Parents as Language Partners
“Many parents have children with more than one language here at ASH and it’s super important to plan for developing all of your languages.” - Miriam, Middle School English Essentials and EAL Teacher
At ASH there are currently 271 students with more than one nationality, and many more students speak additional languages at home, or learned languages while living in different countries.
Miriam: "This means many diverse languages enter the doors of ASH each day!" To get an idea of the diversity in home languages at ASH, just take a look at our nationalities list.
Visiting expert Eowyn Crisfield
To support our families who are raising children with two or more languages, ASH invited a guest speaker, Eowyn Crisfield, to discuss the key elements of bilingual and multilingual development through education.
On Monday, group of parents gathered to hear from Eowyn in the Middle School Library. Eowyn spoke with them about the importance of developing additional languages, and also helped the parents to understand their roles and responsibilities in their children’s bilingual development.
Eowyn: “Parents often are the ones who choose bilingualism for their children so they have certain responsibilities. We have to consider what children need when they learn an additional language, and make a plan to support them.”
During the session, Eowyn busted the myth of children "being sponges" when it comes to language learning. She then helped parents to break down different aspects of language learning as a multilingual, and helped them navigate the process of language learning.
How long does it take to learn a new language?
Eowyn defined this as one to two years for basic interpersonal communication (e.g., playing with other kids, basic expression). But for cognitive academic language proficiency (e.g. school language, content specific vocabulary, language functions and formality), it can take anywhere from three to nine years based on each individual child.
Eowyn is a proponent for using the term ‘home languages’ (languages spoken most at home) and dominant language (the language the child is most fluent in - which can change over time).
According to Eowyn, it is a common concern for parents that the ‘mother tongue’ language can affect learning other languages. But is this actually the case?
Eowyn: “We know from research that the stronger the birth or dominant language of a child is, the better they will be at learning a secondary language. So the better they learn their own language, the better they will learn English at school.”
No matter what the goal, Eowyn emphasized that the home languages should “never be stopped as these are the languages of the heart”. Meaning, it helps a child connect to a part of you that is natural when speaking your mother tongue, it helps them identify who they are in a cultural lense and keeps the door open to future language growth in that language.
About the speaker
Eowyn Crisfield is a Canadian-educated specialist (BA TEFL, MA Applied Linguistics) in teaching English as a second/foreign language, teacher-training and bilingualism. Since 2003, she has specialized in the area of parent and teacher education for bilingualism. Eowyn is an accredited educational consultant based in Oxford, and works with schools internationally. She is author of Bilingual Families: A practical language planning guide (2021). She is also a Senior Lecturer in TESOL at Oxford Brookes University.
For more resources and guidance we refer you to our high school library’s libguides here or visit Eowyn’s blog here.
For ASH families, the full presentation and video have been shared in The FLASH on September 22, 2022.