Summer tips for your bilingual family

Tip 1. Read, read and read some more!

It’s official, Summer is here! Many parents I spoke to recently told me that they were going to spend the Summer holidays in their home country, and they were happy knowing that this experience would boost their children’s language skills. For those who won’t be travelling to foreign countries this Summer we have prepared a list of ideas and suggestions to boost the child’s heritage language (I will use the term heritage language to refer to the language the child acquires from their parents, and that is not used by the majority of people in the child’s environment… but most of these ideas might also suit families who speak a minority language, like Irish!).

Reading is a great way for children to learn new words and to become familiar with long and complex sentences and structures that they may not hear in everyday conversations. Some children can read in the heritage language, some can’t, and some others would prefer to read in English because they are faster and they understand it better.  Don’t let this deter you! All children love a good story, so you can read to them in your language, and talk together about the characters and explain words they don’t understand. Examining the pictures together is also very useful to develop oral language skills in younger children.

Some children may not feel ready to read a novel in the heritage language, so you can get them started with a magazine or a short story. You will discover that your child lacks some essential vocabulary, maybe because the use of the heritage language is confined to some specific contexts. This is one of the main reasons why books and other written materials provide a fantastic opportunity to engage with the heritage language and to learn new words and sentence structures that would not be common in everyday conversations.

I have recently visited libraries in the Dublin area, and I have noticed displays of bilingual books and foreign language books, reflecting the increasing diversity of the Irish population. I am acutely aware that for many parents one of the main deterrents to supporting their children’s literacy is the lack of suitable resources and the lack of awareness of what is currently accessible through our local libraries.  Therefore a visit to your local library might be the best way to start. If you are unsure about how to find bilingual books or books in foreign languages, ask your librarian, and remember that you can order books from any library in Ireland, even from the comfort of your home, by browsing the online catalogue.

If you have questions about finding resources in your language of choice, get in touch with us at Mother Tongues and we will do our best to help you! We have a small collection of second hand books and DVDs in a variety of languages, so get in touch with Claudia Kunkel if you would like to donate, swap or buy books!

It’s all for now… watch this space for the next tip!

Francesca La Morgia