In my last post, I talked about what you can do as parents when your child is going to enter a school in a language that they do not yet understand. This time, my tips are for teachers who are teaching one or some children who do not yet speak the language of the classroom.

There are two terms used for when children follow education in a second language, immersion and submersion. Immersion happens when a teacher who is trained to teach in pupil’s second languages teaches a class full of children in their second language. For example, some schools offer immersion classes for children who recently entered the Netherlands and need to learn to speak Dutch. After one or two years in this class, their level of Dutch is deemed high enough to follow the classes with native Dutch speakers. Many schools do not offer these immersion classes but do accept non-Dutch speakers in their classrooms, especially when they are still young. This situation is called submersion; one or a few children who do not speak the main language of the class enter a class with native speakers. Obviously, this last situation can be quite challenging for both teacher as well as children.

When you have children in your class that follow the submersion path to learning a language, the following tips might help stimulate the child’s language learning:

  1. Be mindful to face the class when explaining something
    This way, the children who do not speak the language yet can benefit maximally from your non-verbal communications.
  2. Use visuals
    Use visuals (pictures, photos or items) of the things you mention while explaining something, especially in the one-on-one situations with these students.
  3. Repeat instructions
    After the explanation for the whole group, take some time to repeat the instructions individually to the students who are not competent in the class language yet. Use visuals and your body language (pointing, signs like ‘looking’, ‘eating’ or ‘stop’) to help the message come across.
  4. Create a safe environment
    It is easy for children to feel unsafe when they are taught in a different language, or to experience communication frustration, when the child is unable to inform you or other children of their needs and desires. Creating and maintaining a safe environment where the child can experiment with the new language without running the risk to be laughed at or ridiculed will be one of the most important things you can do for these students.
  5. Don’t pressure
    Being too strict about having the children communicate in the main language harms the safe environment that you want to maintain. Being pressured in something which is still too difficult can lead to anxiety and resistance to try the new language.
  6. Invite & recognize communication
    Instead of forcing the child to speak the class language, be inviting for the students to communicate whichever way they feel they can handle and open your eyes and ears to different forms of communication (all behavior in interaction with others is communication, we just do not always know what it means). This way, the child will start to feel comfortable and understood and safe to try a few words in your language.
  7. Reserve one-on-one time
    Reserve some time in the student’s weekly schedule for one-on-one time with a tutor who can, in a relaxed and playful manner, help explore the new language.