Tips for Teachers: Empowering Parents Who Don’t Know English

It is a given that knowledge of the English language is essential for upward mobility in India. Parents want to give their child the opportunity to do better, and seek English education for their child. English medium schools pop up like mushrooms in urban and rural India to fulfill this demand.

If you are a teacher in the urban Indian school system, you probably have a class of students who are multilingual. The language of the state is the native tongue or first language for most of your students. A few may even speak a completely different language at home. The students’ exposure to spoken English is also varied. A few children may have strong social communication skills in English while at the other extreme, a few may have had no exposure to English. 

What kind of help can teachers expect from parents who don’t know English? 

Parents who are proficient in English don’t have a language barrier in helping their child with schoolwork. On the other hand, parents who don’t know English may doubt their ability to support their child in completing assignments or preparing for assessments.

A lack of language proficiency doesn’t have to stop parents from helping their child learn English. They may not look up the meaning of unfamiliar words on the net or read to their child at night, but they can still be actively engaged in supporting their child’s learning of the language.

A lack of language proficiency doesn’t have to stop parents from helping their child learn English.

Encourage parents to expand their child’s vocabulary in their first language. A strong vocabulary in the first language enables student to learn a second language with greater fluency. Larger vocabulary and proficiency in the first language is particularly important as the student starts to gain academic vocabulary. 

There is an emotional, culturally sensitive aspect to acknowledging the importance of the first language. Parents may feel embarrassed or even defensive about not being able to help their child because of limited English knowledge. Recognizing that their first language plays a significant role in acquiring a second language empowers parents active participants in their child’s education.

Telling stories can be a learning and bonding experience. In India, we have a rich tradition of oral story telling. Parents can also sing songs or share riddles in their native tongue. These activities expose children to vocabulary that is not used much in everyday conversations. 

Parents can increase children’s exposure to academics through related activities. Visiting a museum, a historic monument, or even watching a movie will give them a framework to understand different topics, even as they learn the academic vocabulary in English.

Writing, as a form of communication, aids vocabulary development, sentence structure and organization of thoughts. Children can use real life experiences such as writing letters to family members, writing and illustrating their own stories, in their first language.

Teachers can give parents a list of books and authors that are appropriate for the student’s grade level. They can support their child’s reading habit by acquiring the materials.

Language need not be a barrier if we empower parents to be actively involved in their children’s learning.

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