Bilingual Education and Preschoolers’ Development


Bilingual education is regarded as a huge benefit for young learners. There are several theories in child development that directly or indirectly discuss the implications of bilingual education and show the importance of bilingual education. According to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, children’s way of thinking differs greatly from the adults’ one (Conkbayir & Pascal, 2014). Piaget’s theory states that children learn to use language at the preoperational stage when they are between two and six years old.

During this period, they do not understand concrete logic and cannot adopt other people’s points of view (Conkbayir & Pascal, 2014). Therefore, this approach also encourages teaching children two languages at a preschool age because they are the most likely to accept new knowledge without serious difficulties. Thus, bilingual education fits this theory since, in dual-language classrooms, children are helped by their teachers to acquire new knowledge and communicate with their peers to develop their skills in social interaction.

However, there are still many unanswered questions in regards to its impact on children’s development. The area of the research focus is significant because it is crucial to find out what kind of qualities bilingual education can help to develop and how exactly it influences the progress of preschoolers. The question has been studied by many scholars who emphasize the positive influence of bilingual education.

According to the United States Census Bureau (2015), as many as 350 languages are spoken in US homes. 38% of citizens aged five or older living in the New York metro area are reported to communicate in a language other than English at home, which means that they are bilingual. Statistics indicate that 22% of US children spoke a language other than English at home in 2016 (The number of bilingual kids in America continues to rise,” 2018). Thus, there were more than 12 million bilingual children in the US in 2016, and this number continues to grow annually (“The number of bilingual kids in America continues to rise,” 2018).

In this paper, I will provide a brief literature review, policy perspectives, and insights from those practicing in the field of children’s development in relation to bilingual education.

Review of the Literature

The research question in the article by Durán, Roseth, and Hoffman (2010) was: how does transitional bilingual education (TBE) impact the early literacy development of Spanish-speaking preschoolers? The sample consisted of thirty-one Spanish-speaking preschoolers from two classes at the Head Start site. The age of the participants varied between 38 and 48 months. The authors randomly allocated sixteen children to the English classroom (control group) and the remaining fifteen children to the TBE classroom (experimental group). The data were collected through observation.

Five independent variables were included in the study: letter-word identification, receptive vocabulary, alliteration, expressive vocabulary, and rhyming. The measures were administered two times during the academic year: in September-October and April-May. Researchers found it difficult to ensure the systematic alternation of language order. However, there were no occasions of the same instrument being administered to the same student on the same day.

Every examiner had to use only their language with the learners. During the first assessment, the examiners were inspected and received feedback after the evaluation. The research design chosen by the authors was a longitudinal experimental comparison of TBE and English instruction on low-income Spanish-speaking preschoolers’ literacy and language development (Durán et al., 2010). The major finding of the study was that TBE was a useful tool for improving Spanish literacy and language without considerable cost to the development of English literacy.

Orellana (1994) investigated the preschoolers’ bilingual language use in play. The languages spoken by the children were English and Spanish. There were three research questions:

  1. How do preschoolers use Spanish and English in spontaneous play?
  2. How do institutional, family, and societal use of language impact the preschoolers’ language during playing?
  3. What information does the language use present about the developing self-identities of the children? (Orellana, 1994).

There were two constituents of the study’s sample. The major focus was on three children: Carlos (3 years 8 months old), Veronica (3 years 3 months old), and Elisa (2 years 10 months old). The researcher employed a convenience sample. The children were picked because they were raised in bilingual families where one parent’s native language was English, and the other’s was Spanish. Elisa was the child of the researcher. In all the families, parents paid more attention to teaching their children Spanish. Apart from that, the researcher analyzed the development of twenty-five children at a bilingual kindergarten.

The instruments used to collect data were direct observation and note-taking. The researcher examined children’s language use in kindergarten and at home. Upon the observation, Orellana (1994) interviewed the three children. The research design was qualitative phenomenological. The researcher observed the children in natural environments, took notes, and asked them some questions. The findings of the study were as follows.

When playing with one another, the three children spoke Spanish, whereas, in the English-speaking environment, they chose to speak English. All the children demonstrated flexibility in their language use. The preschoolers’ language development was influenced by the environment (home or school), particularly in consideration of the large social context. Since the children showed an equal mastery of Spanish and English, there was a possibility that they might gradually change their language preferences and forget the native language.

The study by Rezzonico et al. (2016) was focused on the investigation of narratives of four- and five-year-old children speaking English and Cantonese. The research aimed at answering the following questions:

  1. Are there any differences in the macrostructure of the Cantonese-English bilingual children?
  2. Are there any differences in their microstructure?
  3. What are the determinants of the children’s micro-and macrostructure results in English?

