Head Start Advantage: Dual Language Learners

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of children who speak a language other than English at home has increased from approximately 19.8% in 2007 to approximately 21.3% in 2017. Among children served by Head Start in the 2017-18 program year, over 28% are dual language learners (DLL) who speak a language other than English at home. Nearly 80% of DLL children in Head Start are speaking Spanish at home.

Key Takeaways on Dual Language Learners

  • Dual language learners (DLLs) in Head Start increased their English proficiency during their enrollment, and the effects of Head Start on receptive vocabulary were larger for DLLs than monolingual-English speakers.
  • Head Start promotes DLL parents’ English language ability, their involvement with children’s language learning at home, and their partnership with their children’s schools.

Children of Immigrants or Migrant and Seasonal Workers

While 92% of the DLL children at Head Start were born in the U.S., parents in these families are mostly immigrants or migrant and seasonal workers, many with limited educational attainment and social capital, which can add additional stress and difficulty in adjusting to the U.S. Moreover, statistics for the 2016-17 program year showed that 61% of the DLL children attending Head Start were at or below the federal poverty threshold, burdening the family with disadvantages inherent in poverty, such as higher risks of experiencing food insecurity and depressive symptoms.

Children’s oral language and early literacy development serve as the foundation for later reading abilities and overall academic success. Evidence indicates that participation in high-quality preschools can improve children’s social, language, reading, and mathematic skills as well as reduce the achievement gap for linguistic and/or ethnic minorities, and that Head Start’s impacts are larger for DLLs than native English speakers on receptive vocabulary.

Download the Dual Language Learners fact sheet, explore the research citations, and dig deeper into the Head Start Advantage.

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