In this paper, I was interested in exploring whether or not bilingual children were more likely to have delayed language development compared to their monolingual peers. I looked at several resources that each focused on a different aspect of language development. All the information came from noted experts in the field of child development, although the types of resources differed. I began with an article that sorted through much of the existing data on bilingualism in order to create a foundation for the subject. Then I looked at additional readings to see whether or not they supported the information from that source.
The first article, by Ellen Bialystok, is itself a review of existing literature and studies regarding the acquisition of literacy among children who have been bilingual since birth. She writes that most research focuses on literacy development for learners in their second language, second language literacy in monolinguistics or the cognitive and linguistic aspects of achieving fluency in a second language. Studies that look at how true bilingual learners acquire necessary skills for reading and writing are few, but among those that she reviews, important discoveries may provide insight into how those children can achieve literacy.
Children need three language skills before they can learn to read and write. They must have an oral competency with the literary forms of a language, an understanding of the symbolic meanings of print, and the metalinguistic awareness of phonology. This information comes from studies of monolinguistic children, but each of these skills is influenced by bilingualism. The question to be answered is, Does bilingualism have a positive, negative or neutral effect on the acquisition of literacy? All of the above, as it turns out. It depends upon the skill.
According to Bialystok, several studies have shown that vocabulary size is smaller in bilingual learners, although these studies are limited and may have been influenced by the verbal abilities of the individual subjects. Regardless, weaker oral language skills contribute to difficulties in literacy acquisition. Another building block for reading and writing is the understanding that the printed symbols encode meaning and represent the spoken language. This skill appears to be transferable across languages, giving bilingual learners an advantage in its mastery.
Individual languages have different specifics, but the generalities extend across all languages. Bialystok reviewed studies that examined children’s understanding of the invariance of print, or that a particular arrangement of notations always corresponds to the same spoken word, and their understanding of the rules that govern the correlation of the printed forms to the meaning of the text. Bilingual learners were much more aware of both of these concepts, giving them an advantage over their monolinguistic peers. The last prerequisite for literacy is phonological awareness.
Bialystok found that studies of this metalinguistic concept revealed differing levels of competence depending on the language. Some languages, such as Italian or German, are more transparent and have more consistent spelling patterns. English is more difficult because of the many irregularities and exceptions to the rules in the language. Due to the many differences, it appears that bilingual learners develop phonological awareness separately, meaning that the knowledge of two languages has a neutral impact on this skill.
A very limited number of studies indicated monolinguistic and bilingual learners each had some advantages in different phonological tasks but that most of these differences equaled out by the first grade. The following three articles look at one or more aspects that Bialystok addressed. Each has a slightly different focus and purpose, but all try to answer the basic question of whether bilingualism is an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to the language development of young children.
The article, “Bilingual Acquisition,” on the Earlychildhood News website, is aimed at parents and educators of young children and focuses on some of the most common concerns about the effects of bilingualism. The author, Fred Genesee, is an expert in his field and therefore is a reliable source. The general tone and the presentation of the article seem to be geared towards parents and educators who fear that children will be delayed in developing language skills if they are exposed to more than one language in their preschool years.
Genesee reassures readers that bilingual children do not show a significant difference in their language development other than the differences that occur among all children. His findings are consistent with Bialystok’s regarding vocabulary size. Although bilingual children may have smaller vocabularies in each of their languages compared to monolingual speakers, the total number of words from both languages tends to give bilingual children larger vocabularies. Genesee points out that the differences in vocabulary size are usually not very great once children begin school.
This article does not spend much time discussing how to ensure that children achieve literacy in their second language without sacrificing ability in their first. This makes sense because most readers on this website are more likely to be interested in making sure that their non-native English speakers will be able to catch up to their peers. Genesee comments a few times that it is important for children to continue to hear both languages in order to remain bilingual. He encourages parents to use the language that they know best and to provide opportunities for children to hear their first language in the community and their homes.
The next article is actually a chapter entitled “Young Bilingual Children and Early Literacy Development” from the book, Handbook of Early Literacy Research. This reading examines the development of literacy among bilingual children and takes into account how the amount of exposure to each language affects that development. In this study, the authors, Patton O. Tabors and Catherine E. Snow, looked at the effects of bilingualism during three time periods: birth to age 3, ages 3-5, and then ages 5-8.
Children at each of these three periods were at different stages of language development and presumably had different language influences. First, the study looked at the various combinations of language exposures for infants and toddlers. The children were grouped into four categories. In the first, both the family at home and the members of the surrounding community used the home language, in this case, Spanish. English input was limited. The second group heard their native language at home, but the outside community spoke English.
This is often the case among families who have come from countries that do not have large numbers of immigrants to the U. S. In the third and fourth groups, the children heard both their first language and English at home, but only the third group heard both in the community These different levels of exposure mean differing levels of bilingualism, and that has an impact on later literacy development. Beginning at about age 3, children could be placed into three types of classrooms: a first-language only, a bilingual or an English-language classroom.
