E.g., 06/21/2018
E.g., 06/21/2018

Growing Superdiversity among Young U.S. Dual Language Learners and Its Implications

Reports
February 2018

Growing Superdiversity among Young U.S. Dual Language Learners and Its Implications

Young children growing up in households where at least one parent speaks a language other than English now make up nearly one-third of all young children ages 8 and under in the United States. The families of these Dual Language Learners (DLLs) speak many languages and have varied countries of origin, races and ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses. For early childhood education and care (ECEC) programs, schools, and other systems, this superdiversity has important implications. But while considerable evidence points to the effectiveness of bilingual education models in classrooms where a single non-English language is dominant, much less is known about what works well for DLLs in superdiverse settings.

This report explores the diversity within the DLL population at the national, state, and local level. Although a clear majority of parents of DLLs speak Spanish nationwide (59 percent), this average belies considerable state-to-state variation; in Texas, 78 percent of parents of DLLs speak Spanish, compared to 16 percent in Vermont and Maine. Other languages including Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Arabic, and a range of less commonly spoken languages are also represented to varying degrees. And even within states that appear relatively homogenous overall, certain counties may still have DLL populations that exhibit superdiversity.

Considerable diversity can also be seen within DLL subgroups, including Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) DLLs, Black immigrant DLLs, and the young children of refugees. DLLs from AAPI families, for example, include the children of both high-skilled workers from India and China and of refugees from Bhutan and Myanmar. Similarly, Black immigrant parents of DLLs come from a wide variety of African and Caribbean countries and speak many different languages, with important implications for programs that serve the Black child population as well as those that target DLLs.

Building on this demographic analysis, the report identifies some of the key challenges ECEC systems and K-12 schools experiencing superdiversity face, including the need to:

  • improve the collection of data on young DLLs to ensure their learning strengths and needs are visible to state policymakers and program administrators;
  • develop assessment instruments and methods that can accurately measure the development of children with different home languages; and
  • implement family engagement strategies and cultivate a workforce with the linguistic and cultural skills to work effectively with DLLs’ families.
Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. What Is Superdiversity and How Is It Measured?

A. Using Census Data to Explore Superdiversity

B. Who Are Dual Language Learners?

III. A Portrait of DLLs and their Diversity

A. Size and Growth of the DLL Population Nationwide

B. Growing DLL Presence at the State Level

C. Multifaceted Diversity within the DLL Population

IV. Exploring Diversity within DLL Subpopulations

A. Asian American and Pacific Islander DLLs

B. Black Immigrant DLLs

C. Young Children in Refugee Families

V. How Prevalent Is Superdiversity across States?

A. Language Dynamics at the State Level

B. Language Dynamics at the County Level

VI. Conclusion and Implications for ECEC and K-12 Systems and Programs