All Posts By


Call to action

By | Articles | No Comments
  • Pettito, Laura Ann. (2008). Bilingual Brain Map. Bilingual Brain.
  • Snow, Catherine. (2010). Language is the KEY to Literacy. Time to Act.
  • Lyon, Reid. (2012). Language is the KEY to Reading. Brain Health Institute.
  • Bialystock, Ellen. (2014). Learning multiple Languages Increases Cognitive Capacity and Delays Alzheimers. Bilingual Brain.

Dual Language Schools Myth Busters in Dual Language Learning

By | Articles | No Comments

By: Kathleen Leos

President and CEO of The Global Institute for Language and Literacy Development, LLC, (GILD)

Effective teachers are key to the academic success of dual language learners. Yet, developing multiple languages and educating DLLs is fraught with misconceptions. Many myths permeate how multiple languages are acquired. Neuroscience dispels often long-held beliefs to dual language acquisition and literacy development which will require rethinking ‘teaching and learning’ in the 21st century. In this article, we will look at myths in the dual language field, and correct them with facts for more effective views on dual language education.


Language begins at birth.

No, language formation begins in the womb, the last ten weeks of gestation. Brains of pre-born infants develop internal neural structures for language which is enhanced when parents speak, play music, and read to the child during pre-natal development. Once born, parents and caregivers nurture language neural pathways by actively interacting with babies’ gestures and babbling. Regions of the brain pre-disposed for acquiring languages (nature) must be directly developed (nurture) once a child is born.(1)


Children are sponges.

No, although ages 0-17 are usually considered optimal ‘windows of opportunity’ for language learning, developing multiple languages, at any age, increases executive function and delays the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia about 4-5 years. Brain ‘neuroplasticity’ demonstrates the brain is not static. It is flexible and continually adapts to new input from the environment, experience and culture throughout our lifetime.(2)


Learning more than one language simultaneously; interferes in developing either or both.

No, children are born universal linguists. They hear every sound uttered throughout the universe from birth to nine months old. At nine months to one year, a child begins to recognize sounds uttered by the mother. If more than one language is spoken in the home, the child accurately discriminates between both languages. fMRI research illustrates that in dual language households, brains develop a ‘bilingual brain map’ for language and comprehension. Learning two languages, simultaneously, increases neural function and cognitive capacity in both without interfering in the development of either language.(3)


No, dual language development is dependent on hearing distinct sound differences among languages. A parents’ role is to facilitate primary language learning at home. Since, dual language learners acquire two languages equally based on the ability to discreetly hear and differentiate sound variations; it is incumbent on parents to clearly articulate and teach the sounds, words and phrases in the primary language. Developing languages within a social environment establishes a solid foundation for learning. (4)(5)


No, fMRI brain scans reveal the brain is continually active during language and literacy development. Students are engaged in learning at all times whether listening, speaking, reading, writing or thinking. Since learning depends on language and brains are never ‘silent’, it is important to organize a ‘teaching and learning’ environment which encourages using all aspects of language throughout the day.(6)


No, the whole brain is engaged during dual language and literacy development. Although, language acquisition is more centralized in a specific area of the brain; ongoing dual language and reading development activate multiple neural regions. Since dual language learning depends on phonological processing, visual stimulation, object identification, recall, and memory, the ‘whole brain’ is involved.(7)


No, learners do not have sensory learning preferences such as auditory, visual, or kinesthetic. The entire body, brain and FIVE senses are involved in the learning process. Learning environments must cultivate a ‘whole student’ approach to learning through productive verbal, physical, and sensory interaction. Dual language development thrives in open, flexible learning spaces that support inquisitive input with interactive output within academic content, standards-based expectations, and requirements.(8)


No, the language development process is universal. Typical language development adheres to the same neurological procedure regardless of the language. Three brain pathways organize language: What—what you hear; Where—from where you hear the sound; How—how you hear, scramble, and organize sound from visual imagery to concept. This type of language processing forms the basis of reading and cognition.(9)


No, there is no empirical neuroscience research delineating a specific period of time to attain proficiency in acquiring multiple languages. “Bilingual children acquire language on the same timetable as monolingual children, largely because this timetable is determined by the process of cognitive development.”(10) The length of time required to attain proficiency depends on many factors: the teachers’ expertise in language development, the learning environment, prior experiences of the learner, language education program, expectations, consistency, what is taught, how, and by whom.


No, language is the key to reading, comprehension, and communication. Dual language learning is a complex process that is accomplished by understanding how brains acquire language/s and knowledge simultaneously. Universally, individuals process language/s similarly. TEACHING all aspects of language such as grammar, structure, comprehension, and language production as well as listening, speaking, reading, and writing integrated with grade-level academic content in one or more language is necessary for all students to succeed. The instructional approach for DLLs is the same as for all students.(11)

In this article, ENF (Education Neuroscience Foundation) presents recent education neuroscience findings pertaining to dual language and literacy development for DLLs. We hope the information motivates educators to examine instructional practice and learning environments for DLLs and all students. Future articles will include instructional strategies that accompany these concepts. In the meantime, enjoy the new school year!


1) Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University: Serve and Return, 2011; Center and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. Brain architecture, Serve and Return, Briefs, Tools & Guides, published, 2017.
2) Li,Ping, Legault, J., Litcofsky. K., (2014). Neuroplasticity as a Function of Second Language Learning Anatomical Changes in the Human Brain. Cortex.58.10.1016/j. cortex. 2014.05.001.
3) Pettito, L.A., Dunbar, K. (2004) New Findings from Educational Neuroscience on Bilingual Brains, Scientific Brains, and the Educated Mind. Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Department of Education, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755
4) Willis, Judy., (2012) Bilingual Brains- Smarter & Faster.
5) Kuhl P. K. (2011). Early Language Learning and Literacy: Neuroscience Implications for Education. Mind, brain and education : the official journal of the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society, 5(3), 128–142. doi:10.1111/j.1751-228X.2011.01121.x
6) Bialystok E. (2011). Reshaping the mind: the benefits of bilingualism. Canadian journal of experimental psychology = Revue canadienne de psychologie experimentale, 65(4), 229–235. doi:10.1037/a0025406
7) Nielsen JA, Zielinski BA, Ferguson MA, Lainhart JE, Anderson JS (2013) An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71275.
8) Kratzig, G., Arbuthnott, P. and Katherine, D. (2006) Perceptual Learning Style and Learning Proficiency: A Test of the Hypothesis. Journal of Education Psychology, 98, 238-248.
9) Chevillet, M., Riesenhuber, M., Rauschecker, J. P., (2011) “Components of speech recognition pathway in humans identified.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 June 2011. .; Functional Correlates of the Anterolateral Processing Hierarchy in Human Auditory Cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 2011; 31 (25): 9345 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1448-11.2011
10) Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., Green, D. W., & Gollan, T. H. (2009). Bilingual Minds. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 10(3), 89-129
11) Callahan, Rebecca. (2013) The English Learner Dropout Dilemma: Multiple Risks and Multiple Resources California Dropout Research Project Report #19. University of Texas, Austin, pgs. 34-51.

Resource for Parents Teaching Primary Language at Home and in the Community

Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center; Head Start: Language at Home and in the Community for Families [PDF, 1.0MB] August 2019: or 202-731-0391.

The Education Neuroscience Foundation Inc. Copyright: 2019.

Understanding The Cultural And Linguistic Differences In Students

By | Articles | No Comments

Photo for: Understanding the Cultural and Linguistic Differences in Students    Te

It is often stated that, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, but in this case, it is much more. According to Dr. Denise Park’s edu-nuro findings, published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, (2010), ‘different cultures perceive and respond to the same stimuli, differently, based on cultural influences.’ (1) The study asked students in China and in America to describe a picture of an animal situated within a complex background. Learners from China described the entire background of the picture with less emphasis on the animal while learners in the US described only the animal ignoring the background within which the animal was photographed. Dr. Park discovered that cultures actually see the world differently and those differences are clearly visible using brain imaging. “The data suggest that people see different elements of pictures based on cultural perspective.” (2) In effect, East-West learners literally see things differently which has major implications for cross-cultural communication and learning. What may be important to learners in one culture may not hold the same level of import to learners in another. Information processing and prioritization depends on the students’ cultural context and experiences.

Another study analyzed how students in ‘eastern’ v. ‘western’ cultures view themselves. High school students educated in typical US classrooms place a greater emphasis on individual thinking and see themselves as independent decision-makers. Whereas, students in China and Japan identify themselves as interdependent or part of a group. There is a greater emphasis on group or ‘collective’ decision-making as opposed to individual problem-solving. (3)

Humans share similar basic brain architecture or structural framework and developmental stages.

However, culture wires the brain, defines who we are, develops identity, impacts behavior and guides how and what we learn. In other words, learning rooted in brain function, is influenced by culture and culture is impacted by the brain’s perception and interpretation of culture. How individuals process information, think and communicate is the product of culture and experiences.

Neuro-research on culture, experiences and the environment illustrate how these elements shape the developing brain’s neural circuits or connectors which determine an individual’s learning process throughout a lifetime.

Recently, the Education Neuroscience Foundation (ENF) conducted professional learning workshops to help educators understand how culturally and linguistically diverse students can be included in regular classroom instruction. Using neuroscience findings focused explicitly on culture, experiences and the environment, ENF designed a Theory to Practice approach to ‘teaching and learning’ for educators to adapt to any educational setting.

Understanding how students from diverse cultural backgrounds perceive their surroundings and interpret the world, changes our expectations and instructional approach. Values, customs, norms and language are critical elements to consider when organizing daily lessons.

At least six weeks in advance of a new school year, request all background information on each student enrolled in your class. This includes demographic information, state standardized assessment data, item level data analysis from each assessment administered the prior year (4). Comprehensive and meaningful student information from valid assessments helps organize the first six weeks of instruction, eliminates guessing and uses instructional time, effectively.

