Becoming bilingual

Why is it important to maintain your child’s first language?

Parents sometimes feel that they should encourage their children to speak only in English, both in school, at home and elsewhere, so that they will learn the language as fast as possible. They may even discourage their children from using their first language, in the belief that this will encourage them to concentrate on English.

While parents may do this for the best of reasons, it is a serious mistake, and will not help your child’s language development. It is vital for educational as well as family and cultural reasons, that children and young people who are learning English maintain and develop their first language whilst their English is developing. Some reasons for this are:

Educational reasons

Research shows that young people can normally be expected to learn social English (so that they can hold conversations with people) within two years; however it can take up to ten years to acquire the language at a level that will enable them to handle complex and abstract concepts in the later stages of the school curriculum. They therefore need to keep their first language up to a level which will enable them to grasp such concepts in this language, during the years while their English is developing.

Family and cultural reasons

As children grow older their first language and culture tends to become a more and more important aspect of their identity and a source of pride and self esteem. If they do not maintain their first language they will lose an important aspect of their cultural heritage and a vital means of contact with others.

You can best help your children by doing the following at home in their first language:
  • having everyday family conversations
  • reading stories and dual language books (with younger children)
  • discussing homework and things that have happened in school
  • watching TV together and discussing programmes
  • phoning/corresponding with relatives
  • providing books, newspapers, magazines etc in the first language for older children
  • accessing the internet through the home or first language.

You may find it useful to read the leaflet ‘Helping Your Child to Become Bilingual.’


There are classes available in Edinburgh for your child to attend which are taught in a range of home languages.

You may also be interested in attending an English class for adults.