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Bilingual Education’s Impact on Preschoolers’ Development Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 10th, 2020

Bilingual education is regarded as a huge benefit for young learners. It is believed to have a considerable impact on children’s development not only in relation to the speaking activity but also in many other aspects. The area of the research focus is significant because it is crucial to find out what qualities bilingual education can help to develop and how exactly it influences the progress of preschool children. The question has been studied by many scholars who emphasize the positive influence of bilingual education. The key questions to be addressed in the literature review are concerned with the understanding of children’s early development in relation to bilingual education:

  1. Is dual-language learning beneficial or disadvantageous for small children?
  2. In what ways can bilingual education be employed in the classroom?
  3. What skills can be enhanced with the help of dual-language education at preschool?
  4. What methods are most frequently used by researchers to study the outcomes of bilingual education at preschool?

The literature review is going to answer all of these questions in order to present a better understanding of the key issue of research: dual-language education. The findings of scholarly articles dedicated to the chosen theme will be introduced. Also, the review will provide data on the choice of keywords and filters of the search, as well as explain the selection of sources to be analyzed.

There are several theories in child development that directly or indirectly discuss the implications of dual-language learning. According to the psychosexual developmental theory introduced by Freud, a child needs to pass a sequence of stages concentrated on various pleasure areas. Additionally, Freud put emphasis on the importance of learning to resolve conflicts (Conkbayir & Pascal, 2014). Freud remarked that personality was largely established by the age of five. In relation to this theory, the implementation of bilingual education at preschool helps children to deal with conflicts based on the necessity to accommodate to a dual-language environment (Conkbayir & Pascal, 2014).

According to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, children’s way of thinking differs greatly from the adults’ one (Conkbayir & Pascal, 2014). Piaget’s theory states that children learn to use language at the preoperational stage when they are between two and six years old. During this period, they do not understand concrete logic and cannot adopt other people’s point of view (Conkbayir & Pascal, 2014). Therefore, this approach also encourages to teach children two languages at a preschool age because they are the most likely to accept new knowledge without serious difficulties or biases. The socio-cultural theory introduced by Vygotsky is also related to bilingual education. According to this approach, children’s learning abilities are impacted by their peers, caregivers, and parents. Vygotsky treated learning as a naturally social process (Conkbayir & Pascal, 2014).

The scholar considered that through interactions with other children and adults, preschoolers were able to integrate learning in their perception of the world. According to Vygotsky, the help of more experienced people allows preschoolers to develop their skills (Conkbayir & Pascal, 2014). Thus, bilingual education fits this theory since in dual-language classrooms children are helped by their teachers to acquire new knowledge and communicate with their peers to develop their skills in social interaction. The purpose of the review is to provide relevant data on bilingual education at preschool to help parents and caregivers understand the opportunities for children’s development.

Reference Search and Screening

The databases employed for research were ERIC database and the subject-specific database on education. Such a choice was made in order to find the sources that investigate the key terms of the central research question. These databases are known to incorporate a large number of scholarly peer-reviewed articles that are focused on various dimensions of education.

The keywords that were entered to limit search results were the following: bilingual education, preschoolers, dual language, and preschool development. These keywords helped to prevent the appearance of irrelevant issues in search results. As a consequence, the articles obtained with the help of such a keyword limitation were closely connected to the chosen theme of research.

In order to avoid irrelevant sources in search results, several restrictions were imposed. First of all, the publication date was set between 1990 and 2016. Such a time frame allowed to obtain the most relevant articles in the sphere of education that were focused on the investigation of bilingual learning. Secondly, the sources were filtered by the type. Only ERIC documents and articles in academic journals were interesting for the researcher. No results from books or magazines were accepted.

The choice of the articles to be included in the literature review was determined by the following requirements. The sources had to be the most relevant and easy to read and analyze. Also, they needed to contain all the points included in the matrix so that it would be possible to fill it. Thus, only the sources with a thorough description of the research question, participants, methods, sampling procedures, and research design were chosen for the review.

Analytic Summary of Each Study

The research question in the article by Durán, Roseth, and Hoffman (2010) was: how does the transitional bilingual education (TBE) impact the early literacy development of Spanish-speaking preschoolers? The sample consisted of thirty-one Spanish-speaking preschoolers from two classes at the Head Start site. The age of the participants varied between 38 and 48 months. The authors randomly allocated sixteen children to the English classroom (control group) and the remaining fifteen children to the TBE classroom (experimental group). The data were collected through observation. Five independent variables were included in the study: letter─word identification, receptive vocabulary, alliteration, expressive vocabulary, and rhyming.

The measures were administered two times during the academic year: in September─October and April─May. Researchers found it difficult to ensure the systematic alternation of language order. However, there were no occasions of the same instrument being administered to the same student on the same day. Every examiner had to use only their language with the learners. During the first assessment, the examiners were inspected and received feedback after the evaluation. The research design chosen by the authors was a longitudinal experimental comparison of TBE and English instruction on low-income Spanish-speaking preschoolers’ literacy and language development (Durán et al., 2010). The major finding of the study was that TBE was a useful tool for improving Spanish literacy and language without considerable cost to the development of English literacy.

