Bilingual children learn that chatter does matter

Young children whose first language is not English have been benefiting from ‘chatter matters’™ speech and language development groups across Warwickshire, through funding from Warwickshire County Council’s Smart Start Programme.

‘time to talk’™ who run ‘chatter matters’™ groups aims to create and celebrate opportunities for all children to achieve their potential in speech, language and communication, working together with and in response to the needs of local communities.

‘time to talk’™ created ‘Being bilingual’ groups specifically for families that speak more than one language. The project aims to narrow the gap for children whose first language is not English by ensuring information and support is available at preschool age. ‘chatter matters’™ involves teaching parents new strategies to develop speech and language skills for their children and build friendships, build confidence and socialise with each other.

The project originally focussed on areas where the population of children whose first language is not English is highest, in Rugby and South Leamington. In the latter part of the project the team extended their reach into North and South Warwickshire.

The project found that bilingual families were worried that they were not teaching their children English. Parents felt reassured and supported when they were able to meet with other parents who were also raising bilingual children, even if they were not learning the same languages.

One parent Qiaohe, a Mandarin speaker attended with her daughter Belinda. Over the duration of the group sessions, Qiaohe became much more confident in her own communication with Belinda. Qiaohe was learning new songs, as well as new and effective ways on interacting with Belinda.

Belinda was 12 months when she started and was very attached to her mum. Week by week, Belinda started engaging with the songs, making choices, smiling and even requesting things. Her confidence improved and she even started to use some single words to communicate.

Qiaohe said “Before the training I didn’t know how to help Belinda and now I have lots of strategies. More families need this training”.

Other positive feedback from parents who attended the sessions includes:

• 100% reported positive benefits from attending groups

• 78% reported increased confidence

• 89% reported they are now able to support their child in their home language

• 89% reported they would recommend this group to other bilingual families

The project also developed a network of parent ambassadors to work alongside community partners (health visiting teams, local libraries, children’s centres, early years’ settings and schools). Their role is to co-deliver ‘chatter matters’™ groups and share ‘time to talk’™ information and resources in their community.

‘time to talk’™ has also linked with and supported practitioners from other Smart Start funded projects to sustain the ongoing distribution of positive messages and activities for parents:

• ‘Closing the Gap’- offering training for Parent and Toddler group leads in Bedworth and Rugby.

• ‘Hill Close Gardens’- providing ongoing support in the development of an outdoors ‘chatter matters’™/ language enrichment group in Warwick.

• ‘Hello Group’ – Sydni Centre, bilingual training and development of a stay and play for multilingual families

Cllr Jeff Morgan, Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services said “I am delighted that Smart Start funding has enabled ‘time to talk’™ and its parent ambassadors to make such a positive impact on bilingual families and children in Warwickshire. This will increase their confidence with the English language and ensure they are not left behind their peers when starting school.”

For more information on the Smart Start programme please visit www.warwickshire.gov.uk/smartstart, email smartstart@warwickshire.gov.uk or call 01926 413788