The Home Language Advantage

The Home Language Advantage

Living in Miami, we all know how large the population of Spanish-speaking children is in every school.  Teachers often have a big number of students in their classroom whose home language is Spanish.  With this being a fact, it is common for teachers to be concerned about these kids regarding their development in English, not only because they sometimes lack vocabulary and struggle to communicate, but also because this might affect, or it is already affecting, their academic performance over all.  On the other hand, parents sometimes worry too; they are concerned their children might abandon their home language and don’t acquire the vocabulary or the reading and writing skills in Spanish since they are always exposed to English at school.


What can teachers do to have these kids thrive in school even though English is not their first language? What can parents do in order to have their kids love their home language and be willing to be interested in learning more and more?  These are common questions we hear when it comes to bilingualism.  The article “The Home Language Advantage” from HighScope ReSource, a Magazine for Educators (Spring 2013), help us answer these questions.

iStock_000002240082XSmallOne main thing we must discuss is that if teachers and parents support the primary language of students both at the school and at home, it will be easier for them to transfer abilities such as vocabulary, phonological awareness, and alphabet knowledge to their second language.  The more children know about their home language, the easier it will be for them to learn a second language.  They will have the ability to compare and contrast one with the other and be able to learn skills in both English and Spanish.  It even applies to the principles of grammar and syntax “such as whether an adjective precedes or follows a noun, but the idea that there are rules transfers from first to second language”.  We find this very interesting and it proves that, as teacher and parents, we need to give a level of attention the home language deserves.


“Instructional programs for English language learners work best when students have opportunities to develop proficiency in their first language”.  Teachers need to include the home language of these children in the classroom and utilize different activities to benefit them in the process of learning English as a second language.  Activities could be as simple as role playing, pointing, and pantomime; and as informal as an activity in the playground.  This way, children will know that their home language is appreciated.

According to literacy expert Luisa Espinosa, “While English can be introduced during the preschool years, if it replaces the home language, and children don’t have the opportunity to continue to learn the language they know, their future linguistic, conceptual, and academic development in English is at risk”.

Teachers need to give students opportunities to learn their home language at school, even if the teachers don’t know that language.  If Spanish is that language, have a list of key words in Spanish in order to make the child comfortable in different moments of the routine, show interest in learning their home language, have kids share games and songs in their home language and value them in the classroom.  This way the children will feel more conformable having a risk in learning a new language.

Families also need to get involved in supporting language and literacy in their home language in order to keep the child emotionally, cognitively, and linguistically connected to their home language.  We need to know that this is going to contribute to the learning process of our children.  Families can include simple activities like telling stories, reading books, singing song, rhymes, and more into their home routine. Parents need to express their interest and joy of playing and sharing storied in their home language.  The learning should never stop.


We invite you to read the whole article “The Home Language Advantage” as well as the other articles related to bilingualism in this HighScope Magazine edition.  It is filled with strategies and ideas on how to work effectively with English language learning students both in the classroom and at home.


HighScope ReSource, a Magazine for Educators (Spring 2013):