Tuesday, August 12, 2014

TESOL Teaching Tip #52 - Maintaining Home Language is Important for English Language Development

As a teacher at an International School, many of my students were English Language Learners. Even my native English speakers were living in a non-English speaking country. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. Here is this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:

TESOL Teaching Tip #52 - Maintaining Home Language is Important for English Language Development. Students who are strong in their home language are able to develop better English skills. To learn how to help your ESL and ELL students maintain their home language, stop by my blog - Raki's Rad Resources.

The focus for English language teachers is always English, and often we forget that all of our English Language Learners are not only learning English.  ESL students are bilingual (and sometimes trilingual) students.  This means that in addition to English, students have another language to learn and master, whether it is Spanish, French, Mandarin, Arabic, or any of the other hundreds of home languages our students come to us with.  Just because their parents speak the home language does not mean that they come to your classroom knowing everything there is to know about their home language.  In fact,  since they are learning English, they probably will never have the same mastery level in their home language as a student who only ever spoke that home language.  However, the benefits of maintaining what they do know, and encouraging them to learn more in their home language, are undeniable.
TESOL Teaching Tip #52 - Maintaining Home Language is Important for English Language Development. Students who are strong in their home language are able to develop better English skills. To learn how to help your ESL and ELL students maintain their home language, stop by my blog - Raki's Rad Resources.
Students who maintain their home language are able to:
1.  Find cognates between the two languages, increasing their vocabulary.

2.  Compare and contrast grammar structures in the two languages they speak, increasing their understanding of parts of speech and sentence structure.

3.  Make connections between common stories between the two languages.  ie.  Little Red Riding Hood in French is La Petite Chaperon Rouge, increasing the likelihood of comprehension.

4.  Make connections between idioms and sayings in the two languages, encouraging a better understanding of these phrases, and how language is used overall.

5.  Explain themselves clearer in speaking and writing, as they have more vocabulary to explain the same topic.

6.  Learn English faster and more completely.  Studies show that a high literacy level in a students’ home language makes it easier for students to learn English and that they will better understand their new language by connecting it to their home language.

Since we are in charge of teaching English, we often think that what the students know in their home language isn’t our responsibility.  However, with so many benefits to maintaining the home language, we should be promoting home language growth as well.  Some ways to do that are:
TESOL Teaching Tip #52 - Maintaining Home Language is Important for English Language Development. Students who are strong in their home language are able to develop better English skills. To learn how to help your ESL and ELL students maintain their home language, stop by my blog - Raki's Rad Resources.

1.  Encourage students to read (or be read to) in their home language.  Many, many students who speak a second language, NEVER become literate in that language because schools promote English Only.  I encourage my students to split their independent reading time between English and their home language, so if I ask them to read 30 minutes each night, they should read 15 minutes in English and read (or be read to) 15 minutes in their home language.  Not only does this keep kids reading in their home language, but it shows parents that the home language is important and encourages them to share stories with their children.

2.  Tell students their home language is important.  I spend a good amount of time each year reiterating to my students how important it is learn new words in BOTH of their languages, and how lucky they are to have the knowledge of their home language.  We talk about the job and school advantages for bilingual individuals, as well as real life times when knowing two languages is helpful (travel, web searches, communication, etc.)  If we teach students to see their home language as an advantage, rather than a liability, they will be more motivated to continue learning and growing in their home language. 

3.  Allow students to use their home language at school in non-academic settings.  So many schools have English Only policies that send the message to students that English is more important than their home language.  In order to reiterate to my students that their home language is important, I encourage them to use their home language at school – but within specific restrictions.  First, I encourage them to use only English during academic periods (once they have enough English to be able to work this way) because it takes a lot of brain power to switch between two languages, and I want them thinking in English while they’re working in English.  Second, I require them to be respectful with their language use.  If they choose to use their home language at recess, in the lunchroom, or during other non-academic times (like packing up or transitions), then they must NEVER use their language to purposely exclude other students.  I also talk to my monolingual students about how hard it would be to go through a day without ever speaking English, so that they know that if a student slips into their home language, it isn’t meant to hurt their feelings or talk about them.

4.  Talk to the parents about the importance of home language development.  I have had many parents tell me that they had been instructed by experts – pediatricians, other educators etc. not to speak to their children in, or teach their children to read in their home language.  This bad advice leads to parents speaking improper English to their kids when they could be teaching them the proper way to speak their home language.  It also stops many parents from reading to their children in their home language, preventing fluency and vocabulary growth.  I am very clear with the parents of my ESL students that it is MY job to teach their children English and THEIR job to teach their children the home language.  I encourage parents to speak to their children ONLY in the home language, even to go so far as explaining homework in the home language if possible.  I ask them to read to younger children in the home language and help older children learn the phonics patterns of the home language, in order to promote literacy in that language.  I encourage them to find curriculum in the home language and encourage their children to work in the home language on grammar skills, science and social studies topics and math vocabulary.  Speaking (and reading and writing in) a second language are important skills that these parents can pass on to their children.  Many are willing to do so, but need our encouragement and advice in doing so.

For more tips on teaching ESL/ ELL students, click on the banner below.
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Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources