By Karen Nemeth
May 11, 2017
Infants and toddlers thrive when all of their languages are supported. The diversity of those languages will continue to grow and present challenges to professionals who work with babies and their families. Some states are adopting early language development standards that begin at age 2 ½ years. How can you adjust the work you do with children under 2 ½ to build a seamless connection with early language development standards? Here are some strategies and resources to support professionals who work with diverse infants and toddlers and their families.
Strategy #1: Get to know the family and gain a clear understanding of the languages the child is exposed to. Supporting those home languages allows you to tap into the child’s prior knowledge and to fully support their rich cultural and linguistic background. This foundation sets the stage for optimal language development as measured by early language development standards for preschool-aged children.
Strategy #2 Observe carefully and record children’s vocalizations as often as possible. When working with infants and toddlers from diverse backgrounds, it is critical to get help so you can respond to their approximations of speech in any language. What may sound like meaningless babble may actually be the child’s attempts at saying words that you don’t recognize. Families can help you gather more accurate information about their child’s developing language and help you respond appropriately.
Strategy #3 Work with parents to learn to say simple requests and commands the way the parents pronounce them. This will help you have a better idea of how well children understand and respond to one step and two-step commands in each of the languages they are learning.
Strategy #4 Invite families to work with you to develop a collection of shared resources in English and home languages that will be familiar to the children at home and in your program. This mutually developed collection might include rhymes, songs, sayings, favorites stories, toys and pictures. Infants and toddlers will understand the words for familiar items before they learn new words and shared resources will help you use words that the children already know as you scaffold their development of receptive and expressive vocabulary.
Strategy #5 If your state uses standards for children 2 ½ and up, such as early language development standards from WIDA, look for the beginning levels that talk about listening and speaking skills. In most cases, skills are not addressed in isolation. Generally, they are guides to help families, teachers and other professionals stay informed about the kinds of language opportunities and expressions they should support when working with young children in exploring any content or learning domain. This approach can be extended to work with infants and toddlers as well. Do not try to use preschool standards to measure the teaching and learning of language in infants and toddlers. Consider the standards for information purposes only as you plan materials, experiences, and activities that are developmentally appropriate for infants and toddlers.
Strategy #6 Keep in mind that infants and toddlers are at the beginning of their language development journey and there are many factors that influence how they will progress in the various languages they are working on. I don’t advocate for pushing them along. I am in favor of being an informed supporter, guide and cheerleader for each little language learner. The more you know, the more confident you can be in providing high quality language supports for diverse infants and toddlers.
Council for Exceptional Children Division for Early Childhood (2010) Responsiveness to ALL Children, Families and Professionals, The DEC position statement https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/cultural-linguistic/Dual%20Language%20Learners/disabilities/inclusion/DECPositionStat.htm
Hanen Center: Bilingualism in Young Children: Separating Fact from Fiction http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/Bilingualism-in-Young-Children–Separating-Fact-fr.aspx
Head Start resources from the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center:
Importance of Home Language tip sheets in several languages https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/cultural-linguistic/planned-language-approach/docs/dll-ts-language-modeling-dll-infants.pdf
Dual Language Development in Children Pre-natal to Three (2014) presentation by Robert Stechuk and Joanne Knapp-Philo
Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework – Infant/Toddler Language and Communication
Kuhl, P. (2010) The Linguistic Genius of Babies, TED talk https://www.ted.com/talks/patricia_kuhl_the_linguistic_genius_of_babies
And companion article with updates:
Ramirez, N.F. & Kuhl, P. (2017) The Brain Science of Bilingualism, Young Children, May 2017
National Literacy Trust, U.K. “Quick Tips on Talking to your Baby” in 17 languages: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/talk_to_your_baby/resources/418_q
Nemeth, K. (2016) “Nurturing Bilingual Infants and Toddlers” Early Childhood Investigations webinar https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/1965285047696831490
Nemeth, K. (2012) Many Languages, Building Connections: Supporting Infants and Toddlers who are DLLs, Gryphon House
Nemeth, K. & Erdosi, V. (2012) Enhancing practice with infants and toddlers from diverse language and cultural backgrounds, Young Children (Sept.)
Paradis, J., Genesee, F., & Crago, M. (2011) Dual Language Development and Disorders (2nd ed.), Paul H. Brookes
Parlakian, R. (2017) Bilingual from birth, Zero to Three
Too Small to Fail (2017) The Benefits of Bilingualism http://mailchi.mp/toosmall/the-benefits-of-bilingualism?e=7e6efba24f