Understanding Dual Language Learning for Preschoolers

If you’re a family who speaks multiple languages in the home, you may find it challenging to decide which language to teach your child as they learn to speak. Dual language learning provides children with the opportunity to become bilingual from an early age. This article will explain what dual language learning is, and how families and Educators can support it in preschool children.

What is Dual Language Learning?

Dual language learning, also referred to as bilingual education, is an educational approach that caters to families who speak multiple languages. Children engaging in dual language learning come from diverse cultural backgrounds and have different levels of fluency in their native languages. The main objective of dual language programs is to foster language development and literacy skills in both their native languages and additional languages, such as English.

In dual language programs, students, including both English speakers and native speakers of other languages, learn together in the same space. Instruction is typically divided into two parts: one portion of the day is dedicated to teaching in the students’ native languages, while the other portion focuses on their other language, usually English. This method ensures that both groups of students benefit from the program, making it distinct from traditional programs designed for monolingual children.

These programs can be implemented at various educational levels, ranging from childcare programs to high school. They prioritise language acquisition, cultural diversity, and inclusive education. By embracing the principles of bilingual education, dual language programs offer a comprehensive approach that caters to the unique needs of dual language learners, promoting their overall development and preparing them for success in a multilingual and multicultural world.

Benefits of Learning Two Languages at Once as a Child

Dual language learning, also known as bilingual education, offers numerous advantages for children who acquire two languages simultaneously.

Enhanced Language Development

Dual language learners have the unique advantage of developing strong language skills in both their native language and the target language. This comprehensive language exposure enables children to expand their vocabulary, improve grammar and syntax, and enhance overall communication abilities. As they navigate between two languages, they develop a deep understanding of sounds and patterns, making them more proficient in language use and comprehension.

Cognitive Advantages

Studies have consistently shown that dual language learning has positive effects on cognitive development. Bilingual children demonstrate enhanced cognitive flexibility, which refers to their ability to switch between different languages, thought processes, and problem-solving strategies. They also exhibit advanced metalinguistic awareness, enabling them to think about and analyse language as a system. These cognitive advantages extend beyond language-related tasks and can positively impact academic performance in other subjects as well.

Cultural Competence and Identity

Dual language learning promotes cultural competence and identity formation. By being exposed to different languages and cultures, children develop an appreciation for diversity and a deeper understanding of their own cultural heritage. They gain a broader perspective and are better equipped to navigate a multicultural world. Bilingual children often exhibit a sense of pride in their cultural backgrounds, as they are able to maintain and express their native languages and traditions while embracing new ones.

Academic Achievement

The experience of many multilingual children is that dual language learning provides them with the opportunity to excel academically. By developing strong literacy skills in both languages, children become adept at reading, writing, and critical thinking in multiple linguistic contexts. Bilingualism also enhances overall cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, and problem-solving, which contribute to academic success across various subjects. Dual language children often outperform their monolingual peers in standardised tests and exhibit higher levels of academic engagement as they transition into primary school and move up through their educational journey.

Improved Social Skills

Dual language learners are exposed to a diverse peer group, including both native and non-native speakers of the languages they are learning. This interaction fosters social skills such as empathy, tolerance, and effective communication across cultures. Bilingual children often demonstrate better interpersonal skills and a greater ability to adapt to new social environments. They can effortlessly navigate between different linguistic and cultural contexts, promoting inclusivity and understanding among their peers.

Dual language learning offers a range of benefits for children acquiring two languages simultaneously. It enhances language development, cognitive abilities, cultural competence, academic achievement, and social skills. By nurturing bilingualism from an early age, children gain a competitive edge in an increasingly interconnected and multicultural world, setting a solid foundation for their future success.

The Three Goals of Dual Language Education

Dual language education encompasses a comprehensive approach to bilingual learning that aims to achieve three primary goals. These goals not only complement but also reinforce the key principles and benefits of dual language learning in early childhood. By understanding these goals, we can grasp the broader significance and impact of dual language education on young learners.

These three goals of dual language education – bilingualism, biliteracy, and multicultural competence – intertwine with and complement the principles and benefits of dual language learning in early childhood. By fostering bilingualism, children develop strong language skills and cognitive flexibility. Biliteracy enables them to access knowledge and thrive academically in both languages.

Multicultural competence fosters a sense of belonging, cultural pride, and social skills that prepare children to navigate diverse societies. These goals serve as guiding principles in dual language education, promoting comprehensive language development, academic achievement, and cultural understanding among young learners.


The first goal of dual language education is bilingualism, which involves developing proficiency in two languages. This objective recognises the value of fostering language skills in both the native language and the target language, typically English. By nurturing bilingualism, dual language programs equip children with the ability to communicate effectively and confidently in multiple languages. This goal aligns with the emphasis on language development and enhanced communication abilities that are fundamental to dual language learning.

In practice, this goal is implemented by providing balanced instruction in the child’s native language and the target language. Dual language programs allocate dedicated instructional time for each language, allowing children to develop speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills in both languages. Instructional materials and resources are provided in both languages to support the development of literacy skills.

Bilingualism and biliteracy are crucial in dual language education as they equip children with the ability to communicate effectively and comprehend information in multiple languages. This goal promotes cognitive benefits, such as enhanced problem-solving and metalinguistic awareness. It also prepares children for academic success by ensuring they have strong literacy skills in both languages, which expands their access to knowledge and opportunities.

