5 Ways To Support Home Languages in Early Childhood Interactions

Welcome to the second post in the series about how early childhood educators can support multilingual children’s language development, especially the home languages. Remember how Zheng and colleagues in Australia looked at the research to find what works? Last time, you read about translanguaging strategies. The next set of strategies they identified focuses on interaction-promoting strategies. What are they? Well, essentially they aim to stimulate children to use their developing language abilities (in all of their languages) in conversations with others. What does this look like in practice? Here are ways to encourage multilingualism in the early childhood education setting:

  1. You can respond positively when children speak different languages and draw on a range of ways of facilitating communication. For example, Zheng and colleagues found that infant-room teachers repeated words the children said and used baby signs. You don’t have to use baby-signs, you can use natural gestures instead. It’s all about facilitating communication and responding positively to the range of languages the children use. 
  2. You can encourage conversation by switching to the child’s preferred or home language where you can.
  3. You can use ‘tandem talk’ practices (Lee et al. 2008). Tandem talk is a type of collaborative bilingual practice where a pair of speakers coordinates the use of two languages so that each person stays in one language (called monolingual discourse strategy). This means two teachers working together with one teacher using one language and the other teacher using the other. 
  4. You can use different teaching materials to boost interaction like having children work in pairs to find matching picture cards. This stimulates children’s interactions because they’re working together and talking in their home language while completing the task. Using real objects can also help children understand and make connections between the object and the sequence of sounds that refers to the object.  Zheng and colleagues also found that music and songs are also good ways of supporting interaction and nurturing language development in home languages. 
  5. You can slow your rate of speech, paraphrase, and adjust vocabulary to provide emergent bilingual children with access to extended conversations in both of their languages.  

As you well know, it’s not a one size fits all situation and you’ll know which strategy is a good fit for yours. If you like this post, please pass it on to your friends.


What I read so you don’t have to 


Axelrod Y, Cole MW. ‘The pumpkins are coming…vienen las calabazas…that sounds funny’: Translanguaging practices of young emergent bilinguals. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy. 2018;18(1):129-153. doi:10.1177/1468798418754938 


De Houwer, A. & Pascall, M. (2021). Our children and their languages: barriers, needs and opportunities: A proposal for early multilingual education KITA Handbook https://www.kindergartenpaedagogik.de/fachartikel/bildungsbereiche-erziehungsfelder/sprache-fremdsprachen-literacy-kommunikation/unsere-kinder-und-ihre-sprachen-huerden-beduerfnisse-und-chancen/  


Gort, M.,  Pontier, R.W. & Sembiante , S. (2012) Function, Type, and Distribution of Teacher Questions in Dual-Language Preschool Read Alouds, Bilingual Research Journal, 35:3, 258-276, DOI: 10.1080/15235882.2012.734262 


Gort, M. & Pontier, R.W. (2013). Exploring bilingual pedagogies in dual language preschool classrooms, Language and Education, 27:3, 223-245, DOI: 10.1080/09500782.2012.697468 


Khalfaoui, A., García-Carrión, R., & Villardón-Gallego, L, (2021). A Systematic Review of the Literature on Aspects Affecting Positive Classroom Climate in Multicultural Early Childhood Education. Early Childhood Education Journal, 49: 71-81. 


Langaloo, A., Lara, M., Deunk, M., Klitzing, N. & Strijbos, JW. (2019). A systematic review of teacher-child interactions with multilingual young children. Review of Educational Research 89(4): 536-568. 


Zheng, Z., , Degotardi, S., &  Djonov, E. (2021). Supporting multilingual development in early childhood: A scoping review. International Journal of Educational Research 110. 


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