Supporting Academic Achievement in English Language Learners (page 2)

By — Diversity in Education Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

How Can Parents Stimulate Native Language Development?

Stimulation of both native and second languages is necessary for children to communicate effectively in their home, school, and social environments. Often bilingual programs can enhance the development of two languages, but unfortunately such programs are limited in the U.S. Even if schools do not provide bilingual education, parents can support and stimulate the native language through a variety of strategies and activities.
  • Provide children with opportunities to communicate with native language peers and family.
  • At school, children often feel pressured to speak English, and that can reduce the children’s motivation to learn their native language. Discuss how important it is to be bilingual in the workforce and socially.
  • Peer interactions in the native language foster a positive image of the first language and place values toward proficiency in more than one language. Encourage those social interactions.

How Can Dialogic Reading Help My Child?

Try doing dialogic reading with your child. In dialogic reading, the adult helps the child to become the storyteller by using the following strategies:
  • Asking specific “Wh” questions. “Who is this?” and “When did he leave?”
  • Asking more open or abstract questions. “What is happening here?” and “Why do you think he left?”
  • Expanding what the child says. “Yes, he went to the zoo . . . with his class.”
  • Connecting the story with child’s personal experiences. “Do you remember when we went to the zoo? What did we see?”
Dialogic reading lends children opportunities to develop many of the areas that are crucial for language skills and school success.
  • Children gain experience with books, structure of stories, vocabulary, print awareness, attention, and pleasure of learning.
  • Reading times become pleasurable and memorable moments of your parent-child interactions, during which you’re having conversations in the native language.
  • This strategy can be used for children almost at any age; it does not matter whether the child knows the alphabet and can read.
  • The child has an opportunity to learn that every book has a title or a name on the cover and the pages are turned from right to left.
  • The child learns how to orient the book in space and how to find a beginning and an ending.
  • More importantly, the child has an opportunity to use the native language in a meaningful context and learn literate language and vocabulary that are critical for school success.
Placing value in native language literacy and development through different experiences will help the child maintain and develop native language skills.

Quality Over Quantity

The quality of communication in a language is more important than the amount of time spent speaking it (McLaughlin, 1992; Slavin, & Cheong, 1994). It is vital for parents to communicate with their children in the language with which they are most comfortable and to provide their children with meaningful and emotionally positive contexts of communication. Effective communication skills in both the native and school languages are critical for children to succeed academically, to establish strong family bonds, and to maintain a healthy bicultural identity. 
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