Mental Health

Is Starting School Easier For Children Who Learn A Language Before English?

For a whopping 21 percent of Americans, English isn’t the main language spoken at home. In California alone, almost 44 percent of children eligible for primary or secondary school speak something other than the native U.S. tongue in their residence, The Washington Times reported.

A new study was just published revealing that when kids learn a native language early, it could give them a leg-up on English and math comprehension once school begins. The research showed that preschoolers who had strong letter and math abilities in Spanish experienced gains in equivalent English skills.

Kids in school When kids learn a native language early, it could give them a leg-up on English and math comprehension once school begins. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Christopher Furlong

"For most Spanish-speaking children, preschool is the first time that they are exposed to an English-speaking environment," said Francisco Palermo, assistant professor of human development and family science in the College of Human Environmental Sciences. "Spanish-speaking children who enter preschool with limited English proficiency rely on the classroom setting to build their English skills. They may have parents who are not comfortable with the English language and worry how their children will do in school without their help in English. Now there is evidence that early reading and math skills learned in Spanish can support the learning of those skills in English."

Palermo assessed preschool-aged children after examining their skills over the course of a school year. He specifically looked at the way that the kids associated between skills that they already possessed in Spanish and their gains in those English skills.

The researcher found that Spanish-speaking preschoolers who have a good grasp of Spanish letters and numbers will experience significant improvements in their English skills. He also concluded that behavior traits play a role in English learning.

This means that non-English-speaking parents can still prepare their kids for a successful school career without learning a new dialect.  

"Even if parents can't speak English or know very little English, they can foster English learning by reading to their children and by talking about and doing math in Spanish," Palermo said. "Doing so will greatly improve the child's ability to keep up in an English classroom setting."

Source: Palermo F. Cross-Language Associations And Changes In Spanish-Speaking Preschoolers' English And Spanish Academic Abilities. Applied Psycholinguistics, 2016.

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