For Educators: Supporting and Celebrating Home Languages in Your Classroom

For Educators: Supporting and Celebrating Home Languages in Your Classroom

For Educators: Supporting and Celebrating Home Languages in Your Classroom

By Christina Cunningham

 If you’re visiting our website, I think it’s safe to assume that you recognize the value of bilingualism. Knowing two languages provides opportunities to connect with one’s heritage and others around the world. Our previous blog posts have also explored the cognitive and social benefits bilingualism has for young learners. In light of this, as educators, we should seek ways to support and celebrate our bilingual students each day in our classrooms. To help you out, here are a few simple ways to accomplish this as we begin a new school year.  

Fostering Family Connections

One of the best first steps you can take in your classroom is to establish a connection with each student’s family. Use Getting-to-Know-You forms or your Meet-the-Teacher nights to determine their language needs, as well as the language-learning goals they have for their child. If your students primarily speak a language different from your own, ask parents to provide a list of useful phrases, favorite songs and stories, appropriate pronunciations of names, etc. – anything to make their child’s transition to school easier. I’ve found that families are often more than willing to help you make classroom labels, too – send them a list of common classroom items and ask them to help you translate them (along with a pronunciation guide). This way, when their child arrives, the classroom can have familiar words and characters to make the child feel a bit more at home. Be sure to update your labels as you change centers and themes as well. 

Classroom Language Representation

As educators, we know that developing a print-rich classroom supports children’s literacy development. This extends to those learning multiple languages. Beyond labeling your room, you can also ensure that students’ home languages are represented in your classroom and school libraries. Many books already have versions printed in other languages and can be found at your local bookseller. If your class uses reading apps like Epic! or Vooks, you can find second-language materials on their platforms as well. Finally, if you frequently use YouTube videos during your lessons, turn on the closed captions in your students’ home languages. Each of these environmental choices will help your students begin to make the connections between the English they’re hearing in the classroom and their primary language. Incorporating both into your classroom demonstrates to them that their first language is equally valued and important. 

Supporting Bilingual Learners at Play

During your day-to-day classroom activities, there are many simple ways to support and celebrate your dual-language learners. Play is a strategy and solution in and of itself. Children naturally find ways to communicate with a combination of verbal and nonverbal cues; this extends to interactions between students who speak different languages. As an educator, you can determine when students experience just enough challenge to build their vocabulary and communication skills or when to step in with some help. Providing rich opportunities for conversations and naming, particularly with regard to curricular themes, also supports students’ vocabulary development in both languages. This can be as simple as providing plenty of fruits and veggies to name in the dramatic play center during a unit on foods. Incorporating songs and fingerplays in different languages is another quick and easy way to let your bilingual students feel like an expert among their peers, boosting self-esteem. 

There you have it – a few quick and easy ways to make your classroom a welcoming, safe environment for your future students. Keep checking back with us for further resources and teaching strategies for your bilingual learners.