How to help children who are dual language learners


Many children get dressed in their newest school clothes and head to school at a young age. They are off to learn everything from numbers to letters to math to science. However, the home language of the child is often something no one considers at all.

Working with your children’s teachers is the best way to make sure your child continues to learn and grow with his or her language in an area where another one is spoken. Here are some tips that will help your child along the way.

Ask to meet up with your child’s teacher before their first day

Since every dual language learner is vastly different, it is important to talk to their teacher before they actually go to school. Explain the way your child uses their language at home, what language they are exposed to the most, and what they may or may not understand just yet. Knowing this information allows the teacher to understand when they may not respond to a question or command. For example, a child might not put away his books when he is asked because he didn’t understand the question in English.

Give the teachers a list of the more common words your child uses

Create a basic list of words that your child uses in their home language, along with a guide to pronouncing them. These could include words like mom, dad, brother, sister, house, sick, tired, thirsty, water, hungry, toilet, ect. This way, the teacher has a guide to fall back on if they can’t understand what your child is asking for. You could even make a recording of your child pronouncing these words and send it to the teacher via email or text message.

If your child does not understand much English, then you will need to remind the teachers that he will require more one-on-one support during school time. Picture cards that are labeled with both English and your home language can be extremely helpful as he learns new words.

Suggest ways that you can help

There is only so much your teacher can do for your child during school. After all, they are responsible for dozens of kids a day and only have so much time, especially if there are multiple languages spoken within the school. Consider how you can help. Maybe you could create a video of yourself reading a favorite book aloud. You could offer to come into class and share a special tradition that is directly from your culture. If the room has labels on everyday items to build print awareness, ask if you could print the same labels in your language yourself. If you do, make sure the labels are in different colors.

Set up after-school activities

When your child doesn’t share a language with his classmates, play dates can be hard. Talk to the teacher to find out what children your child seems to bond with the most, and then consider asking them to play at your home. Give the kids toys and activities that may not require a lot of words but that will encourage shared play, like sensory play, musical instruments, or a fun obstacle course.