I have often observed children from multicultural backgrounds being brought by their parents to introduce them to an early childhood centre. A few of the children aren't native English speakers and often find it challenging to settle in to their new environment.
I still remember how I felt during a TESOL (Teaching English to Students of Other Languages) course many years ago when I was a student. The class teacher walked in speaking Gaelic and appeared to not comprehend what we were saying when we replied in English. That was her introduction and after a while she told us to reflect on that exercise.
In an ECE setting, language is often not a barrier as gestures by teachers and support by other children from a similar background help them to feel comfortable in their new environment. Play is their essential learning tool through which they socially interact with other children, as well as listen to the language being spoken around them. This gives them the time and confidence to develop their oral language as English speakers and acquire a sense of belonging in their new setting.
As teachers we should be aware of these situations and I have delved on a few points that I try to implement at my work place.
- Introduce the child to the environment through short visits with a parent.
- Attempt to develop a connection with the parent. Try to comprehend the parent's concerns and offer support accordingly. The child will observe this and feel comfortable to eventually be left alone.
- If possible, try to provide first language support. I can personally speak an additional language and have definitely noticed a difference when speaking in that language to children who understand it.
- Offer reassurance to the parent and suggest that they phone in whenever they feel like.
- Request the parent to discuss with the child the routine and what to expect during the day.
- Reassure the parents that often children understand a language well before they actually start speaking.
- Based on the culture offer an environment that will make the child feel more at home.
- Continue to talk to the child even if you feel there is no comprehension. Quite often I am wrong on this one as I feel that the child did not understand, but what I said has been assimilated.
- Offer praise as often as possible.
- Encourage group activity and social interaction.