The study sample included 47 children (23 4-year-olds and 24 5-year-olds) from Canada who spoke both English and Cantonese. At home, Cantonese was used more frequently than English. The participants were to generate a story in both languages with the help of a picture book. The order of languages was counterbalanced.

For measuring nonverbal intelligence, all participants in Cantonese were administered the matrices subtest of the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test. For measuring English vocabulary skills, the authors used the expressive one-word picture vocabulary test. The characteristics of the participants were summed up in a table. The researcher employed a cross-sectional design that tested both age groups simultaneously. It was a quantitative correlation study. The major findings of the study were as follows. The children’s grammar was better in English than in Cantonese. As the children grew older, they demonstrated the improvement of both languages. Such findings made it possible to predict a possibility of the children’s transferred narrative abilities in Cantonese and English.

Saenz et al. (2000) performed a three-year study that investigated preschoolers’ achievements in a Head Start center. The main research question was: how does a three-year language enrichment program change preschoolers’ language skills? 168 children were selected for participation in the study. They were divided into three groups: English-dominant, Spanish-dominant, and mixed dominance (cohorts 1 and 2) or limited English-proficient (cohort 3).

The children were classified in accordance with their score on the pre-Idea Proficiency Test (IPT). The test was checked by students studying graduate school psychology and special education. For groups 1 and 2, the authors used two measures: the Preschool Language Scale 3 and the pre-ITP. For group 3, only the pre-ITP test was used. The test had high validity and reliability rates. It classified the children as non-speakers, limited speakers, or fluent speakers. The main method employed in the study was quantitative research. The type of the study was correlation since the researchers discovered the links between the variables and predicted the necessary changes in the curriculum. In each year, the findings were different.

In year one, Spanish-dominant preschoolers demonstrated significant growth in English skills. In year two, the English-dominant group indicated no improvement in English, whereas the Spanish-dominant group showed improvement in both languages. In year three, the Spanish-dominant group did not have any improvement in languages but showed progress in other languages. The limited English-proficient group did not demonstrate language progress but demonstrated improvements in motor and total domains.

The research question in Yow’s (2015) article was: can monolingual and bilingual children’s use of gestures or other cues help them resolve ambiguous pronouns? The sample was composed of 32 4-year-old preschoolers, one half of them being monolingual and the other half being bilingual. The participants were selected on the basis of a language questionnaire filled in by their parents. It was a convenience sample. The measure used to collect data was an individual test performed by the experimenter. Also, the study employed a Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test IV that evaluated the receptive vocabulary. The type of research was quantitative descriptive. The major finding of the article was that preschoolers were able to use gestures and other cues to clarify the ambiguous pronouns.

Cross-Cutting Themes

Although each of the reviewed articles has different research questions, they also have some things in common. The first cross-cutting theme is the interaction between English and Spanish. The use of these two languages as a basis for researching bilingual education was discussed by Durán et al. (2010), Orellana (1994), and Saenz et al. (2000). Such a tendency suggests a conclusion that English is frequently paired with Spanish. Owing to these research papers, parents and educators become able to trace the major difficulties preschool children meet when studying two languages simultaneously. Also, the studies suggest much information on the improvement of English and Spanish mastery by young learners.

The second cross-cutting theme is that the authors of the majority of the articles preferred quantitative study design. Such a design was used by Rezzonico et al. (2016), Saenz et al. (2000), and Yow (2015). These researchers provided numerical data as a result of their investigation. In Rezzonico et al.’s (2016) study, the repeated measures ANOVAs were employed to calculate the differences in the macro-and microstructure of the Cantonese-English bilingual children.

Saenz et al. (2000) estimated the growth of children’s language skills. Yow (2015) performed the statistical analysis to find the ratios of the monolingual and bilingual children’s median, mean, and variance property valuation. The benefit of using quantitative research to study this topic is that this method provides the most precise calculations and makes the results be convinced. And a limitation of quantitative research in the situation is that it may lose the opportunity to obtain responses from the participants as a result of an interview or a survey.

Contrary to the mentioned three articles, the study by and Orellana (1994) used the qualitative design. The author observed children’s interactions and took notes of whatever she found necessary. Later, the researcher made conclusions based on the observations, but there were no numerical data. Finally, Durán et al. (2010) employed a mixed-method approach. On the one hand, the study contained independent and dependent variables, which is a sign of quantitative research. On the other hand, the authors observed the preschoolers, which signifies the qualitative design.

