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Considerations for Dual Language Learners

November 17, 2015, The IRIS Center

Carola Matera, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Studies at California State University Channel Islands, describes strategies and environmental considerations that teachers should keep in mind when they have young DLLs in their classrooms (time: 7:25).

Question asked of Carola Matera in this audio:

Dr. Matera, how can teachers support young dual language learners? In particular, what environmental supports can teachers use to help these children succeed?

Carola Matera, PhD
Carola Matera, PhD
Early Childhood Studies, School of Education
California State University Channel Islands

Transcript: Carola Matera, PhD

Narrator: This interview is brought to you by the IRIS Center, a national center funded by the Office of Special Education Programs.

Narrator: Dr. Matera, how can teachers support young dual language learners? In particular, what environmental supports can teachers use to help these children succeed?

Dr. Matera: There are several strategies that can be used in the classroom. What’s critical is that these are used consistently in a comprehensive way. So it doesn’t happen at one time of the day, but this is a holistic approach to supporting children throughout the day so that they can make friends, so that they can participate in the activities that are organized for everyone, and that they’re successful. And that we’re not waiting for children who are dual language learners and have developmental delays to learn English first to be able to enjoy those activities or those experiences. Some of these strategies have to do with supporting children’s social-emotional development, others have to do with environmental support, others have to do with instructional support, and others have to do with oral-language support.

In terms of environmental support, it’s important to have an area that is warm, that’s quiet, but it’s accessible, and that children who are dual language learners and have developmental delays can know that they can go to. It takes a lot of energy to be learning in an environment where the language spoken most of the time is different from their own. Having this area, this physical space that is nurturing but at the same time engaging—it has pillows and some books, but it’s a place that is quiet—that’s one strategy. Another one is that the languages of the children are represented, and that they include real pictures and photographs, and that they’re used throughout the day. So these are interactive. They’re not just stuck to a wall just to make it pretty or because it was something that they learned one time, but the children can remove them and use them maybe in the block area or in the house area, and they can create a menu with those words and pictures. In addition to that, using books and artifacts and displays that reflect the children’s culture. This is very important. It’s meaningful to the children, and usually having an opportunity to have these conversations with families to find out what might be things that they identify would fit as a reflection of children’s culture and not the teachers assuming what the culture is, what their practice is, and interests and passions in the home are. But having children bring them in plays an important role and is meaningful to children. They know why it’s there. In addition, having opportunities to celebrate the fact that children are learning in more than one language. That becomes part of the environment. Just as we celebrate children who have accomplished certain things, the fact that they are learning in another language is something to celebrate as much as their home language.

The home language is important to build relationships in the home and in the family. Communication is key. Young dual language learners who have developmental delays also benefit from learning their home language and developing in their home language. Some of the research and some of the practices talk about environmental supports that utilize multilingual labels that are color-coded. This is useful when we are making connections within and across languages. So, for example, distinguishing which languages are similar and which are different in the writing. We know that in Spanish, for example, we have a letter that’s quite distinct and unique and that’s the ñ, the “n” with a little thing on top. The fact that other languages don’t use the alphabet as we know it, and so bringing these differences and similarities to conversation and using the environment to support those conversations with children are very important and useful. In addition, having pictures and activities that in the displays that show who the families are is very important, and that these become also interactive. They’re not just stuck on the wall, but we use it, and it involves family and community participation. So having, for example, a nurse to also share his or her learning stories—who she is, what she does, and that the children know this person or someone in the community, in a local store et cetera—all of this supports their learning of literacy and new words. But it’s the connection. It’s the connection, and it’s how this environment becomes another teacher.

There’s something that we have to be very careful of, and that is how we choose books to display throughout the room. And that is we want to ensure that the languages of the children are represented in those books and the different kinds of books. Make sure that languages that are not as common are also represented. We can ask families or volunteers to help us in finding them, working with our local library find books that are as original as possible but also that represents those languages and in different categories within the literature, fiction, non-fiction, et cetera. It’s not about just having a box where it says culture, and these are the books that we display, and we take them out at different times of the year. We really want to make sure that those books reflect the cultures in the classroom. And when we say cultures, it’s their practices, their background, their passions, their interests. It’s a great idea to have the family participate in finding those books, going together maybe as a project into a library, looking at things online, and finding which ones would be more applicable and which ones might not. In doing this, we’ve found that there’s some books that can be quite offensive to parents, and we wouldn’t have known otherwise if we had not included them.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to this episode of the IRIS Center podcast. For more information about the IRIS Center and its resources, visit us at [].

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