Child Development 101: Teaching Dual-Language Learners
According to child development experts, newborns have the capacity to learn many languages at once without getting confused because, as their brain develops, so too does the ability to separate one language from another.
But many different theories exist on how best to teach dual language learners 0 to 5. Approaches range from full immersion to evenly split bilingual instruction or native-language proficiency first. While some of these may conflict, language experts agree that one of the best ways to teach early dual language learners is in a manner that is natural and conversational.
“Language must be meaningful in order for it to be retained,” said Renatta Cooper, educational coordinator at the Los Angeles County Executive Office of Childcare and former First 5 LA Commissioner. “If a young child has a reason to use two languages, he will learn two languages.”
Generally, retention of the native language will not hinder a young child’s ability to learn a new language. A household in which a grandparent consistently speaks the native language to the child, combined with a parent or caregiver who consistently speaks the second language, often results in a child’s ability to achieve fluency in both languages, Cooper said.
One way to support dual language learners age 0 to 5 is to withhold judgment. “When children are learning two languages, sometimes their speech is delayed,” Cooper said. They’re a little more thoughtful.” In the early stages of language development, a toddler in a dual-language environment is processing and sorting a considerable amount of information. A child needs time to respond, and Cooper advises against imposing strict rules about language usage.
Engaging young dual language learners is the key to supporting their ability to learn. “Don’t make it a chore,” Cooper said. “Remember the words of Oscar Wilde: ?I refuse to learn that which does not interest me.'”
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