From the Rollins Center for Language & Literacy
In the coming weeks, educators will welcome a new group of children into their classrooms. Current demographic data shows that there will be more and more of these children bilingual or multilingual learners – Children learn and develop in two or more languages.
Imagine Valentina, a four-year-old entering Pre-K. Eager to learn, she wants to pass on the experience she has gained in the first four years, but she can only do so in Spanish, the language of her homeland, where she has been successful. Imagine Valentina’s experience when her teachers can’t communicate with her and she can’t fully participate in class.
Valentina is part of a large, diverse and growing population of children. According to the Migration Policy Institute, one in three children under the age of 8 in the US are bilingual or multilingual learners (DLLs). More than 80 percent of the DLLs speak Spanish. However, more than 140 languages are represented nationwide. Many have immigrant parents, but more than 90 percent are US citizens. For many, their first experience of English will be when they enter pre-school or formal school.
All children are born capable of learning more than one language. Multilingualism is associated with many cognitive, social, linguistic and academic benefits and is common to more than half of the world’s population. (The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) 2017), . However, in the US, most DLLs are taught in English-only classrooms, who are wrongly deprived of opportunities to develop and use their first language skills, and often perform at a lower academic level than their monolingual English-speaking peers.
Ironically, private and public bilingual education programs are increasing, largely due to the demand for native English speakers from middle and upper class families who recognize the benefits of bilingualism in a global society. Despite evidence that DLLs participating in these programs outperform those in purely English-language programs, many of them do not get the same access enjoyed by their privileged English-language counterparts.
Science and practice are not coordinated. Decades of research compel us to reject deficit perspectives that result in misaligned approaches that negatively impact our expectations and consequently outcomes for bilingual learners. Instead, we need to look at DLLs through the lens of the powerful benefits that come with knowing more than one language.
Research shows that a solid foundation in the first language contributes to English learning. Valentina will thrive when her progress isn’t measured against the expectations placed on her monolingual peers. When her teachers are familiar with her cultural and linguistic background, understand her development in more than one language, and consciously support her learning through strategic use of the first language and other teaching aids, she will excel. Her peers will benefit from hearing their different perspectives on life, which will prepare them well for the world.
The Atlanta Speech School’s Rollins Center for Language & Literacy and its free online learning community, Cox Campus, are committed to literacy and equity for all. For Valentina and all DLLs, we are working to build an ecosystem together that supports them as they grow up, with choices and powerful voices in more than one language. watch The giftthe Rollins Center’s promise to DLLs to celebrate and include the gift of their native language in the classroom.
Debunk the myths surrounding multilingualism – Through TALK TO ME BABY We share with families that language nutrition can be provided in any language and should be in the language they are most comfortable with. Bilingualism does not confuse children, but has many advantages.
Build the knowledge and skills of teachers and leaders – Cox campus free Preschool DLL Courses Build the expertise of teachers and leaders to build a language-centric ecosystem where teachers take a strengths-based approach and engage in teaching methods that integrate first languages from DLLs.
Ensure Georgia’s Spanish language DLLs have a more meaningful pre-K experience – Rollins is backed by a 10-year partnership with the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL). DECAL’s bilingual Rising PreK Summer Transition Program for Spanish speaking children entering Pre-K. That summer, more than 70 classrooms across the country participated in the six-week program, which served approximately 700 children. The teachers share with us “the incredible growth children have experienced in such a short time” and “the many skills they have acquired through this wonderful program.”
Build the capacity of childcare workers for Hispanic familiess – More than 80% of Hispanic children under the age of 3 are cared for by family nannies or family members, friends and neighbors in their own communities. Often these providers have limited training in early childhood education, limited English and limited access to professional learning opportunities in a language they understand. Through a generous grant from the Goizueta Foundation, we are developing free Spanish courses to help these providers launch in December 2022
To achieve literacy and equity for Valentina and all bilingual learners, we must equip all teachers with the research-based knowledge, skills, and resources they need to best educate bilingual learners. We agree with the US Department of Health and Education’s joint mission statement on supporting the development of children learning two languages in early childhood programs, stating: “With the growing number of young children who are DLLs and the significant proportion of the workforce they will make up in the years to come, there is an economic imperative to ensure they are school prepared and do well upon arrival, which directly affects the competitiveness of the US in a developing world economy. “
As Atlanta increasingly becomes an international city, we must recognize that our multilingual citizens are an asset and should have the right to choose their own future in any language. For more information, visit the Rollins Center for Language & Literacy at [email protected]
National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM). 2017 Promoting the Educational Success of Children and Young People in Learning English: A Promising Future. Washington, DC, The National Academies Press.