Pre-schoolers who have a good grasp of their native language may experience significant improvements in their English skills, new research on Spanish-speaking children suggests.

Researchers from the University of Missouri in the US found that Spanish-speaking preschoolers experience significant improvements in their English skills when they have a good grasp of Spanish letters and numbers.

In another study, the researcher found that behaviour traits play a role in English learning.

"For most Spanish-speaking children, preschool is the first time that they are exposed to an English-speaking environment," said Francisco Palermo, assistant professor at Missouri’s College of Human Environmental Sciences.

"Spanish-speaking children who enter preschool with limited English proficiency rely on the classroom setting to build their English skills.

"They may have parents who are not comfortable with the English language and worry how their children will do in school without their help in English. Now there is evidence that early reading and math skills learned in Spanish can support the learning of those skills in English," said Palermo.

For his research, Palermo examined the associations between skills that preschool-aged children already possessed in Spanish, understanding the alphabet and identifying numbers, and their gains in those English skills over the course of the school year.

Children were assessed on their vocabulary, letter and math abilities in the fall and again in the spring.

The assessments were conducted in both English and Spanish to study associations between skill-sets with set controls to account for gender, parent education and children’s cognitive abilities.

Looking at the assessments, Palermo found that preschoolers who had strong letter and math abilities in Spanish experienced gains in those English skills.

Building on Spanish skills appears to improve English proficiency during preschool, thereby maximising their ability to enter school ready to learn.

Palermo also tested how children’s ability to control their behaviour, such as knowing how to wait your turn, impact English learning.

In that study, he found that enhanced behaviour regulation abilities, which parents can model and teach children, appeared to increase children’s likelihood of exhibiting vocabulary and literacy skills in English and Spanish by the end of preschool versus exhibiting them mostly in Spanish.