Language Policy

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 561–580 | Cite as

Multilingual language policy and mother tongue education in Timor-Leste: a multiscalar approach

  • Jo CafferyEmail author
  • Gabriela Coronado
  • Bob Hodge
Original Paper


This article looks at multilingual, mother-tongue-based language policies influenced by colonial and postcolonial histories and globalization processes. We use multiscalar analysis to show these policies as creative responses to problems affected by national and international forces. Our study focuses on Timor-Leste, specifically a pilot mother-tongue-based multilingual education program. We analyse the program’s practices and successful outcomes, in the adverse circumstances of this small, impoverished, recently independent nation, as it attempts to manage high levels of linguistic diversity (16 mother tongues and a five-language destination system) through multilingual education. We also identify tensions and problems that impinge on the outcomes for this ambitious program. Despite the obstacles, Timor-Leste’s multiscalar multilingual literacy policy is an important case that reinforces the significance of mother tongue education as a response to global complexity. The pilot program provides valuable lessons for many other parts of the world with similar problems, particularly for nations with comparable colonial histories.


Language policy Timor Leste Multilingual education Multiscalar Tetun Galolen Fataluku 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Education, Science, Technology and MathematicsUniversity of CanberraCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Institute for Culture and SocietyWestern Sydney UniversityPenrith SouthAustralia

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