White House Event on Dual Language Learners Showcases I-LABS

The Institute's discoveries on how young children learn multiple languages took center stage at an event co-hosted by the White House.

The White House Regional Summit on Dual Language Learners, held June 2 in Miami, represents increasing national interest in expanding high-quality early learning opportunities for dual language learners—children who are learning more than one language at the same time.

A growing number of young children in the U.S. have a home language other than English, but early childhood programs often lack preparation in how to best support multiple language learning.

"Knowing multiple languages has become the norm rather than the exception in many parts of the world, and I-LABS science shows that early childhood is the best time for children to learn multiple languages," said Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute and one of the invited speakers at the summit.

I-LABS research also reveals how children learn best, such as that young infants do not learn language from video and need human social interaction to learn.

The summit, co-hosted by the Obama Administration and the initiatives Too Small to Fail and Invest in Us, aims to stimulate support and awareness for the increasing need to provide for dual language learners during early childhood.

To that end, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education released a policy statement that provides recommendations and identifies free resources to help States, tribal communities, caregivers and families develop programs for dual language learners.

"The policy statement highlights the evidence showing that young children’s language and literacy skills depend on early supportive environments, and also reinforces the idea that learning two languages is good for the young brain," Kuhl said. "Providing support for dual-language learners now will provide multiple benefits for the nation’s workforce downstream."

The policy statement references I-LABS discoveries that make the case for why early childhood is the best time to learn multiple languages, including:

- Learning multiple languages is easiest when young, and growth in each language is related to quality and quantity of exposure,

- The newborn brain is capable of identifying the sounds of all languages, than narrows down to native language(s),

- The importance of the social context needed for optimal language learning.

The statement also cites one of I-LABS' most recent findings that revealed how before infants even begin to speak, their brains begin to show executive function benefits of bilingualism.

"Our research demonstrates that frequent, high-quality exposure to two languages allows the baby brain to learn more than one language at once," said the study's lead author Naja Ferjan Ramírez, an I-LABS research scientist who will attend the White House summit.

"And, our brain findings show that experiencing more than one language at a time gives babies practice in other desirable cognitive traits," Ferjan Ramírez said.

Learn more about the Obama Administration's support for dual language learners in a White House press release »

Related to the White House event, Ferjan Ramírez and Kuhl wrote a report that summarizes neuroscience research on how babies learn languages, explains the reasons behind variability in bilingual learning, and highlights the cognitive benefits of bilingualism.

"Many of today’s dual-language learners will be tomorrow’s leaders, and this event will underscore how helping them now will benefit all of us later," Kuhl said.

Learn More:

Bilingual Language Learning in Children
An I-LABS report written by Naja Ferjan Ramírez and Patricia Kuhl showcases the Institute’s latest brain studies demonstrating that the baby brain is fully capable of learning multiple languages at the same time.

Ask I-LABS Outreach: How Do Babies Learn Two Languages at Once?
Naja Ferjan Ramírez gives advice to parents on the science behind raising children to know multiple languages.

Bilingual Language Development
A 20-minute training module on how to promote dual language learning in young children. The I-LABS Outreach developed the free online tool for parents and caregivers.

Why the Baby Brain Can Learn Two Languages at the Same Time
In an expert opinion piece for the popular news site The Conversation, Naja Ferjan Ramírez describes the science behind why early childhood is the best time to learn multiple languages.

Supporting Dual Language Learners in Early Learning Settings
A White House press release describing the Obama Administration's support for dual language learning during early childhood.

Realizing the Economic Advantages of a Multilingual Workforce
A UCLA report puts multilingualism into context with the job market and describes how many American workers miss out on business opportunities due to an increasingly skilled and multilingual global workforce.