Two languages are better than one
Foufou Savitzky explains the value of bilingualism
Family learning should play a vital role in encouraging the use of the mother tongue at home, in the community and in places of learning. Just as family learning practitioners share with parents information about the benefits of activities such as the bedtime story and healthy eating, so we should share information about the benefits of bilingualism.
The gift of bilingualism
Firstly, all parents need to understand that one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child is bilingualism. Whatever the social status of the family's language, having that language as well as English will benefit the child in a myriad of ways. There are the immediate personal benefits, which include being able to communicate with members of the extended family, greater family cohesion and the maintaining of relationships, as well as wider employment opportunities.
Bilingualism also contributes to social harmony, cultural sensitivity and greater tolerance. Research shows that bilingualism, if seen as a resource rather than a problem, helps with the development and understanding of concepts, and enhances analytical, reasoning and problem-solving skills. Parents need to understand that bilingualism will help children to develop skills in all areas of the curriculum as well as in the social aspects of school life.
Secondly, we need to convey to parents what is known about language development, particularly as it affects bilingual children. We need to explode myths such as: 'bilingual children's language development is slower' - there is no evidence to support this; 'bilingual children mix up their languages' - they don't, they simply use all the tools they have so, rather than not asking for an ice cream at all, they will say 'please can I have a glacé'.
We need to talk about how long it takes a child to develop Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (conversational fluency) in English  - about one year. This compares with the time it takes to develop Cognitive Academic Language - at least five years. Parents need to know that talking about school work with their children in their mother tongue will benefit the children as they will be exploring the concepts in a different language.
Thirdly, we need to help parents to understand the social and political context
in which their children are operating. They need to understand that 'minority
language development needs particular
nurturing in political situations where another language is dominant' , and that children will need support to feel positive about their bilingualism, particularly if their mother tongue has low social
status. For this reason it is also important that parents understand that, linguistically, their language has as much status and value as any other language.
Family learning practitioners should create situations where it is possible to communicate this information either overtly, as part of a teaching session, or covertly in another context. We need to form relationships with local community groups and language schools, perhaps organising joint events for Family Learning Month or Adult Learners' Week, or running joint staff development sessions. We need to develop positive relationships with schools so that we can work together to ensure that bilingualism is seen as an asset and a resource rather than a problem.
When developing activities or games for parents to use at home with their children, it is important that parents understand that they should use the home language to play with their children. We should provide as many opportunities as possible for parents to develop materials that reinforce the value of the mother tongue and contribute to children's language development.
We must of course also support parents in developing their skills in English, but never at the expense of the mother tongue.
Foufou Savitzky is Head of the Family Learning Division at LLU+ London South Bank University
 Freeman, R. 'Reviewing the Research on Language Education Programs' in García,
O. and Baker, C. (eds) (2007) Bilingual Education: An Introductory Reader. Multilingual
 Baker, C. (2001) Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 3rd Ed. Multilingual Matters Limited