Using Dual-languages in the Classroom

When students are invited to use their first language in class as well as English, they will be able to draw on their strengths, including existing academic, linguistic, and cultural knowledge. This will also bring further diversity into the classroom, as English-speaking students will be exposed to more than one language and culture. Many common classroom activities and assignments can be adapted and enriched so that students have the option of using more than one language.

Students benefit academically and socially, and their self-esteem is enhanced, when encouraged to maintain and develop proficiency in their first language while learning English. Language skills and conceptual knowledge are generally transferable from one language to another.

From the second language student’s point of view, learning on the basis of established skills and known experiences provides a reassuring context in which to acquire new skills and concepts. (Genesee, 1994)


Effective dual-language strategies:

  • Encourage students who are beginning to learn English to write in their own language for example, in initial journal responses.
  • Invite English language learners to develop ideas in their first language for example, mind mapping.
  • Give students opportunities to work with same-language partners for example, think, pair, and share in first language.
  • Develop activities that take advantage of the first languages for example, comparing numbers in various languages.
  • Encourage students to produce dual-language assignments for example, create dual-language books.

The preceding resource was adapted from Many Roots, Many Voices by the Ontario Ministry of Education.