As an adult, you understand how speaking multiple languages can be an asset—both in the work force and in everyday life. That’s why it is so important for immigrant children to keep their mother tongues…and for you to integrate their languages, where possible, into your program.
Home language not only affects a child’s social, linguistic and cognitive development, but it is a stepping stone to new language. Hearing their own language can help children settle more easily, providing comfort and reducing stress as they enter the program. Language is also an important connection to a family’s culture and traditions. And, when children are exposed to different languages, it allows them—and their families—to feel pride in their own culture.
To acknowledge these benefits, CNC has a requirement to ensure that both the program environment and activities reflect the importance of dual language learning. More than that the requirements state that caregivers should, to the best of their capabilities, support home language maintenance as they help a child acquire English.
While you may work in an English-based program and it is not part of your job to actually teach other languages, it is still very much your role to encourage, show respect for, value and help maintain the home languages of newcomer children.
But if you don’t understand or speak their languages, how can you do it?
Environment and activities
The first thing you will need to do is to create a climate where home languages are seen as valuable. This involves ensuring that families know that dual language learning is beneficial AND encouraged in your program.
Parents may think their children need to learn English right away, and that using their mother tongue will delay the learning of English. According to Roma Chumak-Horbatsch, an Associate Professor in the School of Early Childhood Studies at Ryerson University, not only is this untrue, but newcomer children may experience loneliness, isolation, discomfort, and a certain degree of shame characterized by hiding their home language.
Here are few easy and seamless ways to welcome children, their families, and their home languages into your program setting*:
- Recognize the signs: Signs welcoming families in the various languages represented in your program, as well as labeling of toy bins in these languages will make families comfortable.
- Diversify your library: Having books in numerous languages available to children will offer both a sense of familiarity and expose all children to different languages. Parents may wish to bring in books in their languages from home.
- Play world music: Multilingual music can be a natural way to integrate the diverse languages into your program. As with books, parents can be invited to bring in tapes or CDs from home. Try to learn some of the lyrics to repeat in home languages.
- Easy as A-B-C: Having multilingual alphabets and pictures labeled in other languages are a simple way to encourage and maintain home languages.
- Give the kitchen centre international flair: Boxes, cans and food packaging brought from home with writing in foreign script can be a great way to expose children to other languages and cultures.
- Chart languages: You can creatively make and display a chart showing the languages spoken in the program to allow children to see and compare all the linguistic diversity in the classroom.
- Sound it out: Children love imitating animal sounds—which can vary in different languages. You can initiate a game where children make the sounds of various animals in their home languages.
- Offer translations: Try to translate important information for families into the common home languages spoken in your program. This will be welcoming for families and allow them to receive accurate information.
- Speak out: If someone in the program also speaks the home language of a child, they can use it to when needed to comfort, to communicate something important, or to integrate phrases into the programming. If no one knows their language, do try to understand when they speak and to learn key words. Always refer to child’s home language in a positive manner—and never tell them not to use it.
- Make it a family affair: Invite parents other family members to come in and lead literacy-based activities, like reading books or singing songs in their home language. You can also ask them to actively participate in cultural and religious celebrations that encourage the use of home languages.
- “Multicultural Principles in Head Start Programs Serving Child ages Birth to Five” helps programs serving newcomer children to address culture and home language.
- A Blueprint for Supporting Emergent Bilinguals in Your Program is an article profiling Roma Chumak-Horbatsch’s Linguistically Appropriate Practice which examines the the importance of encouraging and supporting dual language learners
- The Gift of Language is a good resource to share with families about why speaking home language with children is important, the benefits of speaking using home language, and ideas for language sharing at home.
- Why Should Parents Talk to Their Children in Their Native Language? outlines the benefits of bilingualism from the perspective of a speech language pathologist.
- Keeping the Child’s First Language explains why families should be encouraged to keep their native language with their children at home.
Still need help?
If, after reviewing this information, you are still in doubt about this requirement, your CMAS consultant can always help!
*Sources: Julie Dotsch, an ECE Diversity consultant at One World and Roma Chumak-Horbatsch, Associate Professor in the School of Early Childhood Studies at Ryerson University