Organize students into multi-level learning groups, linguistically and academically, based on assessment data. Students are eager to share what they know and learn from others. Immediately, establish an ‘I DO, WE DO, YOU DO’ expectation to support students’ taking responsibility for their learning while validating the students’ language and learning level.

Storytelling is an effective, inclusive strategy deeply rooted in brain biology for learning. Divide the class into heterogeneous, multi-level groups. Have each student share their personal story. Develop the story into a dramatic or comedic play. Classmates write the narrative, are assigned character roles, memorize lines and dramatize the story for the class. Take turns. This strategy can be applied to academic content and used throughout the year. Limitless possibilities!

Project Based Learning (PBL) is an interactive approach to teaching and learning which can fully engage all students in the learning process if carefully designed and executed. PBL supports developing executive function skills and attributes such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creative problem-solving necessary for college and career success.

Recently, the National Academy of Sciences published, How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts and Cultures, 2018 which discusses the pros and cons of PBL. (5) Regardless, the opportunity for deep foundational learning based on brain research with project-based learning is evident. The approach applies to and includes all students in any educational setting worldwide.

Finally, provide each and every student an opportunity to teach either in groups or individually. We know that learners understand the material if they can teach it. Students from diverse cultural backgrounds may enjoy teaching in groups as well as individually.

Annually, schools host international fairs and dinners, read multilingual books, label objects in classrooms in multiple languages, and solicit volunteers from multicultural communities in an attempt to engage students and families from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds in the learning process. But do these peripheral activities effectively address how all students fundamentally learn?

We leave you with the question above and hope the information shared here sparks a desire to analyze your school environment, ask questions, formulate a new direction, lead change where needed. education neuroscience, in its infancy, does not have all the answers. It is not the ‘silver bullet’. It does, however, encourage us to think, question, and act armed with a body of empirical knowledge behind us.


1). Culture Wires the Brain: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective; Volume: 5 issue: 4, page(s): 391-400 Article first published online: August 2, 2010; Issue published: July 1, 2010 Denise C. Park1, Chih-Mao Huang1, 1Center for Vital Longevity, University of Texas at Dallas 2Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

2) ibid.

3) Cultural Neuroscience of the Self: Understanding the Social Grounding of the Brain; Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 5, Issue 2-3, June/September 2010, Pages 111–129, Shinobu Kitayama, Jiyoung Park,

4) The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Sec:(2)(B)(xii) Assessment (2015).

5) National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2018. How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

How Our Brains Were Built To Learn Multiple Languages

By | Articles | No Comments

Photo for: How Our Brains Were Built to Learn Multiple Languages

Over the past decade, education neuroscientists, using fMRI’s, have explored the brain’s vast inner workings, researching the structural regions and neurological processes that facilitate knowledge acquisition and thinking for all learners. During typical brain development, neuro- networks are formed and organized into a framework for learning called “Brain Architecture.” Recent edu-neuro studies illustrate that language development and processing is a key component to forming the brain’s foundation for learning. Although all brains are innately wired the same way for learning, specific external, nurturing activities by caring adults and informed teachers are required for learners to flourish. What does this mean? (1)

How do we develop brains for learning?

that is



One hundred million neurons develop per second in the brain. These neural connections form the brain’s architecture or framework for learning.

Building a solid foundation for learning begins with developing language/s. Language is the key to learning, reading, and cognition. Neurologically, learners acquire language or multiple languages in exactly the same manner, regardless of their primary language or the number of languages spoken. To acquire, process, and effectively use languages for learning, reading, and comprehension, learners need extensive in-person, direct, and consistent ‘speaking and listening’ interaction with parents, caregivers, and teachers within a stable, emotionally supportive, predictable environment at home and in the community. (2)



Dedicated language brain structures develop in the womb, the last 10 weeks of gestation. Every infant hears the vocal sounds of their parents. Parents can talk to their unborn infant, read stories, and play music in multiple languages before birth. Once born, babies need face to face verbal interaction with adults. A technique called, ‘Serve and Return’ is initiated by infants when they ‘serve’ language through babbling, cooing, and gestures; and demand adults to ‘return’ the serve by responding to the sounds and actions of the baby.

Multilingual families foster dual language development in infants when each parent or adult responds, clearly and intentionally, in his or her respective language. A baby responds accurately to the specific language spoken by each adult, forming a dual language brain or ‘bilingual brain map’. Learners acquiring two or more languages simultaneously, learn both equally. There is no delay in learning either language when both are acquired at the same time. However, the infant-adult language interaction must be clear, predictable and repetitive. (3)


Early Childhood and K-12

Classroom teachers continue ‘Serve and Return’ by designing flexible, open classrooms and lesson plans which encourage quality verbal interactions or ‘TALKING’ with peers, student-to-teacher and other adults in multiple languages within multi-level, diverse language groupings.

