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Strategies for maximizing language learning

By Janet Castrejon

Mother talking with boy

Scaffolding strategies are used by ESL (English as a Second Language) and bilingual education teachers to make instruction comprehensible to language learners. As parents raising bilingual children, we too can benefit from these strategies to make language understandable to our children and develop their vocabulary. Here are some tips for making language more comprehensible when communicating with our children.

Speech adjustment

When a child is learning a new language, speak with them in the second language at a slower but still natural rate and enunciate clearly. Even if the child has been raised with the language from birth, they can benefit from clear speech by being able to pick out words that are new to them. If you speak too quickly with them, they will miss new words which could be opportunities to develop new vocabulary.

Repetition and paraphrase

Some redundancy in speech helps comprehension. Don't repeat the same information in the same way. Find a natural way to incorporate some redundancy in your speech so that if they don't understand something expressed one way, they'll understand another.

Pre-teach vocabulary

This is more natural in a classroom setting than in the home, but in some situations this could be appropriate. For example, if you are going to explain to the child in a foreign language how to tie their shoes, you may first want to ensure that they are familiar with the word "shoelace" or "loop."


Gestures are great for making language understandable. If they don't understand your words, they will quickly learn when accompanied by an appropriate gesture to communicate your meaning.

Visual aids

Again, this sounds like it would be more appropriate in a classroom, but objects could serve as quick visual aids at home. If they don't know the meaning of a word, pointing to the object while saying the word quickly communicates its meaning.


Demonstrate while explaining to your child what you want them to do. Even if they are unfamiliar with some of your words, they will quickly learn them through your explanations during the demonstration.

Comprehension checks

When you finish explaining something, ask some questions to make sure your child understood you.

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