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4 ways to help your EB student when you don’t speak French at home

Blog Type:  Bilingualism
Date Posted:  Friday, December 6, 2019

Did you know that the majority of families with students enrolled at Ecole Bilingue do not speak French at home? Historically, about two-thirds of our community take a big leap of faith into unknown territory: having their children learn a language they do not speak themselves. This is impressive! And it can be a bit daunting. 

Some families wonder: how can I support my child with homework, or in preparing for a test? Here are four ways non-French-speaking families can help their children thrive at EB:

1. Make the most of homework resources

At EB, homework consists of reviewing materials that students have already seen in class. If there is a poem or song to memorize, teachers send home audio versions to help your child (and you!) with any pronunciation uncertainty. 

Parents should not be afraid to ask their children to explain homework assignments in their home language. In his book A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism, bilingualism expert Colin Baker explains that children’s ability to explain homework in their home language shows that they have understood and are able to do the work. He writes, “In translation, the child is often rethinking, reconceptualizing, and digesting school learning. In translating for the parent, this child is valuably reprocessing, almost thinking out loud.” That processing deepens the learning and, therefore, further helps the young learner.

Parents can also sign up their children for “Etude,” aka Study Hall. For about an hour after school, students work on their homework in small groups supervised by a bilingual teacher. In most cases, this allows you to pick up your child with homework already completed! 

2. Show you enthusiasm

Nothing motivates your child as much as feeling that you share an interest. By checking for francophone artist exhibitions, trying French foods, watching a French movie (with subtitles!), creating a playlist of French hits, or reading translations of French poetry or classic novels, you can show your young learner that language and culture matter. 

And you’ll discover that many such opportunities will come your way from simply being part of the EB community. 

Connecting with your child and the school community through francophone activities is a great way to encourage and inspire your young learner, and to make the whole educational experience more fun.

3. Learn French at EB

Children aren’t the only ones eligible for French language instruction at EB! Thanks to a partnership with the Alliance Française de Berkeley, expert teachers come to campus and offer beginner and intermediate classes to adults. Launched in 2019, the French classes for adults are already proving to be very successful. And they present an opportunity for you to seek your child’s help with your homework—perhaps the pinnacle of child empowerment!

4. Travel

Travel to a francophone country can make a big difference for your child; full immersion experiences are the best ways to learn a new language and a new culture. Suddenly, your EB student realizes how useful and special it is to be able to use newfound French-language skills in real-life situations. (And you will likely pick up some French, too!) The ability to understand and be understood gives children a sense of empowerment: they can help order food at restaurants, read signs and instructions, connect with locals. Time and again, EB parents tell us how proud they feel when this happens, and the children get big ego boosts! 

Non-French-speaking parents quickly find there are many ways to help their students thrive at EB—and the bonus is that the experience proves enriching in unexpected ways for families, as well!