Personalized, student-led learning opportunities encourage learners to make individualized instructional decisions, conduct research and share insights which foster, not only language development and comprehension, but enhance developing executive function skills, as well.

Students learn how to intentionally ‘serve’ or initiate content rich academic conversations, debates, discussions, speeches, and presentations in any language and ‘own their learning’. Teachers respond by organizing and facilitating the learning using academic content, and interactive, multilanguage-level, multilingual instruction that is aligned with rigorous, grade-level academic and reciprocal language standards in the four linguistic domains.

Additionally, establishing highly interactive learning environments which integrate the five senses, plus: Movement, Human Connection, Touch, Social/Emotional and Physical engagement as an ACTIVE part of daily instruction, regardless of age, language, or grade-level increases cognition.

Students and teachers who interchangeably follow an “I DO, WE DO, YOU DO” approach to teaching and learning solidify the learning process.



Teachers enhance dual language development by providing learners equal access to demanding academic concepts by integrating language or dual language instruction equal to grade-level academic content derived from rigorous academic and language standards.


Analyze the concepts in the academic content standards. Ask, what am I required to teach?

Ask, what aspects of language must be taught at each language proficiency level in each linguistic domain that matches the language demand present within the academic concept?

Choose instructional strategies that develop language in reading, writing, speaking, and listening that provide access to the concepts in the academic content at each grade-level.

Organize your instruction to balance both language/s and content in each lesson.

Photo for: How Our Brains Were Built to Learn Multiple Languages


Developing brains for learning is a complicated process. Yet, there is a plethora of empirical scientific evidence that helps inform instructional decisions applicable to every learner worldwide. The universality of brain development allows all students to reach their highest intellectual potential when educators reimagine and reinvent education based on the newest neuroscience research available. Educators can and will ensure equal access to equal educational opportunities when we teach according to How the Brain Learns!


Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University: Serve and Return, 2011; Center and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. Brain architecture, Serve and Return, Briefs, Tools & Guides, published, 2017.

Kuhl, P. K. (2011). Early language learning and literacy: Neuroscience implications for education. Mind, Brain, and Education, 5, 128-142.

Age of first bilingual language exposure as a new window into bilingual reading development.Kovelman I, Baker SA, Petitto LA Biling (Camb Engl). 2008 Jul 1; 11(2):203-223.

For more information contact:

Kathleen Leos at or 202-731-0391 or
Visit our website at

If you enjoy the Biliteracy Word of the Week, don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly newsletter.


By | Articles | No Comments


December 27, 1989, my then 12yr. old son, sustained a traumatic brain injury. Riding his bike, he collided with a van in an intersection on a little traveled street in Dallas. The impact sent him reeling head first into the pavement. Scooped up by first responders and rushed to the local hospital, he remained on life support for days and in a coma for a month. He had lost all functionality, eating, speaking, moving, in essence the ability to live on his own or communicate. In time, he was moved to a specialized pediatric care hospital staffed by the most amazing team of pediatric neuro- physicians and therapists imaginable.
My son is bilingual. English is his first language and Spanish is his second. One day, in a follow-up therapy session with two therapeutic aides, who only spoke Spanish, my son, in a post amnesic state, heard them speaking and flickered his eyes. They caught the movement and began full interactive treatment in Spanish which led to his recovery in English. He is now a grown man, 95% fully rehabilitated, works full time and is happily married.
Additionally, my other four children are bilingual. However, Spanish is their first language and English which was acquired in school, their second, as Spanish was the only language spoken at home.
I share this personal story with you, advocates, educators, parents, researchers, students and anyone involved in trying to understand the profound cognitive benefits of teaching and learning multiple languages, because learning languages goes beyond economics or politics, job promotion or even securing a job; it changes lives forever.
Since that experience, I, with many others, have pounded the pavement, working with researchers, linguists, teachers, administrators, parents and finally education neuroscientists to unravel the neural complexities and challenges of learning in general and of acquiring multiple languages specifically. Searching for the answer to the question, how does the brain learn, acquire knowledge, process information, comprehend and think!
Here is what we have discovered.


Since 2005, there has been an explosion of scientific research specific to the teaching and learning of English and Dual Language Learners. We no longer have to guess which instructional approach provides a solid foundation for the academic success of ELs and DLLs, pre-birth to adults. Researchers worldwide responded to the call to provide evidence-based instruction that works for diverse language learners.
Joining, this effort, is a new team of experts, the education neuroscientists, who focused their research, using brain imaging or fMRI’s, to determine how the brain learns, processes information and thinks! In 2008, the new field of Education Neuroscience emerged, based on empirical findings related to how acquiring two or more languages increases reading achievement, expands cognitive capacity and enhances executive function. In fact, bilingual neuroscientists, reported, that individuals learning to read in more than one language attain higher academic success, than monolingual language learners. (1)
Recent ed-neuro discoveries are revealing, eye-opening and impactful. What we often thought helpful, useful and ‘best practice in language, dual language and literacy development has been cast aside and a new approach to educating language learners, as well as all students, is on the horizon.
Currently, the Education Neuroscience Foundation (ENF), working with neuroscientists, teachers, parents and students, is developing an instructional way forward that all educators can use in any educational setting. Empirical brain research informs our effort and provides a pathway for all learners to have equal access to equal educational opportunity and IT’s ALL ABOUT LANGUAGE-THE GREAT EQUALIZER!


