Importance of Home Languages for All Areas of Learning

One of the best things about moving to a new country is the opportunity to learn a new language. For many students, this language is often English — the medium of instruction in Singapore public and international schools.

Although it’s natural for parents to want their children to become proficient in English, it’s equally important for children to continue to develop their home language, even when they’re away from home. Often, children can forget their home language – especially when they are overseas and all their friends are speaking only English.

Research shows that growing up bilingual or multilingual has plenty of benefits for children, such as better academic performance, stronger cognitive skills and a deeper connection with their culture. So how do you strike a balance between the two languages at home?

In this article, we’ll talk about the importance of home languages for learning and how you can support your children’s linguistic development. We’ll answer some of the most common questions from parents, including:

  1. What is a home language?
  2. Should I speak to my child in English or in our native language?
  3. Why should my child continue to learn our home language?
  4. How can I help my child learn our home language?
  5. How does XWA support the development of students’ home languages?

What is a home language?

According to ThoughtCo, a home language is “a language (or the variety of a language) that is most commonly spoken by the members of a family for everyday interactions at home.”

Home languages may also be referred to as the ‘mother tongue’ or ‘native language,’ but these terms are not always interchangeable.

A mother tongue is the first language your child learns to speak, while a home language is the everyday language of your family. In the case of some international students or ‘third culture kids’, these two languages may not be the same. The shift often happens when families move to a new country, and young children become more proficient in their second language. This new language can then ‘overtake’ their mother tongue and become more commonly spoken at home.

It’s also common for the home language and mother tongue to be the same. Either way, it’s very important for children to continue learning their home language. So what exactly can you do to ensure that your child retains your family’s native language?

Should I speak to my child in English or in our native language?

You may be worried that speaking to your child in your native language will delay their English language development. That isn’t the case. In fact, speaking in your home language can help your child learn English faster, as they will always have a point of reference when learning new words or concepts.

Whether you speak English or another language, it’s important to talk to your child in the language you know best. This will help ensure healthy communication at home.

Why should my child continue to learn our home language?

Recently, Ms Kylie Begg, XCL World Academy’s IB MYP Curriculum Coordinator, hosted an informative workshop for the parent community and shared interesting insights on the importance of home languages for all areas of learning. These are the main takeaways from the session:

Learning a home language helps children learn other languages (such as English)

Research shows that continuing to learn home languages will make the process of learning English faster and easier. Students can transfer many skills and knowledge from their first language to develop literacy in the second language.

Students will not be delayed in their English language development if they are encouraged to use their home language to access and understand information. The development of the second language (English) is strongly linked to the development of the home language. Students must have a strong foundation in their home language in order to learn new languages.

Academic learning in all subjects is improved

Home languages make the curriculum more accessible for learners new to English. Newly arrived learners may have very little knowledge of the English language. For younger students, using their home language is a useful strategy to help them participate in school activities.

Older students can use resources, books and websites in their home language to enhance their understanding of the curriculum content. Many students may have learned similar topics in their previous schools and can make connections using their home language.

Supporting children’s home language enhances their cognitive development

Research shows that bilingual or multilingual children have strength in thinking skills, identifying patterns and the ability to make connections between pieces of information. Continuing to learn the home language for English as an Additional Language learners (EAL students) will support their academic achievement.

Cultural identity and self-esteem

Language and identity are connected. Giving students the chance to shine in their home language positively affects a learner’s self-esteem, which makes students feel safer and increases participation in class.

Students learning English often feel that they cannot ‘correctly’ communicate in English and show their true personalities. Respecting and encouraging home languages increases successful learning and feelings of confidence and expertise as they also continue to develop fluency in English.

Future academic options

It is important for students to have an option to study again in their home country. Therefore, it is crucial for students to continue to develop their home language at an academic level for high school and university study.

Focused academic learning of their home language throughout Primary and Middle Years places students in a strong position to study a bilingual International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB DP) or choose ‘Language A’ in their home language. This is highly advantageous for many universities and further-education course options.

How can I help my child learn our home language?

Helping your child learn your home language may sound daunting, but it’s not as difficult as you may think. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Speak in your home language as much as you can

When children are exposed to a language every single day, the chances of them learning it grows exponentially. Using your home language in everyday interactions (such as giving instructions or chatting with your child) is the first step towards helping them become fluent in that language. Plus, it’s very easy to do — and in most cases, you don’t even need to think about it, because these are just normal everyday conversations!

Read and write with your child

There’s more to fluency than just being able to speak a language. It’s also important for children to learn how to read and write in their first language, especially if it uses a different alphabet or writing system.

If you have young children, reading storybooks in your native language is an effective way to encourage their learning. If you have an adolescent or teen, you can give them age-appropriate books in your native language to help expand their vocabulary.

Watch movies or TV shows in your home language

Many bilingual speakers cite movies, TV and other forms of entertainment as effective tools for language learning. Hearing the words spoken out loud does not only help with phonics but also provides meaningful context and insights. It’s also a fun way to connect with your culture and share it with your child, which is especially important when you’re living in a different country.

Call friends and family back home

If you have family members back home, encourage them to speak in your native language whenever you chat or call. Your child will not only benefit from having more ‘conversation partners’ to practise with but also stay connected to their family while being able to express themselves confidently.

How does XWA support the development of students’ home languages?

Here at XCL World Academy (XWA), we encourage all students to speak, learn and express themselves in the language they’re most comfortable with.

While English is the language of instruction at our school, we know how important it is for children to keep learning their home language. With over 50 languages spoken in our community, we are committed to supporting our students in learning languages that are other-than-English.

This year, our focus has been on further strengthening our language pathways, policies and practices. Our teachers have been undertaking professional development in multilingual learning and English teaching across the curriculum.

We are also reviewing our Language policy, which includes improvements to our English as an Additional Language (EAL) programmes, home language classes and Language and Literature options in the Middle Years Programme (MYP).

Our language classes include Mandarin, Spanish and French, with the addition of Japanese home language throughout upper Primary and Middle Years. Furthermore, we offer Enhanced and Standard EAL programmes to develop your child’s English language skills while encouraging them to retain and learn their home language.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can support your child’s language development, and how our programmes ensure that all students have full access to learning opportunities. We look forward to welcoming your family as part of our diverse, friendly community!

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