident applications supporting Ukrainian nationals and their family members affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These Ukrainian children and their families bring a variety of skills, resources and languages, contributing to Canada’s multiple linguistic and cultural landscape. Yet, educational institutions continue to promote monolingual ideologies and classroom practices, reinforcing a linguistic hierarchy that privileges English and French (Bale et al., forthcoming; Haque, 2012). To counter monolingual practices, educators working with multilingual learners, such as the recent Ukrainian arrivals, can engage classroom-wide activities that draw on their diverse skills, knowledge, languages, cultures, identities, and lived experiences, as these are intrinsic and important parts of their learning through an activity known as linguistic landscapes.

What are Linguistic Landscapes?

Words and images are all around us! From street signs and shopping bags to bulletin boards and advertisements in bus shelters and on billboards or Internet sites, these public areas and online platforms offer much information about language, people, and society (Shohamy & Gorter, 2008). The words and images displayed in these geographical places and online spaces are what is referred to as linguistic landscape. Linguistic landscapes have been described as the active, dynamic, broadening field of study that recognizes that language and its connection to other semiotic resources such as images and pictures, and even smells and sounds, are reflections of society. How individuals interact with linguistic landscapes is an important aspect of understanding how language works. The visual and material representation of languages in social spaces offers information about the role, value, and function of language in identity construction, social relations, and linguistic and cultural diversity (Spolsky, 2020). Thus, linguistic landscapes can be used as a tool for learners to become aware of social and political issues, potentially leading to activism and social transformation.

Research on linguistic landscapes explores a variety of topics, such as the spread of English (e.g., Rosenbaum et al., 1977), language policy (e.g., Spolsky, 2009) and second language acquisition (e.g., Cenoz & Gorter, 2008). In schools, linguistic landscapes activities provide pedagogical benefits for language learning and awareness, literacy development, identity construction, and sense of belonging (e.g., Bever & Richardson, 2020; Sayer, 2010; Tjandra, 2020). Linguistic landscapes as a pedagogical resource draw students’ attention to language practices and varieties in their multilingual communities and spaces, digital and otherwise, and offer several affordances to multilingual learners.

How Do Linguistic Landscape Activities Support Multilingual Learners’ Language Development?

In relation to language teaching and learning, linguistic landscapes provide opportunities for multilingual learners to practice using language through multiple modalities, make connections to their real lives by drawing on their linguistic and cultural repertoires, and activate their prior knowledge and understanding of social practices (Dagenais et al., 2008; Shohamy et at., 2010). Given that the linguistic landscapes encourage learners to interact in social spaces through observation and analysis of the use of language, learners can gain knowledge and awareness of language and language varieties. Students can also develop critical literacy by engaging in analysis of textual and visual media at multiple levels, through considering geographical location, sociological importance and linguistic function (Scollon & Scollon, 2003) to facilitate an understanding of social issues informed by various forms and interpretations of power relations (Yao & Gruba, 2020). Educators can use linguistic landscapes as a heuristic for the learning and promotion of social justice, by drawing attention to the visibility of language in particular locations and sites, and by encouraging students to consider the benefits of linguistic diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Examples of Linguistic Landscape Activities

There are several activities that teachers can engage in with their students to draw their attention to the languages that surround them in public and online environments, as well as to highlight the linguistic diversity of students in schools. In the context of online learning, technology offers possibilities for learners to visit public spaces virtually through the use of Google Earth, for example, to document representations of languages without the need to be physically present. To support students’ language awareness, students or teachers can find videos or take pictures of the linguistic landscapes at a specific in-person or online geographical location (e.g., park, bank, restaurant, website) or a particular theme (e.g., entertainment, food, family, neighbourhood). For example, if the theme was transportation, then students could search YouTube for specific videos of modes of transportation in other countries. This activity could be related to a unit or theme in the curriculum. Language objectives can be identified based on the intended goal and outcome of the activity.

Screenshots from transportation videos on YouTube. From left to right, Photo 1: subway in Korea, Photo 2: bus in Paris, Photo 3: train in India,

Depending on the age and grade of the students, the lesson goals, and the language objectives, teachers could ask students to make observations about the linguistic landscape in the videos with prompts such as, “Where did you see or hear the languages? Can you identify the written and spoken languages? What kind of information do you think is being communicated? How do you know?” To answer these questions or make inferences, students can draw on verbal and non-verbal context clues in the videos, or use online translation tools. Students can work together to interpret the meaning of linguistic landscapes in a diverse array of digital or in-person spaces.

