English Language Learner Home Language Development

The domain of English Language Learner Home Language Development includes Preschool Benchmarks in: Using Home Language to Communicate and to Make Connections and Reinforce Knowledge and Skills Across Academic and Social Areas

For young children who are English Language Learners (ELLs), the home language is the vehicle by which they are socialized into their families and communities. It is the medium that fosters their earliest and most enduring relationships, their initial ideas about how the world works, and their emerging sense of self and identity. When preschool ELLs enter English-only preschool classrooms, they may lose their desire and eventually their ability to speak their home language. The development of linguistic, cognitive, and literacy skills in the child’s first language provides the foundation for learning these skills in English. The knowledge and skills children demonstrate in their home language can be applied to the learning of English for social and academic purposes. Therefore, a child’s understanding and ability to use her home language is the first step in acquiring English proficiency and English literacy skills.

Recent research from cognitive neuroscientists has found that

  • the preschool years are an ideal time for children to learn two languages;
  • there are multiple cognitive, social, and cultural benefits when young children have the opportunity to learn more than one language;
  • knowing more than one language does not delay the acquisition of English or impede academic achievement in English when both are supported; and
  • children who learn English after their home language has been established (usually around 3 years of age) are capable of adding a second language and this dual-language ability confers long-term cognitive, cultural, and economic advantages. Some children learn two languages simultaneously, starting before the age of 3, and follow similar developmental trajectories as their monolingual peers when the development of both languages is supported.

The early childhood years are the critical time for developing mastery of the sounds, structures, and functions of language and thus an ideal time to expose children to the benefits of two languages. Therefore, the Illinois ELL Home Language Development Standards begin with home language goals and benchmarks. These indicators of progress in mastering the elements of the home language are critical to the process of acquiring English proficiency and developing the underlying linguistic knowledge necessary for academic success in English.

Geraldo and his co-teacher, Mingyu, have children from families who speak many different languages in their homes. Both teachers recognize the importance of a child’s first language and work hard to use words and phrases they hear at home. They invite families to teach them so they can expand their own capabilities to communicate with the children. They also know that as children participate in an English-speaking environment, their brains are busy processing and interpreting what is being said. They are patient and understanding, letting each child know that he can communicate in whatever way works best for him. They are amazed as they watch children with various languages at play together. The amount of accommodation they make for each other is so heartwarming.


Goal 28
Use the home language to communicate within and beyond the classroom.

Learning Standard 28.A
Use the home language at age-appropriate levels for a variety of social and academic purposes.

Example Performance Descriptors

Use the home language in greetings and other social situations. Answer questions about self in home language. Use the home language to respond to stories, conversations, or share personally meaningful information, such as what the family did over the weekend.
Label elements in family photo (e.g., self, family members, event, location) in the home language. Describe actions in play scenarios and act out familiar role in dramatic play using home language (e.g., mother, grandfather, doctor). Resolve conflicts with another child who speaks the same language using home language (e.g., taking turns on a bike, sharing a doll).
Use one- to two-word utterances to convey an idea in the home language. Use three- to five-word utterances to convey an idea in the home language. Use utterances of five or more words to convey an idea in the home language.
Begin to show some awareness of different languages, communication styles, and/or formats to use in community settings (e.g., home, grocery store, church). Begin to show some awareness of different languages, communication styles, and/or formats to use in early childhood settings (e.g., gym, art, playtime, group times). Use different languages, communication styles, and/or formats to use in early childhood settings and in community settings (e.g., chooses language(s) for play depending upon the peer(s), turns and talks to a peer using appropriate language, talks to adults using appropriate language).

Goal 29
Use the home language to make connections and reinforce knowledge and skills across academic and social areas.

Learning Standard 29.A
Use the home language to attain benchmarks across all the learning areas and to build upon and develop transferable language and literacy skills.

Example Performance Descriptors

In home language, retell home routine to understand concept of sequencing (e.g., tell the things done at home before school). In home language, describe what s/he is doing in a play or group experience. In home language, explain a new discovery or understanding acquired through a play or group experience.
With adult support, use one or two English words to communicate about familiar routines. With adult support, attempt to use general and specific English words connected to a specific topic (e.g., butterfly, wing, eye, pretty, fly) with home language in conversations, responses, and/or questions. With adult support, connect vocabulary in home language with English vocabulary (e.g., círculo/circle, más/more, carro/car).
Pretend to read text in home language (e.g., tell the things seen in pictures to read a picture book to a friend in home language). Use knowledge of stories read in home language to answer simple questions in English or the home language (e.g., after completing a picture walk of a book in home language, the child answers questions about characters in the book). Dictate information that includes some details or sequence of events to be written on a piece of work in the home language (e.g., could dictate to a family member, classroom volunteer, or another person who speaks the child’s home language).