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Infant Insights: Bringing Home Languages to Life

Ana Palencia, Primary EAL Coordinator, UWCSEA Dover
22 March 2023

Students at David Watson Library reading Home Languages Books

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
– Nelson Mandela

At UWCSEA, we are proud of our culturally and linguistically diverse community. We honour cultures and languages through the multilingual displays around our campus and classrooms, the home languages programme, International Mother Languages Day and Community Fair activities.

At UWCSEA, we understand that building home languages goes beyond the ability to use them to communicate in different settings, it strongly contributes to validating our students' identities. 

Our bilingual/multilingual learners (BMLs) are bringing a new language, their beliefs and culture into our classrooms. Learning a new language does not mean creating a new identity but understanding who we are, what we know and how to share it. Children have the capacity to focus on two or more main languages at a time and research has shown that BMLs don’t need to replace their home language with the new language. In fact, languages work dynamically and support one another, skills then are transferable. 

Students at the David Watsone Library reading Home languages books

How can we consistently support the language development of BMLs? 

At school, we include translanguaging pedagogies to tap into their home language repertoires to make meaning and enhance their learning experiences in another language. At home, parents can contribute to building and developing their child’s understanding as they generate opportunities for participation and communication. 

“The level of development of children's mother tongue is a strong predictor of their second language development.

Children who come to school with a solid foundation in their mother tongue develop stronger literacy abilities in the school language.”

– Jim Cummins

We encourage families to practice the following activities:

  • Having intentional conversations in their home language on diverse topics to build their background knowledge and frontload related vocabulary. Take this opportunity to share information or explore this content in their home language. This experience can help BMLs make meaningful connections as well as content comprehensible at school. This simple interaction promotes a deeper understanding of concepts as they fully develop their competence in 2 or more languages

  • Reading together with your child in your home language opens a plethora of opportunities to connect with your child, share meaningful experiences, and tell stories. This experience contributes to building their language repertoire, their identity and family bonding.

This is an invitation to work together, home-school, embrace our languages,  explore languages as a community and raise awareness on the impact of creating bridges to help our children access their full repertoire of languages. Communicating deeply with their culture and their people are building and validating their identity!

Children's cultural and linguistic experience in the home is the foundation of their future learning and we must build on that foundation rather than undermine it.

– Jim Cummins