U.S.: 1 Country, 2 Language Attitudes – Should All Children be DLLs?

By Karen N. Nemeth

What an interesting week in the news for early childhood language and advocates. News reports revealed the growing trend for families in upscale neighborhoods to pay high fees for language immersion schools so their young children can become bilingual. On the other hand we read that, in some cities, families are actually lying about their language assets on home language surveys to keep their children out of bilingual education.

Bigstock - Diverse Little Kids about to Kiss

Why is this happening? Of course, the answers to this question are complex and multi-layered, as this Washington Post blog points out. Consider how it feels to be a native English speaker in the United States seeking a new language experience for your children compared to how it feels to be an immigrant feeling the pressure to adapt your family to English as soon as possible. Next, think about other factors like the experiences families have in each kind of school setting and the responses they get from others. Think about the prospects for future success for children of upscale families who can pay for high quality language immersion schools compared to the prospects for children of immigrant families who are more likely to live below the poverty line and find themselves in school districts with limited resources.

What part does awareness of language development research play in these trends? Studies clearly show that high quality bilingual education not only helps children of immigrant families build their home language but it helps them do better in English, too

**** Newsflash – the New York Times takes on this topic on October 8, 2015!

****August 29, 2016 update: Here’s a new article by Sammi Wong at New America: “Shifting our Lens Away from Monolingualism”  that reports on Sammi’s experiences growing up bilingual in the context of new research reports.

There is also a growing body of research showing that growing up bilingual provides academic and cognitive advantages such as enhanced working memory, executive function and the ability to focus amidst distractions. We use this research to make the case that preschool programs need to support home languages and provide bilingual education for young DLLs who have home languages other than English. Isn’t it strange when that same logic does not influence curriculum choices for the monolingual English speaking children? How many times have I asked “if growing up bilingual is better for our children of immigrants, why would we choose LESS for our native born children?” And, shouldn’t we want the best quality early language education for EVERY child?

Let’s try to get these two sides together! What do you think?

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