Alison Lachowski, a member of Aberdeenshire's English as an additional language service, told the Educational Institute of Scotland last week that her unit had had 167 referrals since last August.
"The numbers are continuing to rise all the time, but we have had no increase in staffing. In addition, most of the families whose children are referred have little or no English, which was not the case in the past," Ms Lachowski said. Aberdeenshire was no different from many other authorities.
"Many schools are enrolling pupils with little or no English for the first time. Some schools whose rolls had fewer than 1 per cent EAL pupils now have 10 per cent. In one nursery, 50 per cent of the pupils have English as an additional language."
She added: "It is a myth that children learn a new language effortlessly.
Yes, they will learn a survival language and begin to communicate with their peers as they mix with them, but it still takes one to two years for social language to develop."
Marjorie Bell, Glasgow, described tensions emerging in her primary school.
Until Christmas, the roll had been made up of 98 per cent of Muslim children, who spoke English, Urdu or Punjabi. Now Slovakian Roma pupils made up 25 per cent of the roll.
"In Slovakia, if they don't pass a Czech language test at five, they are sent to a school for the mentally handicapped," Mrs Bell said. "While some of these children are supposed to go to the bilingual language unit in Glasgow, they are innately suspicious."
Larry Flanagan, Glasgow, reminded the conference that the city was about to open a Gaelic medium all-through school. "I find that ironic, because Urdu is the second most popular language in Glasgow schools," Mr Flanagan said.
"If you look at the money being spent on Gaelic and Urdu, there is no comparison."