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The Gift of DDLs

There has been an influx of immigrants entering our country seeking a better life for themselves and their children.  As our early childhood programs reopen their doors and return from the pandemic, how can early educators ensure they’re creating a space that welcomes and supports the learning and development of young dual language learners (DLLs)?   This week we are going to talk about how you can prepare your classroom and curriculum to support young DLLs and help them succeed in our programs and later in life.

Dual language learners define any child who is acquiring two or more languages at the same time, or a child who is learning a second language while continuing to develop their first language.  The term, “dual language learner” may encompass or overlap substantially with other terms frequently used, such as bilingual, English Language Learner (ELL), or Limited English Proficient (LEP).

In a quality early childhood program, teachers are preparing the children for school readiness, so they will be successful when they leave our programs and enter grade schools and beyond.  We are laying the foundation for social emotional, language, literacy, and cognitive development.

In a perfect world, we would place DLLs in a classroom with teaching staff who speak their language and know their culture.  Unfortunately, this is not always the reality due to the increasing number of families entering our country, as well as the teacher shortage across the nation. The good news is that monolingual teachers can still promote language development in their linguistically diverse children by learning key words in the child’s home language and making an effort to educate themselves on the child’s language and culture.

This is a frequently used image to show the difference between equality and equity.

The first image shows equality.  Everyone is receiving the same support.  However, not everyone benefits from the same support.  The second image depicts equity.   It shows that when each person is given different support, it makes it possible for all to have equal access.  The third image shows what would happen if no barriers are put up in the first place.  We want educators to get to know the individual child and plan intentional opportunities for their learning and development.  The goal in a quality early childhood program is to remove all barriers.

 The following strategies will help educators teach the critical skills to all children in a culturally and linguistically diverse classroom:

1. Children learn by connecting new knowledge to existing knowledge.

2. Each child’s existing knowledge is rooted in their home and cultural experiences.

3. Culturally responsive materials and activities support connections better than unfamiliar materials.  For example, if you are teaching children math concepts, reading the book “Round is a Tortilla” is a beautiful story about shapes in the home and neighborhood that DLLs can relate to and is a starting point for more learning.

4. Materials and activities that remind them of home and culture helps children feel safe and welcomed.  For example, include various cultural clothing in the dress-up area.

5. Engage in many one-on-one conversations with multiple back-and-forth exchanges using visual supports.  A picture is worth a thousand words.

6. Support children’s language learning by using repetition and modeling of new words.

7. Supplement spoken words with gestures, visual aids, and props

8. During choice time and sociodramatic play, encourage the kind of sustained back-and-forth conversations that build language skills.  Set up the environment with familiar materials for all children.

9. Pair DLL children with peers who speak English as a first language to reinforce development of skills in English during activities.

10. Invite families to help choose and lead language and literacy activities, such as reading or telling stories.

11. Incorporating songs and rhymes in the children’s home languages (families or caregivers can serve as great resources for providing examples of songs that promote sound and rhyme awareness).

Because there are more linguistically diverse learners than ever before in early childhood settings, educators need to prioritize the teaching and engagement of children whose home language differs from that of the rest of the class.  Social emotional development is key for children to be successful in learning.  By using English and continuing to develop the home language, demonstrates respect for families’ cultures and valuing children’s identities. 

In closing, please watch the video, “The Gift.”

Dual Language Learners are eager to share “their gift” with others in their classroom.  They rely on this valuable gift to gain more knowledge about the world and to continue to grow and learn as they develop English. This is one of the most beautiful videos you will ever observe as we continue to break down barriers and celebrate everyone’s uniqueness!

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