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Encouraging the Use of Home Languages

How Teachers Can Support the Use of Home Languages

By providing students with opportunities to access their home language, teachers can help them use their skills, prior knowledge, and experience to enhance their English language development and understanding of concepts.

Bridging Home Language Literacy and English Literacy

All students come to school with literacy experiences. Home language literacy and texts (including books, music, photos, drawings, artifacts, games, and oral storytelling) can be used in the classroom to help bridge students’ home language and English language literacies.

Recognizing the home language literacy of English language learners values the language learning that students do outside the school setting, acknowledges their families’ contributions to their literacy, and activates their prior knowledge.

Recognizing the home language literacy of English language learners can also give teachers background knowledge for designing literacy activities to which students with different life experiences and cultural backgrounds can relate.

Examples and Ideas

Home Literacy Inventory Not all English language learners have the opportunity to maintain their home language. Ask English language learners whether they maintain their home language literacy in their home and in the community. For those who do, find out how they maintain their home language. Also, have students bring to class some of the texts they have read, listened to, viewed, or engaged with recently in any other way in their home language.
Explore Language Learning Opportunities

Acknowledge that teaching and learning take place in many contexts; e.g., home, cultural centre, place of worship, playground. Find opportunities to connect school projects and assignments with extra-curricular activities that involve the use of the home language.

Popular Culture

Encourage students to access popular culture in their home language. For example, have students make a recording of them singing their favourite home language folk or pop songs or create drawings based on favourite television shows or films they have viewed in their home language.

Oral Literacy

Have students record and share oral texts in their home language; e.g., songs, stories, and interviews. Use short audio or video clips as prompts for literacy activities in the classroom.

Multilingual Literacy Centres

Establish a multilingual literacy centre in the school or classroom where students and their families/caregivers can share books, music, or movies in their home language.


Students will have a range of home language literacy experiences. The appropriateness of bridging strategiesbridging strategy: a strategy for establishing a link between students’ prior knowledge and new ideas will need to be considered on an individual basis. Some home language texts may be considered sacred or private, and there may be certain considerations that need to be observed regarding their use in the classroom.

Engaging Parents/Caregivers in Home Language Development

Parents/caregivers can help to develop students’ home language literacy by using their language routinely at home and creating opportunities for their child to hear, read, and use the home language in the community.

It is important to reassure parents/caregivers that the use of the home language does not inhibit the students’ English language development. In fact, strong home language literacy helps English language learners develop as English speakers and learners. For more information on ways parents/caregivers can support students’ language development, see the parent tip sheet Learning English as a New Language.

Examples and Ideas

In the School

Classroom Helpers and
Special Guests
Parents/caregivers of English language learners may not be aware that they are encouraged by Alberta schools to be involved in school activities. At the beginning of the year, provide parents/caregivers with a list of activities and days when they could, if their schedules permit, help in the classroom or provide supervision (e.g., recess or lunch supervisors). Invite parents/caregivers into the classroom to
  • share their language, culture, and customs for celebrations and cultural events
  • present perspectives on topics being discussed in the classroom (e.g., literature, music, world history, contemporary issues)
  • speak to students about their homeland and what it was like coming to a new country
  • share information about their heritage or family history
  • help students create dual-language books
School-Home Communication

Develop a log that provides parents/caregivers with a weekly schedule of what students are doing in class, a schedule of field trips and class events, and ideas on how they can support their child in the home language.

Special Events

The school can sponsor an international family festival, providing a venue for members of the community to share their cultures. Encourage parents/caregivers of English language learners to attend the event and share their language and culture with students.

Language Support Volunteers

Invite parents/caregivers to translate key school documents. They may also volunteer to help other parents/caregivers understand information that was shared in English.

Parent/Caregiver Workshops

Host workshops for parents/caregivers to learn how they can support their child’s language and academic development.

Outside the School

Providing and Sharing Texts

Encourage parents/caregivers to read with their child. They can read stories, instructional texts, letters, and emails in the home language, as well as dual-language books written in the home language and in English.

Oral Language Development

Encourage parents/caregivers who may not be able to read or write in their home language to tell stories in their home language.

Appreciating Other Cultures

Encourage parents/caregivers to share aspects of their culture by telling folktales, showing and explaining the significance of cultural artifacts, or by preparing and sharing their culinary specialties.

Team Bilingual Writing

Ask parents/caregivers to collaborate with their child in presenting a portion of a project in their home language.


Help parents/caregivers choose strategies that would support the student’s learning and literacy development. In some cultures, parents/caregivers are not used to being directly involved in the formal education of their children. Therefore, it is important to let them know their involvement at school is valued and welcomed. For more information on the role parents/caregivers can have in a student’s education and in the school, see the parent tip sheet Parents’ Role in Education—Be a Part of It.

Creating an Inclusive Environment

Teachers who help students take pride in their home language proficiency and help students maintain their home language, especially while acquiring academic English, create inclusive learning environments that support language proficiency development and enhance academic performance. English language learners thrive in an environment where linguistic and cultural diversity is celebrated. Encouraging students to explore multiple perspectives allows English language learners to contribute insights and knowledge that reflect and are shaped by their culture and life experiences. Encouraging and providing opportunities for students to express themselves in their home language and share their linguistic and cultural knowledge with peers helps to create an engaging and inclusive classroom.

Encouraging Positive Home Language Transfer

All languages have underlying rules that make meaningful communication possible. Cross-linguistic strategies, such as comparing one’s home language and English, transfer academic understanding and strengthen the students’ listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in both languages.

Research shows that students benefit when teachers provide opportunities to transfer language structureslanguage structures: components of language that work together to create comprehensible and meaningful communication and vocabulary from their home language during the process of literacy development in English—for example, cognates (words in English and the home language that look or sound very similar and have a similar meaning). Students should be encouraged to use their home language as a resource to understand new words and concepts in English. Students often require coaching to effectively transfer ideas between their home language and English.

These strategies can further the student’s understanding and acquisition of English and serve to maintain and improve the home language.

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