takes more practice and effort but is essential for school success (Cum-
For young children, academic language is the language of storybooks.
For example, a sentence in the children’s book Annie and the Wild Ani-
mals by Jan Brett reads, “At dawn Annie heard the snarls and growls of
the wild animals.” This short sentence contains five rare words. They are
dawn, heard, snarls, growls, and wild. At least three of these words would
not occur in routine conversations with young children, so children
with only social language probably wouldn’t know them. If children do
not understand these words, the sentence reads, “At . . . Annie . . . the
. . . and . . . of the . . . animals.” With this level of comprehension, chil-
dren have a hard time paying attention. When children misbehave at
story time, it is often because they do not understand the story (Passe
2010). Unless they get solid academic language instruction in English from
preschool through high school, immigrant children develop only social
language. As they proceed through the grades, they can’t read the text-
books, understand data on the Internet, participate in discussions, or
write research papers. They cannot succeed in school.
How Do Children Learn a Second Language?
From birth to five years old, children learn a first and a second language
in similar ways (Bialystok and Hakuta 1994). Young children learn
through observation, exploration, and play. If they are dual-language
learners, they use the same part of the brain to learn both languages
(Kim et al. 1997). Every new object or situation is an opportunity to
learn new words and concepts in both languages. From birth to ten years
old, the brain is most receptive to language learning (Montanaro 2001).
Children who have fewer opportunities to hear and use language learn
less (Kotulak 1997).
Older children and adults use a different part of the brain to learn a
second language than they used to learn their first language. They use
their first language for comparison. For example, they recognize words
with similar roots and meanings, such as revolution in English and revo-
lución in Spanish.