The following is an excerpt from an NAEYC online author Q&A event with Karen Nemeth on the topic "Strategies for Supporting Dual Language Learners in the New School Year". The Q&A took place September 12-16, 2011. To view more highlights from 2011 online Q&As, click here.
My Spanish-speaking first graders are often reluctant to share with the class how they would say a phrase in their native language. Should I refrain from asking them to "teach" the rest of the class some of their language?
One thing to remember is children learning a second language have a lot more to worry about than when they were babies learning their first language. For first graders, the language learning process is complicated by a number of factors such as the child's previous experiences, temperament, social confidence, attitudes about language, and the way he or she is treated by peers and adults. You are seeing this complexity playing out in your classroom.
The most effective strategies for including children who are dual language learners depend on getting to know each child as an individual and developing techniques that will work best with each child. If you have a child who doesn't like to be singled out, focus more on having individual interactions with him. Many children don't like to be called on to talk in front of the group. That may or may not be due to their feelings about showing off their language abilities. Some other ways to honor the language abilities of children in your class might be to introduce bilingual books and games, watch videos and read about life in different countries where Spanish is spoken, or invite volunteers who speak Spanish to come to your classroom.
You might work together with all of the children to learn useful communication words in Spanish so the children can talk to each other. We do see—at an alarming rate—young children who are leaving their home language behind or becoming ashamed of their first language. I applaud you for looking for new ways to help your students continue to feel good about their bilingual abilities.