Home icon

Parallel Talk: A Simple Way to Provide English Vocabulary

Originally published:

stack of  blocks

Many teachers and caregivers may be encountering young dual language learners (DLLs) who speak a number of different home languages. Helping children learn English as they also become proficient in their home language is critical for future academic success. It can be challenging when a teacher or caregiver has responsibility for teaching young children who represent many different cultures and languages.

Children’s families are a strong source of support for promoting the home language in classrooms and other caregiving settings. Teachers and caregivers may intentionally build relationships with families (and if possible receive help from other cultural liaisons) to provide classroom materials in each child’s home language (e.g., simple stories recorded in the home language, songs and books that are the child’s favorites, etc.). The goal is to bring each child’s home culture and language into the classroom or child care setting.

Teachers and caregivers may invite parents, grandparents, and other extended family members to visit the classroom or child care setting and interact with children in their home language. They can share songs, rhymes, chants, and favorite games. All of the children in the class are enriched by learning new words, songs, and stories in each language.

Teachers and caregivers of DLLs have the important job of helping young children learn English vocabulary. A simple way to do this is to follow the child’s lead and focus attention on a toy or material that is of high interest to the child.

As the child plays, teachers can describe in English what the child is doing. This type of teacher/child interaction provides the child with English vocabulary words in the natural context of his play. The teacher watches and describes but does not expect any response from the child. This strategy is referred to as parallel talk. Parallel talk may be used with all children to increase their language skills. It is one of many strategies teachers and caregivers can rely upon. The following is a brief example of parallel talk:

Setting: Teacher and child are in the block area. Ling-Tsai, 4, is building a tower with the soft blocks.

Teacher: Ling-Tsai, you put a big block on the bottom of your tower, and now you put more small blocks on the top.

Ling-Tsai: Blocks. More blocks.

Many parents and teachers naturally use parallel talk when interacting with young children. For DLLs parallel talk expands their opportunities to learn new vocabulary in English while engaging in play, routines, and other activities of daily living. This is an effective strategy for teachers and caregivers who serve DLLs and their families from multiple cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Bernie Laumann

Bernie Laumann

Dr. Bernadette M. Laumann was the coordinator of the Illinois Early Learning Project from 2013 to 2019. She has been a child care teacher, an early childhood special education teacher, director of an inclusive early childhood program, researcher, and university teacher educator. Her research interests include mentoring and induction activities for beginning teachers and the use of technology in connecting evidence-based practice.

IEL Resources

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2024