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Language Fluency is Easier With More Words to Build On

Too Small to Fail
By Too Small to Fail

Approximately 20 percent of children in the United States hear a language other than English spoken in the home, and are considered “dual language learners”. This population is expected to more than double by 2030. While mastery of English is important for success in school, research is showing that being fluent in more than one language can actually contribute to academic success. Children who master more than one language can develop stronger math and reading skills in English, are more creative thinkers, and can problem-solve and plan better than monolingual children.

Infant brains are highly attuned to language, and even in the womb a fetus can detect language sounds. After birth and as a child ages, his brain’s neural connections strengthen and he builds upon early vocabulary development to expand his learning and mastery of his native language, as well as other languages that he has been taught.

The research shows that children who benefit the most from dual language learning are those who hear many words from parents and caregivers, and who have a strong vocabulary in their home language as well as English. In fact, a review of 71 studies of language acquisition found that English proficiency among dual language learners is stronger when there is also a healthy foundation in a native language. This means that the more parents and caregivers talk, read and sing with their children in their native language, the better their knowledge of words and word structure and the better able they are to make connections to English.

Daycare and preschool teachers also have an important role to play in the proper language development of dual language learners.  According to Colorín Colorado, dual language learners who attend preschool should be offered instruction that is sensitive to their home language, and makes an effort to incorporate it as much as possible into English classroom instruction. Parents should work closely with early educators to help dual language learners become fluent in English, even as they retain fluency in their home language.

Learn More:

  • From Colorín Colorado, information about the language development—and proper instruction—of young dual language learners.
  • Benefits of early dual language learning, from Zero to Three and Dr. Fred Genesee.

In The News:


See the states with the most growth among dual language learners, from the New York Times. >>

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