Often times, when children enter the preschool, school or daycare environment with a home language that is different than the language used at school, parents can become concerned that their child will fall behind in language acquisition or become confused due to having more than one language developing in their brain. However, this is simply not the case.
If supported correctly, dual language learners can thrive with both languages and become proficient in both. It is important for families and care providers to not only support but also celebrate the diversity of languages that children may bring to the classroom. Here are some strategies for supporting language diversity in the early years.
- Meet with the teachers/administrators before your child’s first day: in general, whether it is related to language or not, meeting with your childcare providers as a family before your child starts attending is a helpful first step to help caregivers know what behaviours and needs to expect from your child before they enter the program. In the case of language, communicate to providers the languages your child uses at home, how they use them, and what you think would be helpful for them in the new environment.
- Provide teachers with a list of home language words that are often used: Words for mommy/daddy, hungry, thirsty, sick, tired, and other basic needs are very helpful for caregivers to have, especially if your child is in an infant to toddler age range. They can then use these words to help with acquisition of words in the new language. Educators should also be aware to use home language in positive ways. If the home language is only used in limit-setting situations it can cause a child to have negative associations with the home language and make them less inclined to want to use it.
- Make your home a nurturing language environment: Do not give up on the home language. Children will acquire the second language at school, keep reinforcing both the home language and the school language so that children can be comfortable with using both. Also, note that using a home language can actually help children do better with learning English!
- Consult with parents: make time and space for meeting with parents about their child’s language learning needs.
- Celebrate cultural diversity: create opportunities for children to share information with each other on their cultural backgrounds and their languages. This helps build community, supports confidence and pride in children’s culture, and makes them more comfortable with using their languages.
- Encourage play: children can learn a lot from each other through play. Help facilitate play between children with different language backgrounds so that they can share with each other.
Source: Supporting Children who are dual language learners by Zero to Three.