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How Families Can Support Their Dual-Language Learners

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Dual-language learners (DLLs) are an asset to the classroom, and studies have shown that learning two languages is good for brain development and health. So how can families of dual-language learners support their children while they acquire two languages? Lea Ann Christenson, PhD—author of Strength in Diversity—shares ways that families of DLLs can support their children in growing their first language, while also building the foundation for strong academic English and learning the content required for their grade level.


Hi, I'm Dr. Lea Ann Christenson. I'm an associate professor at Towson University in Maryland, and I'm here today to chat with you about how we can support our young dual-language learners in learning at home.

First of all, did you know that 18% of the population speaks a language other than English at home, and that 14.4% of the U.S. population are born in a country other than the United States? And here is where it gets to where we're at —9.6% of the student population are dual-language learners, and that number is even higher for young dual-language learners in our pre-K through grade three programs.

Now I have a quiz for you. What is the number one country of birth of our young dual-language learners? Did you guess the United States? Well, it is! They were born right here in the United States. 

Being bilingual is an asset! Our goal is to teach English and the content of the grade level that the child is in, but having two languages is actually an asset and it's good for our brain! There's studies coming out that show that people who are bilingual have better critical thinking skills and may not be as apt to getting dementia. 

So how can we help these young dual-language learners at home? Our goal and our setting is for our young dual-language learners to learn the content and to acquire English. So how can families support them? What would you guess that the best way for families to support our young dual-language learners is to support and grow their first language?

Take a look at this Venn diagram. Look at the center. Listed there are body parts, characteristics of mammals, rotations of planets, photosynthesis, principles of democracy—all content that we would learn in school. If we've learned that content, that conceptual knowledge in one language, we don't have to re-learn the concepts. We just have to re-learn the vocabulary in the second language we're acquiring. 

So our families can support our young learners while they're acquiring English by learning those concepts in their primary language at home, like body parts or characteristics of mammals. If they can support us with that, then when the children have acquired English, they won't have to relearn the concepts, they're just going to have to learn the English vocabulary for those concepts. 

So the most important piece of advice for families of young dual-language learners is to support the acquisition and growth of their first language! That's the gateway to strong academic English. Thank you for spending a couple of minutes with me today. Take care!