Bilingualism is the ability of an individual to speak in two languages and to utilize them for different purposes. The degree of bilingualism is defined as the levels of linguistic proficiency that a bilingual must attain in both languages (Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007). There are various factors that may affect the acquisition of the degree of bilingualism in home, school and work settings, including the age at which the language is acquired, to whom the language is utilized, the manner in which the language is used, and the frequency of usage of the language (Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007).
There are two contexts in which bilinguals acquire their skills in using two languages: primary and secondary. Primary contexts pertain to a child’s acquisition of both languages in a naturalistic way in the absence of any structured instruction, while secondary contexts pertain to a child’s acquisition of one of the languages in a formal setting, usually school (Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007). Children, who are able to acquire two languages in a primary context during their infanthood, adopt the languages due to natural input in the environment, usually provided by the parents, siblings, caregivers (Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007).
However, when the child enters his or her early childhood, the input may be provided by other sources, like the wider community or the extended family (Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007). According to Ng and Wigglesworth (2007), age plays a key role in the development of bilingualism because there is a strong relationship between the age of acquisition and the ultimate achievement of language proficiency at different linguistic levels.
The authors add that attitudes, motivation, and contextual factors such as exposure have been found to affect strongly on the final attainment of the learners’ language proficiency level. Bilingualism has a psychosocial dimension that can greatly affect a child (Bialystok, 2001). The language a person speaks has a role in the formation of his or her identity, and speaking a language that is not completely natural has the possibility to interfere with the child’s construction of self (Biolystok, 2001).
A child who is a bilingual due to relocation, especially unwanted relocation, may dislike the new community language he or she has learned despite of his or her proficiency with it (Biolystok, 2001). Factors that affect bilingual children must account the attitudes to the language and the role of language in forming ethnic and cultural affiliations (Bialystok, 2001). The reasons why children become bilingual include education, immigration, extended family, dislocation, temporary residence in another country, or being born in a place where bilingualism is normal (Bialystok, 2001).
Social factors that affect the child’s development of bilingualism include parents’ educational level and their expectations for children’s education, degree, and role of literacy in the home and the community; language proficiency in the main language used; objectives for using the second language; support of the community for the second language; and identity with the group who speaks the second language (Biolystok, 2001). The quality and quantity of the interaction also affects the child’s acquisition of two languages.
Attitude has been associated to the language proficiency, bilingual’s usage of two languages, bilingual’s perception of other communities and of themselves (Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007). Attitude has also been linked to the strength of bilingual communities and to the loss of language within the community. Furthermore, it is a powerful force that emphasizes the experience of being bilingual and the willingness of members of a minority group to contribute to the maintenance of a minority language (Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007).
Language attitudes comprise of three major components of cognition, affect, and readiness for action. The affective component may not be similar with the cognitive component, while the readiness for action component analyzes whether feelings or thoughts in the cognitive and affective components translate into action (Bee, Wigglesworth). There are different types of bilingual acquisition in childhood.
In the ‘one person, one language’ type of acquisition, parents have different native languages with each having some degree of competence in the other’s language, the language of one of the parents is the dominant language in the community, and the parents can speak their own language to the child from birth (Romaine, 1995). In the ‘non-dominant home language’ type, the parents have different native languages, the language of one of the parents is the dominant language in the community, and both parents speak the non-dominant language to the child who is completely exposed to the main language only when outside the home (Romaine, 1995).
In the ‘non-dominant home language without community support’ type, the parents use the same mother tongue, the dominant language is not utilized by the parents, and the parents speak their own language to the child (Romaine, 1995). In the ‘double non-dominant home language without community support’ type of acquisition, the parents are using different native languages, the dominant language is different from either of the languages of the parents, and the parents each use their own language when speaking to the child from birth (Romaine, 1995).
In the ‘non-native parents’ type of acquisition, the parents use the same native language, the dominant language is similar with that of the parents, and one of the parents always speak to the child in a language which is not his or her mother tongue (Romaine, 1995). In the ‘mixed language’ type of acquisition, the parents are both bilingual, the community may also be bilingual, and parents may code-switch and mix two different languages (Romaine, 1995).
Romaine (1995) explains that various individual factors may affect the outcome in each type of bilingual acquisition in childhood, including the amount and kind of exposure to the minor language, the consistency of parents in their language choice, attitudes of children and parents towards bilingualism, and the individual personalities of children and parents. Types of Bilingualism A child learns his or her first language during his her five years of life. He or she spends several hours of listening, repeating and learning his or her first language by trial and error.
The second language can be learned by a child by various clues that assist him or her to understand the message such as the intonation and by memorizing rules in grammars or lists of words. The desire of a child to communicate using the second language is not powerful, particularly in a school environment. A child can learn a second language easier when he or she is involved or lived in a community where the second language is spoken because it provides him or her a chance to use it.
