For bilingual families, there are many social and cognitive benefits to keeping the home language alive, but this can be very challenging when English is the dominant language at school, at work, and in the media. This article provides a few tips on keeping the home language alive to encourage positive social, cognitive, and academic growth.
1. Speak to your child in the home language as much as possible, even if they respond in English. Adult native speakers can use complex sentences and provide lots of rich and varied input for the child to listen to. While it may not seem like much is happening on the surface, children can learn a lot about the home language just by hearing meaningful and complex sentences spoken in context. Even if they’re not responding in the home language, there’s still lots of learning happening!
2. Try to create situations in which your child has to use the home language with different people. Children are sometimes reluctant to use their home language once they start becoming fluent in English, yet using the language is an important aspect of their learning. Creating situations where the child has to use the language can help. This might mean calling or spending time with a grandparent or relative who doesn’t speak English, playing with friends who speak the same home language, or scheduling weekly FaceTime or Skype sessions with friends and family that live far away. In addition to the cognitive and linguistic benefits, children will feel more connected to their family and culture, and more confident in their linguistic abilities.
3. Establish routines for practicing reading and writing with your child in the home language. Bilingual children who learn to read and write in their home language tend to maintain the language longer, and at a higher level than those who do not. Selecting bilingual books with your child at the local library or bookstore and reading to and with them daily or weekly is a great way to encourage biliteracy. Older children can even try writing short poems, stories, and letters or emails to relatives living abroad!