It’s amazing how young children learn to converse with others. They have to not only internalize grammar and vocabulary, but also develop an understanding of culture: how to take turns in a conversation, who to talk to, and how to narrate a story.
For dual language learners (DLLs) — children under the age of 5 with a home language other than English — that process can be complex. These young children must constantly navigate between two languages and cultures, while learning the rules of both. And while the benefits of multilingualism are clear, these learners they may be excluded or teased because of their differences, which can hinder their development.
As linguistic diversity skyrockets worldwide, early childhood educators need to be prepared to help DLL students meet and overcome these unique challenges. Here, we offer insights from Paola Uccelli, an expert in literacy, linguistics, and bilingual education, on how to create environments that help DLL students and their families thrive.
The Diversity of Languages in Early Education
“Early education settings need to be places where DLLs and their families know that they have the ‘right to speak,’ that they will be heard and responded to with interest and respect,” says Uccelli, who is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. However, these high-quality, culturally and linguistically responsive early childhood programs can be difficult to find.