Based on the review of articles, it is possible to note that bilingual education has a positive impact on the development of preschool children’s language skills. And dual-language education helps the children to accommodate in different environments better and teaches them to express their opinions in many ways. Researchers focus their investigation on the development of children’s language skills under the circumstances of the bilingual learning environment. This type of education is related to many developmental theories, the authors of which emphasized the need for children to cultivate thinking, learn about conflict resolution strategies, and accommodate various social circumstances.

The research helped to understand the basic principles of bilingual education and the methods preferred by some school programs. At the same time, it revealed that not all schools paid equal attention to the development of both languages. Also, it is noted that the question of bilingual education in preschools has not been investigated to the full extent yet. Further studies are necessary in order to cover all the aspects of such type of learning. Educators and caregivers should have a variety of prompts to use at home and preschool in order to make the outcomes of dual-language learning the most beneficial.

Policy Perspective/ Efforts

Based on those reviews of articles, bilingual education has a positive impact on the development of preschool children. It is crucial to support an effective policy on bilingual education. The promotion of dual language immersion programs would be a great option. A dual language immersion program is an instructional model that provides content-based instruction to students in two languages. The goal is that all participants can become proficient and literate in both languages, also meet a high academic standard.

U.S. Department of Education (2015) suggests three policies concerning student placement in dual language immersion programs: open enrollment policy; enrolling students after Grade 1 or 2; enrolling students whose parents have submitted written consent for their child’s participation in the program (on a yearly basis). All of these policies seem equally relevant for bilingual education.

The first policy involves open enrollment, which means that children from diverse backgrounds and skills have an equal possibility to participate in bilingual education programs. This policy has been adopted in two states, Utah and Delaware. There are two options for children in these states: they can choose between one-way and two-way dual-language programs. Young learners, who are mostly native English speakers, learn one of the world languages (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). Bilingual education programs have to comply with the open enrollment policy and offer equal opportunities for every child.

The second policy presupposes special requirements for the age of the participants of dual-language programs. According to this policy, the children speaking only English are not accepted to the program after Grade 1, and those not speaking English are not allowed after Grade 2. However, if a child is bilingual, he or she can join at any stage (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). This regulation is aimed at avoiding the imbalance of learners’ language acquisition level. This way, every child will develop at the same pace, and no difficulties for the children’s development appear.

According to the third policy’s requirements, parents need to collaborate with schools closely, get acquainted with the learning materials, and be informed about the educational options accessible for their children (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). Thus, this policy seems rather reasonable by establishing connections between school and home and making parents aware of their children’s educational program.

When schools provide both non-English-speaking and limited English proficient learners with specialized academic support, they are in turn accelerating these students’ process of acquiring not only English literacy but also the skills and knowledge they acquire in their schooling process (Mathewson, 2017). It shows that a dual language immersion program would lead positive effect on students’ learning ability. Therefore, it is necessary to expand bilingual education programs and encourage the acquisition of second languages in the education sector through the establishment of dual language immersion programs. Dual models of language enrichment have fostered an empowering and positive learning environment for students’ development.

Wisdom of Practice Perspective


Dora Tu (Personal communication, April 15th, 2018) is a Chinese lead teacher in Global Garden International School. She has much experience teaching bilingual children. The interview adds to the understanding of “what works” about the topic since Dora explains how positive the outcomes of bilingual education are. She also speaks about the “challenges” that may appear when working at a dual language school, such as children’s insufficient level of readiness and the lack of teachers who could do this job.

Dora’s perspective on the topic is that dual language education is a highly effective method of teaching children two languages at the same time. Moreover, Dora reports that she has noticed considerable improvements in communication skills, non-verbal communication, and psychological readiness to interact with peers in children who study two languages. Still, as she mentions, not all schools and parents support such programs, which makes it impossible to reach the best educational outcomes for many preschoolers studying in the US kindergartens.

Along with a number of advantages of dual education, Dora admits that some issues and challenges may appear in the process of work with children and families. The major problem is the diversity of languages spoken in the US. It is not always possible to find the school parents want in the area. As a result, a child either learns only one language at a regular school or is sent to a school where only one of the languages spoken at home is taught. The victim of the situation is usually the child. Teachers also feel much inconvenience if they appear in a situation like this. Dora mentions that the best solution to this issue would be introducing the program of dual language education to more schools. However, this suggestion implies another difficulty, which is the lack of certified teachers who could do such a job.

Specific challenges related to children participating in dual language education include psychological barriers and an unequal degree of language mastery. The strategies Dora uses to meet these challenges include creating special psychological and language tests for checking preschoolers’ progress and using that information to guide curriculum and instruction to participate in the program and the degree of knowledge.