Orellana (1994) investigated the preschoolers’ bilingual language use in play. The languages spoken by the children were English and Spanish. There were three research questions:

  1. How do preschoolers use Spanish and English in spontaneous play?
  2. How do institutional, family, and societal use of language impact the preschoolers’ language during playing?
  3. What information does the language use present about the developing self-identities of the children? (Orellana, 1994).

There were two constituents of the study’s sample. The major focus was on three children: Carlos (3 years 8 months old), Veronica (3 years 3 months old), and Elisa (2 years 10 months old). The researcher employed convenience sample. The children were picked because they were raised in bilingual families where one parent’s native language was English, and the other’s was Spanish. Elisa was the child of the researcher. In all the families, parents paid more attention to teaching their children Spanish. Apart from that, the researcher analyzed the development of twenty-five children at a bilingual kindergarten. The instruments used to collect data were direct observation and note-taking. The researcher examined children’s language use in the kindergarten and at home.

Upon the observation, Orellana (1994) interviewed the three children. The research design was qualitative phenomenological. The researcher observed the children in natural environments, took notes, and asked them some questions. The findings of the study were as follows. When playing with one another, the three children spoke Spanish, whereas in the English-speaking environment, they chose to speak English. All the children demonstrated flexibility in their language use. The preschoolers’ language development was influenced by the environment (home or school), particularly in consideration with the large social context. Since the children showed equal mastery of Spanish and English, there was a possibility that they might gradually change their language preferences and forget the native language.

The study by Rezzonico et al. (2016) was focused on the investigation of narratives of four- and five-year-old children speaking English and Cantonese. Research aimed at answering the following questions:

  1. Are there any differences in the macrostructure of the Cantonese-English bilingual children?
  2. Are there any differences in their microstructure?
  3. What are the determinants of the children’s micro- and macrostructure results in English?

The study sample included 47 children (23 4-year-olds and 24 5-year-olds) from Canada who spoke both English and Cantonese. At home, Cantonese was used more frequently than English. The participants were to generate a story in both languages with the help of a picture book. The order of languages was counterbalanced.

For measuring nonverbal intelligence, all participants in Cantonese were administered the matrices subtest of the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test. For measuring English vocabulary skills, the authors used the expressive one-word picture vocabulary test. The characteristics of the participants were summed up in a table. The researcher employed a cross-sectional design that tested both age groups simultaneously. It was a quantitative correlation study. The major findings of the study were as follows. The children’s grammar was better in English than in Spanish. As the children grew older, they demonstrated the improvement of both languages. Such findings made it possible to predict a possibility of the children’s transferred narrative abilities in Spanish and English.

Saenz et al. (2000) performed a three-year study that investigated preschoolers’ achievements in a Head Start center. The main research question was: how does a three-year language enrichment program change preschoolers’ language skills? 168 children were selected for participation in the study. They were divided into three groups: English-dominant, Spanish-dominant, and mixed dominance (cohorts 1 and 2) or limited English-proficient (cohort 3). The children were classified in accordance with their score on the pre-Idea Proficiency Test (IPT). The test was checked by students studying graduate school psychology and special education. For groups 1 and 2, the authors used two measures: the Preschool Language Scale 3 and the pre-ITP.

For group 3, only the pre-ITP test was used. The test had high validity and reliability rates. It classified the children as non-speakers, limited speakers, or fluent speakers. The main method employed in the study was quantitative research. The type of the study was correlation since the researchers discovered the links between the variables and predicted the necessary changes in the curriculum. In each year, the findings were different. In year one, Spanish-dominant preschoolers demonstrated significant growth in English skills. In year two, the English-dominant group indicated no improvement in English whereas the Spanish-dominant group showed improvement in both languages. In year three, the Spanish-dominant group did not have any improvement in languages but showed progress in other languages. The limited English-proficient group did not demonstrate language progress but demonstrated the improvements in motor and total domains.

The research question in Yow’s (2015) article was: can monolingual and bilingual children’s use of gestures or other cues help them resolve ambiguous pronouns? The sample was composed of 32 4-year-old preschoolers, one half of them being monolingual and the other half being bilingual. The participants were selected on the basis of a language questionnaire filled in by their parents. It was a convenience sample. The measure used to collect data was an individual test performed by the experimenter. Also, the study employed a Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test IV that evaluated the receptive vocabulary. The type of research was quantitative descriptive. The major finding of the article was that preschoolers were able to use gestures and other cues to clarify the ambiguous pronouns.

