To succeed in school, students have to be able to read English text, and to do so, they have to know the vocabulary and understand narrative language. This may seem simple for us proficient English readers, but for children who are learning English as a second language, reading can be a significant obstacle to academic success. These students are often not equipped with the vocabulary and narrative language to understand the text necessary to succeed in school.
So how do we combat this? Past researchers have found that dual language instruction (i.e., instruction in both languages) can lead to positive outcomes in students’ second language. The authors of this study aimed to add to this research and investigated a Spanish–English narrative intervention on the vocabulary and narrative skills of Spanish-speaking preschoolers who were learning English.
Eight preschoolers who participated in Head Start programs received the intervention in small groups. Half the lessons were provided in Spanish and half in English, with each lesson following the same instructional format with seven activities. The activities included listening to stories and looking at illustrations, learning new vocabulary words and referencing them throughout the stories, naming the parts of stories, playing games related to the stories and vocabulary words, and re-telling stories.
After 24 lessons, all children improved their English narrative retell performances—that is, they were able to better retell a story that the instructor just told in English. No changes were seen in their Spanish re-tells since all of the children were already at a developmentally appropriate level. Most of the children also improved their knowledge of the English target vocabulary words, with only a few of the children learning the target Spanish words.
Despite the overall positive findings, the authors did point out that, “it is unknown whether the Spanish lessons facilitated or accelerated children’s gain in English.” It is important to consider that English-only instruction may have had a similar or larger impact on English language outcomes compared to dual language intervention. From this study, we cannot say that one is better than the other. What can we take-away? Dual language intervention can have a positive impact on the English language skills of Spanish-speaking preschoolers, while maintaining or possibly improving their Spanish language skills.
Spencer, T. D., Petersen, D. B., Restrepo, M. A., Thompson, M., & Gutierrez Arvizu, M. N. (2018). The effect of Spanish and English narrative intervention on the language skills of young dual language learners. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 1-16. doi:10.1177/0271121418779439