Ways to maintain home-language learning during lockdown… and beyond

As a parent, how can you help your children maintain their home language while also supporting them with English-based schoolwork?

Here are a few easy ideas that won’t cost anything (other than a few minutes of a parent’s time and attention).


Talking to children is probably the most effective way of extending their language learning. This applies to any language. When conversations are supported by visuals (pictures, photos, real objects, sketches, diagrams) or modified explanations, children will pick up new vocabulary and new knowledge at the same time.

Talking or interacting with people is very important. It allows children to ask questions about the subject being talked about. It enables them to hear language spoken in a ‘correct’ or meaningful way. It also gives them the chance to correct any mistakes or errors they might make when trying to express themselves.

Things to talk about in your home language:

  • Television programmes – discuss what they are about; things that interest you; what might make the programme more exciting or better; how the programme could end
  • School work – talk about the tasks children have been set by their teachers; what are the topics being learned; what are the key words and how do they translate into home language; how would you explain an idea or answer a question in home language
  • World news – discuss what is happening in the world; what are the big news stories and why are they important? Think about how events are affecting other people; do they relate to where you live; is there anything you can do to help locally
  • Meals – talk about food; where it comes from; how it arrives at the supermarkets; what you could grow in your own home or garden; what we need to keep us healthy
  • Play games – card games, board games, computer games – whatever you play, talk about what’s happening; who’s winning; what are the rules and how you would explain them to someone else?
  • Your family history – talk about your heritage and language; explain and describe relatives and where they live; how is your family’s culture the same or different from life in the UK?

Reading is another really important way for children to broaden their vocabularies.

Here are some things you can do to encourage your children to read their home language:

  • If you have access to texts in your home language, read those with your children – newspapers, online articels, books.
  • If you do not have any texts in home language, translate English texts that the children have got from school.
  • Talk about how words translate literally or not from one language to the other. Discuss how home language sentences and English are constructed. What are the differences? Use grammatical language to describe the differences where possible, e.g., pronoun, noun, verb, adjective etc.
  • Talk about English reading books in your home language. Ask questions in home language and support your children to answer in the same language.

Encourage your children to write in home language as this will help their ability to express themselves and understand how the language works in different texts.

Things they can have a go at writing:

  • A diary about their experiences of lockdown
  • Stories to tell their younger brothers or sisters at bedtime
  • Schoolwork tasks – science experiments, reports, stories, book reviews – most work set by teachers in English can be rewritten or answered in home language
  • Emails or letters to relatives in other countries
  • Emails or postcards to relatives or friends who share the same language in the UK.
Other ideas to develop home languages:
Word of the Day

Have a word of the day or week – choose a new word from your language that your children might not know, write it down and stick it somewhere you can all see it.

Challenge your children to use the word correctly when they talk to you.

  • Can they remember how the word is spelt?
  • Can they tell you what it means?
  • Does it have more than one meaning? How does it translate into English?
Word Hunt

Make a word hunt round the house – write out words in your home language on pieces of paper and put them round the house where your children can find them. You could write words that make a sentence. Send the children off to find the words and write them down on another piece of paper. When they have all found the words, talk about:

  • How to pronounce them
  • What they mean
  • Are they related in any way? Do they all link to the same subject?
  • When you might use them in a sentence – you can re-build the sentence together if the words make one
  • Other words in your language that mean the same thing or similar
Pairs Game

This game will help children to learn and remember new vocabulary in their home language.

  • Write words, or phrases, in your home language on postcard size paper. They can be words from a school topic, translated into home language.
  • Make two sets of identical cards. Mix them up and turn them face down.
  • Take it in turns to turn two cards over. If they have the same word on them, the player keeps that pair. If they are different, the player turns the cards over and the next person has a go. Keep playing until all the pairs have been matched.
  • The winner is the player with the most pairs of cards at the end.

Now see if your children can say then write the words in sentences.

For more ideas on how to support your children at home, read our blogs:

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