Bilingualism and Home Language Use

by Keith Porter

Sociocultural Aspect for Bilingualism in the Classroom

Given this influx of ELL students to our school, it has become increasingly important to understand our roles in the lives of these students and also to understand what they may be facing. Children who begin their education in "one culture and then must learn in the modes of another must experience some confusion and dislocation in the process. They are unfamiliar with the school structure, the expectations of the teacher, and the classroom procedure. They may encounter very different values which are being considered essential for learning (i.e., cleanliness, attendance, and punctuality). They may find behaviors which they have been taught to follow suddenly and inexplicably penalized or rejected" (Saville-Troike, 1978, p. 8). In addition to these issues, there is also the inevitable culture shock that these students will be facing as they attempt to adapt their lives from what they are accustomed to. It is our responsibility to step in and attempt to make this transition as smooth as possible. Make yourselves available to help the students adjust to their new setting. Bridge the disconnect between these students and the rest of the students in the class. Find ways to do whatever you can to make them feel included, rather than isolated.

Cultural Impact of Bilingualism and Home Language Use

"For many decades there has been a common misconception that immigrant families will help their children most by completely switching to English in the home. The belief is that the more a family uses English together, the stronger their English language skills will become. While it is true that family members can help one another by practicing English together, English should not supplant the native language in the home. In fact, dropping the home language in favor of English can end up having many negative consequences" (Language, 2012, para. 2).

From a cultural and practical standpoint, there are several reasons to stress bilingualism and continue using the home language. The first of these reasons deals with academics. When focusing on anything from an academic or educational perspective, it is important that students and parents feel comfortable conversing and conveying ideas and concepts. Many times this requires reverting to their home language because their English language skills may not efficiently cover the range of communication that they need to access (Language, 2012, para. 6).

The next reason deals with the emotional aspect of the student. When there are deep emotional issues to discuss or convey, sometimes, the best way to share these are through the language that we feel most comfortable with. Often times, this would mean our home language. The way that we share our emotional ups and downs are deeply tied to the language that we speak (Language, 2012, para. 7).

The next reason to maintain the home language is more closely tied to the cultural significance of it. "By choosing to switch to the community language, we are sending a message to our children that our native language, culture, history and extended family are somehow inferior to the American culture, language and way of life" (Language, 2012, para. 8). Instead, we should be encouraging our students to embrace their culture and understand that it is part of what makes them special.

The final reason for holding on to the home language has to do with our purpose in education. As teachers, we are trying to prepare our students for the life outside of the four walls of the academic world. In the workplace today, and increasingly so in the future, bilingualism is an attribute that is highly-sought in any industry that serves the public. The importance of being able to communicate efficiently with a large group of people will give these students an advantage in the job market that will set them up for success. "Children may not appreciate it now, but down the road they will be thankful that their parents gave them the gift of a home language" (Language, 2012, para. 9).


Keith Porter


Dr. Karolina Kopczynski