Oral language development—in both English and the home language—should be a central focus for educators teaching ML students. Although not all programs provide intentional dual language instruction, research suggests that dual language education is optimal for young ML students’ learning and development (NASEM, 2017), so this is an ideal goal for programs to reach. Oral language strategies across models should be implemented intentionally to ideally promote both languages. Key oral language skills include expressive and receptive vocabulary, listening comprehension, and grammatical knowledge, all of which are critical for future reading comprehension for young ML students (Espinosa 2015; Crosson & Lesaux, 2013). Teachers should incorporate rich and high-quality language experiences with back-and-forth exchanges in both languages, as consistent with the program’s language model, which can help foster language development and achievement (Espinosa & Crandell, 2020). 

ML students’ developing language skills may also include codeswitching, or using words and phrases from both languages in a single sentence (check out this Guide on Code Switching from the Office of Head Start for more information). This is a normal part of bilingual development and demonstrates children’s flexibility in drawing on the resources they have in both languages (read this Fact Sheet on Translanguaging for more information on the theory behind how multilingual children use their full language repertoire to make sense of and communicate information). While multilingual children may have a smaller vocabulary in each language initially and lack some ‘translation equivalents,’ educators should account for, draw from, and encourage vocabulary use in both English and the home language. It is important for teachers to serve as strong language models in the languages that they speak, which includes clear language allocation and strategic separation of the languages (Olsen et al., 2020). Teachers should also highlight the similarities and differences between the languages children speak and English in order to support children in making connections. By providing high-quality, culturally appropriate language interactions in both languages that are relevant to children’s experiences, educators help ML children develop a solid foundation in both of their languages, which will support future literacy and content learning. 

The following evidence-based strategies should be used with a specific purpose in mind, as consistent with the program’s language model, and differentiated and tailored to each individual child’s level and needs (which should be gathered from continuous assessment). Oral language practices should be integrated with the other strategies presented in this document. For K-3 teachers, refer also to the California K-3 ELD Standards that highlight oral language interactions for MLs.  

Evidence-Based Strategies and Resources

Overarching Strategy: Provide language-rich environments to support each language.

Provide high-quality, responsive, and extended talk in each language, including longer utterances with varied vocabulary, a mix of open-ended and scaffolding questions, providing child-friendly definitions for new or unfamiliar words, recasting or repeating an erroneous utterance in a corrected form, and engaging in back-and-forth exchanges.

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Ask questions in each language, including a mix of open- and closed-ended questions, to elicit talk from children. 

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Repeat and elaborate/expand on children’s talk in each language, with adjectives, adverbs, clauses, etc. that are related to the topic the child is discussing.

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Incorporate songs, rhymes, and chants in each language, and connect them to content learning. 

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Overarching Strategy: Provide explicit vocabulary instruction in each language.

Select commonly used academic words (e.g., observe, demonstrate, cycle, evaluate, conflict, etc.) and content-specific words or phrases (e.g., energy, habitat, food chain, law, freedom) from texts/unit of study and incorporate them into instruction.

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Explicitly teach words through multiple modalities of writing, speaking, and listening (e.g., vocabulary picture cards, word maps, visual aids, props, word walls, gestures).

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Reinforce target words by using them throughout the day and across contexts (e.g., present word during morning meeting, post on word wall, engage with associated objects and words during small group or free choice learning time, etc.). 

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Provide hands-on, inquiry-based experiences (e.g., designing and implementing experiments) to help give language meaning and purpose.

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Crosson, A. C., & Lesaux, N. K. (2013). Does knowledge of connectives play a unique role in the reading comprehension of English learners and English‐only students?. Journal of Research in Reading36(3), 241-260.

Espinosa, L. M. 2015. Getting it Right for Young Children from Diverse Backgrounds: Applying Research to Improve Practice with a Focus on Dual Language Learners. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Espinosa, L., & Crandell, J. (2020). Early learning and care for multilingual and dual language learners ages zero to five. In California Department of Education (Ed.), Improving education for multilingual and English learner students: Research to practice (Ch. 4). California Department of Education. https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/el/er/improvingmleleducation.asp

Olsen, L., Martinez, M., Herrera, C.B., & Skibbins, H. (2020). Multilingual Programs and Pedagogy: What Teachers and Administrators Need to Know and Do In California Department of Education (Ed.), Improving education for multilingual and English learner students: Research to practice (Ch. 3). California Department of Education. https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/el/er/improvingmleleducation.asp