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Dual Language Use During Choice Time

child at table

About this video

This video shows 5-year-old Imelda interacting in English with an adult visitor and singing in Spanish during choice time in her half-day bilingual classroom. Imelda’s teachers provide instruction in both English and Spanish. The children may use either language during their choice time activities.

Switching from English to Spanish

Imelda is considered a dual language learner; she is learning English while continuing to develop competence in her home language, Spanish. Imelda seems comfortable using English with the visitor. In fact, she spontaneously begins explaining in English what she is doing. Like many bilingual children, she is attuned to the language others use and decides whether to address the person in English or her home language after a visitor speaks just one or two words. This practice of changing from one language to another in conversation is sometimes called code-switching or translanguaging. (Translanguaging is formally defined as the interaction between two languages to communicate ideas, information, and concepts.)

Using English

In the first part of the video, Imelda is at the science investigation table, where the theme for the week is “light.” The teacher has set out hand mirrors, prisms, a flashlight, a bottle of water, and pattern tiles. When the video begins, Imelda is making a pattern block design and talking about what she is doing. She seems sometimes to be talking to herself (“Can you move the diamond for a second?”) and, at other times, talking about herself (“I can make something…”). She uses full sentences and standard sentence structure much of the time, such as “And then you see it.” The phrase “Something what I can do” is a nonstandard grammatical construction (“something that I can do” is correct) used by many young native speakers of English. She uses another nonstandard construction that is fairly common among preschoolers whose home language is English: After completing the puzzle, she announces in English that she will “do a other one.” “Another one” is standard construction.

Using Spanish

After the break in the video (at 1:30), Imelda works with an alphabet puzzle. She sings to the tune of the English alphabet song while naming the letters in Spanish and putting each puzzle piece into place as she sings its name. She sometimes crowds the Spanish syllables together to make them fit the phrasing of the song. At other times, she repeats a letter or draws out the pronunciation (“E-E-E-E-E-E”) while she looks for the corresponding letter. After placing the Z, she spontaneously creates and sings a song in Spanish about the work she has done with the Spanish letters.

A Spanish alphabet puzzle would include the ñ in addition to the n, but this puzzle does not, and Imelda omits it from her song. She pronounces r as a Spanish rr (erre), which until recently was considered a separate letter from r in the Spanish alphabet.

Some Spanish readers may notice that Imelda’s version of the alphabet does not reflect some recent changes to Spanish spelling rules made by the Real Academia Española (RAE). Many countries in Latin America do not follow the RAE and would consider Imelda’s version of the Spanish alphabet to be correct. For example, she uses letter names common in Latin America for y (i griega) and v (ve). In spoken Mexican Spanish, the b and v have the same pronunciation. In written Spanish, however, they are distinct and are called “be grande” or “be larga” and “ve chica” or “ve corta.” That is how the parents are likely to distinguish between them, according to Imelda’s teacher. Children learning the alphabet at home will learn what their parents know.



Part 1 (speaking in English)

Imelda is making a pattern tile design at the science table.

Imelda: There. … I can make something what I can do. (She moves the tiles into place.) I make (claps hands) THIS! Like, the same (moves a yellow hexagon into place above a red hexagon she made from two other pieces). The same thing. (She adds another hexagon.) And then you see it.

She picks up a hand mirror, holds it next to the hexagon tiles, and looks at her design in the mirror.

Adult: Does it look different in the mirror?

Imelda: You forgot. We forgot a, a diamond.

She picks up a blue diamond-shaped tile, places it, and picks it up again.

Imelda: Can you move the diamond for a second?

She moves the hand mirror so that she can see it reflect part of her design. Her arm knocks over a prism that has been standing on end.

Imelda: Oops. That’s all right (placing the diamond and looking at the design with the mirror). Then … It’s not a diamond. It looks like a [unintelligible]. I’ll have to make something. (She sorts through some tiles on the table.) This is what I’m lookin’ for.

She sits down and carefully adds tiles to the design.

Imelda: And mix it up!

She pushes some tiles around on a sheet of white paper, picks up some blue ones, and places them on her design.

Adult: Can you use the parts?

Imelda: … and mix …

She continues to carefully move the blue tiles in her design.

Part 2 (speaking, singing mostly in Spanish)

Imelda stands at a table that holds several alphabet puzzle pieces. She sings the letters of the alphabet in Spanish as she fits pieces on the puzzle board.

