The NCSL Blog


By Alison May

Who are the children who are dual language learners (DLLs)?

Tamara Halle, a researcher from Child Trends, presented a recent webinar to NCSL's Early Learning Fellows answering that very question and also explaining the latest social and emotional development research related to dual language learners.

Dual language learners are children who are acquiring two or more languages simultaneously, and learn a second language while continuing to develop their first language. The Office of Head Start has created a resource that provides DLL state early learning guidelines and standards.

A fair amount of research has been done looking at the cognitive development of children classified as DLLs and, overall, shows positive outcomes. What has been examined by researchers far less than cognitive development is the social-emotional development of these DLLs. Only 14 peer-reviewed studies between 2000-2011 looked at the young DLL children’s social-emotional development. This topic and the research related are both emerging currently.   

Social-emotional development is one of five essential school readiness skills children should develop. A terrific way of explaining one aspect of social-emotional skill development is to view the Marshmallow Test in which children are asked to delay their gratification, which shows off their budding self-regulation skills.

Children are told they may eat one marshmallow immediately or, if they wait a few minutes, they will receive an additional marshmallow. Other primary tenants to the concept of social-emotional development are: social competence, social cognition and problem behavior.

Tamara HalleDuring her invitation only webinar, Halle provided participants with a better understanding of who and what dual language learners are, what the social and emotional needs look like, as well as some policy and practice implications. Halle commented enthusiastically that “DLLs function as well as if not better than English-speaking monoliguals in the social-emotional domain." She added that “DLLs tend to be judged as having better self control, better interpersonal skills and fewer behavior problems then their monolingual peers.”

The webinar concluded with a question-and-answer period during which the conversation shifted and highlighted the important policy levers for legislators to consider. It is important to highlight that cultural relevance, the needs of the families being served and teacher trainings should be considered in early learning standards and guidelines, assessments, Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) and research-based curriculum.

If you are interested in learning more about this emerging topic please view the full webinar or simply look through Tamara’s PowerPoint slides. About six months ago, Child Trends published a terrific blog, "Dual Language Learners and Social-Emotional Development: Understanding the Benefits for Young Children," with additional information.   

Alison May is a staff coordinator in NCSL’s Children and Families program.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.