Examining Preschool-aged Dual Language Learners’ Language Use: From a Functional Approach

WCER Working Paper No. 2016-1

Ahyoung Alicia Kim, Akira Kondo, and Mariana Castro


March 2016, 22 pp.

ABSTRACT: Due to the increase in the number of preschool-aged dual language learners (DLLs), there is a need to understand their language development and how to better support them. Although DLLs’ language development has traditionally been studied from a structuralist perspective, few have examined their language use from a functional approach, which directly relates to what they can or cannot do with their languages by drawing on linguistic resources available to them. The current study examined preschool-aged DLLs’ English language use by adapting Halliday’s theory on systemic functional linguistics.

Participants were 14 DLLs, ages 2.5 to 5.5 years, enrolled in preschools in the Midwestern United States. Their oral data from classroom settings were video-recorded and qualitatively analyzed using key language uses of DLLs, which draws upon Halliday’s systemic functional linguistics theory. Findings show the DLLs engaged in five key language uses: argue, explain, heuristic, recount, and request. The key language use of DLLs ages 2.5 to 3.5 years were limited to making a simple request or argue to meet their needs. In contrast, DLLs ages 3.5 to 5.5 years demonstrated a much wider range of key language uses, often using recount and argue. Study results inform standards and assessment development for DLLs, and the instruction of DLLs’ language development.

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keywords: dual language learners; functional approach; language use