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Te taunaki i te ako reorua, reohuhua

Supporting bilingual and multilingual learning pathways

"Hearing and seeing their home language and culture in daily interactions, and sharing their cultural knowledge with others, gives dual language learners the reassurance they are part of a caring, supportive, respectful community of learners." (Christine Ball).

This section provides practical ideas for what you can do to support the growing proportion of children living in bilingual and multilingual households in Aotearoa.


List of ways to say hello in different languages.

Supporting children’s home languages

Supporting children to develop in their home language/s while they learn English provides the foundation for children to become bilingual, biliterate, multilingual, and multiliterate.

Working in close partnerships with families supports home languages and shares responsibility for their oral language learning.


  • encourage primary caregivers to continue using their first language with children
  • provide information about the benefits of children becoming bilingual, biliterate, multilingual, and multiliterate
  • gather information about children’s progress in their home languages and about the language learning practices used at home
  • recognise families as rich sources of cultural and linguistic knowledge and invite them to share greetings, words, phrases, songs, and written script of the language
  • focus on building understanding of language first, without putting pressure on children’s expression/output of language
  • stimulate early literacy skills, such as phonological awareness (recognising and working with the sounds of spoken language), using children's home language
  • use Pasifika Early Literacy Project (PELP) resources to grow Pacific children’s oral language and literacy capabilities, in both Pacific languages and in English language.

Supporting a child's sense of identity, belonging, and wellbeing

Inclusive practices affirm children’s sense of identity, belonging, and wellbeing.


  • learn some basic words and phrases in a child’s home language/s and use them in daily interactions like care rituals to build relationships with children
  • encourage a family member to stay to support children’s home language during transition into an early learning service
  • use music and songs from home languages as a way to build a connection with a child who does not yet speak English
  • make the different language scripts from a child’s home languages visible in the environment, for example, picture books or a greetings board near the front entrance
  • ensure assessment information is gathered in partnership with whānau and strongly reflects each child’s languages, culture, and identity2
  • use local stories to strengthen a connection to place.

Story of practice: A language bank folder to assist communication with tamariki

Pages from language bank with phrases translated into Arabic, Spanish and Dari.

At an early learning service that serves a diverse refugee and immigrant community, kaiako often welcome tamariki who communicate in languages other than English. Where possible, tamariki are matched with kaiako who speak their home language. When this is not an option­, kaiako use their language bank folder. This consists of pre-printed English words and phrases commonly used in the centre. When tamariki start, kaiako work through these with families, recording the translation, often phonetically or in their own mother tongue. Kaiako find Google Translate can be helpful with pronunciation, which they know is important to get right when talking to tamariki. For te reo Māori pronunciation Te Aka Māori–English, English–Māori Dictionary and Index is helpful.

A kaiako says, “Using home languages helps our children and families to establish a connection. It settles our children and promotes a sense of belonging and self-identity. It nurtures a sense of respect and celebration of the diverse languages. The language bank folder – along with other strategies we use – mean that all our children are exposed to different languages. Therefore multilingualism is normal in their eyes.”

Bilingual and multilingual kaiako

Bilingual and multilingual kaiako show the community that linguistic and cultural diversity is valued and provide an important role model of someone being a confident communicator in the early learning setting.

Bilingual and multilingual kaiako:

  • provide opportunities for children to hear and use their home language
  • support peer-to-peer learning and communicating through both English and home languages by modelling key words and phrases in both languages
  • can teach other staff songs or stories in children's home languages
  • assist with the development of visual resources to ensure learning spaces include home languages
  • facilitate communication with families and support families in maintaining their home language
  • help other staff to understand what it is like to be part of another linguistic and cultural community.

Communicating in home languages with families

Communicating with families in their home languages helps to foster partnerships between early learning services and families.


  • make important written information about the service and about transition to school available to families in their home languages
  • welcome families in their home language every day
  • ensure families know their home language can be used at the early learning service
  • access an interpreter through a service or extended family members to support conversations in home languages with families about their aspirations for their children’s learning and development
  • host hui and special events at the early learning service, such as cultural festivals. These events can create opportunities for families to meet and talk to other families who speak the same home language. This facilitates their children being able to play together and communicate in their home language outside the centre. 1,2

Supporting emerging literacy in home languages

Emergent literacy skills fostered in the home language are the foundation for other languages and can be transferred into a new language.

To support emerging literacy in home languages, kaiako:

  • become knowledgeable about the print/script conventions of the languages represented at the service
  • involve parents in making dual literacy resources, for example, creating home language script for children’s name cards
  • use both English and home languages to stimulate early literacy skills, particularly phonological awareness3, for example, songs, storytelling, or games like I spy can transfer between languages
  • ask families about their home literacy learning practices and offer support, for example, ideas for early writing activities in the home
  • use home languages to support growth in vocabulary knowledge 3
  • make print and audio materials readily available that reflect the cultures and home languages of children in the service, for example, books, music, and songs
  • display print in home languages, for example, posters, stories, signs, and vocabulary on wall displays.

Enriching English oral language within bilingual or multilingual contexts

To help children make links between their first language/s and new English words and structures, kaiako:

  • integrate new English words into conversation, play, and everyday rituals so that vocabulary becomes linked to meaningful experiences
  • stimulate phonological awareness skills using games and activities in one language, where such activities or games can be transferred into another language – it is likely the phonological awareness will be stimulated in the second language3
  • add non-verbal cues so that children have multiple ways to understand oral language content, for example, body language, gesture, or show objects, pictures, or photographs.

Bilingual kaiako:

  • read a book in English and lead a discussion in a child's home language to gradually build their understanding of new vocabulary
  • repeat and remodel words in both languages to reduce behaviours caused by misunderstandings and communication breakdown.

Understanding language learning pathways

For more information see: