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The Importance of First Language

08 September 2016

First language, mother tongue or home language is the language spoken by parents at home before a child starts schooling.

  • Foundation Children reading a book together at British International School, HCMC

Why is first language important?

Research increasingly shows it is important for parents to continue developing their child’s first language because:

  • Your children will learn English more effectively if they continue to develop their first language at the same time so that they become truly bilingual.
  • Bilingual learners’ brains are more flexible as they are able to store and access information in two languages using both sides of their brain simultaneously.
  • Bilingual learning particularly develops memory, concentration, multitasking, creativity, problem solving. These skills can be very useful for the development of language and mathematical skills.
  • Evidence now shows that bilingual learners are overall better in academic performance than monolingual learners.

“Bilingualism makes your brain more healthy, complex and actively engaged,” Mia Nacamulli, Neurological Educator, USA

How you can help

  • Speak in your first language! You are the best model for your child to develop strong vocabulary, proper grammar, and natural communication skills. If one parent’s first language is English, then speak English to your  child whilst the other parent speaks his/her first language so that both languages are being developed equally
  • Sing songs, tell stories and share books in your first language
  • Watch TV or movies in your first language and talk about them
  • Talk together in your first language at meal times, family outings, and family celebrations
  • Stay in touch with family and friends by talking together on Skype or writing emails
  • Read first language books and encourage writing in the first language

What about homework?

  • Read the assignment in English.  Discuss the assignment and any new vocabulary in your first language
  • Talk about the instructions in your first language
  • Have your child complete the assignment in English. Switching between languages is good for the brain and shows a better understanding of the concepts.

For those children whose first language is English, being brought up in international settings is a great opportunity to help them develop a second language.

Finally, we at BIS HCMC can do our job by making our students proficient in the English language but we would ask you to work in partnership with us and make your children equally able in their first language and help them to become bilingual.

Ms Shaheena Pall  and the EAL Team