by Karen Nemeth
Have you seen the articles focusing on language quality this week? In the New York Times on October 16, 2014 we read about Kathy Hirsh-Pasek’s research in Quality of Words, Not Quantity, Is Crucial to Language Skills, Study Says. Researchers are making a powerful case that, for children under the age of 6, vocabulary has to be learned in the context of communication. So… how can you use these new findings with children who speak different languages?
1. Stop teaching isolated words and skills! Research shows that young children learn language best when it is used in context, in conversations, and with social interactions. This is especially important for DLLs.
2. Be quiet! To really learn new words, children have to have a chance to SAY them! Step back and make your time with young DLLs more give and take.
3. Use lots of words, but in predictable formulas! Sentences that have the same basic structure make it easier for the brain to identify and understand new words, especially in a new language. Don’t say: “Here’s a dog. This is a cat. How about this mouse? That cow is here, too.” Start by saying “This is a dog. This is a cat. This is a mouse. This is a cow.” until you see they are really catching on.
4. Learn some of those formula sentences in the languages of the children! With a few simple structures, you can help DLLs connect familiar words in their home language with similar words in their new language. You don’t need a whole course to learn to say “This is a…” or “What are you making?” in several languages.
5. Build predictable schedules and rituals into the day! Rituals form patterns of interaction that are stable and predictable for young DLLs to remember some words and learn new ones without being overwhelmed.
Remember, a DLL (dual language learner) is any child under the age of 6 who comes from a home where a language other than English is spoken or who is growing up with two or more languages. It doesn’t matter how well they do in English or what type of program they’re in. DLLs are children whose brains know things in two or more languages. These gamechanging strategies will build the quality of language learned by young DLLs!