Symposium brings awareness to challenges of bilingual and bidialectal students

The Herr Research Center for Children and Social Policy held a symposium in October to examine the experiences of bilingualism and bidialectism in relation to a child’s early growth and development.

Experts shared current research and innovative approaches and strategies, and discussed implications for policy and practice in Illinois, with a goal to develop early childhood teachers who are responsive to issues of linguistic diversity.

Home language impacts literacy and achievement

“We need to bring awareness to the fact that children come to school with language from home, whether it’s foreign or a dialect of English,” says Jana Fleming, director of the Herr Research Center.

[img_caption src=”×151.jpg” link=”” align=”right” caption=”Jana Fleming” alt=”photo of Jana Fleming”]Supporting a child’s home language can potentially impact literacy and school achievement. In recent years, a great deal of attention has been focused on the relationship between speaking a non-standard English dialect and academic success.

The symposium broadened the customary focus of such conversations to include the common elements shared by children whose home language is either one other than English or is a non-standard dialect of English.

Teachers need support to connect home and school languages

Symposium participants also addressed the lack of awareness of linguistic equity in early childhood education, which can have an impact on children’s social and emotional development.

[img_caption src=”” link=”” align=”right” caption=”Luisiana Meléndez” alt=”photo of Luisiana Meléndez”]While students need to learn to become proficient in standard English to succeed academically, that does not mean the language or dialect they use at home should be devalued or eradicated from school life, says Professor Luisiana Meléndez. Research shows that teachers admit they often don’t have the training to address these issues and would value support.

“The language that you speak affects how you’re perceived, so it’s also a social justice issue,” Melendez continues. “If teachers can engage children in connections between home and school languages, we know that it leads to better academic outcomes. We need to use this awareness as a foundation to inform teaching.”