What do teachers need to know about young dual language learners with disabilities?
Page 1: Young Dual Language Learners with Disabilities
As you learned in this module’s Challenge, Mrs. Raymond’s classroom includes a diverse group of children, many of them from homes where languages other than English are spoken. These children are known as dual language learners (DLL)*, the term currently used to refer to students or children who are learning two or more languages, either simultaneously or sequentially. The differences between simultaneous and sequential language learners include:
- Simultaneous language learners are those who learn two or more languages at the same time from birth or who start learning a second language prior to age three. Additionally:
- These learners often master both languages, each of which is considered to be their “first language.”
- Though both languages will develop at the same pace, the pace for learning two or more languages might be slower than that of a child who is learning only one language.
- Sequential language learners are those who begin to learn an additional language after they have turned three years of age. In addition:
- By the age of 36 months, these learners have often reached at least basic mastery in their first language. Basic mastery usually indicates that they have learned roughly 3,000 words and the use of simple phrases (similar to Stage 3 in the table below).
- Many preschool children who communicate effectively in their home language go through the stages of second language acquisition, more information about which can be found in the table below.
|Second Language Acquisition Stages|
|Stage 1: Pre-production||
|Stage 2: Early production||
|Stage 3: Speech emergence||
|Stage 4: Intermediate fluency||
|Stage 5: Advanced fluency||
For Your Information
Although dual language learners is the term frequently applied to young children—those whom this module specifically addresses—there are other terms that refer to older children who use or who are learning multiple languages. These include:
- Bilingual children
- English language learner (ELL)
- English learner (EL)
- Children who speak a language other than English (LOTE)
- Emergent bilingual
Another term, Limited English Proficient (LEP), is now generally considered to be outdated.
Listen as Robert Stechuk, an expert in the area of young dual language learners, discusses the use of the term for young children. Next, he describes the distinction between simultaneous and sequential learners, followed by some of the key differences between DLLs and children learning only one language.
Robert Stechuk, PhD
Dual Language Learners with Disabilities
Any population of children will include a percentage who have disabilities. Children with disabilities are entitled by law to receive an individualized education, one tailored to address their unique needs. Though they can qualify to receive services under one of 13 disability categories covered in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA ’04), it is sometimes difficult to identify their specific disabilities, particularly in the case of young children. In such instances, federal law allows states to serve these children under the category of developmental delay. Regardless, teachers need to address the language learning needs of DLLs as well as the individual needs associated with a given disability.
A review of the current research indicates that:
- DLLs with disabilities (e.g., speech-language impairment, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome) tend to lag behind their typically developing DLL peers in both academic and language outcomes.
- DLLs with disabilities tend to perform as well if not better on various measures of language and cognitive development than do their peers with disabilities who speak a single language.
- Children with disabilities can successfully learn a new or second language.
(Cheatham, Santos, and Kerkutluoglu, 2012)
*Note: Because this module specifically addresses young children, the terms dual language learners or DLLs will be used.