Monday 6 April 2020

Which Language Should I Homeschool in?

The coronavirus pandemic has caused many countries to go into lockdown and this means that schools have closed. Because of this, a lot of families are finding themselves homeschooling for the first time. This raises a dilemma for multilingual families: which language should they homeschool in?

For many multilingual families, the minority language is spoken at home either by one or both parents. Both the one parent one language approach and the minority language approach are excellent strategies for raising multilingual children and, therefore, many multilingual families adopt one of these approaches. With either approach, the children will be exposed to the minority language or languages at home and they will be exposed to the majority language at school and in the environment outside of the home.

Multilingual parents who speak the minority languages at home will not have had to worry about the child's exposure to English before because their children will have been getting enough exposure at school. However, now that schools are shut they may wonder if they need to change their home language to English. They may worry that the children will lose some of their English language skills if they are not having as much exposure to it. On top of this, they may also question which language they should be homeschooling their children in, since they are now responsible for their children's education.

Do not change the home language

If you have been used to speaking the minority language at home, there is no reason why you should not continue to do so. Children need stability at this time when so much is outside of their control. They may feel confused if you start speaking to them in a language they are not used to hearing from you. They need familiarity and by continuing to speak the minority language with them it will help them to feel more normalised.

Children still have opportunities to use English

Despite what you may think, your child will undoubtedly still have opportunities to hear and speak English. Just switch on the TV or listen to a podcast or audiobook for some English exposure. At the moment Audible have made a lot of children's audiobooks available for free, so be sure to make the most of this offer!

Alternatively, children will be able to ring or video call their English-speaking friends to keep up their conversational skills. Also, texting and social media will give them other opportunities to use English and, of course, they can read English books too. They will also have work to do that has been sent from their school and they will need to do this in English and this is also a good way for them to keep up with their English skills.

Make the most of this opportunity to boost their skills in the minority language/languages

While this time may be difficult for you, it is one of the best opportunities you will ever have to boost your children's skills in the minority languages. You will be spending so much time together and communicating with each other so you can make the most of this time to work on your children's minority language skills. Speak to your children about all sorts of things - the news, books, education etc. - and expose them to new vocabulary. Getting them to talk to members of the extended family via video call too will further boost their minority language skills.

Homeschooling in the minority language

If you are able to homeschool in the minority language then you can go ahead and do this. However, it may not be as easy as you think. Here are some pros and cons to homeschooling in the minority language.

Benefits of homeschooling in the minority language

If you can homeschool in the minority language, your children will be able to learn more vocabulary and language structures which will no doubt improve their ability to use and understand the minority language. Reading books in the minority language will further enhance their abilities.

By homeschooling in the minority language, your children will be exposed to more and diverse thoughts and ideas. This will help them to get a wider understanding of the world as they will be exposed to ideas from different points of view and from different cultural perspectives.

Teaching your child in your dominant language (this may or may not be the minority language) will be easier for you. Therefore, the situation you find yourself in will be less stressful and more enjoyable. You may relish this opportunity to teach your children things you learnt about during your own school years and your children may really enjoy this too, particularly if it is something they haven't learnt about before.

Disadvantages of homeschooling in the minority language

While homeschooling in the minority language may seem preferable to you, you may come across some hurdles. Firstly, you may find it difficult to find books or learning resources in the minority language and without these it may make it more difficult for you to teach your children certain subjects. However, if you are finding it difficult to find minority language resources, you could always try making your own!

Secondly, if your children's knowledge of the minority language is not that great, they may struggle to understand what you are teaching them. If this is the case, try using more simplified language, explaining concepts in different ways and using visual resources to help your child to understand. Children may also struggle to understand mathematical concepts in a different language because these may be expressed differently. Alternatively, they may find it easier to understand. Try it and see.

Using a mixture of languages may work best

As you can see, there are a number of pros and cons to homeschooling in the minority language. In reality, you will most likely use a mixture of the two and this is absolutely fine. The reason for this is that your children will most likely have been sent work from their school to do. In this case, your child will need to complete this work in English. If they struggle to do this - and you struggle to help them - see if their school or a friend can offer them some online help.

School work aside, you can take this opportunity to allow your children to explore their own interests and passions and it is your job to facilitate this. This is the prime time to use the minority language for homeschooling. If they are interested in astronomy, take a look at this subject together. If they want to do some gardening, check out resources in the minority language and teach them specific vocabulary in the minority language. Never forget that learning can happen anytime, anywhere and it doesn't just involve what is covered in the National Curriculum. Use this time to connect with each other, learn together and share and discover new passions in whichever language you choose.

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