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Encouraging the Use of Home Languages

Resources for Supporting the Use of Home Languages

Audio Books

Fiction and non-fiction audio books are available in a variety of languages. They may or may not include the print version of the text that students could use to follow along as they listen. Students can listen to these audio books individually, with a peer, or with a parent/caregiver.

When audio books are paired with their corresponding print format, students can easily make connections between the words they hear and how these words appear in print. When students read along with an audio book, they hear the correct pronunciation and learn the meaning of new vocabulary in context. As well, they are more likely to begin using this new vocabulary when they speak and write in their home language.

When using audio books

  • have students complete a related follow-up assignment, such as an oral or a written book report, photo montage, personal response, or a compare-and-contrast activity
  • facilitate a class discussion in English about the story or subject matter described in the audio books


Some English language learners have had limited exposure to reading and writing in their home language. They may also have limited proficiency in reading and writing in English. Ensure that the reading level in the audio books is appropriate for the student.


Search the Internet for websites having digital collections of books in various languages. Some websites provide access to digital books free of charge, including books in various languages. Many school websites have lists of links to free digital collections of literature in languages other than English, including dual-language books.

Dual-language Books

Dual-language books are written in two languages, either with English text on one page and the equivalent text in the other language on the opposite page or with text in both languages on the same page. This format makes it easy for readers to confirm understanding and compare aspects of language between both languages, such as word choice and the way thoughts are expressed.

Dual-language books are often illustrated to help convey meaning and cultural knowledge and support storytelling. Dual-language books can be either fiction or non-fiction. Examples of dual-language books can be found at A Dual Language Book Project.

Where can I access dual-language books?

Dual-language books can be accessed through publishers, websites, and libraries. They can also be authored by students, parents, or community volunteers. Some schools use their school website to publish dual-language books that their students have developed.

Why use dual-language books?

Dual-language books can

  • benefit both English language acquisition and home language maintenance/development
  • develop students’ ability to express their identities through two of their languages
  • allow students to see themselves as competent bilinguals having the power to engage with a wider audience through their growing proficiency in two languages
  • allow English language learners and their English-speaking peers to read the same story/text
  • create empathy and understanding for people with different perspectives, experiences, and cultures
  • allow English language learners to see their culture and worldview reflected in the literature they read
  • allow English language learners to share their linguistic knowledge and culture with their teachers and classmates
  • serve as a bridge between the school and the home, involving families/caregivers of English language learners in literacy development activities
  • entertain and encourage reading and vocabulary development
  • help develop the speaking and writing language skills of English language learners as they create or talk about dual-language books

How do you use dual-language books?

  1. Introduce the dual-language book to students.
    • Show students what makes the dual-language book unique; e.g., “There are words in English on this page. On the opposite page, there are words that mean the same thing, but these words are in another language.”
    • Talk briefly about the story in English. Identify the main character and her or his goal or challenges. Point to pictures as you talk to assist English language learners in their understanding.
    • Talk about the home language used in the book. Talk about the part(s) of the world in which that language is spoken and which student(s) in the class can speak the language.
    • Tell students you will read the English parts, and a parent/caregiver or student who speaks the other language will read the other parts of the book.
    • Set some reading goals with students (e.g., listening for certain actions or events or for cognatescognates: words in different languages sharing a common origin
      A cognate may look similar to a word you already know in another language and it may have a meaning that is similar, too; e.g., night (English), Nacht (German), nuit (French); or name (English), Name (German), namn (Swedish), nome (Italian).
  2. Read the dual-language book.
    • Encourage students to either
      • read the entire book in English, followed by the home language
      • read it one page at a time, alternating between the two languages
    • Pair monolingual students with a student who can speak another language for shared reading.
    • Make an audio recording of the dual-language book to support students’ independent readings. A recording of the English text can assist English language learners with comprehension and English language development. A recording of the home language text provides an opportunity for English language learners to showcase and take pride in their home language. Students can help make the recordings.
  3. Involve students in an activity after the reading.
    • Link the activity with goals students set for the reading to assess and confirm understanding.
    • Invite students to talk about an aspect of the book (e.g., language, event, character).
    • Talk about the words. Have students define new vocabulary in their own words.
    • Use charts to record English vocabulary that would be new to most students or vocabulary that would be useful for English language learners to acquire and use.
    • Use charts to record the equivalent words in English and in the home language.
    • Add new words to word walls. Students can add words that are new to them in their personal dictionaries.
  4. Learn some words in another language.

    Encourage English-speaking students to learn a few words and common expressions in another language that they encountered while reading and talking about the dual-language book.

    Students are naturally curious about other languages. They are eager to learn a few words and common expressions in another language, especially if they can use these words and expressions with their classmates who speak the language. An audio recording of the home language text can help students who do not speak this home language learn a few words and gain an appreciation for this language.

How do you create dual-language books with students?

