Valuing Home Languages Sets The Foundation For Early Learning

Posted by on March 17, 2014

Our guest author today is Candis Grover, the Literacy & Spanish Content Manager at ReadyRosie.com, an online resource that models interactive oral language development activities that parents and caregivers of young children can do to encourage learning.

Many advocates, policymakers, and researchers now recognize that a strong start requires more than just a year of pre-K. Research shows that promoting children’s success starts with helping parents recognize the importance of loving interactions and “conversations” with their babies.

The above statement, which is taken from a recent report, Subprime Learning: Early Education in America since the Great Recession, emphasizes the role of parents as the earliest investors in the academic success of their children. This same report states that more than one in five of these families speaks a primary language other than English, and that this statistic could reach 40 percent by 2030. Despite the magnitude of these numbers, the Subprime Learning report asserts that the research on dual language learners has been largely ignored by those developing early childhood education policies and programs.

As a bilingual (English/Spanish) educator who has worked with dual language learners since 1999, I have read many books and attended numerous trainings that encouraged me to value home language as the foundation upon which to build English and academic skills. However, it was not until I became a mother that I truly appreciated the research supporting the importance of native language instruction.

Although I am not a native Spanish speaker, my years of teaching in a bilingual classroom inspired me to make ambitious plans to raise my own children bilingually from birth. Yet, upon the arrival of my first daughter, I quickly realized that my “motherese” was most naturally spoken in English rather than Spanish. Was it impossible for me to speak Spanish to my daughter? No. Was it challenging and improbable? Yes. Factors such as sleep deprivation and a monolingual English husband and extended family created a shift where Spanish fell to the bottom of the priority list, significantly behind keeping my baby healthy and loved.

As my firstborn grew into the toddler and preschool years and a second daughter blessed our family, I experienced occasions of regret as I would read articles lauding the benefits of raising a child bilingually. My brain agreed 100 percent that this would be ideal for my family but, practically, Spanish learning was not happening in our home in the early years. What was happening in those early years? Lots of talking and reading with my girls in English, the language my husband and I knew best.

My oldest is in Kindergarten this year and has begun studying Spanish in school. We have been pleasantly surprised by her readiness to learn a second language as she attaches the labels for colors, numbers, animals, etc. to concepts she has already developed in English. She has even begun to read simple books in Spanish. My educator-mind knows that this is what language acquisition researchers call “language transfer” in action.

Is there a connection between my family’s story and the statistics on dual language learners? What if I did not have a background in education? What if English was the second language instead of my native language? Would this story have a different outcome? I don’t believe that it would. My anecdotal evidence only supports what researchers have been claiming for years about early childhood education and language acquisition: 1. We must equip and inspire parents to create homes rich with language and learning; 2. We must assure parents that doing this in their native language will provide a foundation that will accelerate academic growth in English.

Let me be clear, I am not saying that a non-native English speaker should avoid the use of English in his/her home. Instead, from one bilingual parent to another, I want to encourage him not to feel compelled to use only English at the expense of missed opportunities for nurturing and conversing in the heritage language.

As educators, our emphasis should be less about WHICH language is used in the home and more about WHEN, WHERE, HOW, and WHY using language is so important in promoting the success of young children.

ReadyRosie is a resource created with the mission of modeling for parents and caregivers the many ways language can be used in “loving interactions and conversations,” as described by the Subprime Learning report. As the bilingual content manager for ReadyRosie, I am excited and proud that this tool has been developed bilingually in English and Spanish from the very beginning so as to address the two most common languages spoken in the US.

Our videos, featuring real families modeling literacy and math conversations in real-world situations, are filmed separately by English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families with careful attention paid to the linguistic and cultural differences between the two languages. For example, when modeling counting nursery rhymes, we model One, Two, Buckle My Shoe in English and A la una sale la luna in Spanish. There is also differentiation between the emphasis on the individual phoneme for decoding in English and the emphasis on the syllable for decoding in Spanish.

Communities such as Denton, Arlington, and Fort Worth, Texas, are using ReadyRosie to disrupt the negative trends related to dual language learners and the achievement gap. By reaching out to families via technology before their children even enter the classroom, schools are communicating the invaluable role of families and home language in developing readiness and future academic success. As one parent responded, “Es algo novedoso nunca antes visto tengo otros dos hijos que ya pasaron por Pre-K y ojalá hubieran implementado Ready Rosie con ellos; ¡a mi hija le encanta! (sic).” (It is something novel that I have never before seen. I have two other children that already went through Pre-K and I wish they would have implemented ReadyRosie for them. My daughter loves it!)

Indeed, in a recently released evaluation study, 82 percent of participating parents said that their children were more excited about learning after they began to use the program and more than half said that they had seen improvements in their children’s knowledge of counting and the alphabet. Please learn more about ReadyRosie by watching an overview video here, seeing some more of the evaluation data here, and viewing some of the daily videos below in English and in Spanish.

Stomp the Letter –English (here) and Spanish (here)

Echo Game – English (here) and Spanish (here)

All Done – English (here) and Spanish (here)

- Candis Grover


1 Comment posted so far

  • As a former teacher in the primary grades of public school, I believe the Ready Rosie program would have been very helpful to many of my students in the Dallas area. Your article is very informative and should be an encouragement to many parents of young children.

    Comment by Joyce Archer
    March 17, 2014 at 5:16 PM

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