Working with Dual Language Learners of All Ages is Rewarding
May 26, 2017
Home > Blog > Working with Dual Language Learners of All Ages is Rewarding
As a parent of a young child learning two languages, I’m first to advocate for bilingualism. I also am aware of the challenges this long-term goal may bring upon my family and the early educators caring for my child.
One of the main challenges of dual language learners (DLLs) is learning and retaining the language development of the home language, which in the United States, is the one or more languages other than English spoken by the parents.
Having children learn English without losing the home language(s) is what dual language learners’ parents want to achieve. We know that no matter what, children will acquire English from school and their peers. In the long-run they will master English. There is also evidence that being a dual-language learner improves learning. Anya Kamenetz wrote in an NPR article, “Compared with students in English-only classrooms or in one-way immersion, dual-language students have somewhat higher test scores and also seem to be happier in school. Attendance is better, behavioral problems fewer, and parent involvement higher.”1
Early childhood education is an important stage of language development which makes the role of the early educator crucial. While parents do not expect educators to speak the family’s home language, the knowledge and expertise educators bring to the table when working with dual language learners can balance the child’s already arduous task of differentiating between two distinct languages, and learning to speak, read, and write in both.
Why does dual language learning matter?
Because the loss of the first language for young children can negatively impact children’s progress in school. It can also be detrimental for cultural reasons that are personal, familial or religious.
The good news is that early childhood educators can help support children and their families by developing a strategy to incorporate a child’s home language while also helping them learn a new language.
“It is in all early educators’ best interest to be open-minded about dual language learners,” Vilma Williams, senior manager of Multilingual and Special Programs, Council for Professional Recognition said. “The topic of bilingual education, dual language learners, is new in early childhood education. Sometimes teachers who are not working in bilingual programs or who are bilingual themselves, overlook this subject or believe that this could apply only to bilingual teachers, when in fact, it applies to all teachers.”
Currently, early educator preparation for working with dual language learners is a topic undergoing research by the Partnership for Early Education Research (PEER):
PEER members have noted that their organizations struggle to find actionable information about how to address the needs of their DLL children. Practitioners find it difficult to wade through the growing body of research on the effectiveness of instructional strategies for serving DLLs to identify “best practices.” In addition, researchers and practitioners agree that new programs and strategies cannot be implemented effectively without considering the teacher, student, and family characteristics of specific settings.2
How the CDA Supports Multilingual Learners
The Council supports the work of Candidates in all communities, in multiple languages, and those working in special programs and under special conditions, migrant, Alaska Natives and American Indian, Home Visitor, educators with disabilities, international programs, and military programs in the U.S. and overseas. The CDA is offered in all languages in order to encourage multilingual early education in all child care settings. In addition, the CDA prepares all candidates to work with dual language learners and apply best practices for the classroom and with families representing all cultures.
An example of the Council’s multilingual efforts is in the Lakota Nation, located in both North and South Dakota, where CDA candidates obtain their credentials in their native language and bilingual Lakota English specializations.
CDA candidates on the Lakota Nation reservation assemble their resource files in both English and the Lakota language. During their training, they often set up their classrooms by labeling all items in the Lakota language, making it visible on walls, chairs, tables, etc. to illustrate the dual language learning importance.
It’s important for young children and their families to feel engaged by early educator practices.
“Several of the researchers I talked with also pointed out that, in bilingual education, non-English-dominant students and their families tend to feel that their home language is heard and valued, compared with a classroom where the home language is left at the door in favor of English.”1
Repeat after Me: “Patience is Key”
Young learners acquiring two languages can benefit from the educators’ understanding when it comes to the frustrations that may come with acquiring two or more languages. For instance, at times, some children might go through phases and speak less. But in my experience as a parent and former family child care assistant, this is normal and it’s ok to encourage the child through other language activities to make him or her feel more at ease without the pressure of speaking perfectly in English.
In my experience, I’ve found these tactics helpful:
Use more visual cues to help children learn concepts (e.g. photos and gestures)
Write out and display words like “Hello,” “Food,” or “Play” in the child’s language
Repeat certain phrases or words from time to time to ensure English language understanding
Be patient when the child speaks, is silent or tries to communicate
8 Tips on Dual Language Learners Best Practices for All Child Care Settings3
Be knowledgeable about and respectful of the child’s home language, family and culture.
Establish responsive and accepting relationships to help children feel confident to engage in communication in either language
Provide numerous appropriate experiences to help children gain an understanding of new language – specifically, to hear the sounds of new language especially new words that connect them to people, objects and experiences in their lives.
Provide experiences to encourage and help children practice sounds and words of the new language, while taking into account the stages and patterns of home language and English acquisition
Be mindful of each child’s progress in cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development
Include color-coded labels and books for each of the children’s home languages
Work with children one-on-one or in small groups so that you can give them maximum attention
Make eye contact and speak slowly when speaking to dual language learners
Families and children will benefit from your efforts to incorporate dual language teaching strategies that help guide these young learners as they acquire two or more languages. By applying best practices and showing your professionalism with these young learners and their families, you are also showing your sensitivity to all cultures through a positive experience.
This rewarding experience will help children grow developmentally with their new language skills and you’ll be able to witness their confidence increase as they continue learning and eventually become bilingual.
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