3 ways teachers can support parents of bilingual children

by | Jul 16, 2014 | Challenges, Family life, Practical advice, When a bilingual / multilingual child goes to school | 3 comments

3 ways teachers can support parents of bilingual children
There was a time when teachers and even speech therapists were during their training told to recommend to parents in multilingual and migrant families to stick only to the majority language and stop using their native family language at home. Today we know that this is an incorrect advice to give parents of bilingual children. Instead teachers should support the family’s bilingualism – how to do this?

1. Don’t ask parents to stop speaking their home language with the children

Since many parents have told me that they are still being advised to switch to the majority language by a teacher or nursery professional, I have to start with the obvious. Research has shown that a solid home language is the best foundation for a child to learn an additional language. Especially when a family moves from one country to another there are a lot of changes to everything in their lives. For a family to be asked to change the language they are used to speaking with each other adds another big stress factor to the family life. Telling parents to drop a language is not beneficial for the relationship between the parents and the school – on the contrary, such a request will in most cases cause resentment and insecurity. Also, keep in mind that if parents switch to a language that they are not fluent in, this can affect their relationship with their offspring. In addition, it can lead to parents losing their authority with their children who will learn to communicate better than them in the majority language.

2. Don’t ask the parents to teach their children the majority language
Most parents are not teachers themselves. They haven’t taught their children their own language, neither would they be able to teach their language to anyone else in an effective way. They are even less equipped to teach their children a language that they are not fluent in themselves. Maybe parents can try to learn alongside their child, but asking them to teach their children is not the way to go. The kids will soon enough be much more fluent in the majority language than their parents will ever be.

3. Show the parents that you support bilingualism
So far it has been about what not do – what to do instead? First of all, emphasize the value of all languages. Showing a genuine interest in the family’s language set up is vital for giving the right message to the parents. Ask questions about which languages are used in the family and who speaks which language. When you show parents that you appreciate their home language, they will gain confidence and you will build a good relationship with them. Encourage the parents to show a positive attitude towards language learning in general. Speak to them about the importance of reading and that their children have access to books (in all their languages). You can also recommend TV programs or on-line resources which are easy to understand and with useful vocabulary and give any further advice if the parents ask for it.

Teachers do a wonderfully valuable job and are so important to many aspects of a child’s life – having ALL teachers support multilingual families and bilingualism would be fantastic!

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  1. Muhammad Saleem

    exactly, children should not feel shame to use their native language, doing this, they will become more confident, will attached to their family, and will be able to express their feeling ,ideas and the most important thing they will do is they will question about what they have misconceptions, You Know that questioning is half the knowledge.

  2. Bryan Beaton

    I spend a lot of time in south Asia. English is highly valued in this region as a doorway to greater opportunities, and English Medium schooling is the preferred option for most people who can afford it. However, while graduating students are often highly proficient in English, they may have only oral fluency in their mother tongue. Losing comfortable written proficiency and an awareness of their own literary and cultural heritage within just one generation seems to me to be an unnecessarily high price to pay for greater career opportunities.
    Here’s hoping that regional educators will find ways to do both – provide exposure to the language of ‘opportunity’ while fostering a genuine love of and proficiency in the mother culture / language / literature. Nations such as the Netherlands (just one example in Europe) and Canada (a North American example) show that it can be done. We may have to work to figure out how to do it in any particular context.

    • Rita

      Yes, you are absolutely right, Bryan. The challenge is to find a way to not only convince the educators, but also the parents, about the importance of a strong spoken and written native language. I know how deep-rooted the appreciation of English is in the area – maybe approaching it from the angle of emphasizing the advantage of knowing your home language well, how it makes learning an additional language easier (be it English or any other language) would work?


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