Over the next several months, in a series of upcoming articles, ENF will embark on a journey, with you, to reimagine and reinvent education. Our goal is to share current education neuroscience findings and instructional strategies proven to work for all learners, pre-birth to adult, in any setting. The focus is on findings and strategies developed from the following seven ed-neuro categories: Brain Architecture, Language, Culture, Social/Emotional Learning, Environment and Experiences. We will not cover all the information available nor the plethora of strategies we have developed. However, we hope the information shared throughout the articles, stimulates discussion, challenges our thinking and motivates us to begin to
‘Teach the Way the Brain Learns’!
(1) Age of first bilingual language exposure as a new window into bilingual reading development.Kovelman I, Baker SA, Petitto LA Biling (Camb Engl). 2008 Jul 1; 11(2):203-223.


Picture 1991- 2 years after the accident.

Picture 2019 THE FIVE

Marlowe and Me 2019

Technology and Brain Power and Dual Language Learning

By | Articles | No Comments


  Language is the key to learning! Language is the key to reading! Language/s is the key to cognition, stated Dr. Catherine Snow, in ‘Time to Act’. Harvard University, (2010). (1)

The basis of learning, comprehension and reading is LANGUAGE! Researchers worldwide agree that language is a foundation on which learning resides. New neuroscience research illustrates that multiple language learning at any age advantages the learner. The ability to problem-solve, multi-task, focus attention and prioritize are enhanced by learning multiple languages. The question is how?  What is the most effective way to develop language/s?

K-12 Education is inundated with technology for every purpose imaginable. Tech education marketers hawk the newest program or product promising students will learn math through games, reading through phonics audio downloads and multiple languages by accessing apps which feature kids’ language programs on tablets, ipads and TV screens. Advertising is relentless and access is ubiquitous. BUT does technology enhance multiple language learning?

Recent Education Neuroscience provides key insights into these questions and illuminates deeper foundational aspects of language/s learning and cognition heretofore unavailable.

 Babies are born universal linguists. They acquire specific neural connections for language the last 10 weeks of gestation and enter the world hearing every sound in every language spoken. (2)


Using specialized fMRI’s or brain imaging equipment, researchers discovered that babies begin distinguishing language/s by head turning toward mom’s voice at 3-6 months old.  This is the natural neural developmental process for any child regardless of race, ethnicity, income level, culture, country or language/s spoken. When more than one language is spoken in the home, infants easily recognize language differences and are not confused. They respond to the specific language spoken by each individual when speech sounds, words and patterns in each language are clearly articulated. Additionally, learning multiple languages simultaneously does NOT inhibit the development of either. (3) In fact, demonstrated achievement results illustrate that students proficient in two languages outperform any other student group in 3rd grade reading. (4)


How does the brain acquire language/s best?  Neuroscientists conducted in-depth studies to determine if technology using adult speech articulation on a computer screen or computer-generated language programs is preferable to acquiring languages through simple in-person human interaction. Empirical findings revealed that babies learning language/s by interacting with human faces on computer screens show ZERO% cognitive activity in the brain or NO learning, whereas, children who were held and had interactive, in-person facetime language exchanges, increased language development and cognition 700%. (5)

Ongoing studies indicate that either one-to one or small group in-person human interaction is fundamental to language/s development regardless of the learners’ age, background or culture.


When is the optimum time to introduce technology during a learner’s language/s development? Technology used to support and supplement explicit language instruction is effective when the learner is about 8 years old or in 2nd or 3rd grade.

SCREEN TIME                              LESS IS MORE

Finally, several fMRI studies focused on the impact and effectiveness of children’s TV programming.  The results are astounding. The only television programs that have a positive long-term effect on children’s learning in general and language learning specifically are Sesame Street, Blues Clues, Clifford and Dora the Explorer. (6)

             WHY QUALITY COUNTS!    Language is fundamental to learning and acquiring multiple languages increases cognition and academic success. Therefore, educators grounded in neuroscience’s language/s acquisition ‘theory to practice’ research and instructional strategies must lead the way. Research illustrates that languages are best acquired through direct, explicit, one-to-one interaction with parents, caregivers and teachers during the initial language learning process. Supplemental technology support is effective when introduced later.  Regardless of program approach, time in program or the newest technological advances; it’s quality interactive in-person instruction that counts!


