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About the AuthorKaren Nemeth earned her BA in Psychology from William Paterson University and her M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition and Development from Rutgers University. She has been a teacher and a teacher educator for more than 25 years, focusing her expertise on first and second language development in young children. She is a nationally known speaker and consultant based at www.languagecastle.com. She is the author of three Gryphon House books: Many Languages, One Classroom: Teaching Dual and English Language Learners (2009), Many Languages, Building Connections: Supporting Infants and Toddlers who are Dual Language Learners (2012) and, with Fran Simon, Digital Decisions: Choosing the Right Technology Tools for Early Childhood (2012). She is also a NAEYC author and consulting editor.
Praise for Karen Nemeth and her book:
"This book fills a serious gap in our professional toolbox: How to design and implement curriculum for young children who are learning English as they continue to learn their home language.”
—Linda M. Espinosa, Ph.D., Former Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia, on Many Languages, One Classroom
|Many Languages, One Classroom|
|Many Languages, Building Connections|
|Digital Decisions - eBook|
|Many Languages, Building Connections - eBook|
Q: In your new book, Many Languages, One Classroom, you use the term “dual language learners.” Why do you use this term and how does the concept differ from either English language learners or ESOL?
A: ‘Dual language learners’ it is a term that highlights the need for children to continue learning in their home language while they are introduced to a new language, rather than just learn the new language. For the past several years the term ‘English language learners’ has been used in the field of education, but many experts and practitioners are raising concerns about the implication that the term indicates a linear progress toward English and away from the home language. The most current research maintains that supporting the home language during the early years is the best strategy to ensure later academic success for dual language learners and to reduce the achievement gap between native English speakers and their other-language peers.
Q:What inspired you to write Many Languages, One Classroom?
A: With my background in language development and early childhood education, I have often been called upon to provide professional development about supporting young dual language learners. I was able to find research and expert opinion about how children develop first and second languages, but there was no instruction manual for teachers who wanted to implement research-based strategies in their classrooms. As I visited schools and daycare centers, Head Start programs and family child care providers, I collected many wonderful ideas. Teachers and administrators kept asking for a "how-to book" so I decided to go ahead and write one. Many Languages, One Classroom is filled with the wealth of creative strategies that I have used and observed. I believe that my book gives teachers plenty of ideas about adapting any curriculum to meet the needs of dual language learners, and it also educates the reader about WHY these strategies work so they understand the reasons well enough to create their own strategies.
Q: How common is it for early childhood teachers to have children from diverse language backgrounds in their classroom?
A: Right now, most reports say that about 25% of the early childhood education population is from immigrant families. Of course, these families are greatly concentrated in some areas of the country and less apparent in other areas. Looking at demographic maps, we can see that the areas of concentration are expanding and moving. At this point, I believe it is safe to say that nearly every teacher will have at least one dual language learner in his or her classroom in the next five to ten years. That means every teacher needs to know how to meet the educational needs of dual language learners in developmentally appropriate ways.
Q: What can a teacher do in the classroom tomorrow to begin to meet the unique needs of dual language learners?
A: One thing a teacher can do right away to increase his or her effectiveness in supporting dual language learners would be to learn the exact language and/or dialect spoken by the family of every child in the class. Use this knowledge to quickly learn a few key words in the home language of each child in the class. Start with the most important word: the proper pronunciation of the child's name. A child's name and home language are critical components of their identity formation and self-esteem. Making the effort to show you value the child's home language and that you are interested in better communication, will go a long way toward helping each unique dual language learner feel comfortable enough to expand their learning and adjust to their new class. For newcomers, learn a few survival words (yes, no, eat, bathroom, hurt, wash, look here, and listen) in the child’s home language. For children who have some English language proficiency, learn some word to connect with their interests as a way to build your relationship with them and expand on their learning opportunities. For example, if a child likes to play in the block area, you might learn the words for block, building, taller, shorter, tower, bridge, stack, fall, collapse, construct, and wreck in the child’s home language. Every time a teacher learns more words in a child's home language and earnestly attempts to use them, he or she is showing the child that his or her unique identity is interesting and worthwhile. Engaging each child in real, meaningful conversation sends a message of respect and inclusion. Learning words in a child’s home language creates a strong foundation from which the child can most successfully transition to English or their second language.
Q: What is the single most important thing a teacher can do to welcome dual language learners into the classroom?
A: The single most important thing a teacher can do to welcome dual language learners into the classroom is to engage families as welcome learning partners right from the start. Communicate with them in their own language. Use technology to share messages about how their child is enjoying the program and send digital photos of their child happily involved in projects and play. Help them understand that everything they do to support their child's continued learning in his or her home language will contribute to their child’s success transitioning to English later on. Involve them in classroom activities beyond the usual back-to-school night or field trip. Ask parents to share family recipes, games, stories, and songs from their home country. Invite them to help with translations, recorded stories and songs, or bring in authentic learning materials. This support from and for families will strengthen the teacher's ability to provide the best possible early learning experience for each child. Learning will be reinforced at home, families will better understand the American school experience, and participating families can bring a wealth of resources to the early childhood education program.
Q: What feedback have you received from teachers on the dual language workshops and presentations you’ve given? Have those responses changed your own practices?
A: I have learned so much from the audiences at my workshops and presentations. For years, I have been getting questions from participants that are very hard to answer. Invariably there will be someone who has a child in their class that speaks a home language that the teacher has never heard of and can find no resources for; or someone who is bilingual but ends up with two or more languages in her class that he or she does not speak; or resistance from parents who believe it would be best for their child to never speak their home language again; or enrollment of families who are nearly illiterate in their home language. It didn't take long for me to realize that odd and unusual situations were actually going to be the most common stories I would hear from the field. That showed me that a set curriculum for dual language learners would not be effective. In order to be flexible and knowledgeable enough to be successful in the face of each new and unexpected challenge, teachers need to learn a menu of potential strategies that they can pull from to meet unique needs as they arise. Teachers also need a sophisticated understanding of how languages are acquired and how my strategies work so they can use their skill and talent to develop new strategies to adapt to any new situation. Over time, I have come to take an approach that teaches teachers and administrators a full range of possible adaptations and supports that they can use whether they have no one who speaks the home language of the child, or whether they have a fully bilingual staff ready to go. I have heard that this approach is very much appreciated at the time of my workshops and presentations and when teachers apply the information and strategies in their classrooms.
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