Helping Parents Understand English Language Development in English Language Learners

By Guadalupe Díaz, Cesiah Vega & Dr. Karen Thompson.

Parents whose children are English Language Learners often have many concerns about their children’s English language development.  Many myths surround English language development that can create confusion, making it difficult for parents to know the best strategies to support their children.  We have compiled the top five concerns that we have repeatedly heard from parents about their children’s English language development. We will address each concern based on latest research.

Concern #1: If I speak my native language to my child they will not learn English .

Many parents worried that speaking their native language to their children will delay language and academic growth.  Current research shows that speaking a native language can build the language foundation that children need to learn a second language. Once children have developed a strong language foundation in their first language they will be better equipped to learn English.

Concern #2: Learning two languages will confuse my child.

 It is a common myth that learning two languages can confuse and/or overwhelm a child, but based on current research the opposite is true.  Most children around the world learn more than one language. Children have the capacity to distinguish between the two languages through different cues to decide which language is appropriate to use in each context. Learning two languages will not cause delays in children’s English language acquisition.  Additionally, research has shown that learning two languages has cognitive, sociocultural, and economic benefits.

Concern #3: My child’s language is not developing as fast as children who only speak English.

Often parents compare their children’s language development to other children to assess whether they are developing appropriately.  It is important to remember that all children develop at different rates and there are different stages of acquiring a second language. The different stages can help us understand where children are in their English language development and how to help them further their skills.

Concern #4: My child will fall behind if they have not learned English by the end of preschool or kindergarten.

Often when children are not speaking English by the end of preschool or kindergarten parents become concern that children are falling behind.  The reality is that it takes children on average 4-7 years to become fluent in English.  Learning two languages is hard work and we need to give children enough time and the appropriate support to master both languages.

Concern #5: If my child attends a dual immersion program they will and fall behind in English and academically.

When parents are making the decision whether to enroll their children in dual immersion programs they worry that their children will fall behind academically and they will learn English at a slower pace.  Research has documented the long-term benefits of enrolling children in dual immersion programs.  For example, research shows that in the long-term, children who are English Language Learners are more likely to become proficient in English and master academic content when they are enrolled in dual language immersion programs rather than English-only programs. Additionally, dual immersion programs are more effective at closing the achievement gap between English language learners and non-English language learners.

To find more information on supporting English Language Learners go to: (Recursos en Español/Resources in Spanish)

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