So you’ve won the lottery and your child is about to begin the adventure of a lifetime – learning in two languages. You are excited but also anxious about how to help your child when you do not speak or understand one of those languages.  Though you are not with your child in the classroom, you are part of the program and your participation is key to your child’s learning. Here’s 10 ways you can be your child’s partner in this wonderful journey.

  1. You’ve made the right decision, own it!

Effective dual-language programs require parents, teachers, and students to work closely together. Accept that you are enrolled in the program too – your child will follow suit.

  1. Read, read, read

Read to your child in your strongest language in order to develop a home language and model fluent reading. This is hands down the most important thing you can do, as language skills transfer across languages.

  1. Trust your teacher

Teachers in a dual language classroom are specially trained, and are often second language learners so they can relate to your child also emotionally. Trust them and open lines of communication early on in the school year. Always check your child’s backpack for newsletters and other forms of communication from their teachers.

  1. Get involved

Participate in the classroom and school community: volunteer in class or help teachers on projects from home, chaperone field trips, meet other parents, or get involved in the PTA.

  1. Add context and make it fun

This one is key, so roll up your sleeves.

  • Interact with native speakers: spend time with a family member, find a community group, schedule playdates with a friend that speaks the target language. Human interaction is the best method to foster language development. 
  • Check out books in your child’s second language from your library – DC Public Library branches have growing age-appropriate foreign language collections. Find a booklist of recommended books in Spanish for children. DCPL also has sizable collections of children’s books  in French and Chinese.
  • Utilize DC Public Library’s online storybook databases’ Spanish and French options:
    • Tumblebooks has Spanish and French collections. 
    • Bookflix has a Spanish option for several of its titles (use the “Espanol” toggle button at the top of the homepage to see titles that can read in Spanish). 

Or visit a bookshop specialised in foreign languages for kids, like Bonjour Mama.

  • Attend cultural events, view or participate in music and dancing reflective of countries where the language is spoken. Check out DC Immersion’s Global Calendar.
  • Explore topics of interest to your child in countries that speak the language, for example athletic teams, dancers, musicians, actors, historical events, etc.
  • Steal a menu. Start creating your own battery of resources that will help your child practice the target language.
  • “Travel” to places where the language is spoken. Sometimes this is a foreign country, but sometimes it is simply a neighborhood over. Use this metro map to plan your trip.
    1. There’s an app for that!
    • Use free language apps such as Duolingo or Little Pim (free at DC Public Library) or invest spare change in other fun apps like Gus on the Go and Skritter.
    • Watch movies/TV shows in the language, or simply change language settings on your child’s favorites. Or download FluentU and filter for kids-appropriate content.
    • Allow your child to visit fun websites like Spanish Playground
    • Sing songs or listen to music in your child’s new language. You can download music for free from here.
    1. At home

    Ask your child to describe what they learned that day, even if they learned the content in their second language. Recounting content in their home language will reinforce comprehension and develop the ability to think critically in both languages.

    1. Don’t freak out about homework

    If your child is given homework, remember that the skills were taught in class and your child should be able to complete homework independently. Provide a quiet space, ample time, and encouragement.

    1. Attitude is everything

    Emphasize the benefits of multilingualism to your child, so they understand that their efforts are worthwhile. Model perseverance, encouraging your child to stick it out, because along with the joys will come challenges.

    1. Forgive and educate

    People in your life will question your decision to raise a multilingual child. Forgive them, and take this as an opportunity to share research findings that show how dramatically and positively your decision will impact your child’s life. Also see recent report about the rising demand for multilingual employees.

    To learn more about how to best contribute to your child’s education and access more resources in a dual language program, check out our friend Marianna’s Bilingual Avenue podcast

    REMEMBER: approximately 10% of your fellow parents in DC do not speak English – by reaching out, we can leverage off each others’ skills and enhance the benefits of dual language programs for all communities involved.

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