October is here which means it is time to focus on celebrating bilingual children!
Although we know that childhood bilingualism is fabulous and fantastic, it feels as if many in this country haven’t yet come to realize this (let alone celebrate it).
When it comes to bilingual children, words such as worry and concern are often used: “We are concerned that the bilingual children in this country won’t learn English, especially if their parents speak to them in their heritage languages at home.” We hear the word funding all the time: “The funding for our dual language learning program is being cut – yet again!” And, of course, the words motivate, encourage and inspire are key when it comes to bilingual children: “What can I do to motivate bilingual families to keep using their language(s) at home?”
But what about the word celebrate? When was the last time we called out: “Let’s celebrate bilingualism!”
Luckily for us, we have an excellent excuse to do some serious celebrating this month since October is Celebrate The Bilingual Child Month! Having a month set aside each year to celebrate the glories and joys of something as fantastic as childhood bilingualism is a wonderful way to instill pride in bilingual children and involve bilingual families in classroom activities.
Not sure how to go about celebrating bilingual children in your classroom?
Here are 10 ideas to get your creative juices going:
- Bilingual children in class: If you have bilingual children in class, ask them to share a bit about their languages and cultures. Don’t embarrass them if they are shy. Instead, help them to feel excited and proud of their linguistic and cultural mixtures.
- Invite parents to read bilingual books out loud: Ask the parents of your students if they would be willing to come to class at a set time to help read a bilingual book out loud to the students. The parent can read one sentence or page in his or her language and you can read the same sentence or page in English. There are so many ways you can make this interactive and fun for both the parents and the students.
- Highlight children in other countries: Find some well-made videos of children doing everyday tasks in their home countries. For example, children going to school, helping around the house, going shopping with family and playing games can be especially insightful for students in your class. You can find a number of these on Youtube or ask other teachers what they would recommend.
- Show different alphabets: Many students have no idea that some languages are written with different letters, written scripts and characters. Try to learn how to pronounce a few words in different alphabets and scripts so that you can share them with your students. Discuss the similarities and differences. Even better: help children write a few Chinese characters or Arabic words! You can spend many days focused on how to write letters and words in different alphabets, and you can even invite a bilingual parent to help out. (Language diversity is a focus of many of the multicultural lesson plans available on the Language Lizard website. One lesson includes an activity on children creating their own language using symbols. Click Here to download these plans for free.)
- How it feels to not understand: Invite a parent or someone from the community to talk with your students about what it feels like to not be able to understand what others are saying. Have this person then speak to your students in his or her language. Have him or her ask your students direct questions in the language, using a lot of expression and a variety of voice levels. Have this go on long enough so that your students get a real sense of what it feels like to not understand what someone is saying. Afterward, talk with your students about how they felt and write down these feelings on the board. You can use this list all month in a variety of subjects and activities.
- Have parents bring in traditional foods: There is nothing more fun than trying foods from different countries. Ask parents if they can bring some of their traditional foods and have a potluck! Ask the parents to briefly introduce each of their foods at the potluck so that the others can learn something about each dish. Make sure to have fun with this event: children should be allowed to say what they really think of each food in a respectful way.
- Send home information: Create single pages that discuss the benefits of bilingualism and send one of these pages home each week with your children. The information might be links to articles online or a synopsis of research about bilingualism. Parents are delighted to be informed about things like this. Just make sure not to overwhelm them with too much information. (Feel free to share articles from our blog on this topic. For example, why starting early is best, why even small amounts of language is good, how to use bilingual books with children, and how dual language books help children. )
- Traditional clothing and items: Ask the bilingual children in your class to bring in some traditional items from home which they can share with the other students. Explain to students what ‘traditional’ means and then ask the rest of the students tell about items that they have at home which are traditional to their family and culture.