To fulfil this goal in a childcare setting, Educators can:

Ensure a balanced language environment: Provide equal exposure to the native language and the target language throughout daily activities, conversations, and instructional materials.

Use a variety of language-rich resources: Incorporate books, songs, games, and interactive activities in both languages to engage children and support their language development and literacy skills.

Collaborate with families: Communicate with parents and caregivers to understand the child’s language background, encourage language use at home, and involve them in activities that reinforce bilingualism and biliteracy.

High academic achievement in both program languages

The second goal is biliteracy, which refers to the attainment of literacy skills in both languages. In dual language programs, children are not only encouraged to speak and understand the languages but, as they enter the later years of preschool and early primary school, to read and write in them.

By promoting biliteracy, these programs enable children to become literate in both their native language and the target language, equipping them with the essential skills for academic success and lifelong learning. Biliteracy complements the cognitive advantages and academic achievement associated with dual language learning.

This goal is achieved through an integrated and comprehensive learning process that addresses the academic standards of both languages. Instruction focuses on building foundational skills, promoting critical thinking, and providing challenging content in both languages. Assessment and progress monitoring are conducted to identify areas of growth and provide targeted support.

High academic achievement in both languages is essential for maximising children’s educational opportunities and potential. It enables them to access knowledge, succeed academically, and excel in various subjects across different language contexts throughout their life. This goal supports cognitive development, promotes confidence and self-esteem, and prepares children for future educational pathways and career opportunities.

To fulfil this goal in a childcare setting, Educators can:

Provide targeted instruction: Tailor teaching strategies and materials to meet individual learning needs in both languages. Differentiate instruction to support children who may require additional support or challenges.

Foster a positive learning environment: Create a nurturing and stimulating atmosphere where children feel supported, encouraged, and motivated to achieve their academic goals in both languages.

Engage in ongoing professional development: Stay updated with research-based best practices in bilingual education, attend workshops, and collaborate with colleagues to enhance instructional strategies and techniques for promoting high academic achievement.

Understand and appreciate different cultures

The third goal is multicultural competence, which emphasises the appreciation and understanding of different cultures. Dual language education recognises the cultural diversity and backgrounds of children in the learning environment. By creating an inclusive and culturally responsive learning environment, children in dual language childcare centres gain exposure to various traditions, perspectives, and experiences. This fosters cultural competence, promoting respect, empathy, and a broader worldview among young learners.

This goal is implemented by integrating culturally responsive materials, activities, and experiences into the curriculum. Dual language childcare programs celebrate and value the cultural backgrounds of children, inviting guest speakers, organising cultural events, and incorporating diverse perspectives in lessons. Collaborative activities encourage children to learn from one another’s cultures and experiences.

Sociocultural competence prepares children to navigate diverse societies and promotes a sense of belonging, respect, and empathy. It enhances social skills, communication abilities, and teamwork while fostering an inclusive and supportive learning environment. This goal also cultivates cultural pride, strengthens identity development, and contributes to positive social relationships.

Supporting Dual Language Learners in Preschool

Establishing an environment where children feel free and supported as dual language learners is crucial for their linguistic and socioemotional development.

Embrace Linguistic Diversity

Recognise and celebrate linguistic diversity by valuing and respecting all languages and cultures present in the centre. Educators can achieve these outcomes through implementing some simple strategies:

Creating a language-rich environment: Displaying labels, signs, and materials in multiple languages to promote exposure and familiarity with different languages.

Promote cultural representation: Incorporate books, toys, and images that reflect the diverse backgrounds of the children, fostering a sense of belonging and cultural pride.

Engage in multilingual greetings: Teach simple greetings and phrases in different languages and encourage cross-cultural interactions.

Foster a Positive Language Environment

Educators can aim to create an atmosphere that encourages children to freely use and develop their languages. Centre’s can support bilingual staff and volunteers who speak the children’s native languages to promote cultural exchange. There are two common practices to help develop a positive language environment in childcare.

Code-switching acceptance: Recognising and validating code-switching, allowing children to fluidly switch between languages as they express themselves, promoting confidence and fluency in both languages.

Peer collaboration: Encouraging collaborative activities that involve children working together, appreciating and respecting each other’s languages. Providing opportunities for language exchange and peer support, creating a supportive language-learning community.

Use Multisensory Instruction

Educators encourage children to engage in in multisensory activities that cater to different learning styles and language abilities.

Visual aids: Educators and Teacher utilise visual cues such as pictures, illustrations, and gestures to support comprehension, vocabulary development, and language acquisition.

Hands-on experiences: Involves a focus on manipulatives, props, and interactive materials that allow children to actively engage with concepts, reinforcing language learning through practical experiences.

Songs, rhymes, and movement: Incorporating music, rhythm, and movement activities into lessons to enhance language retention, pronunciation, and overall language proficiency.

By engaging in a bilingual education program, dual language children can enhance their language skills and cognitive development. The program caters to both simultaneous language learners, who are exposed to multiple languages from an early age, and sequential language learners, who acquire a second language after developing their native language skills. Dual language programs have been shown to contribute positively to academic achievement, as students become proficient in multiple languages while maintaining their cultural identities.