The ability to speak two languages is an obvious asset, but dozens of studies now show that bilinguals enjoy many other advantages as well.
Researchers have found that children who learn two languages have stronger executive function skills – such as problem-solving, focusing on a task and persisting on a challenging problem – than their monolingual peers. One study has even shown a later onset of Alzheimer’s disease among bilinguals.
While there’s strong agreement now on the benefits of a bilingual childhood, there’s some uncertainty among parents and early childhood educators as to how to achieve it. Fearing that the children will suffer confusion when they enter an English-speaking kindergarten, some early-care providers introduce English at the expense of a child’s home language.
A popular new course that Ready to Learn Providence is offering to family child-care providers, titled Supporting Children’s Dual Language Development, stresses the importance of a well-developed home language. Young children who are highly proficient in a first language eventually outperform those who rely on a second too soon, according to a growing body of research.
“Our participants are child-care providers who may know some English, but whose stronger language is Spanish,” says Dr. Jane Yedlin (left), who facilitates the course along with Claudia Galeano. “They are happy to learn that research indicates it’s good for young children to interact with teachers and caregivers in the children’s home language.”
Dr. Yedlin, who has a doctorate in Language and Literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and who recently retired as a professor at Boston’s Wheelock College, teaches the class entirely in Spanish, a language she learned in her teens. Her teaching partner, Ms. Galeano (right), a former R2LP AmeriCorps member and currently the Early Childhood Learning Programs Developer at the Providence Children’s Museum, is originally from Colombia where Spanish was her first language.
“We discuss ways to help young children develop vocabulary and strong language skills in Spanish,” Dr. Yedlin notes, “but we also discuss and demonstrate ways to introduce English so that children will be comfortable when entering kindergarten.” Many of the providers are still learning English themselves, so Dr. Yedlin encourages them to use recorded books, read-aloud videos and music CDs to provide good models, and to make English understandable by connecting the English words with stories and songs the children have already learned in Spanish.
Because the participants in these classes are often parents as well as providers, the topic of bilingualism generates lively and important discussions. Many have spoken, for example, of children who have gone through stages of resisting Spanish, wanting to speak only English. Most, however, say they are proud and happy that they persisted with the home language, noting that their children’s bilingualism opened professional and academic opportunities for them.
“All children appear to benefit cognitively, linguistically, culturally and economically from learning more than one language,” says Dr. Linda Espinosa, who has studied and written about dual language learners extensively, and who spoke to the staff at Ready to Learn several years ago. “Maybe we should be thinking about helping ALL children grow up with the benefits of learning and thinking in more than one language.”
Jane Yedlin and Claudia Galeano developed Supporting Children’s Dual Language Development for Ready to Learn this year. It is a 7 ½-hour course that runs for three sessions, and counts for 10 PD credits with the completion of outside reading and homework assignments. The photos shown here were taken in the class that is taking place now. It will be offered again this summer.
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