Linguistic landscapes activities can also bring to the forefront the linguistic and cultural needs of multilingual learners by allowing them to draw upon their diverse, rich, and dynamic funds of knowledge. In Figure 2, students can create and display language flowers in their classroom which highlight the diverse languages they hear, see, read, write, speak, understand, and would like to try learning. 

Language Flowers Instructions

Note: Image created by Mimi Masson (2017) and adapted by Shakina Rajendram (2018). First published: Burton, J., Wong, W., & Rajendram, S (2020). Creative Poetry, Digital, and Spoken Word Activities to Support Multilingual English Language Learners in K-12 Classrooms. In Elsherif, H. & Masson, M. (Eds.) Every Teacher is a Language Teacher (Vol. 1). University of Ottawa Second Language Education Cohort (cL2c).

Student Language Flower Examples

The language flower activity showcases the languages in students’ lives and communities. Positioning multilingual learners as language experts provides them with an opportunity to share their linguistic knowledge with the class. Students can teach their classmates vocabulary words or expressions and make connections across languages. More broadly, teachers can prepare activities for students to survey the languages spoken, heard, or known in the school and community. Students can survey the languages in school by observing signs and change or edit them to reflect the linguistic diversity of the student body.

Collectively, the goal of these activities is to increase all students’ linguistic awareness and draw attention to the role of language in conveying ideas and communicating meaning, promote incidental language learning, provide space for multilingual students to use their full linguistic repertoire, and encourage criticality of deeper issues as they relate to social, cultural, and linguistic injustices. Teachers do not need to know or speak students’ languages for them to promote linguistic landscape activities in their classrooms.

There are but a few examples of linguistic landscape activities. For more examples of linguistic landscapes, as well as identity texts and photovoice activities to support multilingual learners, check out the upcoming publication with colleagues Dr. Shakina Rajendram and Wales Wong who have contributed to developing and designing the pedagogical content shared here to support multilingual learners:

Rajendram, S., Burton, J., & Wong, W. (2022). Online Translanguaging and Multiliteracies Strategies to Support Language Development among K-12 English Language Learners. TESOL Journal.

Finally, if you use linguistic landscape activities in your class, we’d love to hear from you!


Bale, J., Rajendram, S., Brubacher, K., Adjetey-Nii Owoo, M. A., Burton, J., Wong, W., Zhang, Y., Larson, E. J., Gagné, A., & Kerekes, J. (forthcoming). More than “just good teaching”: Centering multilingual learners and countering racism in teacher education. Multilingual Matters.

Bever, O., & Richardson, D. (2020). Linguistic landscape as a tool for literacy-based language teaching and learning: Application for the foreign language classroom. In D. Malinowski & S. Tufi (Eds.), Reterritorializing Linguistic Landscapes: Questioning Boundaries and Opening Spaces (pp. 364-386). Bloomsbury Academic.

Cenoz, J., & Gorter, D. (2008). Linguistic landscape as an additional source of input in second language acquisition. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 46(3), 257–276.

Dagenais, D., Moore, D. Sabatier, C., Lamarre, P., & Armand, F. (2008). Linguistic landscape and language awareness. In E. Shohamy & D. Gorter (Eds.) Linguistic Landscape: Expanding the Scenery (pp. 293-309). Routledge.

Haque, E. (2012). Multiculturalism within a bilingual framework: Language, race, and belonging in Canada. University of Toronto Press.

Rosenbaum, Y., Nadel, E., Cooper, R. L., & Fishman, J. A. (1977). English on Keren Kayemet street. In J. A. Fishman, R. L. Cooper, & A. W. Conrad (Eds.), The spread of English (pp. 179–196). Newbury House.

Sayer, P. (2010). Using the linguistic landscape as a pedagogical resource. ELT Journal, 64(2), 143-154.

Scollon, R. & Scollon, S. W (2003). Discourses in place. Routledge.

Shohamy, E., & Gorter, D. (Eds.). (2008). Linguistic landscape: Expanding the scenery. Routledge.

Shohamy, E. G., Rafael, E. B., & Barni, M. (Eds.). (2010). Linguistic landscape in the city. Multilingual Matters.

Spolsky, B. (2020). Linguistic landscape: The semiotics of public signage. Linguistic Landscape, 6(1), 2-15.

Spolsky, B. (2009). Language management. Cambridge University Press.

Tjandra, C. (2020). Supporting newcomer children’s language awareness, incidental language learning, and identity negotiation through the multilingual linguistic landscape: An exploratory case study. The Canadian Modern Language Review.

Yao, X., & Gruba, P. (2020). Power through the semiotic landscape. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 1-14.

[1] As of October 16th, 2022 from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *