Places to Research Children Learning Second or Multiple Languages

A compilation of information and resources posted by Delana H. Stewart.raising bilingual child

Simultaneous, Sequential, and Successive Bilinguals

Kakuta, Rosenberg, Baker, and Goodz all state that the age of 3 is usually the distinguishing line separating a simultaneous bilingual from a sequential or successive bilingual.


Some experts define simultaneous bilingual with two languages being exposed to from birth or early infancy: and

This same group discusses sequential and successive bilinguals–

CAL—Center for Applied Linguistics states that a simultaneous bilingual is one under the age of 3 being exposed to two languages with ample opportunities to use both.

The Journal of Applied Research on Learning presents an article that talks about children with learning difficulties still being able to become simultaneous bilinguals (if starting both languages at birth and given opportunities in both languages). This article does not address problems experienced by sequential or successive bilinguals.

Advocates for Learning to Read and Write in the Mother-Tongue first

 “Mastering a first language and core learning concepts promotes general cognitive development that is needed to more easily and rapidly learn a second language. …When curriculum content is presented in an unfamiliar language, an enormous amount of time must be spent first teaching children to understand, speak, read, and write L2 or a foreign language, something that is extremely difficult and wastes valuable years in the early grades that could be spent learning to read and learning academic concepts in L1.” (See link called Improving Learning Outcomes–  — it is a pdf file).

“Research has shown that many skills acquired in the first language can be transferred to the second language.” An excerpt from — (sadly, this link no longer works).

The next quotations come from Learning Magazine Highlights added.

[From a series of reports by Save the Children: “One report by Helen Pinnock addresses the issue of language used in education by exploring why mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTBMLE) is key in developing learning skills, which in turn fosters student success and curbs dropouts. …

“Pinnock advocates teaching predominantly in the mother-tongue for at least six years as other language skills are developed in order to ‘deliver high quality learning outcomes.’ In the forward, Nobel Laureate Dr. Rigoberta Menchú writes, ‘Many people know what it is like to struggle in school. Others know what it is like to be forced to drop out. For many children, this deep frustration and disappointment is not caused by physical or monetary barriers, but by the decision to teach in a language which they do not understand.’”

 “While teaching in the mother tongue for the first six years makes children better language learners, introducing other languages also improves the students’ skills in the mother tongue. ….Furthermore, studies show that students who receive instruction in their mother tongues become more successful second language learners.

For the full series of reports, visit]

Bilingualism expert Dr. Barbara Zurer Pearson in her book Raising A Bilingual Child says: “A strong foundation in the first language facilitates the development of subsequent languages….If school children use the first language to learn the second language, progress in the second language is faster.”

Efforts in the U.S. to help ESL students to be educated in their mother tongue first, with a gradual introduction to English

In Utah, school districts have discovered the importance of helping bilingual students begin their primary instruction in reading in their primary language (or mother tongue) with the goal of little by little transferring those skills over into learning to read in English by third grade. In kindergarten less than 10% of the instruction is in English. Then, in 4th through 5th grade the goal is to increase the instruction to 50% in English.

Their rationale is this: “When schools provide children quality education in their primary language, they give them two things: knowledge and literacy. The knowledge that children get through their first language helps make the English they hear and read more comprehensible. Literacy developed in the primary language transfers to the second language.  The reason is simple: Because we learn to read by reading, that is, by making sense of what is on the page, it is easier to learn to read in a language we understand. Once we can read in one language, we can read in general.”

They say that one of the advantages of their bilingual program is that “learners have developed well their primary language before their secondary language learning begins.”  And, they “have the opportunity to develop literacy in L1 and L2.”

It appears that schools districts in Utah are saying that there are definite benefits to bilingual language learners learning to read first in their mother tongue and then learning to read in a second language.

Here is a link to learn more:

Starting Bilingualism from Toddlerhood

These articles offer some great ideas in terms of making sure literacy materials are being used in the home and seen in the home on a daily basis.


For more on raising children bilingually, see:

Bringing Up Children Bilingually

Raise A Bilingual Child: 5 Strategies to Jump Start Second Language Learning For Your Child


Raising Multilingual Children




One thought on “Places to Research Children Learning Second or Multiple Languages

  1. Pingback: Bringing Up Children Bilingually | The Education Cafe

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