So did the title catch you off guard for a minute? I don’t know about you but my caseload is growing every year with more and more students who are bilingual. I love these kiddos. They are so much fun to work with. But when I first started working with the bilingual population I was pretty nervous. I wasn’t sure where to start. What kind of goals would be appropriate? What materials should I use, or not use? These were just a few of the questions swimming in my mind. I did some research. I read journals, books, went online, and talked to anyone who had ever worked with bilingual students. Here are some of the bits of information I found most helpful when I was starting.
1. Look at the students most recent testing. Was it a bilingual test? This means that the test was given in both languages that they are exposed to ( most of mine speak Spanish and English ). I found that with some of the students I had inherited, their testing had only been done in English. This left out a huge chunk of information. If a student is tested bilingually, it gives you a more of an accurate picture of their knowledge and abilities. These students typically fall into two categories:
– Language Difference: If a student is higher in their native language, let’s say Spanish in this case, and lower in English ( most likely the language they are taught in ) then you would be able to see that they have a language difference not a language disorder. Now when I say higher, I mean a decent gap, usually 15 points or more. These students are having trouble connecting English to their native language and making the connections needed to store the vocabulary.
– Language Delay/Disorder: If a student is relatively low in both languages they can be said to have a language delay/disorder. It may appear that they do not have any dominant language.
2. Since most bilingual students are taught in English, building that English vocabulary is critical. I had read an article that stated how a teacher had put English and Spanish labels on items around the classroom. The students in that room learned those words twice as fast as students in a different room. So I looked around my room and labeled the window, door, table, chair, computer, and garbage can. I printed out the Spanish and English words for these objects, laminated them, and used sticky tac to adhere them to the object I wanted.
3. Keep in mind that the syntax and grammar structures in languages are not the same.
4. Visuals are a great thing. Using any visual you can in therapy is always helpful. Try and find some with items labeled. If you can’t, then laminate the picture and write the labels in with an expo marker. That way you can fade out the labels as the student learns the vocabulary.
5. Its okay to code switch. Code switching is when those who are bilingual switch between both languages in a conversation. They are learning ( most of the time English ) and still need the support of their native language. If you notice code switching try have them use a synonym, describe, or even draw the word they said so that you may provide the English equivalent.
I know that is a lot of information, and sorry, no pictures this time. But I wanted to share some information I had found helpful. If you have any tips or advice about working with bilingual students feel free to share 🙂 O one more thing. My students always enjoyed teaching me their language. I would give them a few minutes at the end of our session to teach me a Spanish word. This was interesting sometimes, but everyone always had a fun, and I learned some Spanish!