- Bring bilingual books home: Each week talk about a different language in class and then give your students a bilingual book with this language to take home to share with family. Students feel empowered by their knowledge and cultural awareness when they can share it with others, especially family. Parents can read the English portions of the book and talk with their children about which words in the other language are similar and different.
- Throw a party: Children remember things that involve planning, fun and celebration. What better way to enjoy Celebrate The Bilingual Child Month than with a real, live party. Have balloons, music from different cultures in different languages, and games. There is no need to make everything specifically about languages and cultures. Just have fun! But make sure children know that the reason for the party is to celebrate the wonders and joys of bilingualism.
The best part about childhood bilingualism is that if we start learning languages at a young age, we will have a whole lifetime to experience and perfect them. Languages learned in childhood become part of who we are rather than external things that may always feel a little unfamiliar. Growing up bilingual gives a child the chance to be part of a global experience even before he or she comes to realize that the world is as big and expansive as it really is.
Teachers and families should be encouraged to expose children and students to languages as often as possible, even without a set plan and curriculum. Learning a few words in another language, seeing another written script in a bilingual book, and hearing another language spoken for a few minutes can open up a child’s world in ways that we can not even begin to measure. While these are important activities for the entire year, this month provides a special opportunity to highlight the wonderful aspects of bilingualism and multiculturalism.
Don’t hold yourself back! Make October a special month for each bilingual child in your midst.
Photo credit: Evil Erin
Are you engaging in special activities for Celebrate The Bilingual Child Month in your home or classroom? What do you do to celebrate? What ways do you celebrate bilingualism and bilingual children all year long?
36 thoughts on “Celebrate The Bilingual Child Month!”
Celebrating bilingual children for the month of October is a great idea – but how and where did this celebration start? Is it just in the United States or in other countries?
Thanks for your comment, Karen. Language Lizard initiated Celebrating the Bilingual Child Month in 2006 to bring attention to the many benefits of bilingualism and the contributions of bilingual children. It has been listed in Chase’s Calendar of Events since that time. We know of some write-ups and attention given to this holiday/event, but do not know the extent to which it has been highlighted or celebrated abroad. We’d love any feedback readers have as to how they may be celebrating bilingual children during this month!
Sounds like a great idea and one we’ve love to embrace…but just now found out about it. How could all of us that are promoting bilingualism work together on something like this? We could make amazing things happen together
Thank you for your comment, Ana. We celebrate this every year so maybe next year many of us supporting multilingualism can come together to spread the word! Great idea!
a four minute video children in Rome & their teacher share why it’s important to use your first language in school
What an honor to have you leave a comment here, Eithne! We know about your fantastic school and the amazing things that are done there to spread the love of multilingualism and multiculturalism! Thank you for everything you do! I hope everyone watches your video!
Thank you so much for sharing your perspective of first language in the classroom. I wish we could see more. It is so important to learn from others.
Thank you the great resources…I wish I had heard about this web site earlier…our families will enjoy the books and activities.
Thank you for your comment, Margaret! We are delighted to know that you are enjoying the books and activities. Please let us know if you can’t find what you are looking for. We are always interested in what families are on the search for!
Hello. My mom read for my son’s class a book in Spanish and the teacher and the kids were so hapyy. We did it for Grandparents day.
Thank you so much for sharing this comment, Karina! I wish more families would come to class and do things like this for the students. It is such authentic exposure to language and culture and helps our children feel so proud of their heritage. Wonderful that your mom made the effort to do this!
Love this post ! I am raising bilingual children at home and we use a lot of these ideas at home to teach them about our Latino roots. My daughter loves to cook guatemalan recipes and dressing up in typical guatemalan costume. I have a blog about raising bilingual children and will be adding Language Lizard to my favorite blogs!!
Thank you for your comment, Paula! We are honored to have you visit our site and to be a part of your favorite blogs list. We will definitely check out your blog.
Very pleased to have found your website and great books! I run a small non-profit international school Library in Austria. Our students represent 50 different nationalities. I am looking forward to purchasing books from you all in the future.
