As a Spanish-speaking person, I know first-hand the value of speaking two languages and being appreciated and respected for it. I have had the opportunity to have Spanish-speaking children in my classroom and one of the first things parents communicate is the peace of mind they feel knowing that their child’s bilingualism is familiar to me and that makes me great support to them. However, this only happened with children who spoke the same language as me. Every time I received children in my classroom who spoke other languages, the experience was as new and unfamiliar to me as it was for them.
There are a few things to do ahead of time to make dual language families know you appreciate them and to show your interest in engaging effectively with them. To help bilingual families feel welcome and respected as they enter your classroom, you can:
- Label areas/objects around the classroom in English and in the child’s language. Include a drawing or image that makes it easy to identify the area or use of the object.
- Translate resources for parents and guardians, such as medical forms, personal information, or any other document that you give to parents/guardians with valuable information for them.
- Learn 3 to 5 welcoming words in the child’s language. This shows value, respect, and interest on your part in wanting to engage with the family.
The next step would be to make sure that for the rest of the school year, dual language learners have the support they need to excel. Through daily activities, such as chanting rhymes, singing songs, and playing games, bilingual students need to be modeled the value of their native language and culture along with the importance of learning new vocabulary in the language that is now part of their new environment. A few ways to support this include:
- Bringing some of their culture and language into the classroom for them to use and explore daily, e.g., including pictures from home and bilingual books in the reading area.
- Creating monthly vocabulary flash cards. The cards should have pictures of an item and the word written in both languages so the child can learn the word.
- Making sure there is a song from the child’s native language on your music playlist.
- Appreciating the culture of all the children by giving each family a turn to bring something that represents them to the classroom, such as music, food, pictures, or clothing.
At the end of the school year, it is important that families feel like an active part of your community and environment. Although it is not part of their native culture, it is part of their present, and it’s important that they are welcomed with empathy and respect. A child who feels accepted and welcomed is a child who will feel free to be himself, to be proud of his roots and of himself, and to open up socially with the adult in his care and with his peers.