Dear parents of bilingual children:
I’m going to write about the benefits of helping your bilingual child with his/her homework, and I’m just writing from my own experience as a mother.
My daughter is seven years old and she is doing her second year of Elementary School in Italy. I’ve always talked to her in Spanish, according to the OPOL method and now she is a bilingual child.
Last year while my girl was doing her first year at school and starting to read, I couldn’t dedicate enough time to help her with her homework, due to my professional and academic commitments, so instead I brought her to private tuition with other kids of her same age.
However this year my daughter insisted to do her homework with me at home, so we seat almost every afternoon for a couple of hours and I help her with her homework and with the study of the different subjects: Maths, Italian, Foreign Language…
Thanks to this routine not only have I managed to save money, but I’ve also had the opportunity to observe some of the benefits of helping your children with their homework when your mother tongue is minority.
1. Improvement of the academic skills using the minority language as working language.
This contributes to achieve a more balanced bilingualism, that is to say, having a high and similar skill in both languages and the ability to use them efficiently in different fields and situations.
I was quite surprised to realize how, once my daughter had learnt to read in Italian, she was able to read also in Spanish even though nobody had taught her how to do it; but now it turns out that when we’re doing some maths exercises she counts in Spanish instinctively and just because she is with me at that moment, so thanks to my help, she is also learning the Spanish name for the operations, factors, etc.
When we are working on Lingua Italiana and she has to do a composition, summary or analysis, we also speak in Spanish and practise the subject’s own metalanguage.
2. Training in Learning Strategies.
Using my mother tongue as a learning strategy has been very useful to explain some orthographic rules in the case of Italian homophones, as in the case of the pairs “ho”, “o”; “é”, “e”; “a”, “ha”, just by focusing on the meaning of the words in Spanish.
Learning Strategy training can be useful not only when learning a second language, but also for other subjects. Once the child gets familiar with strategies he/she will be able to develop his/her own learning strategies and become a more autonomous learner.
3. Improvement of one’s self skills in the working language
I had learnt Italian in an autodidact way (by full immersion) until now, and even if I had attained a language certificate for level C2 of the CEFRL in Italian (that is, the highest level certification), I had not examined in depth many of the explicit rules of grammar and writing.
Besides, this activity allows me to gain access to first hand cultural references (literary, historic, social, geopolitical, procedural, and so on) that usually aren’t available to language learners even in a situation of immersion.
Learning along with your child is a rewarding experience that prepares you to integrate into a foreign society, for being able to help him/her in the future, for building up his/her identity and for sharing his/her worldview.
4. Promotes affective factors in learning.
Not only my child benefits from her mother’s help at her own home, moreover she enjoys quality time with me, exchanging knowledge and experiences, while I can monitor her learning and encourage the development of her abilities.
The minority language turns into a working language for learning that equals the language used at school, increasing its value and the child’s attitude towards it.
But also, as a mother whose mother tongue is different from the working language used at school, I often provide my daughter the occasion to teach me something and that fills her with great pleasure and pride, increasing her self esteem, improving her self-perception and promoting the development of her learner autonomy.
5. Free access to teaching resources.
Last but not least, a wink to all of you who apart from being parents are also teachers:
As a Spanish FL teacher I’m always aware of anything related to methodology and learning practices, so I consider the teachers’ methods, the textbooks’ approach, the worksheets or didactic materials, etc.
Who of you are teachers: I can assure you that working with your child you will get many ideas to adapt or create new activities for your students.
This is my first post in English.
“There’s always a first time.”