Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children


Children who are Dual Language Learners (DLLs) are a global group. They come from places like China, Pakistan, Brazil, Bhutan, Nepal, and Mexico. They bring dozens of languages into classrooms — and they create an opportunity for early educators to grow to meet these children’s needs.

Despite this “superdiversity,” “little research to date has focused on effective approaches for multilingual and multicultural early childhood programs and classrooms,” a report — “Growing Superdiversity among Young U.S. Dual Language Learners and Its Implications” — from the Migration Policy Institute explains.

And while there are programs to support Spanish-speaking DLLs, the report adds, “similar provisions for speakers of other, less commonly spoken minority languages are rare, making such services even less accessible for a substantial portion of DLLs and their families.”

“At a time when DLL children are speaking a far more diverse range of languages, many communities across the United States are experiencing classroom superdiversity with little to no guidance on effective practices for promoting their cognitive and socioemotional development.”

A video of a related webinar is posted here. And the webinar slides are posted here.

Using Census Bureau data, the report’s authors found a total of 11.5 million DLLs across the country. Specifically, the population of DLLs ages 0 to 8 has increased by 24 percent between 2000 and 2011-2015. Thirty-one percent of DLL children live in poverty, compared to 22 percent of non-DLL children. And 24 percent live in “linguistically isolated” households where all members of the household speak English “less than very well.”

Here in Massachusetts, there are some 240,500 DLL children who come from more than 60 countries. And while the state has a new dual language law that covers students in K-12, there are also ample opportunities for policy progress in early education.

“Given the growing diversity of cultures and languages in many early education and care settings, it is important for state early education policy to focus on young dual language learners,” according to Titus DosRemedios, the director of research and policy at Strategies for Children. “We must help early educators access the emerging research and best practices for serving linguistically diverse classrooms and give programs across the state opportunities to learn from one another.”

How can early education and care programs meet DLLs’ needs? The MPI report makes a number of recommendations:

• more state-level DLL data should be collected

• more research on effective instruction in superdiverse classrooms is needed

• the early childhood workforce needs “more linguistic and cultural skills and diversity”

• early childhood programs should develop family engagement strategies to reach DLL parents, and

• early childhood programs should have “expanded language-access provisions,” such as more translation and interpreting services

The Migration Policy Institute will release more information on this issue, including a webinar — “Supporting DLLs in Superdiverse Pre-K-3 Programs: Findings from Two Studies” — that’s scheduled for next Wednesday, March 21, 2018.

More action, the report concludes, is essential:

“As this diversity continues to grow and shift, ECEC systems and programs will need to build strategies to effectively meet the learning needs of these children and support their parents in doing the same.”