Supporting bi/multi-lingual children at your service
In multi-cultural Australia many children are brought up speaking two or more languages. In some cases, children may grow up speaking and hearing a language other than English until they enter an early childhood education and care service for the first time.

Supporting children from non-English speaking backgrounds in learning English while still giving them opportunities to expand their home language is an important responsibility for early childhood providers and helps to create a welcoming and familiar environment for children as they settle into their new care arrangement.

Karen Nemeth a consultant who hosts Language Castle a website which aims to help early childhood education and care providers better support bilingual children offers these suggestions for providers:
  • Talk to parents and carers when you enrol children about what languages are spoken at home and what their preference is while the child is in the service.
  • Stock bookshelves with a wide variety of age appropriate books in each of the community languages needed for your service. Look for storybooks and nonfiction books that come with CDs or books available as apps with sound to help you learn to pronounce words in each child's language. Wordless books are also great for multilingual classes.
  • Ask families to send in photos, resources and books that are culturally meaningful to their child, such as information on foods, celebrations, and family activities. Ask them to help you label the images with words in both English and the home language to give you lots to talk about with the child. Use the pictures to make personalised posters, displays, and class books that children can relate to.
  • Add labels that reflect the represented languages. Ask families or volunteers to help with the proper and the phonetic spelling. Labels don't build language and literacy unless you and the children really use them.
  • Play music from different countries and in different languages. Ask families to send in their favourites to build a strong connection between home and your service.
  • Encourage carers and educators to learn 10 to 20 key words in each child's home language to help them feel welcome, safe, and comfortable starting from their first day. You may need to ask the parent/carers to help you with this. Words such as hello, my name is, eat, drink, hurt, bathroom, your parents will be here soon, wash your hands, help, yes, and no are useful to start with.
  • If you are struggling to communicate with a child consider making a picture communication board to help all children communicate their needs and feelings. Post photos of the children looking sad and happy, helping each other, cleaning up toys, going outside, solving a conflict, and participating in daily routines.
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