Bilingualism begins at home, says Meléndez

Children are born with the capacity to learn more than one language and, far from placing language development at risk, bilingualism can be advantageous.

[img_caption src=”×200.jpg” align=”right” alt=”Boy that speaks Spanish and English at home and school”]Research shows that bilinguals are better at paying attention to the important elements of tasks and ignoring irrelevant distractions, an ability that is very useful in school.

However, it is important to know that the “bilingual advantage” appears to be stronger among those that can speak, understand, read, and write in two languages. A well-developed first language supports the acquisition and development of the second!

Nevertheless, maintaining the home language that is different than the language spoken everywhere else can prove challenging for families.

Here are some tips that can help families who speak more than one language to raise bilingual and bi-literate children:

  • Use the home language at home! Be mindful of using the home language to foster social as well as complex language.
  • If your family includes speakers of English and another language, try to practice “one-person, one-language,” such as Spanish with Dad and English with Grandma.
  • Share stories, books, videos, music, and other cultural activities in the home language. Use gestures, visuals, props, movement, and voice intonation generously to help children develop and maintain the home language.
  • Ask teachers to tell you about the topics or units of study your child is learning about in school, then read or talk to your child about them using the home language.
  • Enrolling children in a dual language program is one of the most effective ways that bilingual as well as monolingual families can promote bilingualism and biliteracy. If no such program is available, join other families to advocate for one at your local school district.

About the professor

[img_caption src=”” link=”” align=”right” alt=”Luisiana Meléndez”]Professor Meléndez is a former kindergarten teacher and bilingual early childhood teacher who has taught for more than 20 years both in the U.S. and in her native Dominican Republic. Her professional interests include teacher knowledge and the role of culture in the teaching and learning process.

She is the director of the Bilingual/ESL Certificate Program at Erikson.