Easing the way into speaking English

Parents of children who are trying to learn a new language should communicate with the children as much as possible in their native language, said Rodolfo Chavez, president of The National Association for Bilingual Education.

Chavez, also a visiting assistant professor in the college of education at Arizona State University, said that upon moving to the USA, it’s not a good idea for parents to suddenly adopt English and forgo their native language. These parents are not usually proficient in English, so it doesn’t help the children to learn, he added.

”Verbal interaction leads to a good vocabulary, which leads to good reading,” Chavez said. ”Whether kids learn to read in Spanish or Navajo or English first, you only learn how to read once. The skills transfer. That’s why it’s important for parents to converse with children in their native language as they learn English.”

Chavez, who has been a parent trainer in bilingual education for 10 years, said it’s important to talk to children about all kinds of things, such as what’s going on at school, in their life and emotionally. Other tips for parents:

– Work with kids on reading in their native language. Read a newspaper from your native country together, or a Bible. Show your child that you know how to read and that it’s important to you to know how to read.

– Count at home in any language. If the two of you count in your native language, that’s fine; the child is still learning about the concept of counting and it will transfer to another language.

– Don’t rush your child into another language. Research shows that a child should be allowed to learn another language over four or five years.

– Teach your children about their native culture.

– Know your rights and that your child has a right to an equal opportunity. If no bilingual program exists at the school, work with the school to incorporate one.

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