How Parents Can Support Their Child’s Bilingual Education

shutterstock_133792115Welcome to a new academic year!

School is in full swing and if you are wondering how to best support your child’s bilingual education this year, consider these helpful tips.


1. Talk to your child regularly about his or her bilingual studies:


  • Discuss why learning more than one language is important?
    • Because English is the dominant language in the United States, it is not always clear to children why they should learn a second language.  Keep an ongoing dialogue of why it is important and use concrete examples.
  • Discuss why practice is important?
    • “I already know Spanish, why do I have to speak it!”  Continue to reiterate the fact that practice is essential for maintaining what your child already knows and for building a foundation for further advancement.  Yet, also praise the accomplishments that he has already made in second language as a result of practice.
  • Learn about any challenges or frustrations they have with learning a second language.
    • Listen to your child. Acknowledge her feelings and find ways to address any concerns or frustrations.  For example, I discovered that my daughter’s biggest frustration with Spanish is that she  expected  to perform equally well in both English and Spanish despite the fact that she spends more time in English than she does in Spanish.  We discussed the fact that it is perfectly normal to have a dominant language you feel more comfortable speaking and reading in and that it is OK to not be “perfect” or as proficient in the second language.  When hearing this from her mother, she seemed to let go of some of some of the pressure she had put on herself and began having fun with Spanish again.
  • Ask your child about what he is learning in school and foster dialogue around those topics.
    • Create opportunities for your child to demonstrate what he has learned or is learning in his bilingual program.  For example, when my daughter learned about the food groups in Spanish, we incorporated what she had learned in our conversations during meal times.


2. Talk to your child’s bilingual teachers:


Find out what learning goals your child’s teachers have for your child. Discuss ways that you can facilitate the achievement of those goals at home.  Maintain open dialogue with teachers about what you see is working and not working at home.

  • Make sure you and your child’s teachers are on the same page with goals and expectations.  Seek information and ask questions about what topics will be covered each quarter/semester. Open communication is the best way to avoid misunderstandings and to create a better learning environment for your child at home as well as at school. 


3. Make second language learning meaningful and fun:


Find ways to apply what they have learned to real life and real word situations.

  • Find relevant books, songs and programs in the desired language and read, listen and watch them together.
  • Plan a family outing that relates to a topic or theme your child has studied.
  • Attend a fun multicultural event and talk about how it relates to what she is learning in her bilingual school.
  • Play games that use learned vocabulary.
  • Incorporate vocabulary by preparing a dish together.


4. Model bilingualism and/or learn another language:


If you don’t know a second language, this is a great time to start!

  • Engage in personal activities like reading, writing, listening and dancing to music in the second language.  Engage in conversation with others who speak the second language. Attend multicultural events. Make language learning meaningful and fun for you too.


5.  Set reasonable and clear expectations for yourself and your child:


Learning a second language is a process and it is directly dependent upon the amount of time an individual is engaged in the language and the quality of that engagement.  Naturally, a child in a full day immersion program is going to learn more of the second language than he or she would in a once-a-week after school program.  Yet, I have heard many parents say, “My kid has been in a Spanish class once a week for two years and still can’t speak Spanish.” As parents, we have to set realistic expectations for language learning and recognize that even small steps toward learning a second language is still important.  Don’t get discouraged.  Follow the tips above and use what you learn to help keep goals realistic.  After all, creating an environment that builds a solid foundation and facilitates continued language learning is the ultimate goal we parents should strive toward.