  • Time To Act: An Agenda for Advancing Adolescent Literacy for College and Career Success (Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2009)
  • Kuhl, Patrica K. (2000). Colloquium: A New View of Language Acquisition, PNAS October 24, 2000 vol 97/ no. 22 11850-11857 15(3), 396-419.
  • Petitto LA, Kovelman I, Harasymowycz U. Bilingual language development: Does learning the new damage the old?. Abstracts of the Society for Research in Child Development; Tampa, FL. 2003.
  • Age of first bilingual language exposure as a new window into bilingual reading development .Kovelman I, Baker SA, Petitto LA Biling (Camb Engl). 2008 Jul 1; 11(2):203-223.
  • Kuhl, Patricia K., Tsao, Feng-Ming., Lui, Huei-Mei., Foreign language experience in infancy, PNAS July 22, 2003 100 (15) 9096-9101;
  • 5A)    The linguistic genius of babies (Patricia Kuhl | TEDxRainier)
  • Children Wired for Better and For Worse,

Daphne Bavelier, C. Shawn Green, Matthew W. G. Dye,  PMC 2011 Sep 12.

Published in final edited form as: Neuron. 2010 Sep 9; 67(5): 692–701.

Limitless Learning through Languages

By | Articles | No Comments

Limitless Learning Through Languages by Kathleen Leos,

 CEO of The Global Institute for Language and Literacy Development


The benefits ascribed to learning multiple languages are limitless. Educational neuroscience research conducted worldwide affirms what educators and parents understand intuitively: that dual language development dramatically increases cognitive capacity for learning and success in life.

Studies published by neuroscientist, Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, (2008) state, “children, consistently learning two languages from birth, outperform every other student group on state standardized 3rd grade reading tests” (1). Implicit, in this study, is the parents’ role in building a child’s educational foundation by explicitly teaching primary language at home and in the community.

Parents are a child’s first and most significant teacher. In this capacity, parents eager to embrace their influential role in the learning process often ask what do I need to do to support my child’s learning?

Included here are simple activities, rooted in Neuroscience, that parents can use at home. These strategies support explicit dual/multiple language learning while mirroring instructional strategies that teachers use in the classroom. The goal for parents in teaching primary language at home is twofold: First, to build a solid foundation of language on which all other learning takes place, and second, to establish an interactive home-school partnership that supports the school’s and family’s lifelong learning goals.

The Education Neuroscience Foundation’s Parent Handbook for Language Learning.

The list of activities, developed by The Education Neuroscience Foundation for Parents, is to support a students’ primary language development in the home and the community. The activities are designed to build a solid foundation in the learners’ first language which support dual language development instruction used in classrooms nationwide. Each activity is scientifically proven to work.

Language development depends on hearing and saying sounds. The sounds of the language spoken at home are the important first sounds your learner hears to develop words, vocabulary, sentences, phrases, and finally, thoughts. The best way to develop fluid and fluent readers is through language. The sounds a child hears maps onto a symbol or letter; and letters form words and phrases. Combine the words with visual images and the child begins to develop cognition and think.

The key to developing strong readers begins with language; and Language begins with sounds.



TALK, TALK, TALK, TALK and more TALK. Encourage Talking! Talk to your child and let your child talk to you! Talk about school, teachers, friends, family, events, holidays, movies, books, ideas. KEEP TALKING!!! LET THEM TALK!!!


Take time to actively and intentionally listen to your child at home, in the car, in the yard, in the store. Listen to your child’s stories and conversations. Ask questions about what your child is thinking, seeing, doing, school, siblings, friends, teachers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. ALL TOPICS!


Tell your child stories! Family stories about the past, a holiday or an experience you had, interests your child exhibits. Storytelling develops their identity, culture, history, and imagination. Let them ask questions about the story; who, what, where, why and when questions. See if they can add details to your story.


Children love to sing. Sing songs to your child from family history or songs you heard as a child. Let them sing with you. Songs that give your child a sense of family, rhymes, sing-song, chants, silly sound songs. Hear the sounds of the song. Name the sounds you hear together. Laugh!


Read to your child. Let your child choose a book with pictures. Look at the pictures together, talk about them. Tell them a story about the pictures and read the book. Point to the pictures and ask questions: What is this? Where is the story taking place? Who is in the story? What does the picture tell you? When did this story take place? In the past? In the present? In what season is the story written—winter, summer, spring, fall? What country does the story describe? Make up a new story by looking at the pictures and ask you child to become the character.


Draw pictures with your child. When you finish reading a book, looking at pictures, returning from a trip, watching a movie, playing in the yard, taking a walk; pull out paper and pencils or crayons, paint, Play-Doh, or finger paints and ask your child to draw a picture of what they saw in the movie, book, on the trip, etc. Describe their experience through drawing or painting. Make up a new story. Draw it!


Take your child shopping, especially to the grocery store. Point out and name the fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk, meat, or any products you see. Ask them to repeat the name after you. Make a list of the items and see how many you both can remember. Talk about the color, size, shape, texture of the food. Let them help you select items and put them in the basket. Describe everything you both see.


Puppet Stories. You can use your fingers as puppets (little people or characters) and have them talk to one another. Tell a funny story. Have your child tell a story with the puppets. Puppets can be made from socks or old clothes. Give the puppets a name and tell stories through movements and sounds. Hear puppets talk! Have your child talk to the puppets! Puppets can talk to each other.


