Several studies show that children who are raised in a bilingual environment receive cognitive and reading benefits. Helping young students develop skills in two languages is also a valuable way to connect them with family heritage, foster an appreciation for other cultures, and prepare them for future success as more marketable workers.
Regardless of the reason a child has started learning multiple languages, the process can be riddled with confusion and second-guessing from parents and teachers. Here are seven tips on how to best integrate bilingualism into the early childhood education experience, both in the classroom and at home.
1. Start early.
The earlier children start learning languages, the better. Some parents and teachers may have concerns that teaching children multiple languages too early could cause confusion problems, but the opposite has proven to be the case. Many parents choose to begin teaching their children the minority language at home first because they know that they will receive instruction in English in school. Familiarity with the reading process transfers easily into working with another language, even if the two languages do not use the same character system.
2. Be prepared.
Teachers should familiarize themselves with the languages and cultures students may bring to the classroom. When putting together lesson plans, teachers should consider their students’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds. If teachers can incorporate these things into their lessons, all students in the class can gain an appreciation for multiculturalism and begin thinking of themselves as global citizens.
3. Immerse students.
The most effective way to learn a language is to be completely immersed in it. Many bilingual preschools have language days. On those particular days, the entire class and staff (including teachers, administrators, and janitors) use only one language. Bilingual families can employ this tactic as well. Some may even choose to take a one-parent, one-language approach, in which the child speaks to one parent in the minority language only and to the other parent in English only.
4. Find a peer group.
Children need to feel that their experience is similar to that of others. When using a second language only with a parent or only in a structured class setting, students may start to feel that speaking it is a chore. When children engage with peers who also speak a minority language, they are more likely to find joy in language and continue the pursuit. Also, children can learn a great deal from each other in very organic and meaningful ways.
5. Exercise equality.
Teachers should try not to single out students who have a different cultural and linguistic heritage as not all students feel different from their peers because of it. Instead, they deserve to be part of the group and not be forced to stand out. If students want to share with their peers, teachers and parents should encourage them to do so by talking about languages and cultures in generic, broad terms. Then, if students feel inclined, they can volunteer to share.
6. Incorporate students’ interests.
High-interest learning is an excellent teaching approach for young children. Incorporate shows, characters, or activities that interest students. By adding this high-interest subject matter, the association between the language and the activity improves their language retention. One easy way to accomplish this is to allow students to watch their favorite shows in another language and then discuss the episode in their native language to assess their understanding.
7. Celebrate creativity.
Play is one of the best tools early childhood educators have at their disposal. Through play, children find more to talk about and, in doing so, build vocabulary. Let children engage in dress-up and pretend games in the minority language. Visual art activities — such as finger painting, sidewalk chalk, or clay — can be just as useful in engaging children through art and language.
Nurture Bilingualism in the ECE Classroom
The task of the early childhood educator is a challenging and rewarding one. Scientists frequently conduct studies on children’s minds because their ability to learn so much so quickly is fascinating. The best way to help children succeed is to reach them early with quality education.
If you have a passion for educating young children or want to refresh your skills, Concordia University, St. Paul offers convenient and affordable early childhood education degrees online. Our online Bachelor of Arts in Child Development and online Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education programs focus on research-based practices that are rooted in philosophy and theory. In addition, the comprehensive curricula address the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) standards for professional preparation. Through the flexible online format, you can complete your studies at a time that’s right for you.