In a monolingual world, being the home visiting program that promotes learning in each family’s home language often feels like an uphill battle.
To say that I have encountered a few skeptics along the way would be an understatement.
At times, all the push back and obstacles have made me wonder, why do we do this? Does the language families receive visits and materials in really matter?
The program research and results both prove that it does. In fact, working in the family’s home language is an essential part of the Parent-Child Home Program’s success.
Three reason why supporting families in their home language is an essential aspect of the Parent-Child Home Program (PCHP)
The parent is the child’s first and most important teacher.
PCHP envisions “a world where every child enters school ready to succeed because every parent has the knowledge, skills, and resources to build school readiness where it starts: the home.”
The magic of PCHP is not in those short half-hour visits that fly by all too fast. True change happens when dedicated parents take the time to read and play with their children outside of their home visits.
We want our children to succeed in life, not just in Pre-K.
We are preparing our program children for lifelong educational success. What can better catapult a child toward victory than being bilingual?
Unfortunately, raising bilingual children is not as easy as it sounds and our families have the odds stacked against them. Many well-meaning schools, doctors, therapists, and organizations still believe that English only is best.
Families hear time after time that they need to speak English with their children. Therapists advise that speaking the home language will confuse the already speech delayed child. Teachers beg parents to read in English at home. Friends advise that children need to learn English from the beginning in order to speak English well.
Those statements could not be further from the truth.
At this young age, children have an amazing ability to acquire new languages almost effortlessly. There is no limit on the number of languages they can learn nor are there hard and fast rules about when to introduce additional languages.
All children really need is to consistently hear speech in a language to begin developing some level of fluency.
Although bilingual children may mix languages, it does not mean they are confused. They may just be lacking vocabulary in one language and choose to fill the blank with a word they know from another language. This is a natural part of language learning that actually shows proficiency instead of confusion.
To top it off, studies show that bilingual children are smarter (Willis, 2012) and will have more job opportunities as adults. In fact, in the last five years, the need for bilinguals in the workforce has more than doubled (New American Economy, 2017).
Supporting the home language better supports the parent-child relationship.
Language and relationships go hand in hand. From a very young age, your brain learns to associate a person with the language you speak together (Lowry). Language defines your interactions and relationship with that specific person. Having home visits in English instead of the family’s home language, often results in uncomfortable and strained interactions between the parent and child.
As a result, the parent and child will not receive the full benefit of the program. The parent will likely struggle to find the true joy and freedom in playing with their child because they are focusing on trying to understand their Early Learning Specialist and learn English.
The child may associate the books and toys (VISMS) with English and ask the parent to read or play in English when they are using the VISMS on their own, putting further strain and pressure on the parent.
To make matters worse, if a parent assumes they can only teach their child in English, the experience devalues them and limits what they are able to offer their child. Instead of sharing the story of their rich culture, traditions, and views, conversations are limited to jumbled ABCs and mispronounced colors.
Let’s fast-forward ten years when our program children are in middle school. If mom has focused on trying to speak English at home, her child’s home language skills are probably now non-existent and the child’s English skills have far surpassed mom’s. When the child needs advice about big, pre-teen issues, a conversation with mom is not an option. The two no longer share a common language.
We want our families to flourish. Our goal is to leave our families with an unbreakable parent-child bond. That means we need to reassure parents that their own language and culture are valuable. Our job is to show them how to use what they already know to enhance their child’s learning and encourage them to advocate for their children’s education, even with limited English skills. We need to empower parents to maintain their home language with confidence.
How to Support Families Who Speak a Language Other Than English:
Hire Early Learning Specialists who speak the same language as the families.
Easier said than done, I know. Instead of relying on job boards, go into the community. Visit ESL classes, ask community organizations, or other program families for candidates. Be prepared, and willing, to help with every aspect of the hiring process. The benefits for the families far outweigh the extra work.
Find materials in the family’s home language.
Once again, I know this is not an easy feat. Yet, if it is hard for you to find materials in other languages, imagine how much harder it is for your program families. I have heard more times than I can count, “Wow, we’ve never had a book in Spanish before. Now I can read to them!”
Emphasize the value of raising a bilingual child and the importance of maintaining the home language.
Support the family in their efforts to learn English outside the home but encourage them to continue speaking their home language at home. Speaking English at home quickly becomes a slippery slope. The easiest way to raise a bilingual child successfully is to maintain clear language boundaries- English at school, home language at home.
- 5 Common Myths About Raising Bilingual Children That You Need To Ignore
- When To Ignore Doctors Advice on Speech & Language Development
- Demand for Bilingual Workers More than Doubled in 5 Years, Report Shows
- Bilingual Brains – Smarter & Faster
- American-Borns Are Increasingly English-Only
- A Linguist Explains How the “Three Generation Pattern” Could Wipe Out Spanish in the US
- Bilingualism in Young Children: Separating Fact from Fiction
Vanessa Ruiz has been working as a PCHP Site Coordinator with immigrant families in South and Southwest Philadelphia for two years. Outside of work, she enjoys writing, hiking, and playing with her three-year-old.