Take walks with your child. Go to the park, down the street, to the library, visit a friend. On the walk, point out different trees, flowers, sidewalk, grass, houses, apartments, cars, trucks, lights, signs. Ask them to repeat the name of the objects after you. Discuss the purpose of the object, the color, shape, size, speed, direction, and sound that the object makes.



It is important to develop this skill. Identify the sounds you hear on a walk, or in the car or house. What do you hear? Where is the sound coming from? What does it sound like? Let’s make up a story based on the sounds we hear. All brains process sounds in three ways which develop pictures in our minds for reading and recall.


Object, Time, Place, and Space Identification. What is this object? Name it, repeat it. Have your child name it and repeat it. Identify people, places, and things wherever you go with your child. Ask your child: What do you hear? What do you see? What does it look like? What do you smell? Where are we now? Describe this space. Can you see it in your imagination? What is your imagination? Thinking in pictures in your brain- can you see them? (meta-cognition). Talking about what you are thinking helps young learners think about their thinking.


Play games with your child. If you have a family game—Lotería or Bingo—or any game that you and your child enjoy. You can make up a game. Let’s count the spoons, let’s find all the doors in the house or apartment, let’s count the beans in the bag. You can play imagination games such as “I am thinking of an object and the child has to name the object”; take turns. I am thinking of a name or a color or an object. You guess! This game helps a child learn to predict and infer.


Play music that your family loves to hear. Dance, sway, move to the sounds of the music. Put words or sounds to the music, chant, and dance. Movement develops brain connections.


Children love to cook and make things. Your child can help you prepare simple food for the family. Talk to them about the food being prepared and how to prepare it. Talk about the shapes, colors, taste, texture. Let your child taste-test the food. Describe the ingredients, texture, smell, taste, and preparation. Ask your child to remember what items are used to make this dish. This game helps develop memory and recall.


Your child is a great helper. Let them help clean, wash dishes, put dishes on the table, sweep, fold clothes. Talk to them about the task, the importance of what they are doing. Have them tell you the steps they took to accomplish the task. This activity develops memory and enhances behavior with social/emotional skills.


Share family pictures or work photos with your child. Talk about who is in the picture, what they are doing, why, where they are when it was taken, does the photo tell a story? Share the story. Let them ask questions. Share your rich history and life with your child. This activity supports language development within a cultural context and the importance of identity.


Teachers need and want you to participate in your child’s classroom and education. They need you to be actively involved in helping with instruction, if you are comfortable. You can share songs in your own language, stories, read a book, talk about different customs, foods, music, dance, and rituals. You are an important part of your child’s education and their life-long success. Remember, it isn’t only in the early years when a child wants you to be present. It is also in the child’s later pre-adolescent and teen years. Clue: if a child pushes you away, it is when they need and want you there even more.

Be There!


Ask yourself, what are your expectations for your child’s future in education. Do you want your child to finish high school? Do you want your child to go to college? Do you want your child to participate in sports, music, art, dance, or other academic programs?

Do you know how to get your child to college? What do you need to know NOW to make your and your child’s dreams a reality? It is ok not to know. Just ask!

Learning languages is a life-long process that must be explicitly taught by parents, teachers, and within the community. Brain research tells us learning languages can occur anytime, anywhere at any age. No one is too young or too old to develop multiple languages. The benefits are endless and possibilities are limitless!

Together, we reinvent education!

1)Kovelman, I., Baker, S., & Petitto, L.A. (2008). Age of bilingual language exposure as a new window into bilingual reading development. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 11(2), pages 203-223.

The Education Neuroscience Foundation Inc. Copyright 2018.All Rights Reserved.

Language Acquisition and Me

By | Articles | No Comments

An Insider’s Look;
Kathleen Leos & The Beginnings of the Dual Language Movement
Bio image
Many who have studied the dual language field for a long time are well aware of the immense accomplishments Kathleen Leos has contributed to dual language education. However, many are not aware of the many hardships Ms. Leos had to face to get to where she currently is. Ms. Leos grew up with a strong passion for language- and has implemented that into her life’s work.

Kathleen Leos had been interested in learning multiple languages since about 7 years old. After spending 16 years learning Latin, she acquired Spanish in 6 months (self- taught).

QUOTE One of the things, I found fascinating was watching myself learn and watching my brain acquire multiple languages which gave me the ability to deepen cognition, comprehension and think expansively. It has been a fascinating and wonderful journey.

