Native speech key for preschoolers, study finds
News & Observer
March 22, 2007
A new study finds that Spanish-speaking preschoolers are better adjusted in
class when their teachers speak at least some Spanish, compared to children
whose teachers speak only English.
The key finding of the study, by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development
Institute at UNC Chapel Hill, tends of refute conventional wisdom that
English-only pre-kindergarten programs help close achievement gaps among
children from different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
“Many early childhood programs are moving toward a system that may isolate
children who are learning English, leaving them at risk for social and language
problems,” Gisele Crawford, a research associate at the institute and an author
of the study, to appear in the April issue of Early Education and Development.
“Programs that have the potential to mitigate the achievement gap between
children from different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups may be doing
just the opposite,” Crawford said. “This study suggests that, too often,
inequities already are present in early educational experiences between
non-English speaking and English-speaking children.”
Compared to English-only teachers, researchers found that teachers who included
Spanish said their Spanish-speaking students experienced less aggression,
bullying and teasing by their classmates, and they rated them higher in social
skills. Spanish-speaking teachers also spoke more often with the children and
had better teacher-student relationships.
Teachers used Spanish with Spanish-speaking children less than 20 percent of
the time. And almost a quarter of Spanish-speaking children had teachers who
never spoke a word of Spanish in the classroom.
When speaking directly to Spanish-speaking students, teachers who did include
Spanish still used English two-thirds of the time. Yet when teachers spoke
Spanish, they had more elaborate conversations with the children. Neither the
amount of Spanish nor English spoken by teachers affected the children’s English
The amount of Spanish that teachers spoke with children also was also
significantly related to teachers’ ratings of children’s frustration tolerance,
assertiveness, task orientation and peer social skills – the higher the
proportion of English interactions, the more likely that teachers said children
had conduct and learning problems and a low tolerance for frustration.
“Given the increasing number of foreign-born preschoolers, it is critical to
address the claims made by the ‘English-only’ movement, particularly as they
fuel public policy decisions,” said Florence Chang, lead author of the study.
“An English-is-best approach largely ignores the complexities and stressors of
children’s transitions into early childhood and school.”