For many families, Summer is the time for giving their home language a boost. Children are out of school and often the Summer is the time to spend with the extended family, in Ireland or abroad. Many parents see a significant improvement in their children’s language skills after they spend time immersed in the heritage language both in Ireland and abroad.
It’s now time to go back to school and to the usual routines. So how can parents continue to support the development of the heritage language with the limited time and resources available?
Here are three key tips I have collected from parents over the years:
Keep speaking your mother tongue to your child as often as possible, even if it seems easier to switch to English.
For many parents it is easy to speak their own mother tongue when they are on holidays in their country of origin and they have many people to talk to, but they may find it more difficult to keep it up if they are in Ireland surrounded by English speakers. Remind yourself that it is important to continue practising oral language skills and even if your child responds in English, being exposed to your language will keep the language active in the child’s mind and alive in your home.
Read books and tell bedtime stories in your mother tongue.
Reading is a fun activity that you can share with your child. To find free books in your language, try to search the library catalogue here. Enter a keyword such as “picture books” and select the language of choice. The book can be ordered online and sent for free to your local library, anywhere in Ireland.
You can try out different techniques to make reading together enjoyable for both of you. For parents who have small amounts of time to spend with their children, reading together and telling each other stories can be a wonderful opportunity to bond. Remove all distractions and get stuck into it!
To make the most of reading to your child in your mother tongue, ask questions and encourage your child to interact with the book. This will help the child’s ability to understand the story and to learn new words. Ask younger children to point and give them easy tasks to interact with the book. Older children (primary school age) also like it when the parents read books or tell stories to them. Audiobooks are great too, but the great advantage of sharing a book is the possibility to ask questions and learn new words together, and this is great for the child’s oral language skills.
Find your tribe
“Home languages” are called so because often their use is confined to the home. But it doesn’t have to be so! It is important for children to use language with a range of people to develop competence but also to see that it is useful and enjoyable. Children also get a great confidence boost when they see that there are many other people in Ireland who speak the same language as their parents. If you want to meet families who can help you on the journey to bilingualism Mother Tongues can help you. Our initiative Talk to me in… has only started in early 2019, but many families have already taken part in these informal meetups in Croatian, Swedish, Italian, German and French. To organise a Talk to me in… just choose a place and a time and send them via our contact form. We advertise the meet up for you, so you can “find your tribe” in your local area.
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