How do I support parents in maintaining their child’s mother tongue?

Fantastic progress seen by learners using online EAL/ESL language learning portal for new-to-English learners in the mainstream
Fantastic progress seen by learners using online EAL/ESL language learning portal for new-to-English learners in the mainstream
3rd February 2016
GESS Dubai
GESS Dubai
29th March 2016
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How do I support parents in maintaining their child’s mother tongue?

Often, for busy EAL teachers, the focus is on the child; however, it is important to remember that the transition period can be just as difficult for some parents. Many parents worry about bringing up their child with two languages and question whether it would be more beneficial for their children if they simply speak the language of the new country, to help them become more competent in this and learn it faster.

We need to discourage this approach, supporting parents in understanding the value of using their mother tongue. Parents should appreciate that language is as much about identity as it is about communication (Baker, 2007), that language is fragile and easily lost (Cummins, 2001) and that to continue to support and teach a child’s mother tongue actually provides a better platform for developing a second or third language.

It’s essential to provide parents with the right information about how to successfully support their learners at home. Books to help both teachers and parents understand more about bringing up a bilingual child include:

  • A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism (Colin Baker: 2007). An excellent book written entirely in question and answer format.
  • The Bilingual Family: A handbook for Parents (Edith Harding-Esch and Philip Riley: 2003). Written by two linguists who are bringing up their children bilingually, this includes many case studies.
  • Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? A Parent’s Guide To Raising Multiracial Children (Donna Jackson Nakazawa: 2004). Here, the focus is not on bilingualism but on raising biracial children, but there are many useful insights.
  • Growing Up with Two Languages (Una Cunningham-Anderson: 2011). A down-to-earth guide written by a bilingual couple raising their children to speak English and Swedish.
  • Language Strategies for Bilingual Families: The One-Parent – One-Language Approach (Parents’ and Teachers’ Guides) (Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert: 2004).
  • Raising Bilingual-Biliterate Children in Monolingual Cultures (Stephen J. Caldas: 2006).
  • Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds (David C, Pollock and Ruth van Reken: 2009).

It is crucial that children are encouraged to maintain their mother tongue, to remain connected to their parents and extended family. As Joseph Shaules points out, “a positive and encouraging attitude to a child’s home language is motivating and can only have favourable repercussions.” (Shaules, 2007).

 

Further references:
Shaules, J (2007) Deep Culture: The Hidden Challenges of Global Living
Cummins, J (2001) Bilingual Children’s Mother Tongue: Why Is It Important for Education?

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