Research shows that children with strong mother tongue skills learn a foreign language faster and more easily than those with weaker skills. We have previously written about the importance of the mother tongue and its relevance to children’s emotional wellbeing in our blog, but today we wanted to offer some tips and suggestions for parents and teachers on how to support the children’s mother tongue learning and, ultimately, their foreign language learning.
Tips for parents: read, sing, play
Although it may sound counterintuitive, the best way for parents to help their child learn a foreign language is to support their mother tongue by letting the child hear plenty of rich language often and in various situations.
A great way to do this is to read to the child and tell them stories. Children who are regularly read to gain a wider vocabulary and better literacy skills than those who are not. If you use picture books, you can also discuss the pictures with your child. Nursery rhymes and songs are also a great way to help children learn language, and traditional rhymes and songs have the added benefit of teaching culture and societal norms. You can also watch cartoons with your child in their mother tongue and discuss the storylines.
Discussing your everyday life and interests and asking your child questions can offer plenty of language learning moments as well. By verbalizing everyday life, you are helping your child talk about their daily experiences, and by asking questions you engage them and their imagination while learning more about that wonderful mind of theirs.
If you want to do something in the foreign language as well, you can for example discuss the new language and the words the child has learned, perhaps by letting your child teach you the new words. After all, children often enjoy teaching things to adults instead of always being the ones who are taught. You can also have a short English play time where you read, play, sing songs or watch a short cartoon together in English, as long as this kind of playtime doesn’t replace playtime in the mother tongue.
Tips for teachers: inform and discuss
As a language teacher, your focus is understandably on the foreign language you are teaching. However, there are still things you can do to support your students’ mother tongue.
One thing you can do is discuss the importance of the mother tongue with the parents and encourage them to use it at home. You can also let parents know what kinds of topics you cover in class in case they want to discuss these topics at home in the mother tongue.
In the classroom, you can discuss the differences and similarities between the foreign language and the children’s mother tongue. This teaches the children language awareness, which is also an important part of early language teaching. And even if you don’t use the children’s mother tongue in class – either because you cannot speak it, or because it’s not the target of your teaching – you can let the children know that their mother tongue is valuable and an advantage in life. This is important especially with immigrant children who may rarely have their mother tongue acknowledged this way.
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