How do we help young learners in mainstream schools to become bilingual?

Dual language texts
Dual language texts
21st April 2014
Assessing EAL students for Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD)
Assessing EAL students for Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD)
5th May 2014
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How do we help young learners in mainstream schools to become bilingual?

In schools where English is the language of instruction, we welcome new arrivals with limited English – and step by step, they become skilled in speaking English. These young learners have a gift – the gift of bilingualism – and this is a skill that has a profound effect on their lives. It may affect their identity, the way they are educated, their employment, the friends they keep, their future marriages, where they choose to live and travel and how they think. The consequences are significant.
However, we often see cases of young learners losing their mother tongue as a result of immersion in a new majority language (in this case, English). It’s very easy to focus so much on the importance of the new, majority language that the mother tongue is lost almost completely in some cases.
It is essential to foster the ongoing development of mother tongue in class and with parents and, where possible, to try to ensure that learners are immersed in their mother tongue from time to time.
To find out more about bilingualism in general, and for answers to all kinds of questions a teacher or parent may have about this area, take a look at Colin Baker’s book: A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism. It includes an easy-to-follow list of highly relevant questions. Examples include:
  • Neither of us speaks a second language. How can we help our child become bilingual?
  • My child mixes two languages. What should I do?
  • Is it better to develop two languages together or one language later than the other?
  • Will my child learn two language only half as well as a monolingual child?
  • I do not speak the language of the school. How can I help my children with their homework?


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