Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Researchers Examine Dual Language Early Ed Learners

Researchers from the Center for Early Care and Early Education Research – Dual Language Learners at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, recently reviewed many studies to drawn conclusions about English language learners. The center’s research is funded in part by the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Researchers examined children ages zero to five who are learning two languages.

They found that dual language learners are not hurt by being exposed to two languages as they develop. However, their ability in each of the languages will vary based on when they were exposed to each and how often they are able to use the language.

Additionally, the dual language learners are behind other children in phonological skills as infants, but progress during preschool, and then catch up to other children.

Researchers also noted that while the bilingual childrens’ vocabulary in each separate language was smaller than that of children who spoke only one language, when the vocabularies of both languages are combined they become equal. Evidence also suggested that the dual language children began preschool with fewer literacy skills in English than the monolingual children.

Further research has shown that children who learn literacy at home in their first language are more successful in acquiring a second language. They also concluded that successful children are taught by teachers proficient in the child’s first language.

“Problems with DLLs’ development arise when they are not provided sufficient language learning opportunities and support for both languages,” the study says. “When [early childhood education] classrooms place emphasis solely on English development, DLLs’ development in their first language can decline and their abilities in English continue to fall behind those of their English speaking grade level peers.”

Researchers also concluded that bilingual children have many strengths as well, including an ability to focus more while working on nonverbal tasks such as math problems. They also found that bilingual children gain problem solving and memory skills because they must face the challenge of navigating between two languages.