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Supporting Bilingual children in the Early Years

These materials provide support for initial teacher educators, school based mentors and other practitioners to introduce practitioners and trainee teachersto the needs of young bilingual children in the early years. The term ‘bilingual children’ is used throughout to refer to those children who in their daily lives operate in more than one language; the term does not suggest equal competence or fluency in these languages.

Young 3-5 year old children who are learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) and their language learning needs are sometimes overlooked in educational texts, as well as in schools and settings, because it is assumed that young children will ‘pick up’ English naturally and very quickly. This strand presents an overview of the complexities involved, examines play as a vehicle for learning in general and especially for learning a new language, and highlights the critical role of monolingual and bilingual practitioners.

Many ITE educators find that considering individual learners helps student teachers to begin to understand the processes and complexities of bilingualism and additional language acquisition. Within the materials we introduce vignettes of four different and unique children who are already skilful communicators in their home languages and competent learners at home. Two boys, Amadur and Mohiuddin who are of British-Bangladeshi background and nearly 5 years old, have just entered a Reception class. Samia and Nazma, two girls of British-Pakistani background, are 4 years old and attend two different nursery classes. The complexity of early bilingual development is illuminated by a vignette of Samia 'playing school'at home with her younger brother and one of Nazma's interactions with a bilingual practitioner. These children’s experiences highlight the need to consider all learning and development holistically; to acknowledge the inter relationship between children’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual learning and development. Real life experiences such as play, relationships and environments shape children’s learning. In this strand we focus on the social contexts in which learning occurs and in which bilingualism can be developed, promoted and maintained. The critical role of practitioners, both bilingual and monolingual, in young children’s emerging bilingualism is also discussed.

Since September 2008 all early years settings have been part of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and this phase of education covers the learning and development of all children from 0-5 years. The EYFS presents four guiding themes: A Unique Child; Positive Relationship; Enabling Environments; and Learning and Development.

Section Editors

Carrie Cable
Maggie Gravelle

Contributing Authors

Rose Drury
Leena Robertson

First published 21st February 2008
Last updated 20th January 2012

Further Reading and References

Baker, C. (1996) Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. 2nd Edition. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters
BBC (2006) Learning languages ‘boosts brain’.
Ben-Zeev, S. (1977) The influence on cognitive strategy and cognitive development. Child Development, 48, pp. 1009-1018
Bialystok, E. (1991) Metalinguistic dimensions of bilingual proficiency. In Bialystok, E. (ed.) Language Processing in Bilingual Children. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Brooker, L. (2005) Learning to be a child: Cultural diversity and early years ideology. In Yelland, N. (ed) Critical Issues in Early Childhood Education. Maidenhead: Open University Press
Chen, Y. (2007) Contributing to success: Chinese parents and the community school. In Conteh, J., Martin, P. and Robertson, L. H. (eds) Multilingual Learning Stories in Schools and Communities in Britain. Stoke-On-Trent: Trentham Books
Clark, A. and Moss, P. (2001) Listening to Young Children, The Mosaic Approach. National Children’s Bureau and Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Clarke, P. (1992) English as a 2nd Language in Early Childhood. FKA Multicultural Resources Centre. Richmond: Victoria, Australia
Clarke, P (2004) Creating Positive Environments that promote speaking and listening - NALDIC Conference Report Watford: NALDIC
Conteh, J., Martin, P. and Robertson, L. H. (eds) Multilingual Learning Stories in Schools and Communities in Britain. Stoke-On-Trent: Trentham Books
Cummins, J. (2000) Language, Power and Pedagogy. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters
DES (Department of Education and Science) (1975) A Language For Life (The Bullock Report), London: HMSO
DfEE (Department for Education and Employment) (2000) Curriculum guidance for the foundation stage. London: DfEE and QCA
DfES (Department for Education and Skills) (2007) Early Years Foundation Stage. Nottingham: DfES Publications.
Diaz, R. and Klingler, C. (1991) Towards an explanatory model of the interaction between bilingualism and cognitive development. In Bialystok, E. (ed) Language Processing in Bilingual Children. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Drury, R. (2007) Young Bilingual Learners at Home and School. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham
Galambos, S. J. and Hakuta, K. (1988) Subject-specific and task-specific characteristics of metalinguistic awareness in bilingual children. Applied Psycholinguistics, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 141-162
Gombert, F. (1992) Metalinguistic Development. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf
Hamers, M. and Blanc, J. F. (1988) Bilingualism and Bilinguality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Haste, H. (1987) Growing into rules in Bruner, J. and Haste, H. (eds.) Making sense: The child’s construction of the world. London: Methuen
Hirschler, J. (1994) Preschool children’s help to second language learners, Journal of Educational Issues of Language Minority Students, 14, 227-24
James, A. and Prout, A. (1997) Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood (2nd edition). London: Falmer
Kenner, C. (2000) Homepages: literacy links for bilingual children. Stoke-On-Trent: Trentham Books Limited
Kenner, C. (2004) Becoming Biliterate: young children learning different writing systems. Stoke-On-Trent: Trentham Books Limited
McLaughlin, B. (1992) Educational Practice Report :5 Myths and Misconceptions about second language learning: What every teacher needs to unlearn
Ochs, E. (1988) Introduction. In B. Schiefflin, & E. Ochs (eds) Language Socialisation across cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Primary National Strategy (PNS) (2007) Supporting children learning English as an additional language: Guidance for practitioners in the Early Years Foundation Stage. Nottingham: Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) Publications.
Rinaldi, C. (2005) In dialogue with Reggio Emilia. London: Routledge
Robertson, L. H. (2002) Parallel literacy classes and hidden strengths: learning to read in English, Urdu and classical Arabic. Reading, literacy and language (UKRA), November, 36/3, pp. 119-126
Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggart, B. (2004) The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: Final Report. London:DfES.
Tabors, P. (1997) One Child, Two Languages: a guide for Preschool Educators of Children Learning English as a Second Language. Baltimore: Paul Brookes Publishing
Training and Development Agency for Schools (2007) Professional Standards for Teachers Qualified Teacher Status London:TDA
Thomas, W. P. and Collier, V. (2002). A National Study of School Effectiveness for Language Minority Students’ Long-Term Academic Achievement. Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence (CREDE).
Tizard, B. & Hughes, M. (1984) Young Children Learning. London: Fontana
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Willett, J. (1995) Becoming first graders in an L2 classroom: An ethnographic study of L2 socialisation. TESOL Quarterly, 29, 473-503

Below you will find web pages from the archived ITTSEAL site for teacher educators new to initial teacher training. Much of this material has been updated and incorporated into our new EYFS guidance but we have maintained this archive to support referencing and site users.

The PDF pages below are arranged in the same structure as on the original site. Please note that embedded hyperlinks in the documents will not work and external weblinks are no longer necessarily live. If you are searching for a particular resource which you cannot find, please contact us and we will try to help.

Supporting bilingual children in the early years

A socio-cultural view on early years education for bilingual children
The importance of play for cultural and language learning
Why support bilingualism?
Stages of early bilingual learning
Strategies for monolingual practitioners
The role of bilingual practitioners
Listening to bilingual children