  1. Choose a topic.
    • Select topics, themes, and concepts being learned in class or other topics of interest to students. This can help students understand what is being taught and will provide practice for English language learners in using academic and subject- or discipline-specific vocabulary.
    • Depict situations and events, customs, traditions, perspectives, and ways of knowing and thinking that would be familiar to Canadian-born students and to English language learners who may have lived abroad or are part of a culturally distinct community in Canada.
    • Encourage students to translate dual-language books into additional home languages.
  2. Write the dual-language books.
    • Give students the option of creating dual-language books on their own or in collaboration with other students, parents, family members, or classroom volunteers.
    • Students can choose to handwrite and illustrate their books or use a computer to write and illustrate their books.
    • Investigate ebook apps and websitesBe sure to review the Terms of Use or User Agreement to ensure students’ privacy and rights as authors and text creators are safeguarded. that could be used to make dual-language books.
    • Encourage students to use word walls, bilingual dictionaries, and translation tools as they create their bilingual books. They should add new words they discover to their personal dictionaries.
    • Involve family members in creating the dual-language books through face-to-face conversations or interactions with relatives and friends through the Internet.
    • Pair English language learners with native speakers of English who can help write or edit the English parts of the books.
    • Have English language learners who have proficiency in their home language translate English texts into their language.
  3. Publish and share the dual-language books.
    • Consider laminating or binding the books to make them more durable and to give their authors a greater sense of pride.
    • Make copies of the books so students have their own personal copy, and present copies as gifts to family members.
    • Create a library to house and showcase the books, and make copies available to others.
    • Explore digital formats that can include recordings to allow for sharing across time and distance.
    • Continue to add more dual-language books to the collection year after year.


Teachers do not need to be speakers of the students’ home languages in order to facilitate the creation or use of dual-language books in the classroom.

Collaborating on the writing, editing, and illustration of dual-language books, and talking with others about the stories or information, enhances students’ literacy and communication skills. It also helps them learn more about other cultures and ways of knowing and about their own and each other’s languages.

Dictionaries, Thesauri, and Translators

Language translators and bilingual dictionaries can be accessed online or as applications for smart phones. Several online English dictionaries were developed specifically for English language learners.

Students can enhance their knowledge and vocabulary in their home language and in English through the frequent use of online bilingual dictionaries, picture dictionaries, glossaries, thesauri, and translation tools. These sites are also useful for translating language from English to the student’s home language.

Using Dictionaries, Thesauri, and Translators

  • During a reading or writing activity, have students search meanings and spellings for new vocabulary and information in their home language and in English.
  • Have students find out how to say a word in English, and provide examples of the word’s usage.
  • Have students search for grammatical information; e.g., the part of speech of a word, the plural of a noun, the past tense of a verb, or a synonym or an antonym of a word.
  • Have students use translators to help them decipher challenging texts and when creating more complex academic texts.
  • Encourage students to add the new vocabulary they have learned to their own personal bilingual dictionaries.
  • Encourage students to use the new vocabulary.


Learning to use a dictionary and thesaurus correctly and effectively can be a challenging skill to acquire. Many English language learners may require extra time to find a word, especially if they are unsure of the word’s spelling.

Using a dictionary or translator often involves the student choosing the most appropriate word from several word choices, which can be challenging. Discourage students from relying on translators as a primary means of understanding and creating texts. Encourage students to use a variety of strategies.

It should be noted that online translation tools are not always capable of providing accurate and appropriate translations. They are most effective when used to help understand the gist of a text.

Search the Internet for online dictionaries, like, and translation tools, like Google Translate. Some websites allow users to translate a text using several different language translation programs. Not all languages are supported by online dictionaries and translation tools.

Text-to-speech and Speech-to-text Technology

Text-to-speech technology converts written text to audio speech using a digitized or synthesized voice. Text-to-speech software helps English language learners read and comprehend print text. Some online translation programs and some ebook readers also have text-to-speech capability. An example of text-to-speech technology that supports multiple languages is Read and Write for Google.

Speech-to-text technology converts spoken words to print text. Speech-to-text software is available in many languages. Some speech-to-text software, like Google Cloud Speech API, supports multiple languages.

Multilingual programs using these technologies are available. Students may be able to use these technologies in their home language or in English.

Using Text-to-speech and Speech-to-text Software

  • Have students use text-to-speech software to help them decipher challenging English or home language texts or to help them as a proofreading tool. Hearing a text aloud can often help English language learners recognize errors they have made.
  • Have students use speech-to-text software to help them identify the spelling of words that they can say in their home language or in English but not write. This can be helpful when looking up definitions in dictionaries, thesauri, and glossaries. Students may also choose to use the software when taking notes or brainstorming.


Teachers may need to provide instructional support as students use these tools to develop their understandings and language proficiency. Not all languages are supported by text-to-speech and speech-to-text technologies.

Media in Home Languages

English language learners may have access to the following types of media in their home language:

  • radio programs and television broadcasts
  • Wikipedia articles
  • magazines and newspapers
  • websites

Encourage students to use resources in their home language to maintain and further develop their home language proficiency and to better understand topics and concepts they are learning at school. Encourage students to bring resources in their home language that are relevant to the topics and concepts being addressed in class.


Many topics, issues, and perspectives that are explored in Canadian classrooms are not always reflected in media developed in other languages.

Also, students’ access to technology and media in their home language can vary greatly from family to family. Encouraging students to share their home language resources in class allows students with the same home language to have equal access to media available in their home language.

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