Teaching Young Hispanic Children:
Context, Language, and Learning*
Bryant Jensen
Arizona State University
TNE-ELD Conference, November 6, 2006
The University of Texas at El Paso
*Data from this presentation are taken from a working draft entitled The Linguistic
Development of Young Hispanic Children in the United States: A Research
Synthesis, authored by Eugene E. Garcia and Bryant Jensen
• Context and learning
• Dual-language development
• Language and learning
• Implications for teachers
• Further recommendations
Context and Learning
Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model of human development
Context and Learning
Sociocultural theory
• Linguistic, cognitive, and social development are
fundamentally connected and interrelated
• A child’s basic cognitive framework is shaped his or
her early language and cultural experiences
• Current research suggests that bridging homeschool differences in interaction/discourse patterns
can increase students’ engagement and participation
Dual-language Development
• The relationships of linguistic properties among
Spanish and English are complex
• Transfer theory posits that language skills from
the first language transfer to the second when
grammatical structures between languages are
• Contextually-reduced and cognitively demanding
linguistic skills are the most likely to transfer
Dual-language Development
• The quality of early linguistic development in the
second language is dependent on the quality of
native language development for young Hispanic
ELLs (except for oral/conversational skills, which do
not appear to transfer between linguistic systems)
• Factors that mediate dual-language transfer include
individual factors (such as motivation) as well as
contextual factors including language practices in the
home and instructional practices in the school
Language and Learning
• Spanish-use in the classroom has been shown to
strengthen transfer of letter learning, phonemic
awareness, word reading, and passage comprehension
skills from Spanish to English for young Hispanic ELLs
• For young Hispanics ELLs, programs offering sound
dual-language instruction are favorable to English-only
approaches in terms of early achievement
• Evidence suggests that benefit of Spanish inclusion in
the classroom varies by sociodemographic characteristics
(i.e., levels of human capital in the home). Further
research in this area is needed.
Language and Learning
Language and Learning
• In another study, the strength of transfer of early literacy
skills (i.e., phonemic awareness) from Spanish to English
was found to vary by receptive vocabulary scores in
Spanish. No evidence of transfer was found for those with
limited receptive vocabulary in Spanish.
• Linguistic competencies of the child and home language
experiences influence rate of transfer and relationship
between Spanish-use during instruction and early
achievement. Further research in the area is needed.
Implications for Teachers
• Employ a theoretical model of learning and development that
perceives the child’s abilities within multiple levels of the
• Understand that cognitive, social, and linguistic development
are fundamentally interconnected
• Know child’s language and educational background well,
including levels of proficiency in Spanish and English – this
information can be partially attained from parents.
• Maintain ongoing dialogue with parents concerning child’s
linguistic and educational progress and goals.
• Strengthening early literacy skills in Spanish can improve
identical skills in English for young Hispanic ELLs
Implications for Teachers
• Realize that the strength of cross-linguistic transfer
and the time it requires may vary by socioeconomic
status and the child’s particular educational and
language experiences.
• Provide rich dual-language environments in terms of
the quality and frequency of reception and expression –
allow for linguistic exploration and mixing.
• A “language specialist” should be provided to aide and
serve as consultants to monolingual teachers
• Make effective use of peer pairing and cooperative groups
Further Recommendations
• Further research is needed
– to develop empirically based instructional and curricular
strategies to increase early achievement of young Hispanics and
– to assess how school and home sociocultural contexts affect
cross-linguistic transfer, school readiness, and achievement
• Educational policy should address the following:
– Recruitment of bilingual and culturally competent PK-3
teachers and “language specialists”
– Increasing expansion of state-funded pre-school programs
– Developing parent outreach initiatives
– Providing high quality PK-3 dual-language programs

Young Hispanic Children: Context, Language, and Learning