The Importance of Home Language Maintenance for Students – Andie Warner, Head of Languages Faculty and English Language and English Literature Teacher at ICS London

13 Apr 2022

ICS SchoolA home language is the language, or languages, that families use for most interactions at home. Maintaining and developing students’ home language(s) is important for many reasons such as culture and identity, cognitive benefits and learning other languages.

Case Study – Andie Warner – Head of Languages Faculty and English Language and English Literature Teacher at ICS London


A home language is the language, or languages, that families use for most interactions at home. Many students speak multiple languages at home (especially as a large number of them identify as Third Culture Kids) and may use different languages to communicate with a variety of family members and friends.


Maintaining and developing students’ home language(s) is important for so many reasons.

Here are just a few:


Part of the vision statement of the IB revolves around developing world citizens, and as part of that, we strongly encourage students to maintain and develop their skills in their home language. We believe that all language acquisition should be additive rather than subtractive, meaning that we never want to develop one language in detriment to another, but rather add new knowledge on top of what the students already have. As part of the IB, students are required to study an additional language at school throughout their education, meaning that students will have the choice of at least two languages to study. Schools can open up options to Diploma Program students even further by helping students to find tutors to support them in Student Support Self Taught (SSST) of Language A in their home language.

In the spirit of inclusivity, teachers must make sure that in their classes students speak English or the target language. However, while at break or at lunch, students can be encouraged to speak their home language with their peers who may share it (so long as they are not excluding anyone who does not speak the same language).

You can also hold events throughout the year in which students have the opportunity to take on leadership roles and teach their peers about their language and culture, such as International Day, Languages Day, and International Mother Language Day.


There are many ways you can encourage your children to not only maintain but develop their knowledge of their home language(s). When doing so, it is important to consider the development of all four language skills – speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Speaking and listening are likely the easiest and most thought of components when it comes to home language maintenance. Encourage your children to speak to you, their siblings, and other family members and friends in their home language. Once they get in the habit of it, it becomes part of their routine.

You can also encourage your children’s listening skills by watching or listening to music, television shows, or movies in your home language. Not only is this a nice way to spend time together, but also to maintain a strong connection to cultural elements of the language.

I recommend that students read one book in their home language for every two or three that they read in English outside of lessons. The London library system has a plethora available for children of all ages!

I know that receiving a letter or email from a loved one is often the highlight of my week! By encouraging children to write to friends and family members in their home language, they are not only developing their language skills but also maintaining important relationships.

As a language teacher and a social justice educator, I’m so excited each year to pour over class lists and see the names of dozens of countries represented – Italy, Lebanon,America, Turkey, Japan, Sweden, just to name a few.

As an English language and literature teacher, I have had the privilege of watching many of my students develop their English language skills immensely in our time together – and have been lucky to have had many heartfelt conversations with students over my career that would not have been possible just a few short months previously without the dedication of our language teachers and our students alike.

Though English is the language of communication in my school and so many others, it is essential to be aware that it is not the language of communication in many families’ homes. I think it is one of the things that makes the IB a special, globally minded community, but, like all things in education, it requires a degree of intentionality.



Bialystok, E. (2001). Bilingualism in development: Language, literacy, and cognition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Head Start (2021). The benefits of being bilingual. The National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness. Retrieved from, U. (2008). Teaching third languages: Findings, trends, and challenges. Université de Lausanne. doi:10.1017/S0261444807004739

Zelasko, N., & Antunez, B. (2000). If your child learns in two languages. National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. Retrieved from YourChild LearnsInTwoLangs_English.pdf(Optional)


About ICS London

ICS London is an independent international school nestled between Marylebone and Paddington, offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, a challenging and stimulating curriculum, to 3-19 year-old boys and girls, equipping students with a globally-recognised qualification. Founded in 1979, it has served families from the UK and overseas for over 40 years, celebrating diversity with around 65+ different nationalities represented each year.

At ICS London, we strive to create a home from home for students. It’s a welcoming environment where the whole community comes together to shape students into well-rounded people. Our family of passionate and attentive teachers take a personalised approach to learning with small class sizes and individual support.

Recent graduates have gone on to some of the greatest universities in the world including Oxbridge and Russell Group.

As a rolling admissions policy is in place, students can join anytime throughout the year and easily transfer from other curriculums.


International Community School, London