Many families new to the United States face an important choice. Should their children focus on learning only English? Or should the children also be fluent in their home language? Children who know more than one language often benefit in school and later in life. Also, many parents and grandparents find that talking to older children about important life matters is easier if the children retain their home language skills. Here are some ways that parents have helped young children keep their home language while learning English in school.
Be aware of skills and habits of mind that are
important in any language.
in mind that your preschooler can build good speaking and listening skills and
habits when he listens and talks to people who are fluent in any language. In
school, he will learn from teachers and peers who know English well. At home,
you are the language expert!
with your child in your home language every day so she sees you using words and
gestures with ease. Express feelings and complex ideas. Tell jokes and funny
stories. Let your child see you reading, making lists, and writing notes so she
learns how people communicate through print.
- Help your preschooler count, estimate, compare,
measure, and solve problems in your home language so he understands that
math concepts are the same in any language.
your child's curiosity about the world around her. Use your home language to
help her ask questions, describe things she observes, and make predictions.
Being able to do those things will help her in school.
Make your home language the foundation for literacy.
your preschooler learn the alphabet and read signs in your home language. That
way, he can begin to understand that letters and symbols have meaning.
stories or read aloud to your child in your home language. Record yourself reading aloud, so your child can listen independently.
your child songs and musical games in your home language.
books with your child. Your child can dictate stories to you. You might also
create fantasy tales or books of true-life family stories. Try making a
bilingual dictionary together. Illustrate the books with drawings or magazine
Stay in touch with preschool staff.
your preschooler's teachers know that you support your child's education at
home by reading, writing, and talking with her in the language you know best.
you have time, offer to help out in your child's classroom. You might even try
teaching the other children some words and phrases in your home language.
- Keep in mind that having a bilingual family is not
for support groups for bilingual families in your area. Arrange playgroups or
outings with other families who speak your home language.
your child to understand that knowing two languages well will be useful to him,
even if he now feels some peer pressure to speak only English.
language learning as a puzzle your family is working on together.
The opinions, resources, and referrals provided on the IEL Web site are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of medical or legal advice, or of other appropriate services. We encourage you to seek direct local assistance from a qualified professional if necessary before taking action.
The content of the IEL Web site does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education; nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education.