Dora explains the importance of bilingual education by the possibility of such experience to open many new opportunities for the children who receive such training. If she could pick one question to find answers on this topic, Dora would ask, “Do you not think that we should give our children the best opportunities to learn about the world if we can do so?” A piece of advice that Dora gives from a “wisdom of practice” perspective is not to be afraid to open our children’s minds to as many educational possibilities as possible, study the achievements of the children who have attended dual-language schools, and offer the best learning options to the future generations.

Professional Organization Position

National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) supports dual language teaching. This national professional organization has been advocating in the field for over four decades. NABE’s position paper is reflected in its mission that includes the following crucial elements: NABE advocates for “educational equality and excellence for bilingual/multilingual” learners; NABE puts emphasis on native language and simultaneously pays due respect to linguistic and cultural varieties; NABE promotes research, supports children and teachers, and helps in creating policies (“NABE’s mission, “2018).

From the practitioner’s point of view, this organization is an advocate of dual language education and “takes a stand” on this topic. The organization’s guidelines include the improvement of instructional practices for young learners that are diverse in culture and language. Also, NABE strives to provide bilingual teachers with opportunities for professional growth. The organization constantly works on creating programs and policies because its members believe that bilingual education helps to invest in children’s education as well as the “nation’s leadership world’s well-being” (“NABE’s mission, “2018). By the organization’s guidelines, biliteracy and bilingualism are the primary goals to achieve.

Conclusion/ Recommendations

The knowledge obtained in the research process, through a personal interview, and via analyzing the activity of NABE will be of great help in my work with children and families. I have enriched my awareness of the possible difficulties that may occur when working in a bilingual learning environment. Also, I have found out about the major challenges that teachers of dual-language schools may face.

I would recommend others working in this field stay aware of the latest research in the area and never stop learning. The process of increasing bilingual schools has been launched. It is our responsibility now to promote and enhance this process. I would also advise teachers to communicate with colleagues from other establishments to compare their methods and borrow the ones they deem appropriate for the improvement of their learners’ results.

Significant issues for an educator to know are concerned with the achievements reached so far and the aspects that have not been appropriately managed yet. In particular, the acute question is having a sufficient number of teachers that are certified to work in such environments. Also, it is necessary to explain the importance of dual language education to some parents who are resistant to such practice.

There are some questions that have not been answered yet. Can bilingual education promote preschoolers’ educational achievements in fields other than language study? Does dual language education have any serious negative impacts on students? To what extent does bilingual education develop children’s communication, interpersonal and social skills?

In my opinion. It is the highest duty of an educator to be committed to institutional and societal change. Through such change, we make positive achievements possible. We can make life easier and more exciting for our children. Thus, I am fully dedicated to the promotion of societal and institutional change, and I will continue working on increasing the public’s awareness of the importance of such change using the approaches described above.


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Durán, L. K., Roseth, C. J., & Hoffman, P. (2010). An experimental study comparing English-only and transitional bilingual education on Spanish-speaking preschoolers’ early literacy development. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25(2), 207-217.

Mathewson, T. G. (2017). Rising popularity of dual-language education could leave Latinos behind. U.S. News. Web.

NABE’s mission. (2018). Web.

The number of bilingual kids in America continues to rise. (2018). The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Web.

Orellana, M. F. (1994). Appropriating the voice of the superheroes: Three preschoolers’ bilingual language uses in play. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 9(2), 171-193.

Rezzonico, S., Goldberg, A., Mak, K. K.-Y., Yap, S., Milburn, T., Belletti, A., & Girolametto, L. (2016). Narratives in two languages: Storytelling of bilingual Cantonese-English preschoolers. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 59(3), 521-532.

Saenz, A. L., Garza, S., Ochoa, S. H., Leyva, C., Ramirez, E., Carter, N.,… Minness, A. (2000). A three-year evaluation study of a bilingual curriculum program for limited English proficient Hispanic preschoolers in Head Start. In Head Start’s fifth national research conference: Proceedings of a conference (pp. 1-25). Washington, D.C.: US Department of Education.

The United States Census Bureau. (2015). Census Bureau reports at least 350 languages spoken in U.S. homes. Web.

U.S. Department of Education | Office of English Language Acquisition. (2015). Dual language education programs: Current state policies and practices. Web.

Yow, W. Q. (2015). Monolingual and bilingual preschoolers’ use of gestures to interpret ambiguous pronouns. Journal of Child Language, 42(6), 1394-1407.

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