The Importance of Home Language for Young Dual Language Learners

By Emily Firgens

Head Start currently serves more than 300,000 dual language learners (DLLs); and 30 percent of Head Start children live in homes where the primary language spoken isn’t English. Supporting the home language development of young DLLs provides these children with numerous cognitive and social-emotional benefits, including improved focus and decision making, and fosters strong connections to their community and culture. Parents and teachers can take an active role in helping DLLs learn both their home language and another language. A new series of handouts from the Office of Head Start’s National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness highlights the importance of home language in children’s development, and how this can be supported in the home, classroom, and community.

The series of four handouts, available in both English and Spanish, provide Head Start staff, families, and other caregivers information on topics relating to children learning two or more languages. The series covers:

There are a number of ways teachers and families can help young DLLs learn their home language and a second language. The series recommends telling stories, singing songs, and reading books in the home language. Additionally, teachers can encourage families to use their home language in the household, and families can make intentional efforts to speak with their children in the home language. Teachers and families can also encourage children to talk about their traditions and cultures and can look for community activities that allow them to hear and use their home language.

In our increasingly diverse country and globally connected society, development of two or more languages provides critical short and long-term benefits. For young DLLs, families and caregivers play a crucial role in their achieving these benefits.