Teaching Bilingual Kids

Teaching Bilingual Kids

by Syeda Asma

I have always worked towards preserving my children's mother tongue i.e. Urdu as well as teaching them English. Many homeschoolers I have talked to think it is difficult to teach kids their mother tongue. Following are some of the difficulties faced by parents and some tips which worked to preserve our children's mother tongue.

Difficulty # 1

I do not speak my native language well enough to be able to teach it.

This is one of the most common reasons parents hesitate from teaching their native language to their own children.

When we started my own Urdu wasn't too good at all either. In fact, I was so poor at it that I couldn't name common household objects in Urdu, couldn't read text written in Urdu fluently or speak a whole sentence in complete Urdu. I would mix English words into my sentences to be able to communicate effectively.

Re-Learning your native language is quite easy but it calls for commitment and hard work. I focused on the goal of preserving my language and teaching it to my kids, hence I took up the task to talk to them ONLY in Urdu since they were babies. This included their first words and basic vocabulary after the age of 1. Things like colours, shapes, numbers, animals and mundane objects.

Focus on speaking complete sentences in your native language. Whenever you cannot remember a word, remember the word's English version and use help from google translate or a proficient speaker of the language. You can enlist the help of your spouse, friends or parents.

Difficulty # 2

I do not have support or time to re-learn my native language before I start teaching it.

If you are lucky to have parents who live nearby, get their help. They would welcome the idea of teaching their children and grandchildren their language. It will give them pride to know that their children want to honour their tradition, language and roots.

My parents are in Pakistan, but they welcomed the idea and would chat daily to the kids in Urdu on video call. Sometimes they didn't know the words straight away because they were themselves using English substitutes for them! They would graciously look up those words or other uncommon or difficult words and get back to me about them.

NESA recently launched its syllabi for several languages including Arabic, Indonesian, Persian, Punjabi and Turkish which are available on the NESA website. (https://educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/k-10/learning-areas/languages)

It can provide a good outline of what and how much to do with your kids while teaching them your language.

Difficulty # 3

I do not have resources for teaching my native language.

Homeschool Group:

A good place to start can also be fellow home schoolers or teachers who speak/teach the language. They can give better insights into finding appropriate curriculum and reading material. Many Islamic bookstores have numerous children's books in the Arabic language. Second hand books buy and sell groups on WhatsApp are an amazing place to find children’s books in your local language at very reasonable prices.


Many public libraries stock children’s books and audio books in multiple languages and some even run programs or story time in specific languages like Arabic and Bengali. Inquire from your local library about what they have in store for your language.

Iqra Community Library is another amazing initiative where you may find Arabic books along with Islamic books in Lakemba, Sydney. (Located at: 7/64 Gillies St, Lakemba, NSW Australia 2195).

ISRA Children’s Library is another amazing place to find Islamic and Arabic books. They have centres in Sydney and Melbourne. (www.isra.org.au)

Online resources:

A simple YouTube search can help you find lots of kid appropriate content in your native language. One channel worthy of note is Free Quran Education which uploads content in 17 different languages including Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Malayalam, Malaysian, Turkish, Pushto, Spanish, Thai, Russian, Urdu/Hindi, Uzbek and Tajik!

Urdu books and resources can be ordered online from some of the following websites:

· Punjab textbook board (free textbooks) https://ptbb.punjab.gov.pk/textbooks

· Ferozsons https://ferozsons.com.pk

· Oxford University Press Pakistan https://oup.com.pk

· Oxford University Press Pakistan Urdu Textbooks https://oup.com.pk/school-textbooks/urdu/urdu-workbooks-qaidas-poetry.html

Other FREE URDU resources available on the internet:

· Urdu Novels and Archives https://www.books.pk.site

· Taleem O Tarbiyat Magazine

o https://ferozsons.com.pk/product-category/taleem-o-tarbiat/

o https://www.bookspk.site/tag/Taleem-O-Tarbiyat

· Naunehal Magazine https://naunehal.com

· Imran Series Novels by Ishtiaq Ahmed (similar to Famous Five in English)

o https://www.bookspk.site/writer/ishtiaq-ahmed

· Travelogs by Mustansar Hussain Tarar

o https://www.bookspk.site/writer/mustansar-hussain-tarar

FREE Arabic Curriculum:

· https://imanshomeschoolcurriculum.blogspot.com/p/arabic.html

Overcoming these difficulties can help parents in teaching more languages to their kids. It can help the kids to connect more with the older generation especially their grandparents and to feel a positive sense of connecting with their roots. Wishing parents all the best for helping their kids learn multiple languages in a world which is becoming more multicultural, knowing an extra language can have so many benefits.