Imelda: C, D, E-E-E-E-E-E-E (looks for the f, does not find it, and sits down).

Imelda: (placing letters as she sings) Where’s the F? F… G… (waves her arms) H…

Imelda: (places letters as she sings) H… I-I-I-I-I, J, K, L, M, M, N, O, P…. Q…Q, RRRRR, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y… and Z. (Running a hand over the puzzle and still singing) A, B, C, D, all the letters. I’ve put all the letters because I … do.

She finishes and claps for herself.

Teacher: Yay!

Imelda: (in English) Lemme do a other one (looks at other puzzles on table).

Benchmarks and How They Were Met

BenchmarksHow They Were Met
Language Arts
1.A.ECc: Provide comments relevant to the context.
Imelda told the visitor what she was doing with the pattern tiles and the mirror.
Language Arts
1.D.ECa: With teacher assistance, use complete sentences in speaking with peers and adults in individual and group situations.
Imelda used complete sentences when speaking in English.
Language Arts
1.D.ECb: Speak using age-appropriate conventions of Standard English grammar and usage.
Imelda’s narration included several examples of conventions of standard grammar and usage, such as “And then you see it.”; “Can you move the diamond for a second?”
Language Arts
4.B.ECb: Recognize and name some upper/lowercase letters of the alphabet, especially those in own name.
Imelda sang the alphabet song in Spanish, picking up and placing the correct puzzle piece each time.
8.A.ECa: Sort, order, compare, and describe objects according to characteristics or attribute(s).
Imelda referred to “diamond” shapes when using the pattern tiles and chose several blue diamond tiles from among all the tiles on the table. With words and gestures, she indicated that by putting together two red tiles, she had made “the same thing” as the yellow hexagon tile.
9.A.ECd: Combine two-dimensional shapes to create new shapes.
Imelda put two red tiles together and noted that she had made “the same” shape (that is, a hexagon) as a yellow tile.
13.B.ECb: Become familiar with technological tools that can aid in scientific inquiry.
Imelda used a mirror to look at part of her pattern tile design and commented about the reflection.
Physical Development and Health
19.A.ECd: Use eye-hand coordination to perform tasks.
Imelda placed small tiles where she wanted them to go in her design.
English Language Learner Home Language Development
28.A.ECa: May demonstrate progress and mastery of benchmarks through home language.
Imelda showed that she knew the alphabet in Spanish by singing the alphabet while putting each letter into its place in the puzzle. She invented an ending for the song.
English Language Learner Home Language Development
28.A.ECb: Use home language in family, community, and early childhood settings.
Imelda sang the English alphabet song in Spanish, adapting the song to exclude a letter (ñ) that would have appeared on a Spanish alphabet puzzle. Naming the alphabet letters reflected technical knowledge of Spanish.
English Language Learner Home Language Development
29.A.ECb: With adult support, begin to bridge home language and English to demonstrate progress in meeting IELDS.
Imelda demonstrated progress in several of the above benchmarks while speaking in English to a visitor. While putting together the alphabet puzzle, she demonstrated knowledge of the alphabet in Spanish.
Social/emotional Development
30.C.ECc: Show some initiative, self-direction, and independence in actions.
Imelda chose to be at the science table and decided what she would do there.When Imelda completed the alphabet puzzle, she announced that she would “do a other one.”

WIDA Early English Language Development Standards (E-ELDs)

To assess and make curriculum decisions regarding children whose home language is not English, Illinois educators use the Early English Language Development (E-ELD) Standards, developed by World-class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. The observational data described here would be useful for planning instruction. However, a teacher would need multiple pieces of evidence to evaluate a child’s performance level.

Expressive Language. In this video, we see Imelda using a variety of simple and expanded sentences of two to eight words expressing related ideas in English. Her sentences included questioning, commenting, describing. She used contractions, nouns, verbs, pronouns, conjunctions, and modifiers. She used past tense, present tense, and future tense in English.

Imelda used geometry-related technical vocabulary (“diamond”) and specific vocabulary indicating understanding of mathematical concepts, such as “same.”

Based on what is shown in the video clip, a teacher might consider Imelda’s E-ELD performance for expressive language to be at the “bridging” level for English. However, children may use language/s differently in different contexts (home, community, school) and situations (pretend play, direct instruction, project work). The teacher would need to collect additional data across settings, conversation partners, and time to gain a full picture of Imelda’s expressive language capabilities in English and Spanish.

About this resource

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

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers
  • Faculty / Trainer

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2017