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Bilingual & Multilingual Learning: Primary (ages 3-6)

Primary students, ages three to six years, evolve quickly and show that we as humans are born to communicate.

Born to Communicate

Humans are born wanting to communicate. Of course, three to six-year-olds aren’t jumping into dramatic monologues just yet J but they have a lot of tools to use. This age group may use crying, facial expressions, gestures and some words and phrases, as well as simple sentences.

Absorbent Mind

Dr. Montessori calls the time of development from birth to six years as “The Absorbent Mind,” because at this point of development, children are sponges—they’re absorbing everything. This is when a lot of synapses in the brain are created.

Sensitivity to Language

During this period in life, students are extremely interested in words and are primed to learn reading, writing and lots of vocabulary words.

Bilingual and Multilingual Students

Children at this age aren’t translating. Instead, the words are collected from their various environments and put into the same language buckets of words. So, when they are speaking, children will go into easy access words, mixing together languages.

It’s important not to correct them at this point, as we don’t want to discourage or frustrate language learning. It will correct itself as they grow. Remember, language and emotions are located in the same area of the brain and are often connected. Therefore, being thoughtful in how we use language is important. If a child doesn’t feel safe or respected, or have had negative experiences in one language, it will be hard to get the student to continue to learn in that language.

At this age, we need to be sure that there is both a language rich environment provided and intentional opportunities for language and conversation.

Language Rich Environment

To have a language rich environment, have lots of varied experiences, like singing songs together. Repetition is key! It may get boring or annoying to hear songs like “Baby Shark” over and over again, but it’s an important part of learning. It’s also critical to have finger play and poems with gestures, read picture books aloud and have plenty of conversations.

Children will ask a lot of “Why?” questions. They may not be necessarily to understand a concept, a lot of times it’s to get the adult to converse more. They also will tell you bits and pieces of their own experiences in a comfortable language, especially if the target language isn’t as confidently spoken yet. Nodding and saying one-word encouragement in the target language will help. Follow with a synopsis of what was said in the target language.

Don’t forget, speak concretely and directly, not abstractly. Also, talking for or over a child doesn’t help them learn, nor does stopping and editing a child.

Links to Resources:

There is a sensitive period for language that happens in Primary, and therefore three-part cards are typically introduced at this time. You can learn more about 3-part cards on one of our earlier blog posts.

Here are some links to videos to get you started on creating the Language rich environment.


Read Alouds



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