Outstanding advice from the UK’s top education experts
Many parents of children with EAL, worried their child’s English ability is being disadvantaged, may ask that their home language is not used in nursery. So how can you comply with currciular requirements without disrespecting parents’ wishes? NDNA’s Fiona Bland gives her advice…
Q: How much will a child’s English develop using their home language?
A: Parents are often concerned their child will be at a disadvantage when starting school if they have not heard much English, but if the child has a strong foundation in their home language there shouldn’t be a problem. An important part of a child’s learning is to feel they are being successful when they are communicating with others. This will build their confidence and their knowledge and skills greatly.
Children may want to use their home language, and preventing them could lead to communication failure, which may leave them anxious about trying out their developing English. Some children go through a silent stage, which is normal, as they absorb what they are experiencing before beginning to use a new language. We know children who speak more than one language are at an advantage with their cognitive development, as they develop a better understanding of how language is constructed. Understanding is of key importance. Children understand words and sentences in any language before they speak them.
Q: What support can we give children and parents?
A: Give parents a clear understanding of how your nursery supports language development. Invite them into the nursery to take part in activities such as story telling or role play in their home language. Create an information sheet that will help support bilingual children and their parents, and ensure you make time to talk through children’s progress with their families. Provide home learning ideas that they are able to do in both English and their home language, and encourage the family to share any observations they have about their child’s development at home.
Q: How do I explain the importance of using home languages in nursery to a child’s parents?
A: It is important to develop a secure cooperative relationship with parents to be able to discuss a child’s progress. That way when a parent suggests doing something that goes against your professional opinion you have an avenue for discussion.
These discussions must be handled very sensitively. Remember, as a practitioner you must work with the parents – they are their child’s most important educators. Reassure parents where you can with examples of how your nursery supports language development, and if you have any other bilingual parents in the nursery, ask them to act as a mentor to support this.
Q: Is there any other reason for ensuring children are able to communicate in both their home language
A: It is important that all children’s voices are heard and paid attention to. We are all aware of the serious case reviews recently relating to safeguarding children, where communication has been an issue. In the case of Paul Wilson, the lead on the serious case review stated: “We must listen to children” after the child in this case showed their distress vocally. In the case of Daniel Pelka, the serious care review found that his voice was also not heard, but this time it was mainly due to his difficulty in communicating in English and professionals’ lack of support for his communication in Polish. The serious case review found that:
“His (Daniel’s) poor language skills and isolated situation meant that there was often a lack of a child focus to interventions by professionals… His main difficulty was his language in that he had less English than a 2 1⁄2 year-old. School staff appeared to have relied on Daniel’s gesticulations as the main form of communication and when possible upon Anna and Daniel’s mother to provide insights into what Daniel was saying or experiencing.”
Serious Case Review Re Daniel Pelka CSCB September 2013
Supporting children to communicate in both their home language and English will enable the child’s voice to be heard. Understanding the child’s background, needs and individual personality enables us to plan for their learning and development more effectively, but also provides us with the foundations we need to be able to safeguard each child and spot any signs of concern earlier and act upon these in a timely and supportive manner.