Developing language and literacy skills for bi-lingual learners in the Early Years - also useful for mono lingual learners (English/Urdu/Arabic)
How we help to develop language for beginners of English in Early Years, using the 'parallel talk' strategy.
So, what is self-talk? It’s really very simple. It may sound silly and overly simple but you just talk about what you are doing. Talk about what you see. Talk about how you feel. Use short sentences. Not difficult to do. May sound awkward at first but be aware of self-talk and then do it.
Here are a few examples of what you may say:
“I’m going to get some scissors to cut my green paper.”
“I’m opening the sack.”
“I am pouring the milk in my cup.”
“I feel so sad right now.”
“I am putting the red triangle down. I am putting the blue circle next to it. .”
“I’m putting the spoon here. I’m putting the cup there…”
Self-talk can help expand a child’s language when a parent/teacher uses it during lunch, greeting, nap time, outdoors, and really just anytime!
Parallel-talk is similar. With parallel-talk, the adult uses sentences to talk about the child, what they are doing, what they are seeing, label the feeling or action they are doing. Key concepts and vocabulary are targeted.
Here are some examples:
“You are pouring the water out. Your bottle is empty now.”
“You put your coat on by yourself.”
“You have three cars. You have 1 red one and 2 blue ones.”
“You are rolling the playdough with your hands. It looks like a long snake now.”
“You are building a tower with lots of bricks. You have put the blue brick on top. The tower is tall now.”
You are filling the bucket with sand. It is heavy now.”
This type of talk does not require answers but the child may respond.
Ensure that this ‘running commentary’ of self talk and parallel talk is not intrusive, inhibiting and dominating. Once a child can communicate a little in English, allow for their contribution and follow their line of interest and thought.
You can view examples of this in action in the classroom (using English, Arabic and Urdu) by clicking here. Remember, key concepts and language modelled in the home language will transfer to English!
Developing Language and Comprehension skills using a ‘Busy Picture.’
Look at the ‘Busy Picture’ below – here is a game you can play with your child to help develop language and comprehension skills by modelling good language and asking questions.
Can you find…
“Can you find a small, yellow duck?”
“Can you find some ladies talking on a bench?”
“Can you find a girl skipping?”
“Can you find a yellow hat next to a cat?”
“Can you find the small, blue ball in between two boys?”
(adjectives, nouns, verbs and prepositions are used deliberately)
“What do you think the girl and her dad are pointing to?”
“How do you think the dog is feeling?”
“Who do you think the red bag belongs to?”
“Why do you think the girl is crying?”
(Apart from the first question, the rest really challenge children’s
cognitive thinking, developing higher order comprehension skills)
You can try this strategy with other ‘busy pictures’ (including pictures from reading books) and even at home or outside. e.g. “Can you find the red, plastic cup?” “Can you see a silver car?”
Remember, you can use any language to do this, as modelling in home language will allow skills to transfer to English.
Developing Early Reading Skills
Make sure you teach your child the sounds, not the letter names, of the alphabet. This is so that they can sound out words e.g. c a t > cat
Practising alliteration (words beginning with the same sound) and rhyme is also very useful – not only will children be assessed on these aspects but they are also good practice for reading.
Developing Reading and Comprehension skills
Before hearing your child read, ‘walkthrough’ the book (after discussing the title and front cover) by using the pictures to tell the story, pointing out key characters, settings and events (using the language structure of the text to guide you, e.g. the past tense, but still focusing on the pictures)
This strategy helps with both reading and comprehension skills later on as well as developing language.
e.g ‘Look, (pointing to the girl) she’s saying ‘I found my pen.’(pointing to the pen.)
When you hear your child read, please use ‘Pause, Prompt, Praise’ – when they pause, instead of telling them the word, prompt them to use strategies (e.g. using letter sounds, the picture, what makes sense) to help them and then praise them for trying.
e.g. If a child is stuck on the word ‘house’, You could say: ‘What sound does this word (pointing to the word) begin with? Can you think of what begins with that sound and is in the picture? ‘Let’s read the sentence again and see what makes sense. What is the mouse in?’
Don’t forget to ask questions to develop thinking and comprehension skills – even during the walkthrough. e.g. “What do you think is going to happen next?”
After reading the book you can ask them simple questions such as ‘Who was in the story?’ ‘What happened?’
Then higher order comprehension questions such as: ‘How do you think…felt..?’ ‘Why do you think..?’ etc
Remember, you can use any language to ask questions, as questions asked in home language will allow skills to transfer to English.
Grammar is important for both spoken and written language. English grammar can be challenging, but addressing it early helps! We have noticed a few focuses to work on:
1. Determiners - words like 'a,' 'an,' 'the' and 'some' which go before the noun. Some children tend to miss these out. e.g. 'I went to shop.
' The 'Busy Picture' questions on this page model determiners correctly to children. You can also use your child's reading book to continue modelling - e.g. 'Look at the robot. It has got two (or a pair of) round eyes, a long nose, a mouth and some buttons.'
2. Pronouns - words like he, she, him, his, her, hers to show us whether the person is male or female.Some children get these mixed up. Particularly 'he' and 'she.'Modelling correct pronoun use by using family members, toys, books etc will be useful if this is an issue for your child. e.g. 'Can you give Batman his car?'
3. The Past tense - used when events have happened and is particularly important in story writing. e.g. 'He walked inside the castle carefully and listened for any sounds.
It can be tricky for children, especially as not all past tense verbs end in 'ed!'
e.g. 'went,' "thought,' 'ate.'
One easy way to help with the past tense is by asking your child about their school day: "What did you do today?" Also, by asking them about their reading book: "What happened in the story?"
When your child makes errors in grammar, try not to correct them immediately, but instead model correctly. e.g. Your child: "I catched the ball in cricket." You: "You caught the ball? That's great, well done!"2. If you would like any further advice / resources on any aspect of language and literacy, please contact your child's school. Workshops for parents are also regularly held, in addition, you are welcome to make a request for any particular focuses of your choice. We have found that working in partnership with parents is a really effective way of developing children's learning together.