Bilingualism & Home Language Use

By Alison Fox

Sociocultural Aspects of Bilingual Students in the Classroom

It's important to understand how humans learn language but more importantly how they develop high-order mental processes. In order for teachers to reach those deeper skills, they must introduce concepts based off the student's present levels and previous knowledge. From there they can expand and introduce new concepts.

Lev Vygotsky's sociocultural/cognitive perspective is a hypothesis where he explains social and cognitive necessities in the way humans learn. He believes in three key learning concepts: mediation, internalization, and imitation (Richard-Amato, 2010).

Some specific aspects that may affect ELL students in the classroom:

  • Many students come from low socioeconomic statuses
  • Parents generally have less education
  • Cultural conflicts, yet some cultures may share similarities
  • Behavioral influences
  • Students will typically feel more comfortable using their home language versus English

Cultural Impact of Bilingualism and Home Language Use

Bilingual students may experience challenges with cultural impact in school and at home. This can be a positive thing because they can learn to identify with more than one culture. However in some cases, students may lose touch with their native language because they feel that the English language is superior. Parents should encourage their child to continue speaking in their native language at home. When students become fluent in both languages they are able to convey messages to their families regarding their academics, emotions, connections, and opportunities.

All students will be influenced through their own cultures, race, religion, and/or ethnic backgrounds. All of these factors can influence their academic performance in the classroom.

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Strategies and Resources for Cultivating Home and School Partnerships

Parent involvement is crucial for student success. Try to build relationships between school and home. Communicate frequently with parents.

  • Create lessons that involve different cultures that students can connect with and share with their families
  • Use different varieties of communication like meetings, conferences, phone calls, letters, notes, texts, email, school/class websites, social media, etc...
  • Provide information in students native language to send home
  • Ask parents to get involved in school or classroom activities such as volunteering for field trips or helping in the classroom
  • Give parents information about free local ESL classes
  • Maintain contact with parents to foster the relationship

Strategies for Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Home and School Partnerships

Teachers can evaluate the effectiveness of home and school partnerships by:

  • Keeping communication logs that contain contact information, copies of concerns, discussions, volunteer information, and more
  • Maintain these records to ensure that messages are getting out
  • Reflect upon methods used and periodically review how they are working. Make adjustments if needed

The Role of Leadership in Cultivating a Positive Home and School Partnership for ELL Students

Teachers can build positive relationships with their students and their families and encourage them to share their cultural customs and experiences in the classroom.

“When people in positions of authority (teachers, administrators, doctors, etc.) let families know that speaking a home language provides the best academic and emotional support possible for their children, families will be motivated to pass on their language and heritage. At the very least, parents will be able to provide their children with the gift of bilingualism – a gift of which many in the United States are envious (LanguageLizard, 2012).”


Language Lizard Blog. (2012, January 11). Supporting bilingualism: 4 reasons parents should speak heritage languages at home [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Richard-Amato, P.A. (2010). Making it happen: From interactive to participatory language teaching: Evolving theory and practice, fourth edition. Pearson Education Inc.