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Strategies for Supporting Dual Language Learners in an Early Childhood Classroom

Reflections from the Field

Preschool teacher Beth Martin describes the importance of building relationships with children whose home language is different from her own, and the techniques she uses to help dual language learners understand what is happening in the classroom while becoming more comfortable speaking in English. Through the use of visuals, gestures, picture cues, and repetition, she supports both expressive and receptive language development.

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  • Video Transcript for Strategies for Supporting Dual Language Learners in an Early Childhood Classroom

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    Beth Martin, Preschool Teacher, Windham Public Schools: I do believe that the most important aspect of working with English Language Learners is to build a relationship with them even though you don’t speak the same language.

    Beth: You have yellow on your shirt. There’s two.
    Children: (talking)
    Beth: Deanna has yellow on her shirt too.

    Beth Martin: We have different techniques that help children understand what’s happening: Using lots of visuals and picture cues so that they know what’s coming next and so that they can learn the routine. Lots of gestures and a slower rate of speech so that they understand the meaning of what you’re trying to communicate. To be playful and to play games where we would be using their bodies, and at the same time coupling that with language like finger plays and songs where they’re touching the parts of their body that we’re teaching them the labels for. If they still don’t understand what happening, then of course you want to provide support in their native language.

    Beth: What do we use to see? (Pauses to wait for response.)
    Bilingual Teacher: ¿Que usamos para ver? ¿Los que?Children: Ojos.
    Child: Los entidos!
    Bilingual Teacher: Los ojos. Your eyes.

    Beth Martin: So in the large group they're receiving the models of their English speakers.

    Beth: …stand for orange and black.
    Child: Tengo black.

    Beth Martin: In a small group I would work on targeted vocabulary, or targeted sounds that they might need to know or know how to make in order to understand English. And also, encouraging them to play together in the Dramatic Play area. That’s another area that really helps them to build their language and build their friendships. As the year progresses, English Language Learners become comfortable with the routine; they become comfortable with me, with their friends that speak a different language, and they start to take risks and they will use more English language.

    Beth: What’s going to be on the next page?
    Child: Yellow Duck.
    Beth: A yellow duck!

    Beth Martin: Because they know that you’re going to listen and you’re going to try and support them to communicate.


    © 2016 Connecticut Office of Early Childhood
    Produced by the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.
    May be reprinted for educational purposes.

  • Producers: Terry Surprenant and Sean Leser
    Terry Surprenant
    Videographers: Ken Measimer, Sean Leser
    Sean Leser

    Special thanks to the Windham Early Childhood Center in Willimantic and the New Heights Child Development Center in Windham, Connecticut.

    The development of this video was funded by the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood.