As the weather warms up, dual language learners (DLLs), their families, and caregivers have many opportunities to spend time together out in the community. It is very important that children ages 3 to 8 become fluent in their family’s heritage language. DLLs need to practice their heritage language (e.g., vocabulary, sounds, sentence formation). Families and caregivers can encourage this through familiar activities. Research has shown when families and caregivers encourage young DLLs to learn and use their heritage language, they are helping them gain important skills that will support them as they learn to read and write in English as well.
Many community libraries offer special programs for families where books, videos, games, and crafts are available. If you live in Illinois, you can locate the address and phone number for your local library by searching online. Summer library programs may provide books (including audiobooks and e-books), magazines, and videos in different languages that can be checked out for use at home or while traveling. The library is full of interesting activities and can be especially fun to visit in the summer months.
Many Illinois communities host farmers markets during the late spring, summer, and fall seasons. A farmers market may provide a setting for families to teach their young children the names of many fruits, vegetables, baked goods, etc., in their heritage language. When shopping at a farmers market, families have the opportunity to allow children to use many senses (sight, taste, smell, and touch) to explore foods as they learn about them. Exploring different foods helps children to learn not only the name of the item but also the words that describe the item (e.g., color, texture, and size).
Families and caregivers can help children learn math in their heritage language by counting items and pointing out numerals on signs. Making a shopping list in the heritage language is one way families and caregivers can show children written words in that language. Children may enjoy drawing pictures of the fruits and vegetables next to the words on the list and matching them to the signs at the market.
Families and caregivers can take full advantage of community experiences to support the development of young children’s heritage language. Young DLLs should be encouraged to speak in their heritage language with family and friends. One of the best things families and caregivers can do is to promote the heritage language in daily activities and routines. These conversations are vitally important to DLLs’ development right now and in the future.