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Six Insights for Parents of English Language Learners

Being a parent of an English Language Learner (ELL) can be challenging, especially if that parent is trying to learn a new language and understand new cultural situations too.

Teachers have a vital role to play in helping their students transition into an English-speaking school environment as smoothly as possible, as do their parents who can help them develop English and academic literacy at home. The strategies outlined below detail how and where parental assistance can be instrumental to help the students develop behaviors that will pave the way to academic success in not only one language, but several.

Don’t be afraid to use the student’s native tongue

This tip may be the most important since it is the bridge between the student’s learning situations – that is, the connection between his or her primary language and culture, and new language and culture. Parents (and teachers if relevant!) should be encouraged to converse in their mother tongue and explain unfamiliar words and concepts to the child in the language they are familiar with, so that they can continue to build his or her literacy skills in the primary language while practicing and developing their English and academic skills.

Establish a homework routine

Encouraging parents to establish a good study routine at home can make a significant difference to the child’s learning. All the child needs is a quiet environment, created by removing or minimizing any potential distractions, along with a good selection of stationary supplies, such as pencils, books, and paper. It’s important too that they are there, and take the time to answer any questions their child may have too. If parents don’t know the answers, reassure them that they can help their child find resources to support them with answering, or simply write their questions down so that you can talk through the answer in school. Even if the parents do not have a good level of English themselves, they can still promote a good work ethic at home by ensuring their child’s homework assignments are completed on time.

Study the same thing in new ways

Home study is vital for ELL students: it really helps them to absorb the new language more quickly, and if their parents are learning too, provides a really good role model to the children. What’s more, it doesn’t need be dull. Encourage parents to pick a fairy tale that the child is familiar with, or one of their child’s favorite stories to read together. Although your student may not understand all of the words at first, he or she should be able to follow the plot of the story and will pick up new vocabulary and grammar along the way. Encourage the adult to ask questions about the story’s plot, characters, etc., to test the child’s understanding. They could also try watching films together in the new language or even play games that involve language, such as Scrabble, Boggle or Bananagrams, to practice and learn language at home.

Use creative outlets to practice and learn language

A fun way for parents and children to practice and learn language together is to engage in joint creative activities. The family could make a scrapbook together, for example, featuring things that have taken place in your new home, city, and/or country and write all the captions and titles in their new language. Does your student like to paint or write? Their parent could get them to draw a picture or write a story about it. The possibilities are limitless!

Encourage involvement in extra-curricular activities

Extra-curricular activities, such as being a member of the school’s newspaper or sports team, provide additional meaningful opportunities to develop language skills and the chance to socialize, so parents and teachers should encourage the children to get involved where possible. Such activities can help students link the ideas, strategies, roles, and responsibilities they experience in the classroom with those beyond the classroom. Understanding and using language and practical skills across settings is important in learning and achievement.

Engagement with teachers and the school

Encouraging parents to positively engage with their child’s teachers, and volunteer in class where possible, will give them more opportunities to keep up to date with their child’s linguistic, academic, and social progress in school. Seeing first-hand what is going on in school will give them a better idea of how they can support their child at home. Showing a keen interest in what happens at school and developing a partnership approach with the school will help the student to succeed in his or her new learning environment.

We hope these tips have helped. If you have any additional suggestions that could help others, we’d love to hear them! Just email us on

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