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Your bilingual child


One thing that we all have in common in the English 31 community is our belief in a bilingual, bicultural education. As language is not a genetic gift, learning and maintaining another language requires determination, effort and patience from parents, children and teachers to create and provide the richest and most appropriate linguistic environment for every English 31 pupil. We strongly believe that the involvement of both family members and members of the English speaking community can play a crucial part in supporting bilingualism and the success of our students.

Children often learn languages quickly and for some, bilingualism comes naturally, while for others, it is more difficult to achieve. Colin Baker [A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism] suggests that to support your child’s language skills, it can be helpful for families to have a clear plan of action outlining how, when and where a child will be exposed to different languages.

However, the practical, everyday application of that plan is not so simple as it involves a commitment to making the target (or second) language constantly and significantly accessible and relevant while trying to create/maintain a child’s positive attitude towards learning and improving at least two languages in everyday life. Being part of a bilingual community helps encourage children (and adults!) to develop language skills, and plays a very important role in the success of our E31 students. In this humble guide the experienced English 31 team hopes to provide you with some practical ideas of how you might offer support to your child(ren).

(For simplicity, we will refer to bilingualism here, but the same principles apply when there are more than two languages.)

Ideas to strengthen your child’s English beyond the E31 classroom

Each family in the English 31 community is different, and each bilingual child is unique. Bilingualism is not the same for everyone, and it is perfectly normal for a student to have varying degrees of confidence in their different languages and to feel more comfortable reading and listening than writing and speaking, or for students to be confident speaking but less sure of themselves when writing.
Your child will be actively using English at school in E31 classes, but beyond the classroom experience, it is crucial that they also receive support with language development at home. You can support your child at home by: 
looking at your child’s exercise books to identify targets and familiarise yourselves with his/her strengths and weaknesses.

  • being aware of the teachers’ expectations and advice.
  • monitoring your child’s homework - especially for younger or less autonomous children.
  • showing an interest by regularly listening, reading and discussing their work focusing on the positives first then on the areas for improvement and how they could be improved.
  • providing English-speaking opportunities...There are plenty of ways to extend the use of English beyond the context of the E31 classroom.

The more opportunities your child has for speaking, listening, reading and writing English, the more independent and confident he/she will become. The experience of E31 teachers suggests that active use of English - that is, speaking and writing - is more effective than passive use - listening and reading - in terms of language development and therefore in building self-confidence. 

Active uses of language


Activity 1 

Interacting with native-level or near-native speakers

Rich interactions (ie: pleasurable participation vs ‘homework’) such as:
-Talking about what you are doing in your daily context (cooking, shopping, gardening, washing, playing etc) and naming things in your environment (clothing, body parts, tools, toys etc) will turn everyday experiences into learning opportunities. At home there is the great advantage of using real and meaningful life experiences to prompt language growth. By talking about what your child is interested in, you are helping them make new connections in their thoughts and language.
-Providing a good model of recounting what you did at the end of your day (covering when?, where?, what? etc...) so that when you ask your child “What did you do today” they know what is expected and are less likely to respond with “I can’t remember”!
-Participating in board games and card games, telling jokes and singing songs, and for younger children, nursery rhymes…(you will find inspiration on YouTube by typing ‘nursery rhymes English’ into the search  bar) 
Here are some more  ideas to stimulate language  for 0-6yr-olds:
-interacting with E31 and other anglophone friends, 
-participating in telephone and video interactions with friends and family members,
-meeting different people who can speak the minority language.

It is also important to be consistent in linguistic behaviour at home (Colin Baker points out  that there are many different ways of being consistent: one parent, one language; a holiday language and a round-the-year language’ a weekday language and a Sunday language; everyone speaking their preferred language etc…) 
You don’t have many opportunities to speak to native-level speakers? See the list of active language opportunities in Toulouse.

Activity 2

Interacting with non-native level, but confident speakers 

The activities suggested for native speakers apply and parents can show particular interest in their children’s English class work by asking them what they are studying, by reading through their work and by discussing it with them and by helping them revise. Your support and encouragement in this way will help your children a great deal - even if you are not a native speaker.

Here are some more tips specially targeted at parents of younger children to help develop oral language skills

Activity 3

Production of language

Production of language  includes anything which helps the student to produce something in English. Encourage enjoyable participation and risk taking. Keep in mind that expressing ideas is initially more important than perfect grammar or spelling. 
Some ideas:
-telling stories. For younger children, you can prompt them to include and describe the main story components: the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflict, and the resolution.
-keeping a diary or writing blog posts in English.
-interacting with others via e-mails, letters, social media or suitable on-line penpal platforms (such as
-having your children write shopping lists and recipes in English, write a novel or a comic book. You can create comics by using computer software or applications such as the Toontastic app 

-getting creative and recording Podcasts or videos. 

- Don’t know what to write or speak about? Get some inspiration here. A new picture and story starter is presented every day of the year.

A note on spelling: To help overcome difficulties with spelling common words you can help by dictating ‘tricky’ spelling words at regular intervals to help your child master them. Remember that the more students read and write, the less spelling mistakes tend to occur.