Cross-Cutting Themes and Directions for Future Projects

Although each of the reviewed articles has different research questions, they also have some things in common. The first cross-cutting theme is the interaction between English and Spanish. The use of these two languages as a basis for researching the bilingual education was discussed by Durán et al. (2010), Orellana (1994), and Saenz et al. (2000). Such a tendency suggests a conclusion that English is frequently paired with Spanish. Owing to these research papers, parents and educators become able to trace the major difficulties preschool children meet when studying two languages simultaneously. Also, the studies suggest much information on the improvement of English and Spanish mastery by young learners.

The second cross-cutting theme is that the authors of the majority of the articles preferred quantitative study design. Such a design was used by Rezzonico et al. (2016), Saenz et al. (2000), and Yow (2015). These researchers provided numerical data as a result of their investigation. In Rezzonico et al.’s (2016) study, the repeated measures ANOVAs were employed to calculate the differences in the macro- and microstructure of the Cantonese-English bilingual children. Saenz et al. (2000) estimated the growth of children’s language skills. Yow (2015) performed the statistical analysis to find the ratios of the monolingual and bilingual children’s median, mean, and variance property valuation.

Contrary to the mentioned three articles, the study by and Orellana (1994) used the qualitative design. The author observed children’s interactions and took notes of whatever she found necessary. Later, the researcher made conclusions based on the observations, but there were no numerical data. Finally, Durán et al. (2010) employed a mixed-method approach. On the one hand, the study contained independent and dependent variables, which is a sign of quantitative research. On the other hand, the authors observed the preschoolers, which signifies the qualitative design.

For future research, the following recommendations are made. First of all, researchers should not choose little samples. Orellana’s (1994) study focused only on three children, which is too little to provide reliability and validity. The same thing concerns the investigation by Durán et al. (2010) that analyzed 31 participants, Rezzonico et al. (2016) that included 47 participants, and Yow (2015) that analyzed 32 children. Since the issue of dual-language learning is becoming more and more crucial, it is necessary to perform the studies with the inclusion of a greater number of participants. By doing so, the authors will be able to eliminate inaccurate findings and biases.

Another suggestion is to perform longitudinal studies. The only research out of the five reviewed articles that lasted for several years was the one by Saenz et al. (2000). Meanwhile, it would be interesting to establish the impact of bilingual education on preschoolers at different stages of their development. Such research may help teachers and parents to decide when and how dual-language education should be initiated and how it should be developed. Additionally, it will help to establish the most common difficulties preschoolers have in bilingual learning and find the ways of minimizing the appearance of such problems. Another suggestion is to include a variety of measures in research of dual-language education. It is crucial to try different ways of assessing children’s abilities in order to find the most productive one.


Based on the review of articles, it is possible to note several significant issues. First of all, bilingual education has a positive impact on the development of preschool children’s language skills. Moreover, dual-language education helps the children to accommodate in different environments better and teaches them to express their opinions in many ways. Researchers focus their investigation on the development of children’s language skills under the circumstances of the bilingual learning environment. This type of education is related to many developmental theories the authors of which emphasized the need for children to cultivate thinking, learn about conflict resolution strategies, and accommodate to various social circumstances.

Research helped to understand the basic principles of bilingual education and the methods preferred by some school programs. At the same time, it revealed that not all school paid equal attention to the development of both languages. Also, it is noted that the question of bilingual education in preschools has not been investigated to the full extent yet. Further studies are necessary in order to cover all the aspects of such type of learning. Educators and caregivers should have a variety of prompts to use at home and preschool in order to make the outcomes of dual-language learning the most beneficial.

The message that can be taken from the literature review is that the dual-education approach should not be underestimated as it provides many advantages for children. Although it may require some accommodation and cause some difficulties at the beginning, bilingual education will eventually lead to positive outcomes in social, personal, and educational dimensions. Therefore, it is crucial to continue investigating this method and increase the knowledge base about it.


Conkbayir, M., & Pascal, C. (2014). Early childhood theories and contemporary issues: An introduction. London, UK: Bloomsbury.

Durán, L. K., Roseth, C. J., & Hoffman, P. (2010). An experimental study comparing English-only and transitional bilingual education on Spanish-speaking preschoolers’ early literacy development. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25(2), 207-217.

Orellana, M. F. (1994). Appropriating the voice of the superheroes: Three preschoolers’ bilingual language uses in play. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 9(2), 171-193.

Rezzonico, S., Goldberg, A., Mak, K. K.-Y., Yap, S., Milburn, T., Belletti, A., & Girolametto, L. (2016). Narratives in two languages: Storytelling of bilingual Cantonese-English preschoolers. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 59(3), 521-532.

Saenz, A. L., Garza, S., Ochoa, S. H., Leyva, C., Ramirez, E., Carter, N.,… Minness, A. (2000). A three-year evaluation study of a bilingual curriculum program for limited English proficient Hispanic preschoolers in Head Start. In Head Start’s fifth national research conference: Proceedings of a conference (pp. 1-25). Washington, D.C.: US Department of Education.

Yow, W. Q. (2015). Monolingual and bilingual preschoolers’ use of gestures to interpret ambiguous pronouns. Journal of Child Language, 42(6), 1394-1407.

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