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Learning a Second Language in the Preschool Years

Considerable evidence suggests that preschoolers are prodigious learners of their first language. Perhaps because of this apparent first-language-learning wizardry, the possibility that preschoolers might have some difficulty in learning a second language has been largely ignored by researchers conducting basic research in child development. Understanding how young children acquire second languages is important for both theoretical and practical reasons. From a theoretical standpoint, the work is relevant to the literatures on language acquisition, the sensitive period hypothesis and bilingualism. From a practical standpoint, understanding how young children learn second languages is highly relevant to optimizing the acquisition of English by young children who come from homes where English is not spoken. We are currently conducting two studies that investigate how preschoolers learn a second language. One is a longitudinal study that focuses on the acquisition of English by Spanish-speaking preschoolers. The other project uses an experimental design to compare first and second-language vocabulary learning among English-speaking preschoolers.

Child participating in experiment. Child participating in experiment.


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Last modified on November 20, 2008