In 1989, her eldest son whose first language is English and 2nd language is Spanish (while the rest of her four children’s first language is Spanish and 2nd language is English), sustained a traumatic brain injury at the age of 12 years old. He was involved in a bike/car accident; thrown from his bike; landed on the front/top of his head- severed frontal neurons and lost all functionality: language, eating, dressing, speaking, reading, writing, self-care etc. He was in a coma for a month and post- amnesic state for 6 months -1 year. Currently, he is considered 95% fully functional.
QUOTE His miraculous recovery was due to his therapy team’s ability to recognize that his journey to speech recovery was through his 2nd language- Spanish. I recognized immediately that there were different areas of his brain at work which led to his full recovery.
Kathleen watched his process and remembered her own journey of multiple language acquisition. She wanted to know more and understood instinctively that something different was taking place in brain development that no one at the time understood. She visited Dr. Jack Fletcher at the University of Houston, who was studying language loss and redevelopment with adult stroke patients using brain imaging techniques. Utilizing his work, her son’s journey, her 4 other children who were native Spanish speakers (acquiring English as their 2nd language, as Spanish was spoken at home- her second husband was a Mexican National who did not speak English, therefore, the 4 children were raised learning Spanish first before English), led her to a personal, political and professional life of researching multiple language development from a cognitive perspective.

QUOTE I was fortunate to not only learn about multiple language development from a personal perspective, but the new information led me on a unique path professionally.
Initially, beginning in 1991, Ms. Leos established and operated Basic English Inc., a non-profit company in the inner city of Dallas, Texas. The goal was to teach adults from other countries, English and Academic content (similar to what their children were learning in the local public schools) using scientific research techniques and strategies they developed based on information from the then ‘reading research’ for English speakers and readers. Additionally, any information available from neuroscientists regarding language development, like Dr. Jack Fletcher, who were beginning to understand cognition and thinking through language development.
Basic English and community involvement led her to serve as a Dallas School Board Trustee for seven years as the EL and bilingual advocate (the benefits of multiple language learning). She was DISD’s legislative liaison to the Texas State legislature for six years and authored the Texas HB 103 which was the first EL no-exemption bill for all bilingual and English learners in the history of public education in the state of Texas.

During this time, she worked with and collaborated with then Governor George W Bush, whose main focus was K-12 education, reading and academic success for all students including language learners. His team visited Basic English and marveled at the results the students exhibited (both the adults and their children in the companion schools). Once Bush was elected President, Leos was asked to serve as a political appointee at the US Dept of Education, Washington, DC as Assistant Deputy Secretary and Senior Policy Advisor of OELA and Title III to Secretary Paige and Secretary Spellings. Her charge was to design, develop and implement the new 2002 ESEA NCLB Title III legislation as written and approved by Congress, 2001.

Title III had not existed in the history of US K-12 public, private and charter school education, prior to the passage of ESEA 2001. Academic and Linguistic accountability for multiple language learners, students whose primary language was not English, were an anomaly and not well received (by educators, teachers, administrators, advocates).
However, Kathleen and her team forged ahead. Within six years, OELA guided 50 states, DC, PR and the Outlying areas into establishing aligned statewide systems of accountability for English/ Dual Language Learners in PreK-12. Not only would EL/DLLs academic achievement be monitored, but also their linguistic success.
QUOTE I was in a unique position to also help develop and monitor a national research agenda for ELs and DLLs focused on language/s development, reading and achievement. OELA not only provided funds to behavior researchers to develop proven evidence-based research strategies, but also, I was able to encourage the department to award grants to education neuroscientists in bilingual, dual/multiple language development and its impact on cognition.

This allowed Kathleen to really see her life’s work come to light. During her tenure, OELA, OSERS and NICHD hosted 3 mini-Summits featuring education neuroscientists in language development and reading from around the world to discuss education neuroscience findings, and how they could benefit instruction for multiple language learners. Her work at the US Dept of ED continued for 6 ½ years until 2008 when she decided to open the Global Institute and continue the work initiated at the Department of Education, 2002-08.
In 2008, Kathleen established the Global Institute with the former Bureau Chief at the Florida Department of Education to further the work they began at the national and state levels for English and Multiple/Dual Language Learners. Legislatively, Congress does not allow the Department of Education to reach beyond the state departments of education to provide technical assistance or deep professional development to districts or teachers in the classroom. She knew that for the trajectory of instruction of EL/DLLs to change, teachers needed empirical information and new instructional strategies. She decided to deliver proven evidence-based research systems & strategies to teachers in any academic environment, nationwide. This endeavor lasted 10 years.
QUOTE Since 2005 education neuroscientists and researchers have published a plethora of information about the benefits of multiple language learning for all students. This new information impacts teaching and learning in any and all academic environments. Professionals, advocates and parents need to understand the information and how to use it effectively to accelerate 21st c learning for EL/DLLs and all learners.
Most recently, Kathleen helped to facilitate a discussion at the Dual Language Symposium with the New York Department of Education regarding developing a program design for Multiple Language Development for diverse language learners and all students. Her goal was to define 2 language principles that form the foundation of a Multi-Language Program Design. In addition to this, to begin the process of identifying and defining important aspects or elements of the program design that can be used as the basis on which to build.
Kathleen has given a multitude of contributions to dual language education. Without her, our community, our mission, would not be possible. We thank Kathleen for her passion and drive to making the world a more bilingual place! #DualLanguageRocks