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Encouraging the Use of Home Languages

Why Encourage the Use of Home Languages?

The home language of English language learners does not hinder their ability to learn English. The home language can be a valuable learning resource. The use of a home language—at home and at school—can improve students’ English language proficiency, academic performance, and social development.

The Use and Development of the Home Language

The use and further development of the home language can allow English language learners to

  • access a wide range of language skills and knowledge that can be applied to their developing English language skills. English language learners process new language skills and knowledge alongside their existing home language skills and knowledge. When English language learners listen, speak, read, and write, the same part of the brain is involved regardless of whether the home language or English is being used.

    The knowledge students have gained about of how language works, which they developed during the learning of their home language, can be applied to learning English and can enhance their English language development. English language learners build on the language foundation that already exists, and they can make connections between literacy skills in their home language and English.

  • understand subject-matter content that they have difficulty understanding in English. Students’ English language proficiency must be sufficiently developed to allow them to process the academic demands of the classroom. However, many English language learners have significant gaps in their understanding of English.

    If English language learners are permitted and encouraged to use their home language in the classroom, they are better equipped to understand and process complex information and communicate their understandings.

    For example, when English language learners are engaged in reading and writing activities, they often need to stop and think in their home language in order to process information, make connections, and construct meaning. They may even want to write some notes, explanations of concepts, and definitions of English words in their home language as a way to record information more efficiently and to process what they are learning.

    Using home language for certain information-processing tasks will not impede their English language development; instead, it will help them learn and feel more in control of their learning. As they gain academic English language proficiency, they will rely less on their home language to learn content, but they will continue to use their home language knowledge to learn English. (See Understanding the Acquisition of English as an Additional Language.)

  • foster a strong identity as an individual, a family member, and a community member. Proficiency in a home language allows students to communicate with family members, peers, and community members who do not speak English. This can foster stronger relationships within the family and community and promote a greater understanding of both family and cultural values.

    Valuing a student’s home language at school and at home can help the student develop a positive self-concept and pride in background and culture.

  • expand their understanding of the world and interactions with others. Continued literacy development in the home language(s) provides opportunities for English language learners to become bilingual or plurilingualplurilingual: able to understand and be understood in at least three languages and being able to switch from one language to another according to the circumstances . This will help students participate in a global society and expand their career and employment opportunities. Understanding a language other than English can also encourage greater appreciation for other people, different cultures, and global issues.

  • develop skills that transfer to their overall academic growth. Competencies and strategies developed when learning a language can also be applied to help learn content in any subject area. Students who develop proficiency in more than one language often become more successful learners.
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