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What Is Multiliteracy?

By Marlene de Wilde
Updated: May 23, 2024

Multiliteracy encompasses a new modern approach to literacy. The traditional definition of literacy has been widened to include the understanding of all types of visual and printed texts as well as textual connections including audio, spatial and gestural. Being able to read and write is no longer sufficient in today's technology-dominated world, so a major part of multiliteracy involves being proficient in new technologies which requires decoding skills as much as reading skills. Globalization has also engendered the necessity for cultural and linguistic diversity.

There are multiple literacies which are included under the term "multiliteracy." The introduction of learning a foreign language in schools was the beginning of the more familiar language multiliteracy. To be able to communicate in more than one language today is vital for those who wish to work, compete and succeed in the corporate world, but knowledge of language alone is no longer sufficient either. There also needs to be an understanding of differences in culture in order to be effective in a globalized world. Cultural literacy necessitates the appreciation of and interaction with other cultures.

Critical literacy involves the ability to obtain information from a variety of sources. This may be through digital or technological literacy which is the ability to obtain information online. The processing of information to extract meaning from print, sound, image and movement sources of information requires recognition, reproduction and reflection. While younger generations may be completely at home with this kind of information processing, it can be an issue for those unfamiliar with or untrained in modern technology.

To be media literate means to be aware of the impact different mediums have on psychology and decision making. Other types of multiliteracy include artistic or visual and musical. Many feel that the learning of multiliteracies should be incorporated into every school curriculum in order to sufficiently prepare students for the modern world.

The skill set required of graduates has changed and so the education system should change accordingly. The need to learn basic language and literacy has not changed but now the language has become metalanguage and literacy has transformed to multiliteracy. Concerns have been raised that the educational system is ill-prepared to deal with a more virtual approach towards the constantly changing technology in which many students are more comfortable than the teachers. Conversely, there is concern that students in less privileged circumstances who are already disadvantaged in the learning of traditional literacy skills are even less likely to have access to an educational system which teaches multiliteracy.

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Discussion Comments
By DylanB — On Jul 28, 2012

@cloudel – It is sad that some older people will never know the convenience of the internet. My grandmother is just like your mother.

I have told her that it would be so much easier for her to find a wide array of sewing materials if she shopped online, but she won't have it. She just sticks with what she can find at the local hobby store, and she is limiting herself so much because of this.

As sad as it is that older people detest and fear the internet, I think it's even sadder when teachers don't know how to use it. It's scary when a student knows more than their schoolteacher, and I'm seeing a lot of that with my kid these days.

By giddion — On Jul 27, 2012

I graduated from high school in the late nineties, and I had very little access to information about using the internet and computer technology. Our school was far behind anyway, and at the time, probably not a whole lot of schools were training students to be multiliterate in this manner.

Now, I see kids using laptops in every classroom. I wonder if they even know how to take notes with a pen and paper anymore. That could be a disadvantage to them.

It does show that they must be learning how to type quickly, and this will serve them well when it comes to job hunting. I'm glad that schools are now training kids for the real world, which is full of technology.

By seag47 — On Jul 27, 2012

I took four semesters of Spanish in college, so you would think I would be skilled at it. Unfortunately, I have forgotten the majority of what I learned, so I don't think I could qualify as multiliterate in that sense.

It's hard, because many employers today require candidates to be able to speak Spanish as well as English. Our nation is quickly becoming bilingual, and I feel that I need to buy some CDs and books and start learning Spanish again.

I do pretty well when it comes to technology, but that doesn't matter to an employer who requires that I know both languages. I think that any college student should realize the importance of learning and retaining another language.

By cloudel — On Jul 26, 2012

My mother loves to read, and she has a large vocabulary. She writes well, and she grasps the meaning of subtle sarcasm and irony. However, she is far from being multiliterate.

She never learned how to use a computer. Even though I know that she would love being able to access so much information online so rapidly, she is afraid of technology, and she refuses to let me teach her how to use a computer to navigate the internet.

It took awhile for her to even get up the courage to use her debit card instead of cash. She is afraid of digital machines, and even though she has a great grasp of the English language, this puts her at a disadvantage in today's world.

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