A tangled web: ‘the hundred languages’ – a provocation and a compass

A conference and seminar in dialogue with Reggio (supported by the University of Greenwich and Sightlines Initiative) introducing and exploring the Hundred Languages of Children.

Professor Peter Moss introduces this ‘fantastic theory’ whilst Pedagogista Annalisa Rabotti illustrates how she works in these many languages of learning alongside children in Reggio Emilia.

Peter Moss

Peter Moss introduces the hundred languages of children, ‘this fantastic theory’, by addressing four key elements, drawing on the work of Loris Malaguzzi, Carlina Rinaldi and Vea Vecchi, emphasising to the audience that his interpretation is “an outsider’s perspective”:

  1. What we mean by ‘the hundred languages’
  • A metaphor for the many different ways adults and children express themselves.
  • The different ways human beings represent, communicate and express their thinking (Vea Vecchi – Reggio Emilia Atelierista).
  • The reference to ‘one hundred’ is not literal but demonstrates the great potential of languages, it acts as a provocation.
  • Carlina Rinaldi tells us all languages have the same dignity, they represent a right to expression.
  1. The history of ‘the hundred languages’
  • There is a wider political context.
  • The concept emerged in the 1970s at a time when priority was given to a small number of languages.
  • Carlina Rinaldi believes a declaration of the equal dignity and the importance of all languages is necessary for the construction of knowledge.
  • Loris Malaguzzi focused on the concept of “inter-disciplinarity” meaning connections can be made between different languages, such as links between science and art.
  1. The values embodied by ‘the hundred languages’

Peter emphasises there are many values, with only the dominant examples (in his ‘outsider’s interpretation’) being addressed here:

A. Inter-dependency/ Inter-connectivity / Inter-disciplinarity

  • Meaning different languages interact, contest and work with each other.
  • Loris Malaguzzi regarded languages as being a web rather than each existing as an island. Inter-disciplinarity acting as the constant.

B. Dialogue

  • There is a dialogue, an exchange between different languages.
  • The concept of ‘the hundred languages’ becomes deeper and languages are enriched through this exchange.

C. Wonder

  • Spinoza “we never know in advance what a body can do”
  • ‘The hundred languages’ are unpredictable and represent the full unknown potentiality of the child.

D. Uncertainty

  • Uncertainty can be positive and is a constituent element of our lives.
  • It is a motor of knowledge.
  • A constituent element of growth.

E. Democracy

  • Carlina Rinaldi says ‘the hundred languages’ are “full of democracy”.
  1. The implications of ‘the hundred languages’ and where we go from here

The image of the child

  • All children are rich, whatever their culture, there are no poor children.
  • A child has infinite capabilities.

The rich educator

  • Values and connects different languages.
  • Has a capacity for fantasy.
  • The task of teaching is to sustain the meeting of languages.
  • A teacher is multi-lingual, is integral to the school.
  • A constant provocation to routine: to stop, to think in another way.

Taking a holistic approach

  • Synergies need to be created using the environment and resources.
  • Interweaving languages commensurate with the pedagogy; works to value and to connect.

Current policy is incommensurate with the above – this has serious consequences

  • Prophetic pedagogy – which knows everything that will happen.
  • Testology – a robbing of meaning from individual histories.
  • Privileging few languages: reading, writing, maths.
  • Readying for school discourse “poor child…readied to learn”
  • Poor educators – poorly paid, poorly valued, uneducated childcare worker.

Loris Malaguzzi says in his poem “The child has a hundred languages (and a hundred hundred hundred more) but they steal ninety-nine. The school and the culture…”

  • We need to confront and disrupt mainstream narrow, predictable and controlling discourse; devalues and disconnects languages.
  • Create a pedagogy and environment that values and works with multiplicity, complexity and connectivity.
  • Create an early childhood profession to support and sustain this pedagogy.
  • Go deeper into understanding and evolving the ‘fantastic theory of the hundred languages’.

Annalisa Rabotti

Following Peter’s presentation, Annalisa goes on to explore a project which illustrates and reflects on working in multiple languages during enquiries with children in Reggio Emilia. During her presentation, Annalisa cross refers to the theory of ‘the hundred languages’, beginning by making the link between these languages of expression and a child’s imagination, creativity and aesthetics which have a hundred roots and a hundred genuses. Key threads of Annalisa’s presentation are outlined here.

The hundred languages’

  • Different ways children represent, communicate and express ideas.
  • Can include media and symbolic systems.
  • A way of finding our way, a type of orientation, our sense of direction; a compass.
  • Pushes us to find out more about the multi-disciplinary nature of knowledge.
  • Helps us to open channels to listen to all children.
  • A way in which children interpret the world around them.
  • Brings beauty, care, aesthetics (the care we take with relations); generates sensibilities, an attitude of research.
  • A narrative of the possible.
  • A theory offering different proximal zones of development, different entry points.
  • Loris Malaguzzi believed all languages have the possibility to develop new languages and that every language is made up of grammar and code.

Key grounding principles include:


  • Winnicot (psychoanalyst) “our way of encountering the exterior world”
  • There is a multiplicity of ways to encounter.
  • We encounter in context, not in isolation.
  • Languages provide an educational context where children and adults encounter, interpret and interrogate the world.

Relations and reciprocity

  • The relations between people in a school community.
  • Respects the multi-disciplinary way the mind works.
  • The power of organising; time to share and reflect.
  • Dialogue as a constant exercise, thinking continually renewed.
  • Open ourselves to be curious of others, not to be scared.
  • Knowledge evolves through relationships with others.

Environment and context

  • Genesis of knowledge is subjective, relational and contextual.
  • The identity and quality of a learning context are woven together; a fabric.
  • A daily context is familiar but has a high level of curiosity and desire for discovery.
  • Adults offer context pertinent to a child’s research; they have a responsibility to do so, to imagine the possibilities, areas of development.
  • Offering context allows creativity and imagination to become more manifest.
  • An intervention or relaunch by an adult of a child’s interest; an intention to work within the proximal zone of development (Vygotsky)
  • Atelier gives visibility to a school crediting different ways of expressing…legitimises different ways of encountering the world.
  • School life is connected to life in general, never detached from life experience; small beginnings which call out to us to follow.
  • A place of rich normality; offers suggestions and possibilities.
  • Continuously redesigned by the children as a consequence of their interpretation and interaction.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s