According to the American Community Survey, immigrants make up over 13 percent of the U.S. population. As a result, many first-generation, American-born children grow up speaking both English and their parents’ native tongue as well as participating in both American culture and that of their family. For educators, having students who live in a dual-language household may appear to present challenges, but there are some very simple strategies to support non-English speakers or dual language learners (DLLs) in the classroom.
1. Learn the fundamentals.
You don’t have to be bilingual or a polyglot (someone who knows and uses several languages) to get some basic phrases down. Learn the translation of some common phrases and say them back-to-back in English and a second language. For example, if you have students who live in a Spanish-speaking household, when you tell your class “Sit down, please,” say “Sientense, por favor” immediately afterwards. Greet your Spanish-speaking students in Spanish in the morning (“Buenos dias”), and ask them how they are (“¿Cómo estás?”). Familiarity can help put children at ease (a psychological phenomenon called the Mere-Exposure Effect), so don’t be afraid to expand your own vocabulary!
Spanish is the second most common language spoken in the U.S., so it is likely you will encounter some DLLs who speak Spanish at home. Download our free printable below for a variety of Spanish phrases you can use in the classroom.
2. Bring it to the classroom.
A key part of creating a linguistically inclusive classroom is the seamless integration of multiple languages. An easy way to do that is to casually include words in both languages in the classroom through the use of labels, daily lessons, and lessons on cultural holidays. For example, if you have Spanish DLLs, label the door as “La puerta” to seamlessly incorporate multiple languages in the classroom. According to the Linguistic Society of America, children are able to learn two languages just as easily as they can learn one, so there’s no need to worry about the incorporation of multiple languages interfering with their English development.
3. Invite your students to share.
To help your students connect with both the larger culture around them and their own personal culture, invite them to share. Whether it’s a particular holiday or tradition, including new experiences in the classroom can help everyone feel both proud of their own family and excited to learn about others. This doesn’t have to just be DLL families. Have a student bring in some home-cooked food, share about certain holidays they celebrate, or show off photos from places their parents have lived or visited. Diversity in the classroom not only encourages intercultural engagement, but it also exposes children to various ways of living and thinking, which serves to enrich their minds. To get started, browse our bilingual products or read more about how to support young dual language learners.
Language barriers are easily surmountable for children, especially at a young age, when their ability to learn is at an all-time high. Creating a multicultural classroom will put dual language learners at ease, but it also helps all of your students become more conscious of the world around them.
About the Author: Kerri Hughes is a senior Communication and Spanish major at Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC. Originally from Charlotte, NC, she is currently the Marketing Intern at Kaplan Early Learning Company and hopes to go into news and media publishing after graduation in May. In her downtime at the office, she likes to play with the toys lying about, calling it "merchandise testing."