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The importance of Language development in early childhood: Primary and Second Language

The importance of Language development in early childhood: Primary and Second Language

As we continue to grow and expand Universal Transitional Kindergarten (UTK) programs across the county, we have an opportunity to design programs that value and affirm students’ languages and cultures. We know that young children are natural language learners and language plays a central role in children’s cognitive and social development in the formative years. The international research on the positive impact of bilingualism is also clear: bilingualism expands multicultural awareness, nurtures and appreciation for multiple points of view, and increases problem solving abilities. In California, where more than 40 percent of children speak a language other than English at home, nurturing quality UTK bilingual programs that maintain and strengthen students’ primary languages extends bilingual benefits to all of our youngest learners.   

The Universal Prekindergarten Planning and Implementation Grant emphasizes the importance of implementing language program models in which home-languages are viewed as assets. Models include both bilingual and dual language programs that support the development of English and an additional or primary language. Likewise, 

The Global California 2030, the California Education for a Global Economy (Ed.G.E) initiative, the California English Learner Roadmap State Board of Education Policy, and the recently released Dual Language Immersion Grant Program all aim to expand the teaching and learning of world languages and ensure the development of students’ primary languages in structured learning environments.

To begin to design robust UTK bilingual and dual language programs, we can intentionally integrate multilingual learning into our instructional design. The following instructional practices, adapted from the Center for Research and Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE), support the language development of multilingual learners: 

  • Interact with students in ways that respect students’ preferences for speaking that may be different from the teacher’s, such as wait-time, eye contact, turn-taking, or spotlighting.
  • Use students’ first and second languages to provide academic instruction and activities.
  • Implement active discovery approaches to teaching and learning.
  • View dual language and bilingual programs as “gifted” programs.
  • Promote and plan frequent opportunities for student talk about familiar topics such as home and community with each other and the teacher during instructional activities.
  • Respond to students’ talk and questions, making ‘in-flight’ changes during conversation that directly relate to students’ comments.
  • Connect student language with literacy and content area knowledge through speaking, listening, reading, and writing activities.
  • Assist written and oral language development through modeling, eliciting, probing, restating, clarifying, questioning, praising, etc., in purposeful conversation and writing.
  • Encourage students to use content vocabulary to express their understanding.

More information:

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Read details about the timeline for Universal Transitional Kindergarten implementation through the 2025-26 school year.

California Assembly Bill (AB) 130 established an early learning initiative to expand access to classroom-based prekindergarten programs offered by school districts, county offices of education, or charter schools. With the passage of AB 130 in Section 22, the TK-12 education trailer bill, legislation outlined funding for a universal preschool program that would be available to every 4-year-old regardless of income.