1. Using home language to stimulate creativity

Your pupils come to school with a rich background of human interaction and experience of the world. They also have a language to describe their world. When they use their home language they can draw on this experience to fill their speech and writing with detailed description and imagery. As a teacher, you need to encourage this, and draw out the knowledge that they have.

When it comes to speaking or writing in the additional language, pupils will often not realise that they can still draw on this knowledge. Teachers, too, may forget that their task is to help pupils transfer their knowledge in and of their home language into the additional language, rather than building from scratch.

In this part, we suggest that you help your pupils to express what they know and imagine in their own language, and then to think of ways to carry a similar meaning across into the additional language.

Case Study 1: Writing in isiZulu to enrich English

Mrs Nonhlanhla Dlamini teaches English to 64 Grade 6 isiZulu-speaking pupils in the Nongoma district of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

One day, she read and discussed examples of praise poems and stories with her pupils and suggested that they write their own. They were quite excited, but their initial attempts in English were very disappointing so she decided to try a different approach.

Mrs Dlamini asked her pupils to work in pairs to tell each other what they wanted to write and help each other to write their story or poem in isiZulu. Next, they worked in their pairs to write English versions. She reminded them not to do word-for-word translations because the grammar and vocabulary of the two languages is built up in different ways.

The second attempts at writing in English were much more interesting than their first attempts, though still not as rich in detail and interest as the Zulu versions.

Mrs Dlamini did some vocabulary building work with pupils to extend their range of verbs and adverbs in the additional language, as she noticed that this was an area of weakness. Next, she then asked pupils to rework their own writing, using a greater range of verbs and adverbs.

After signing their writing, pupils placed their poems and stories on a table at the back of the classroom. They enjoyed reading each other’s stories.

Mrs Dlamini noticed how many more verbs and adverbs became part of her pupils’ regular vocabulary as a result.

Activity 1: Word-pictures in two languages

Write on the board the ‘insults’ poem ‘You’, which appears in Resource 1: Poem.

  • Read it with pupils and discuss each comparison, e.g. ‘head is like a hollow drum’ makes one think it is big and empty, etc.
  • Ask them to write a ‘compliments’ poem, as a class, about a well-known person they admire.
  • Decide with them which aspects of the person they will describe. If the person is athletic, they might choose physical attributes, legs, figure, walk, etc.
  • Now distribute these attributes to groups, or individuals, and ask them to think of comparisons in the home language.
  • When they feed back their comparisons, decide, as a class, on the best comparison for each attribute, and write them up, in the home language.
  • Now discuss how they would say something similar in the additional language. Direct translation will not work, but try to create a similar impression.
  • In this way, build up the poem with your class in the additional language.
  • Ask them to make up a poem of their own – ‘insults’ or ‘compliments’. Pupils should make sure they cause no real offence!

How well did this approach help the pupils develop their vocabulary in the additional language?

Section 4: Ways to build on home language knowledge

2. Bilingual approaches