Learning a language at school can be challenging, especially when it is not the same language as the one spoken at home. Although these children are often grouped with those with learning disabilities and it is generally believed that the challenges are then amplified, this is not always the case. With the right approach, bilingual children with disabilities can achieve just as much progress as their peers (“California Department of Education & Center for Child and family studies,” 2009). It is the duty of the educator to facilitate the process of learning for the children they are responsible for. Although children in a classroom are often judged by the same metric regardless of their background, it is vital to remember that the same approach might not work for everyone. Therefore, it is important to communicate with the family in order to establish the most effective learning plan for the child.
Home Language in the Classroom
At a young age, it can be tempting for the children to disregard the language they speak at home for the sake of fitting in with their English-speaking peers. Furthermore, the home language could be deemed unnecessary by the child if no one speaks it to them apart from their family members. However, it could also be challenging for the child to understand new concepts in a language they do not practice at home. The feelings they might have about English and their home language might then make them feel demotivated and alienated from their peers. Therefore, it is a teacher’s duty to establish a classroom culture that allows practice of the home language as well as English.
One way of providing such an opportunity would be by encouraging the children to teach each other words and phrases in their home languages. Pre-school children are only beginning to make sense of the world around them, and at times being bilingual means they are familiar with certain concepts and terms in one language but not the other (Blackley, 2019). By encouraging the children to explain material to each other with the help of their respective languages can not only make them feel more appreciated but help them learn concepts faster.
Another tactic could be to establish cultural days where the children could have the chance to share stories about their home cultures. This can let the children connect to each other and the teacher on a different level and find the differences and similarities between their backgrounds (Ferlazzo, 2017). By establishing a respectful and engaging environment in which the children feel comfortable sharing their language and tradition with others the teachers can help them maintain and develop their home language.
Furthermore, the teacher might establish literature and movie days when the children can show and view different media in their home languages. Introducing literature in languages other than English can not only help the students feel appreciated but develop their global awareness and understanding (Grasso, 2016). Furthermore, allowing the children to have access to their home culture can make them feel more connected to it and their families, ultimately making them more confident in and outside of the classroom.
Practicing English in the Classroom
However, in some cases it might be important to enforce English as the language of communication, even for a short period of time. Although it is valuable for the children to be able to express themselves in the way that they are comfortable, letting them switch between two or more languages too frequently can be damaging. For example, if a child knows that they are able to speak any of their languages freely and still be understood, they might not put the effort into learning either one of the languages fully. Then, they might only have fragmented knowledge of every language, with persistent gaps of knowledge in vocabulary.
One way to provide an opportunity for practicing the new English language in the classroom is by encouraging creativity. For example, the teacher could present the children with a storytelling game where the children could create their own characters and storylines. In order to not demotivate the children that are not as comfortable with English as their peers yet the teacher could incorporate drawing and acting out as tools for storytelling. This would also highlight the vocabulary gaps that the teacher can address, either immediately or in a later lesson.
Another tactic would be to incorporate multi-media teaching tools in the classroom, such as videos, interactive lessons, and other props. By introducing technology and various complementary tools into the classroom the teacher could take away the pressure from the children working in a second language. Furthermore, it would create a fun and relaxing environment that facilitates discussion of the games between the children and the teacher in English.
Furthermore, the teachers could facilitate peer learning by encouraging practices during which the students teach each other various concepts in English. By placing the students in groups and encouraging a game during which the students are only allowed to speak English, the teacher might help the learners feel more confident and familiar with the language. For example, it could be a variation of Pictionary or Scrabble or some other game that requires communication and language.
Potential Challenges and Solutions
Teaching a bilingual child can be challenging due to the language barrier, especially if the dual language learners in the classroom all have different home languages. Furthermore, it can be discouraging to try and connect with a child that does not understand you fully. However, there are plenty of resources online with advice that can be used for inspiration and support, such as teachers’ blogs. My aim will be to develop my patience and listening skills and developing non-verbal communication.
Blackley, A. (2019). It’s not uncommon for school to have dozens of home languages – and our classrooms need to reflect that. We are teachers. Web.
California Department of Education & Center for Child and family studies. (2009). Preschool English learners. Principles and Practices to promote language, Literacy, and Learning: a resource guide (2nd Ed.). Sacramento: California Dept. Of Education.
Grasso, M. (2016). The importance of multicultural literature. Schools Catalogue Information Service, 96. Web.
Ferlazzo, L. (2017). Response: Understanding the benefits of a student’s home language. Education Week. Web.