The children who come from the first or second exposure groups mentioned above did very well in both the first-language and bilingual classrooms. They received support from home in the language of instruction, which strengthened their development. Children who spoke both their first language and English at home also did well in bilingual classrooms, and they did better in English-only classrooms than their peers who spoke no English at home. The danger for the last group, which heard their first language at home only and not in the community was that they began to lose proficiency in their first language.
Bilingual classrooms are particularly beneficial for them. What to do during these early school years, first and second grades, is a subject of much debate. Proponents of single language instruction believe that it is best for children to learn in the second language. However, underdeveloped oral command of the language leads to significant problems when trying to learn to read. Some evidence shows that these children fail to grasp the meaning of what they’ve read. In addition, these children rarely, if ever, become literate in their native language, which contributes to a loss of their heritage and culture.
The best way for bilingual children to achieve literacy, according to these authors, is for them to become proficient in their first language and then transfer those skills to the second. This idea is supported by Bialystok. Tabors and Snow do mention some concerns with this approach, such as when should children begin the transition to the second language and should they continue to develop literacy skills in their first language after that transition. In the final article, the researchers, Stephanie M. Carlson and Andrew N.
Meltzoff, designed a study to determine if bilingual children have any other advantages over their monolingual peers. Particularly, the study examined the effects bilingualism has on young children’s executive functioning. Their conclusions found that bilingual children are much more adept at conceptual inhibition, or in ignoring previously relevant information. Bilingual children do not switch back and forth between languages. Instead, they keep the relevant language in focus and ignore input from the irrelevant language.
In doing this, these children have a lot of practice in inhibitory control, and that ability is transferable to other behaviors. For their study, Carlson and Meltzoff looked at three different groups of children: native bilinguals in Spanish and English, English monolinguals, and English monolinguals who were in a language-immersion kindergarten. The researchers controlled for numerous variables, including a family’s socio-economic status and the children’s verbal ability. The children participated in several experiments designed to test executive function when engaged in delay tasks or conflict tasks.
In one of the tests of inhibition, children played a sorting game. They were given cards with either a rabbit or a boat that were either red or blue. First, children were asked to sort by shape, and then by color. To make the task more difficult, the examiner then switched to a set of cards that had gold stars on some of them. Children were instructed to sort by color if the card had a gold star, and by shape if it did not. Another test was “Simon Says,” using the typical rules. In order to test delay, children were given two bowls with treats in them. One bowl had more than the other.
Children were given a bell and told that if they waited while the examiner left the room, they could have the larger snack. However, if they didn’t want to wait, they could ring the bell for the examiner to come back, but then they could only have the smaller snack. Several other studies also tested delay ability. As hypothesized, bilingual children outperformed monolingual children in conflict tasks, or tasks in which they had to follow new directions and ignore the previous ones. The children in the language-immersion program did not do any better than their monolingual peers.
But what the researchers found most significant was that in looking at raw scores for all groups, the bilingual children did not show a difference in executive function. As the authors note, this means that the bilingual children were doing “more with less,” since they were at a disadvantage in several important factors, including SES and parents’ education levels and lack of home-based reading. This suggests that bilingual children are compensating for their disadvantages through increased cognitive functioning resulting from their abilities to process two languages.
Bilingualism is a complex idea with multiple facets. Debate about English-only instruction will continue, especially in light of the ongoing debate about immigration. Bilingual children may face many difficulties, but in some aspects, they have the advantage. Works Cited Bialystok, E. (2007). Acquisition of Literacy in Bilingual Children: A Framework for Research. Language Learning, 57: Suppl. 1, 45-77 Carlson, S. M. , & Meltzoff, A. N. (2008). “Bilingual Experience and Executive Functioning in Young Children. ” Developmental Science. Volume 11, Issue 2, pp. 282-298. Genesee, F. (2008). Bilingual Acquisition.
Retrieved on April 23,2010, from http://www. earlychildhoodnews. com/earlychildhood/article_view. aspx? ArticleID=38 Tabors, P. & Snow C. (2003). Young bilingual children and early literacy development. In S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds. ), Handbook of early literacy research (pp. 159-178). New York: The Guilford Press. Retrieved from: http://books. google. com/books? hl=en&lr=&id=iDguatyRT_AC&oi=fnd&pg=PA159&dq=bilingual+children+have+delayed+language+development&ots=N5ysWJOWTn&sig=cnsR9nhU5FVlfgKuFU3B_Bh6bt8#v=onepage&q=bilingual%20children%20have%20delayed%20language%20development&f=false
Appendix 1. The Genesee and Tabors & Snow articles came from using the Google search engine. The Bialystok and Carlson & Meltzoff articles came from using EBSCO. Access to these databases was supplied by the University of California. 2. Search terms used were Bilingual-Children-Language-Development, entered all together for Google and for EBSCO, entered as Bilingual, Children, and Language Development as search terms for subject keyword and using the boolean “and”.
3. The Genesee article was on a website for early childhood education. It was specific to that website and was just one of the articles presented. It was a primary source. The Bialystok was a literature review of numerous studies, making it a secondary source. Both the Carlson & Meltzoff and Tabors & Snow articles were primary sources. They were reports of research studies that each set of authors conducted themselves.