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Why Early Educators Need to Know the Benefits of Bilingual Learning

In recent decades, census data and other sources, such as the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute, have shown an increase in the number of young children exposed to more than one language during their early years. Furthermore, bilingual and multilingual children have been diversifying in regard to the languages they are exposed to in early childhood.

It is estimated that in the United States, approximately one-third of young children reside in a household where a language other than English is spoken. Across 19 states and the District of Columbia, close to one-third of children eight years old and younger are growing up with at least one language in addition to English. Also, dual language learners are currently more racially and ethnically diverse than their monolingual English counterparts.

Getting ahead

A burgeoning body of research confirms that 1) at birth, children have the capacity to become proficient in two or more languages; and 2) there are potential developmental and learning advantages to growing up bilingual or multilingual, such as stronger cognitive flexibility,  better attentional control, more positive attitudes towards diversity, and healthy identity development. Many of these advantages continue to develop throughout a person’s life.

Consequently, there is a critical need for early childhood practitioners that know about, and are capable of applying what is known about early bilingual and multilingual exposure to their work. Practitioners that understand the socioemotional and cognitive implications of early bilingual or multilingual exposure, and vigorously incorporate this knowledge into their practice have the opportunity to be more effective by creating and sustaining a climate that embraces bilingualism as an asset, developing strong partnerships with linguistically diverse families, and understanding and incorporating family language development goals into programs’ policies and practices. Very importantly, this enhanced efficacy can be achieved whether or not early childhood professionals are themselves bilingual or multilingual.

Thus, practitioners need preparation that  gives them access to research on the principles and theories of language development; the relationship between first and second language; the role of culture, family, and community in development and learning; and how to create curriculum  and programs that support children from diverse backgrounds.

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