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Research: Dual-Language Pre-K Effective in Teaching English

More from last week's conference on Illinois and bilingual/dual-language programs. Diane August, a researcher at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Applied Linguistics, presented evidence from three studies of high-quality, dual-language preschools that showed dual-language instruction to be just as effective as English-only in helping children learn English. Dual-language programs had the bonus of helping children develop proficiency in their home language, too. For details, you can see the PowerPoint here (scroll down below the bullet points to the highlighted phrase "reviewed the research").

The particular study I found most interesting tracked participants in a home-reading program complementing preschool. The children read English in school and in their home language—Spanish or Hmong—at home with caregivers for six weeks; the other six weeks, caregivers read books in English at home. The researchers found that children's vocabulary increased whether they were read to in English or in their home language, but parent participation increased substantially when the home language was part of the picture.

My colleague Mary Ann Zehr's story about the challenges Illinois will face in implementing its new mandate for bilingual instruction in preschools suggests the biggest hurdle will be to find enough qualified teachers to staff classrooms. Observers also raised questions about how well teachers will manage the transition to English or whether they will spend time exclusively in the home language (often, but not always, Spanish). Zehr also gets inside a classroom at Peck Elementary on Chicago's Southwest Side, where the majority of instruction was in English, with just two 10-minute blocks of time in Spanish.

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