7 Powerful Dual Language Vocabulary Strategies for Success!

Dual language vocabulary strategies to try today

Let’s dive into the world of dual language vocabulary strategies and how we can use them to improve our students’ comprehension in their second language. As bilingual teachers in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, we know how crucial it is to help our students build a strong vocabulary foundation to create bilingual and biliterate adults. 

Imagine the challenge you face as a teacher when trying to help your students grasp a second language. They’re constantly asking, “¿Cómo se dice?” and struggling to find the words to express their thoughts. The struggle is real, and it’s especially tough when it comes to ensuring they have a rich, academic vocabulary.

As educators in grades 3 to 5, you know firsthand the importance of equipping your students with a strong vocabulary base in both languages. It’s not just about teaching a language; it’s about nurturing bilingual and biliterate skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.

So, let’s explore some fun and effective dual language vocabulary strategies that will ignite your students’ journey toward biliteracy!

Vocabulary made easy for dual language classes

Time on the Tongue: Feel the Words!

The first of our dual language vocabulary strategies is all about having students feel the words in their mouth. In my district we refer to this as “time on the tongue”. 

Get your students to repeat your by whispering, robotically repeating words, or even squeaking them like little mice! The key here is to get those unfamiliar words on their tongues. Encourage them to talk to their desks, the ceiling, or even their own elbows! It may sound silly, but trust me, it works wonders. Even the big kids laugh and giggle saying “photosynthesis” in a squeaky mouse voice! The more they feel the words, the better they’ll remember them.

Make it visual: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words!

We all know the power of visuals. Introduce pictures that vividly illustrate vocabulary words. For example, it might be hard to describe the word “devour” but with a picture or a video of someone scarfing down food quickly, students can understand the word and the concept more clearly. 

Let your students be the creators too! Encourage them to draw their own pictures to reinforce their understanding. 

Dual language vocabulary strategies 8 tips to get you started

Use Gestures: Time to move and groove!

Actions speak louder than words, or in this case, gestures speak louder than vocabulary! When you teacha new word, pair it with a physical movement. For example, if you’re teaching the word “embrace,” make a little hugging gesture. Connect the action to the word, and soon enough, it’ll become second nature. Get your students involved as well and have them create the gestures for the vocabulary words. 

Connect the Languages Strategically: Cognates to the Rescue!

Ah, cognates – those sneaky language twins that can make learning easier! But hold on a minute. We need to be strategic about it. If we’re teaching our 4th graders about “cholesterol,” expecting them to know its Spanish counterpart “colesterol” might be a tall order. This is because they’re both low frequency, highly specialized words about a concept that typical 4th graders aren’t familiar with.

Instead, let’s focus on cognates that align with their age and knowledge level. For example, the word “edifice” might be a bit fancy, but when we connect it with the common Spanish word “edificio” (meaning building), it suddenly becomes relatable and more memorable!

How to teach vocabulary in the bilingual classroom

Give It Context: It’s All About the Big Picture!

Who wants to learn words in isolation? Certainly not our students! We need to provide context. Paint a vivid picture using real-life examples, stories, or even funny anecdotes.

When teaching the word unexpected, I told my students a story about a time I had an unexpected visitor. I had my classroom door open one morning and a stray cat walked in! The cat spent some time cuddled up in our classroom library until it went back outside. I showed my class pictures of this unexpected visitor, much to their delight. They talked about it for weeks and remembered the word unexpected!

That’s why storytelling to give context is one of my favorite dual language vocabulary strategies! So make those vocabulary words meaningful and relevant. Trust me, when students see the big picture, the words stick like glue!

Practice Makes Progress: Let’s Get Those Words Moving!

Repetition is the key to mastery. Create ample opportunities for your students to practice their new vocabulary. 

Encourage pair shares, where they can use the words in conversation with a partner. Incorporate writing exercises where they can showcase their understanding. Be sure to provide sentence frames to help them use those words confidently in context. 

For example, let’s say you’re working on the word exasperated. You might ask students, “Describe a time when you felt exasperated.” Have them answer, “I felt exasperated when…” That way they’re forming complete sentences AND using the new vocabulary word in context. In this way, you’re incorporating many of our dual language vocabulary strategies.

Keep Your Own Vocabulary High: Be a Role Model! 

As language role models, we need to keep our own vocabulary at a high caliber. Don’t shy away from using rich and varied words in your teaching. Use the vocabulary that you expect your students to use one day. 

Dual language vocabulary strategies to try today

Wrap it Up: Unleashing the Power of Dual Language Vocabulary Strategies

By incorporating these engaging dual language vocabulary strategies into your classroom, you’ll witness your students’ language skills flourish. Remember, it’s all about making the learning experience fun, interactive, and meaningful.

Don’t Miss Out!

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to subscribe to my free email list just for bilingual teachers like you! You’ll get free resources, updates on new articles, and sale notifications. Click here or on the image below to join today!

The text says "Bilingual transition words for opinion writing". It shows a student desk with a set of bookmarks and a poster with Spanish transition words for opinion writing on them.
new from the blog