When bilingual children start school in a language that is different than the one they speak at home, it can be a challenge for both the child and the teacher. Learning how to work with bilingual children, and support a home language, is an important part of meeting their educational needs.
If you are teaching kids Spanish at home or at school, be sure to check out our Teach Kids Spanish: Resources and Strategies page. You’ll find lots of helpful, inspiring information.
There are many benefits of being bilingual, and teachers play a crucial role in seeing that children realize these benefits. While teachers may not be aware of their influence, their support for a home language can shape how children feel about their culture and family language.
Chontelle Bonfiglio contributes this article on how to support a home language. Chontelle Bonfiglio is a certified ESL teacher, writer, and creator of Bilingual Kidspot, a website offering practical advice for parents raising bilingual or multilingual children. She is also a mother of two bilingual children. You can follow her on Facebook for more information on bilingual parenting.
How to Support a Home Language
Remember the importance of the home language
While in the past parents have been told to drop their home language and concentrate on the school language, it has been proven that this isn’t best for a child’s language development. The best thing that parents can do is continue to speak the minority language at home, while their children are educated in the school language. This way, children have the best chance of being bilingual.
Research has shown that children who have a strong home language are able to learn additional languages more easily. While speaking one language at home, children are able to excel at school in the community language. As the teacher, you play an important role not only in educating bilingual children in the school language, but also in emphasizing the importance of their home language.
Be patient with children who need extra support
Bilingual children may need additional support in the classroom. Children just starting school for example, who have not have had a lot of exposure to the community language, may need time to settle in.
While many studies say that children do catch up with their peers quite quickly when immersed in a new language at school, bilingual kids will need some extra support while they get used to the language. They may need additional language classes, or time and assistance with certain activities.
Challenge children who already know what you are teaching
Should you find yourself teaching Spanish to a child who already speaks it, find ways to challenge them. Rather than teaching these children the same material as students who are beginners, prepare lessons at their level so they continue to develop their language skills.
This will require extra effort on your part, however it will benefit the child and your class in the long run. It is like having a student who is advanced in math or another subject and is finding lessons too easy. When you support a home language, you help children make the most of their education and ability.
Allow children to share their home culture
Encourage bilingual kids to share their background and culture with the class. They can teach their classmates words in their home language, or share their favorite song.
Encourage students to bring in items from home that represent their cultural heritage. Many children who aren’t bilingual, may also have multicultural backgrounds. Create opportunities for students to taste different foods, read multicultural books, and share their stories and backgrounds with their peers.
Sharing home cultures not only creates an environment of acceptance, but also teaches children about other cultures and the world. It is also an important part of supporting a home language.
Be positive about bilingualism
Teachers spend significant time with their students and are an important influence in the lives of little ones. Supporting bilingual children and making them feel valued in the classroom influences how they see their language skills.
Communicate with parents about the child’s needs. Ask questions, and take an interest in their family language and culture.
Be sure parents know you support a home language. You can give them ideas they can use at home with their children to enhance their language development. Perhaps suggest books to read, or additional language resources to help them.
As a teacher, you can work together with bilingual families to create a positive environment for each child. Show the student and their family that you value bilingualism and are there to support both of their languages!
Are you interested in bilingualism? Read about the hidden advantages of being bilingual and 5 language learning concepts you need to understand to raise a bilingual child.