It is very important for children and young people learning English as an additional language to continue to use their first language at home because this is the language your child can speak confidently. First languages are special, and can help families share their values and traditions and cultural identity. If children and young people keep using their first language they can join in with family and community events and keep in touch with relatives, including grandparents and cousins who may live in other places.
In addition, children who can speak another language can also learn English better because they see when words are similar (or have a similar meaning) and can also use what they know about grammar in their first language to help them work out English grammar. This also makes it easier to learn other (new) languages at school.
Being fluent (able to say everything easily) in two or more languages helps children make more friends and understand different cultures. It also improves thinking skills. If you can speak, read and write in more than one language it can help you find a job when you leave school. Many employers like people who are good at languages.
How can I support my child in first language learning?
There are easy ways you can help by:
- singing songs, telling stories and sharing books in your first language
- telling jokes, learning rhymes and having fun with language
- watching television programmes or DVDs and talking about them
- talking together at meal times
- staying in touch with family and friends by talking together on Skype or writing emails
- buying or borrowing dual (2) language books from the library for your child to read.
What if my child refuses to speak our first language at home?
Sometimes it can become difficult to keep talking in the first language, particularly when children and young people prefer to use English. Some children begin to feel self-conscious or uncomfortable about using their first language, especially outside the home. Teenagers may want to speak English so that they feel accepted by friends at school. Your school will want to respect and value your first language and it is important for children and young people to feel proud of their language and culture. Explaining the importance of being bilingual may help. Keep speaking to your child in their first language and in English if they want, it will help them use both.
Can my child gain qualifications in their first language?
If secondary school children already have good reading and writing skills in their first language, it may be possible to get language qualifications but this depends on which qualifications are available in your child’s first language. Ask at your child’s school to find out if this is possible. You may also be able to get qualifications at a supplementary or community school (see below). In rural areas where learners are isolated, pupils may have to do extra study at home for these exams. Many students do very well in first language exams and this gives them a lot of confidence.
Supplementary and community schools
To support children’s first language learning even more, you should ask people in your community, at your child’s school or at your local library about supplementary schools. You can also search here: Supplementary Education directory
Classes are usually held in the evenings or at weekends where children and young people can meet and develop first language literacy skills as well as learning about culture and heritage and/or faith. Some supplementary schools also provide support for national tests and GCSE examinations.