Component 4: Language Development of Dual Language Learners

Learning Goal 4.b: Young children become increasingly proficient in expressing their thoughts and ideas in English.

In early-stage English language development, children:

  • Use nonverbal communication, such as gestures or behaviors, to seek attention, request objects, or initiate a response from others
  • Use age-appropriate vocabulary in the home language
  • Listen and converse in their home language
  • Use age-appropriate grammar in their home language
  • Ask a variety of  questions (e.g., “what,” “why,” “how,” “when,” and “where”) in their home language
  • Use simple English expressions that are phonetically correct but may be inappropriate to the context of the conversation or the situation (pragmatically inappropriate; e.g., missing social, contextual, or self-referential cues)

In mid-stage English language development, children:

  • Combine nonverbal with some verbal communication to be understood by others
  • Codeswitch (insert a home language word into an English sentence to get the point across when they don’t know the word in English)
  • Use telegraphic speech (two-word phrases rather than full sentences, such as “want food”)
  • Use formulaic speech (expressions that are learned whole, e.g., “I don’t know”)
  • Use English vocabulary that mainly consists of concrete nouns and some verbs and pronouns
  • Converse with others in English using two or three words at a time but switch back and forth between English and their home language
  • Use some English grammatical markers (e.g., “-ing” or the plural-forming “-s”) and apply at times the rules of grammar of the home language to English
  • Use “what” and “why” questions in English, sometimes with errors

In late-stage English language development, children:

  • Demonstrate increasing reliance on verbal communication in English to be understood by others
  • Use new English vocabulary to share knowledge of concepts, including conversational and academic vocabulary
  • Sustain a conversation in English with increasingly complex syntax, adding conjunctions, subject-verb-object patterns, and other more advanced elements of English sentence construction
  • Expand their use of different forms of grammar in English (e.g., plurals; possessive pronouns; simple past-tense verbs), sometimes with errors
  • Use “what,” “why,” “how,” “when,” and “where” questions in more complete forms in English, sometimes with errors

Note: Unlike most of the other developmental progressions in this document, the indicators for English language development (or for development in any other language) do not follow specific age thresholds. Children who become dual language learners are exposed to their second language for the first time at different ages. As a result, one child may start the process of developing English language skills at birth and another child may start at age four, making the age thresholds inappropriate. So instead of using age, The Standards use research-based stages to outline a child’s progress in English language development. It is important to note that there is no set time for how long it will take a given child to progress through these stages. Progress depends upon the unique characteristics of the child, his or her exposure to English in the home and other environments, the child’s motivation to learn English, and other factors.