Bilingual Children Make Critical Gains In Early Education Programs

Nov 28, 2013

Researchers find that bilingual children under the age of five make significant gains in language skills while enrolled in early education programs.
Credit Nazareth College via Flickr

A review by UNC-Chapel Hill researchers confirms that children who speak two languages make greater gains in early education programs than their peers who speak only English.

Scientists at UNC's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute reviewed 25 studies and found that children with low English-language abilities greatly benefit from early childhood programs like Head Start and state-funded Pre-K.

Virginia Buysse, a senior scientist with the FPG Child Development Institute and a lead author of the study, says most of the outcomes focused on children's skills in the areas of language and literacy. 

She adds that despite the progress dual-language learners make, early childhood is a critical time and more support for the development of both languages is needed. 

"I think what you're generally going to find out there in practice are a whole range of different kinds of [early childhood] programs, but in general many programs are not equipped to address the needs of dual-

language learners in terms of providing, for example, bilingual instruction," she says. 

Buysse says more research is needed on how to support bilingual students in the context of early care and education programs. 

"The finding that dual-language learners seem to make greater benefits from Head Start and public pre-K demonstrates that these interventions are working for these children, despite the fact that these programs were designed to meet the needs of the general population of preschoolers," she says.

Buysse recommends early education programs include assessments for dual language learners that could help teachers better track the development of their students. She also suggests they find creative ways to incorporate the home languages of the children into instruction.