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ASU conference to explore dual-language literacy March 28-29

four children hugging and smiling
March 25, 2014

The most recent research, policies and practices concerning dual-language learners in the United States will be the focus of a two-day conference at Arizona State University, March 28-29. Hosted by ASU’s School of Transborder Studies, the forum will provide a platform for scholars, researchers, students and professionals to explore the multiple benefits of dual-language literacy to our increasingly complex society.

“How we approach dual-language learning in young students has a profound impact on the future literacy and language development of Spanish-speaking populations in both the United States and Puerto Rico,” said Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez, ASU Regents’ Professor and director of the School of Transborder Studies. “Given that Arizona is at the crossroads of this discussion, we intend to review the most cutting-edge developmental language and literacy research, as well as related cognitive skills required for mathematics, sciences, language and reading.”

The conference kicks off at 5 p.m., March 28, with a welcome by Vélez-Ibañez and Ralph Romero, deputy associate superintendent, Arizona Department of Education. Dina C. Castro, research professor in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and director of the Center for Early Care and Education Research: Dual Language Learners, will deliver the keynote address.

The national research center is funded by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services – Administration for Children & Families. Following Castro's remarks, attendees will enjoy dinner, sponsored by the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, and a performance by the Si Se Puede dance group.

On Saturday, March 29, the conference continues with a morning keynote from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. by Terrence G. Wiley, president of the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C., and special professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership and Graduate School at the University of Maryland in College Park. Wiley is also a professor emeritus at Arizona State University. His presentation, “Capitalizing on a National Resource by Embracing Our Multilingual Heritage and Contemporary Language Diversity,” highlights the importance of multilingualism in America’s national heritage and within the contemporary U.S. population.

The Saturday schedule also includes panels on teaching and leadership. Prior to the lecture, continental breakfast is served at 8:15 a.m. and a lunch is planned for noon.

The conference venue is Education Lecture Hall (EDC 117) and Farmer Courtyard on ASU’s Tempe campus. Conference registration fees are $55 for ASU faculty, educators and the public; $15 for students. To register, visit

One of the conference organizers is Eugene Garcia, professor emeritus at ASU, who has published extensively in the areas of language teaching and bilingual development. His current research focuses on effective schooling for linguistically and culturally diverse student populations in the United States, Europe, Africa and South America.

“In Arizona, the issue is ‘What about those kids who speak two languages, and is that a good thing or a bad thing?’” Garcia explained. “For a long time, it was felt that this was not a good thing, that somehow it had negative effects on students and confused them.

“But in the last 20 years, a research base around multilingualism has developed which argues that learning two languages is beneficial. In the short run, it shows that learning more than one language helps young children with cognitive development by wiring networks in the brain differently. Those same neural networks developed in their early years benefit these individuals as they become older adults by actually staving off conditions such as memory loss.”

Garcia said that the conference will examine in particular dual-language capabilities in Arizona children where, in addition to English, their other language “does not have status.”

“What we would like to do at the conference is to begin to expose the benefits of having all children speak more than one language – but especially those children who may have what is considered a non-status minority language in this state, such as Navajo or Spanish,” he said.

According to Vélez-Ibáñez, the second day of the conference will illustrate best practices of instruction and training in non-school settings such as the military, private industry and corporate institutions, including the media.

“In this vein, we have invited participation by some of the local school districts to demonstrate these practices – especially in Spanish immersion, functional bilingual classes and learning via technology,” he said. “Lastly, we will propose language and literacy policy recommendations that are critical for use in the workforce and in private and public institutions.”

The School of Transborder Studies is an academic unit in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.