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Dual Language Learner

As California is home to the nation’s largest population of children learning English in addition to their home language, access to quality dual language programs is paramount in our state’s efforts to achieve educational equity.

Roughly 1.4-million English Learners (ELs) make up the K-12 public school system, and Dual Language Learners (DLLs) compose 60% of children ages birth to five. While these students bring the assets of their home language, they are too often seen as a liability: children who lower test scores. But research over the past two decades has provided strong evidence that the human brain is capable of successfully learning two or more languages from birth, children are not confused by learning multiple languages, and that bilingual language development confers cognitive and social benefits to children.

Neuroscience shows that the brain is most receptive to language learning in the earliest years of life. Particularly for young DLLs, home language development is integral to their cognitive and socio-emotional development and timing and instructional strategies have significant implications for acquiring English as a second language and their overall academic achievement. Research also shows that students in dual language programs outperform comparable students in monolingual classrooms – whether they are native English speakers, African American students, students of low socioeconomic status, or English Learners – bilingual education can help to close the achievement gap. In February 2017, this research was confirmed by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

While the achievement gap persists for far too many of our DLLs/ELs, we can turn the tide if we apply the peer-reviewed research and the neuroscience findings on language development and early childhood education. State and local leadership is paramount in ensuring that California’s education system, Birth to 12, is designed to build on our state’s racial, cultural, and linguistic strengths in a way that is aligned with science and is simply good for all children.

The Dual Language Learner Policy Platform: Informing California’s Early Learning and Care Policies and Investments in 2020–21 and Beyonda new policy platform aimed developed by Catalyst California and Early Edge California aimed at creating greater equity in early learning and care (ELC) across California for young children who are dual language learners (DLLs), provides critical recommendations necessary to provide the resources and access to high-quality early education all children need to thrive.

Research shows the importance of building on DLL children’s home language for preventing language loss, promoting positive identity development and facilitating English language development. California now has the opportunity to design a system that affirms the role of language and culture in all early learning environments, program requirements, workforce support and quality improvement efforts to ensure all children are set up for success. Key recommendations from the platform include:

  • Align the early learning and care system with the asset-based principles of the California English Learner Roadmap State Policy, by expanding dual-language programs in communities with large populations of children of color, DLLs, and low-income students; 
  • Promote high-quality programs for DLLs starting from birth, by meaningfully identifying and including DLLs in early learning quality improvement systems; and
  • Support the early learning workforce to build on the strengths of DLLs and meet their needs, by including explicit competencies for serving DLLs and providing funding for sustained professional development.

Read the full Dual Language Learner Policy Platform

Read the Dual Language Learner Policy Platform Executive Summary