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Affirming Children's Linguistic Identity

The Role of Early Childhood Education in Promoting a Just World

Every child should grow up believing that they can be proud of their cultural and linguistic identity. In this video, Dr. Elena Sada discusses strategies early childhood educators can use to help foster positive self-concept related to a child's home language. By engaging in self-reflection, promoting empathy and self-advocacy in the classroom, and being intentional with language choices, educators can help children believe that their home language and culture are wonderful.

A Spanish version of this video is available.

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    1. Why is it important for young children to feel like their first language is acknowledged and celebrated at school (or in a family child care setting)? 
    2. What strategies do I use to support and celebrate children's linguistic and cultural identities?
    3. What strategies would I like to try? What do I need to learn and do in order to implement those strategies?
    4. What are some of my own biases about different cultures or families who speak a language other than English at home? What am I doing to stay aware of and address my biases?
    5. In what ways do I support children to develop self-advocacy skills? What else might I try?
    6. What strategies do I use to help children develop empathy for children of all backgrounds?
  • Affirming Children's Linguistic Identity

    This video has captions. You can turn them on by clicking the CC icon at the bottom of the video.
    Download a printable version of this transcript in English or Spanish.

    Dr. Elena Sada, Professor of Multicultural and Bilingual Education, Eastern Connecticut State University: A language is not just words; it is part of a child’s identity. Language is associated with their home, their emotional life, and security, and it is and will be an integral part of their culture. The first time children hear, “I love you,” they hear it in a specific language, and that stays with them.

    Affirming Children’s Linguistic Identity

    Dr. Sada: Language affirmation is identity affirmation. And as children enter the social medium for the first time through school, they should be welcomed by a world that does not place them—their identity, language, race, and culture—as inferior.

    My boy was six and had just started school in a suburban, predominantly white town, when he told me in a store, “Mommy, speak to me in English, because they're going to think we're poor.” I was shocked, and I said, “No, sweetie; they are going to think we're smart.” I could not believe it. Why would a Mexican-American six-year-old already have a prejudice against the language or be aware of a prejudice against a language?

    We all have biases. And if we don't accept that we have biases, we will not be attentive on how they might reflect in our classroom.

    Strategies for Teachers

    Dr. Sada: We could spend more time reflecting on our own identity and the identities of our students in connection to the history and the context of different groups. So, in a way, all educators, we need to be historians and sociologists. Once we depict our own identity, and we feel comfortable with it, and we learn to appreciate it, then we can do the same with others’ identities, including those of minority groups.

    Teachers can help develop genuine empathy, which is a foundation for justice.

    Teacher: Bailey, look what you did to Denise’s face. She was disappointed, and you made her happy.

    Dr. Sada: And also, teachers can prepare children for a world that will require self-advocacy—the ability to articulate one’s needs and make informed decisions about the support necessary to meet those needs.

    Teacher: What you want to tell Cami?
    Child: I don’t like that.

    Dr. Sada: So self-advocacy also implies, therefore, being able to speak and act on one’s behalf to correct inequities.

    Child: You are out. Back over here. You can come in here if you don’t destroy everything,
    Child 2: Okay.

    Dr. Sada: I believe that the key is the language that we, as educators, use. So with attention and practice, we can stay away from saying that such and such way is “right” or “wrong.” And we can address the so-called “right way” of saying things by calling it instead the “school way.”
    Children tend to match expectations and assumptions. So, we should let them see that we think of their racial and linguistic identity as wonderful.

    Home Visitor: Now Mommy’s turn! In Russian.
    Mother: Russian song?
    Home Visitor: Yes.
    Mother: [Sings in Russian.]

    © 2020 Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University
    May be reprinted for educational purposes.

  • Producer and Script: Julia DeLapp
    Editor: Sean Leser
    Videographers: Elena Sada, Sean Leser, Ken Measimer

    The Center wishes to thank the following Connecticut centers and families who made this video possible:

    • The Anderson-Hart Family
    • The Cabrera-Meil Family
    • The Cartolano Family
    • Child and Family Development Resource Center, Willimantic
    • Cooperative Educational Services School Readiness Program, Trumbull
    • Early Childhood Laboratory School at Housatonic Community College, Bridgeport
    • EASTCONN—Early Head Start, Killingly
    • Family Centers, Greenwich
    • The Moorehead-Cooley Family
    • New Heights Child Development Center, Willimantic
    • The Ponomarjova Family
    • The Roberge-Muniz Family
    • Sea School Preschool at Mystic Aquarium, Mystic
    • Windham Early Childhood Center, Willimantic
    • Windham Early Head Start, Columbia
    • Women's League Child Development Center, Hartford
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