It happens all too often, when parents believe that the name they have given their child is not acceptable in Irish society and so the child is given an alias. I asked mum, “Why has your daughter been called Xin Yue (pronounced “zin you”)?” and Mum who is called Yu (pronounced oo) told me that it is a Chinese name meaning “fortune of the moon” and her daughter was a blessed gift in their lives. I asked how to pronounce Xin Yue’s name and wrote it phonetically beside the register and told Yu that we would use her Chinese name if she would like us to. Of course Yu was delighted and I was so happy not to be disposing of such a beautiful name. This is just one of the ways we support children’s home language in our setting.
As educators, we are responsible for the identity of all the children who enter our setting. What is more important for a child’s identity than being called by their given name and it being pronounced properly? We make an extra effort at Creative Kids and look to ensure that children and their families are made to feel welcome. We currently have families from 19 different language and cultural origins. That is a lot of languages! We encourage parents to use their child’s given name and not to give them a name just so that they can “fit in”.
Parents worry when their child is entering an early year setting and their child does not speak English. They tell me that they are trying to teach them to speak English. I plead with parents to focus their energy on the home language and not worry about English. I explain the benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism and I share some online articles or some videos from YouTube. It is important to give parents the confidence to use their own language at home.
We support multilingualism in many ways. Providing books in the languages that are spoken at home in each room. I have been known to hound parents using “Google translated messages,” asking them to share books from the children’s home language with the service. We also label our interest areas in many languages and create welcome signs in the languages of the children in the room. We do not need to be able to speak these languages, but we are supporting the child when they see familiar scripts around their classroom. We support children learning English as an additional language, much in the same way we support all learning in the setting. The environment is inclusive, which means we use visuals to support language development, and this works well for all children.
Google translate is wonderful and is such a useful tool for the classroom. We can use it when children become upset and cannot understand our language. The voice of google has calmed many an upset child with “Mama is coming soon” in the child’s home language.
One of the most successful ways we support home language use is when we invite parents into the service to read to the children in their home language. One memorable event was when Bessie came to celebrate Chinese New Year with her child, Tim. Bessie brought gifts for the children and we watched the festivities live from Beijing using the laptop and a screen. Bessie read a story in Chinese to Tim and the children gathered around and listened to this other language and were fully engrossed in the story. The book was in Chinese Mandarin, but the pictures told the story. Tim’s confidence grew after this and he could be regularly seen with the other children “reading” the same story in Chinese to his friends. The book has remained in our book area ever since, and we are building a lovely collection of books in many different languages for the children to explore.
The restrictions brought by Covid-19 have halted these interactions but we are excited to start it again now and bring our non-English speaking parents in to share their stories. We have links with our local library and we are currently working on a list of books in multiple languages, which the librarian has promised to order so that children can access these books when they visit the library.
We encourage the sharing of traditions in children’s native languages, as they share their varied and wonderful cultures, and we continually reflect on how privileged we are to work in such a diverse setting.
(Names have been changed to protect the identity of the families involved)
Resources on Bilingualism and Multilingualism:
Francesca La Morgia from Mother Tongues has recorded a 3-part series of interconnected videos. These videos are available here on the Early Childhood Ireland YouTube Channel.
Valerie Gaynor is the manager of multi-award winning Creative Kids Preschool and School Age Service in Walkinstown, Dublin 12. Valerie has a background in business management alongside early years education and is currently studying for a master’s degree with TUD in Child, Family and Community Studies. Valerie is presently sitting in the forum for the redevelopment of the primary school curriculum and has interests in child-centred practice, parents and families and national policy development in Early Years education.