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Integrating a Child Who Speaks a Different Language

Dear Debi,
We have children who speak German, Hebrew and Spanish. How can we integrate these languages into our curriculum?
Karen, Venice, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Expose yourself to the childís language and culture
  • Try to have an adult assistant who speaks the language
  • Have books & learning materials available in both languages
  • Validate & share the childís language and culture with other children
Expert Advice
Magaly Lavadenz, Ph.D.
Magaly Lavadenz, Ph.D.
Language, literacy and learning specialist
Children can learn more than one language at a time. The best time to do so is between birth and 12 years of age, especially when young children are beginning to understand the world around them and learning new words and concepts.

However, we should always support childrenís native language - the language they hear at home and grow up with. Language is not only made up of words, it is the way the world is represented for the child - their experiences, their traditions, their culture.

The responsibility for bilingual education ultimately falls on the parent. They must find a child care provider who speaks the language of their child or has adult assistants who do so.

If it is a priority for them to keep their childís native language alive while learning English, parents must look for a provider who will agree to continue bilingual education for them.

It is important for kids to hold on to their native language. Providers can encourage that by making an effort to learn as much as they can about an incoming childís culture and language. That way, they can fully include and support that child in their programs.

Having books available in both languages, for example, as well as labeling, can facilitate the use and practice of two tongues.

When a new child begins attending the child care, the provider should make sure that all the kids understand that their group is a family unit and that all members are equally valuable.

You should encourage and introduce the childís language and cultural difference to the other children by inviting the child and the parents to bring in photos, music and books in their native language so that it can be incorporated into the program.
Child Care provider Comments
Child care provider for 8 years
An Asian child who didnít speak English came into my care. I used the occasion as a way to open a discussion among the children about the nature of different languages. Many of them discovered that some of their own vocabulary included non-English words. It was a wonderful eye opening experience for the kids and me, we were excited and open-minded about learning different languages and cultures.
Sonnia Corzo
Sonnia Corzo
Child care provider for 6 years, mother of four
99% of the children in my care speak Spanish, and then two English-speaking girls joined the program. I didnít really know what to do. I decided to continue running the program in the same way, using both English and Spanish in conversation and as part of the curriculum. Now the girls are fluent in Spanish and their mother is thrilled.
Parent's Comments
Mother of a 4-month-old girl
There is a great advantage to being bilingual. I plan to speak to my daughter Emily in English, but I will definitely place her in a child care program that promotes Korean so that she will be fluent in both languages. I think itís extremely important for her to know our culture and be able to speak to her Korean-speaking grandparents.

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Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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