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My Language, My Self: Celebrating Linguistic Diversity at SSIS

My Language, My Self: Celebrating Linguistic Diversity at SSIS
Ceci Gomez-Galvez, ES EAL Coordinator & Tanya Olander

How do the languages you speak shape who you are and contribute to your self-image? Earlier this year, our elementary school students thought about this important question through an inspiring hands-on reflection called a “Language Identity Portrait.” 

If you are a parent who attended the first ES Coffee in August, you may recall creating a “Language Identity Portrait.” Using a simple outline of a body, parents used colors or symbols that represent any language that played a role in shaping their personal identity. It’s a simple yet powerful way to make meaningful connections as a multilingual, i.e. a person who speaks, understands, or identifies with multiple languages, about how our languages influence who we are.

During an ES parent coffee at the start of the school year, parents made many connections as they shared their Language Identity Portraits with each other.

New Ways to Reflect on Identity

Armed with crayons, markers, and a simple outline of a body, our ES teachers started off the year creating their portraits, too. Several had never reflected on this aspect of their identity in this way and expressed what a powerful experience it was to go through before introducing the activity to students. The simple act of putting crayons to paper resulted in a rich depiction of a unique linguistic journey.


Teachers started the year by fostering a sense of belonging and pride, as they shared the languages that make them who they are, with one another.

The Beauty and Strength of Diversity

Once teachers had engaged in the exercise, they were eager to introduce the activity to their students. The portraits varied across grade levels, some simple and straightforward - others filled with visual “stories” and reflections of what their languages mean to them. 

With each pattern and patch of color, students expressed the beauty and strength found in diversity while fostering a sense of belonging and pride in our community’s cultural backgrounds, which also ties in beautifully with this year's "Ubuntu" theme. In the spirit of Ubuntu, these portraits created windows and mirrors for meaningful exchanges.

Grade 1 student Language Identity Portraits, displaying the languages that have played a role in shaping them.​​​

Making Emotional Connections to Language

Language Identity Portraits can generate very meaningful conversations and reflections that contribute to a student’s Sense of Self - one of our five SSIS Core Values. The portraits also help students make unexpected connections with each other. The Language Identity Portraits also allow students to reflect on the emotional connections and cultural experiences associated with the languages they speak.

In an assembly in middle school last year, ES EAL Coordinator Ceci Gomez-Galvez led in creating their own Language Identity Portraits.

Every Voice is Heard and Cherished

The Language Identity Portraits is one of the ways that SSIS celebrates multilingualism, and our school will continue to find ways to build bridges of understanding so that every voice is heard and cherished. 

If you want to create your own Language Identity Portrait, you can download a template here. Some questions you may want to consider as you complete your portrait are: 

  • How do you use different languages in your everyday life? 
  • Do you have certain languages or dialects that you only use with certain people or in certain places?
  • Do you use gestures or sign language? If so, when? 


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