Dual Language Learners in Transition from Home to School: The Role of Parental Attitudes and Home Language Practices in Bilingual Development
Sarah Surrain

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Harvard University

Primary Discipline

The language skills that children acquire in early childhood are essential for social relationships and school learning. For the large and growing number of children who are learning a minoritized language at home (dual language learners, or DLLs), developing and maintaining skills in the home language alongside the socially dominant language can enhance family relationships, school outcomes and emotional wellbeing. However, many DLLs experience interrupted acquisition of their home language after beginning formal schooling. This raises the question: what contextual factors promote (or inhibit) DLLs' acquisition and maintenance of the home language, particularly after beginning school in the socially dominant language? Theoretical models have pointed to parental attitudes and home language practices as key factors in bilingual outcomes, yet empirical evidence on the role of these factors and their stability over time is scarce. In my three-study dissertation I address this gap by investigating how parental attitudes and home language practices support DLLs' bilingual development during the transition from home to school. Study 1 tests the relation among linguistic diversity in local communities, parents' perceptions of the value of bilingualism, and parents' language practices using survey data. Study 2 explores perceptions and home language practices of Spanish-speaking mothers of preschoolers through qualitative interviews. Study 3 uses structured home observations of Spanish-speaking parent-child dyads before and after children start preschool to describe whether and how parents' perceptions and home language practices shift spanning this important transition, and how perceptions and practices are related to skills in each language.
About Sarah Surrain
Sarah Surrain is a Ph.D. candidate in Human Development, Learning and Teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research focuses on the social and environmental factors that support bilingual development in early childhood. Her work combines insights and methods from the fields of child language acquisition, bilingualism, and early childhood education with the goal of improving the wellbeing and school outcomes of children who speak a minoritized language at home. She is particularly interested in how parental attitudes and home language practices contribute to children's skills in a minoritized home language leading up to and following school entry. Prior to her doctoral studies, Sarah was a curriculum developer and literacy coach in Spanish-English bilingual classrooms in Chicago. She received an Ed.M. in Language and Literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Kalamazoo College.

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