Early Bilingualism and Foreign Language Learning in Secondary School



Nguyen, My Viet Ha

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Early exposure to multiple languages shapes children's experiences and language background as well as influences later functioning. Prior research indicates that students who speak a minority language at home experience unique benefits when learning an additional third language (L3) in school. In the context of the United States, where foreign language learning is not mandatory, it is challenging to directly examine this relationship. Not all students decide to take a foreign language course, and it is assumed that those who enroll in these courses differ from those who do not in several unique ways. Earlier findings reveal that student characteristics may influence their motivation to learn a foreign language. Thus, the present study examined the relationship between student's early language status (monolingual, dual language learner [DLL], and bilingual) and later foreign language course enrollment and performance in middle and high school. The current research used prospective longitudinal data from the Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP) with an ethnically diverse and low-income population. A total of 33,247 students (58.8% Latino, 33.4% Black/African American, 6.9% White/Asian/other; 81.8% free/reduced lunch) who attended public school pre-K or received subsidies for center-based family childcare in the community were assessed for school readiness at age four and prospectively followed through high school. School record data indicated DLL status in kindergarten, early English proficiency, and foreign language course taking in middle and high school. Hierarchical regression analyses were run to predict foreign language course enrollment and performance in middle or high school as the outcomes, with students’ demographic, school readiness, and elementary school academic performance as covariates. Results suggested complex relationships among different factors; however, early language status significantly predicts later enrollment and performance in foreign language courses, even after controlling for student demographic, school readiness skills, and early academic achievement. Early bilinguals were more likely to take foreign language courses than DLLs, who enrolled in such courses more than monolingual students, controlling for all other factors. The same pattern favoring bilinguals, then DLLs, then monolinguals was found for performance in foreign language courses. I explored the findings in detail pertaining to general foreign language enrollment, as well as performance and enrollment across different level and languages. Limitations and implications were discussed.



DLL, SLA, Bilingualism, Foreign language learning