I never knew October is Bilingual Child Month until I received this e-mail.
That’s so fantastic because one can do so many bilingual-related things in 28 to 30 days with one’s family and friends.
I would like to share with you all what I intend to do in this month:
1. I’ll continue to speak my native language at home even if my children respond to you in English. Readers, try this and never give up. If you try and don’t succeed. try, try. and try again. Make it fun and entertaining!
2. I’ll continue to challenge them to interpret what they said in English into our native language and reward them with hugs and small gifts even if they said few words only.
3. Dear bilingual parents, teachers, and supporters. Don’t underestimate the beauty of allowing your children to wear their native clothes on occasions. My children always get admiration from others when they wear their Nigerian clothes, even on ordinary days, in addition to occasions.
4. I’d continue to encourage my children to communicate with family and friends on the phone in our language. They feel proud of themselves when they speak Yoruba and people feel proud of them as well.
On a final note, don’t forget one of the most important words – “Read”. Reading bilingual books opens treasures that can never be imagined. Personally, bilingualism is one of my legacies that I want to leave behind for my children. It’s just priceless!
Thanks for the valuable information.
I too just learned that October is Bilingual Child Month and I am so glad I did. This article is full of great ideas! Thanks.
Great tips and resources!
Our school district Early Childhood program has ordered many books to share with families and classrooms. They are wonderful!
The resource about Celebrating with bilingual students is great; I passed it on to our staff!
This post does a great job of pointing out that being a bilingual child is not just about the language, but so much of the culture too. I teach in a dual language classroom, and it’s really valuable to have children share about their cultures to the rest of the class.
I was unaware that October is Bilingual Child Month until now. This celebration will fit in great with our school’s emphasis on diversity. We have several bilingual students and we teach several languages. I am going to pass these ideas on to other teachers in my school, too.
I will definitely be sharing this post with my students who are all preparing to be EL and bilingual teachers! Love the focus on celebrating!
I was suggested this web site by a friend that is not bilingual, so that says a lot about how good this must be. I didn’t even know was a bilingual child month .
It was fun and encouraging to read this Language Lizard blog post. I am currently student teaching in a Spanish-English bilingual classroom, and I am learning first-hand what I knew before in theory— that bilingualism truly is a thing to celebrate! As bilinguals, the children in my class are able to better understand the world, and to connect with a wider community. No language perfectly articulates reality, and so the more languages we know, the better we can understand the world around us. That knowledge makes me very excited for my students’ futures. I’m looking forward to using this site as a resource in my career as a bilingual educator. Thank you!
This is sadly perhaps the decade or the century of the refugee. I hope peace will come to this planet or a least peace to fill many more hearts. Currently, our schools are welcoming refugees from the Arabic speaking world. When new students see the sign welcoming them to the library in English, Spanish, and Arabic they smile and thank me. Small gestures can mean so much. Offering books in a home language is precious gift. Thank you for your contribution to making the world a better place.
Having grown up in a multilingual country (India), I was really excited to find Language Lizard, so I can pass on that tradition to my child, who is growing up in the US.
I’m really excited about this. I attended a social gathering about two weeks ago and a grandmother was lamenting on how children nowadays were losing their mother tongue.
My advice: No matter how hard it is to keep up with our local dialects and mother tongue, let’s remember that it’s a legacy-building treasure for our children and grandchildren for many years to come.
Keep up the hard work at home and outside the home. You all rock!
We bring culture into our school by displaying flags from around the world. We also have painted ceiling tiles to encourage students to learn about others.
So important! Bilingualism is so undervalued in our culture, it’s important to show bilingual children that they have a skill that is important and special. I am loving watching my bilingual son develop his language, and wish I had had this opportunity at a younger age.
My school has many bilingual children, and I see some great ideas on this blog that can be used all year round. I am always looking for resources for Arabic, Hindi, and Gujarati speaking students. Thanks for these suggestions!