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Helping DLLs Learn in Two Languages During Early Childhood

Originally published:

Chalkboard drawing of two people saying hello in English and Spanish

According to Child Trends, nearly one in three U.S. children lives in a home where a language other than English is spoken. Becoming fluent in both the home language and English most easily occurs for young children. Those dual language learners (DLLs) who are proficient in English by the end of first grade do better academically over time.This is important for parents, teachers, and caregivers of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Support for learning both English and the home language at the same time is critical for learning academic subjects such as reading, math, science, and social studies.

Teachers and caregivers of young DLLs can support the development of both English and the home language through intentionally connecting with children’s families. Building a positive relationship with families may involve making a home visit or meeting during a parent’s break at their place of employment.

Teachers and caregivers can share simple child-focused resources that support learning vocabulary in both languages (e.g., simple games, songs, picture books). Teachers and caregivers can reinforce for parents of DLLs the very positive outcomes for their young children who learn in more than one language (e.g., better social communication skills, stronger cognitive and memory skills).

Early childhood is a critical developmental period for all children. Teachers and caregivers of young DLLs are wise to intentionally plan specific times during the day to facilitate young children’s language development in English while supporting the development of their home language.

Building on children’s current knowledge, experiences, and interests promotes new learning. When teachers and caregivers learn a few phrases and questions to use in a child’s home language, they help young DLLs connect their language development across home, caregiving, and school settings. Teachers and caregivers can guide children’s learning using recommended teaching practices:

  1. Acknowledge and describe: Tell DLLs what you notice about them and their activities.
  2. Coach: Encourage DLLs and provide them with suggestions during routines and activities.
  3. Extend: Ask DLLs open-ended questions and provide additional materials to extend their learning.
  4. Demonstrate: Model and show DLLs what you would like them to do.
  5. Give information: Provide facts and help DLLs explore answers to their questions.

As more DLLs enroll in community-based child care, preschool, and kindergarten settings, teachers and caregivers are increasingly responsible for promoting language development in both English and the child’s home language. Carefully planning language-rich activities and the use of recommended teaching practices across a child’s day will enhance development of both English and the home language, thereby increasing future academic success.

Bernie Laumann

Bernie Laumann

Dr. Bernadette M. Laumann was the coordinator of the Illinois Early Learning Project from 2013 to 2019. She has been a child care teacher, an early childhood special education teacher, director of an inclusive early childhood program, researcher, and university teacher educator. Her research interests include mentoring and induction activities for beginning teachers and the use of technology in connecting evidence-based practice.


  • Dodge, D. T., Rudick, S., & Colker, L. J. (2009). The creative curriculum for family child care (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Teaching Strategies.
  • Halle, T., Hair, E., McNamara, M., & Chien, N. (2012). Predictors and outcomes of early vs. later English language proficiency among English language learners. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27, 1–20.

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About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Home
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2024