What early childhood educators need to succeed with DLLs

Here are the recommendations and resources I sent for consideration for NAEYC’s Power to the Profession initiative. I believe policy needs to say more about preparing monolingual and multilingual early childhood educators to teach children who are dual language learners.

Karen Nemeth

Here are a dozen reasons why:

  1. Most preschool teachers now (or in the near future) have at least one child who is a dual language learner as about 30% of young children are DLLs.
  2. 20% of the early childhood workforce is bilingual. We need many more.
  3. Most early childhood teacher education programs do not cover strategies for teaching children who are DLLs.
  4. Most ESL teacher preparation programs teach nothing about preschool children.
  5. Most education leadership programs teach nothing about preschool or DLLs.
  6. Supporting cultural and linguistically responsive practices and diversity awareness are important but these topics do not prepare teachers with the understanding of language development nor the practices needed to effectively support learning for children who are DLLs.
  7. Immigrants who wish to enter the early childhood workforce face more barriers to higher education than native born, English speaking candidates.
  8. Teacher education programs that recruit candidates who speak different languages rarely provide adequate supports to ensure they succeed or graduate.
  9. Those programs are even less likely to teach bilingual candidates HOW to use their bilingual skills appropriately in early childhood classrooms.
  10. So, immigrants in the early childhood workforce are most likely to remain in the lowest paying, least prepared positions.
  11. Increasing the teacher preparation requirements under current conditions will block many bilingual people from entering the field, greatly increasing the gap between native born monolinguals and bilinguals entering the field as the need for bilingual workforce is growing rapidly.
  12. Children who are DLLs will have access to home language supports mainly through relationships with bilingual child care providers and paraprofessionals who receive the least professional development support, while English-speaking children have disproportionate access to monolingual English speaking teachers with the highest qualifications and pay.


Here is what I recommend:

  1. Efforts must first be undertaken to improve the quality and content of AA and BA teacher preparation programs to prepare all candidates for working with children who are DLLs and to ensure equitable access for bilingual candidates BEFORE new degree and certification requirements are considered.
  2. Teaching children who are dual language learners can be a specialty, but should not be considered only as a specialization. In Head Start, for example, more than 85% of teachers have at least one DLL in their classroom. If DLLs should not be segregated, then the requisite teaching skills should not be segregated. You must be careful to mention the skills for teaching DLLs as part of your recommendations for the knowledge and skills for all teachers whenever you also mention the specialization. If you only mention DLLs in reference to specialization, you give the impression that you are unaware that most early childhood teachers have to teach children who are DLLs.
  3. Diversity is not just about cultural backgrounds or color of skin. I reject the use of the term “communities of color” because it is being used in this document to represent diversity with no regard for the importance of the language needs and assets of the workforce. Color is not a synonym for language diversity.
  4. Under your section Using Developmentally Effective Approaches to Connect with Children and Families, on page 23 of Decisions Cycles 3,4, and 5, you list “linking children’s language and culture to the early childhood program.” This wording is old-fashioned, outdated, unsupported by research and policy, and basically useless. It’s not about simply “linking”. It’s about using knowledge and skill to intentionally support comprehension and learning concepts and skills in both home language and English. (For examples available to NAEYC, see my NAEYC book, Basics of Supporting Dual Language Learners.)
  5. Explicit attention to the skills and knowledge needed to teach close to 1/3 of the population of young children – dual language learners – must be written in to all plans and policies. Vague mentions of supporting diversity do not address this need and must be replaced. Efforts to prepare an early childhood workforce to be more effective with children who are dual language learners will result in a workforce better prepared to understand and support language development, teaching and learning for all children. Neglecting this recommendation hurts many. Adopting it helps all.

Here are the resources on which these observations and recommendations are based:


Dual Language Learners: A National Demographic and Policy Profile from Migration Policy Institute (2017)



Immigrant and Refugee Workers in the Early Childhood Field: Taking a Closer Look from Migration Policy Institute (2015)



Preparing Early Childhood Teachers to Work with Young Dual Language Learners by Zepeda, Castro, and Cronin (2011)



Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation from IOM (2015)


On page 498, in the Blueprint for Action, this IOM report says that all teachers need:

  • “Ability to advance the learning and development of children from backgrounds that are diverse in family structure, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, culture, and language.”
  • “Ability to advance the learning and development of children who are dual language learners.”


Promoting the Educational Success of Children and Youth Learning English: Promising Futures from National Academies Press (2017) https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24677/promoting-the-educational-success-of-children-and-youth-learning-english


“Barely a third of principals think education schools are doing very or moderately well at preparing teachers overall. Only 16 percent believe they prepare teachers to address the needs of students with limited English proficiency.”(a report on Arthur Levine’s study in this Edweek post “Early-Education Teachers Need Better Training” (2015) http://bit.ly/1IKXpRm )


“NYSED believes that all teachers are teachers of ELLs.”  From New York State Department of Education Blueprint for English Language Learner Success” http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/programs/bilingual-ed/nysblueprintforellsuccess.2016.pdf



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