The three types of bilingualism are compound, coordinate and sub-coordinate bilingualism. Both coordinate and compound bilingualism are categorized as forms of early bilingualism because they are developed in early childhood. The sub-coordinate bilingualism is developed when a second language is acquired by a child after age 12. In coordinate bilingualism, an individual learns the languages in different environments and the words of the two languages are separated with each word having its own specific meaning (Romaine, 1995).
A child may acquire coordinate bilingualism when his or her parents have different native languages and each parent speak to the child using his or her own native language. He or she develops two different linguistic systems that he or she can handle them at ease. Another situation wherein a child can adopt coordinate bilingualism is when the mother tongue mastered by a child is adopted by parents who use a different language. The languages in the coordinate bilingualism are independent. A coordinate bilingual has two linguistic systems and two sets of meanings linked to them (Romaine, 1995).
In compound bilingualism, an individual acquires the two languages in the same circumstances, where they are utilized at the same time in order to have a mixed representation of the languages in the brain (Romaine, 1995). A child may acquire compound bilingualism when both parents are bilingual and use two languages when speaking to the child indiscriminately. He or she will learn to speak both languages without making an effort and accent but will never master all the difficulties of using either of the two languages.
A child who acquires compound bilingualism will not have a mother tongue. The languages in compound bilingualism are interdependent. A compound bilingual consists of one set of meanings and two linguistic systems linked to them (Romaine, 1995). In sub-coordinate bilingualism, an individual interprets words of his or her weaker language through the words of the stronger language (Romaine, 1995). The dominant or main language utilized by a sub-coordinate bilingual plays a role as a filter for the weaker language (Romaine, 1995).
The sub-coordinate bilingualism consists of a primary set of meanings formed through their first language and another linguistic system tied to them (Romaine, 1995). The Positive Aspects of Bilingualism According to Cummins, bilingualism has positive benefits to a child’s educational and linguistic development. The author adds that a child attains a deeper understanding of language and how to utilize it effectively when he or she continues to develop his or her ability in two or more languages during his or her entire years in primary school.
A child has a chance to practice more in processing language, particularly when he or she develops literacy in both and he or she is capable of comparing and contrasting the ways his or her two languages create reality (Cummins). The research study indicates that a bilingual child may also develop more flexibility in his or her thinking because of the processing information through the use of two different languages (Cummins).
Other positive effects of bilingualism include increase of mental alertness, broadening of horizon, and improved understanding of the relativity of all things (Appel & Muysken, 2006). A research study of 15-year-old Spanish/English bilingual children suggested that bilingualism encouraged creative thinking because of the greater flexibility in cognition demonstrated by bilinguals due to the fact that they better able to differentiate form and content (Romaine, 1995).
Another research study also mentioned that bilingual children have a better understanding of concept formation, which is major part of intellectual development, because they were involved to a more complicated environment and an enormous amount of social interaction compared to children who were gaining only one language (Romaine, 1995). The superiority of bilingual children to monolingual children in terms of various tasks is dependent on their high levels of selective attention, which is the main mechanism of their cognitive performance (Romaine, 1995).
One source of improving the bilingual children’s flexibility and creativity may come from a variety of semantic networks related with words in each language (Romaine, 1995). The relation between bilingualism and the social context of language acquisition indicates a positive benefit to bilingualism. The Negative Effects of Bilingualism Child bilingualism has negative effects on linguistic skills because he or she has a tendency to have a verbal deficit with respect to active and passive vocabulary, length of sentence, and the usage of complex and compound sentences (Appel & Muysken, 2006).
Research study has also claimed that a bilingual child demonstrated more deviant forms in his or her speech, like unusual word order and morphological errors (Appel & Muysken, 2006). Bilingualism could also endanger the intelligence of a whole ethnic community and result to split personalities (Romaine, 1995). A bilingual child has a deficit in his or her language growth and a delay in his or her mother tongue development. Some psychologists have also stated that a bilingual child is more inclined to stuttering because of the syntactic overload brought by processing and producing two languages (Romaine, 1995).
According to Appel and Muysken (2006), it is stated that speaking two languages is a negative factor in personality or identity development because bilingual persons are anticipated to experience a conflict of values, identities, and world views due to strong relation to the two different languages. The authors add that research studies have indicated that bilingualism may have negative effects on personality development but only when social conditions are not favorable.
The emotional and social difficulties of certain bilingual persons are not due to bilingualism as a cognitive phenomenon but by the social context (Appel & Muysken, 2006). In order to avoid the degree of language loss in children, Cummins suggests that parents should form a strong home language policy and offer opportunities for children to broaden the functions for which they utilize the mother tongue, particularly in reading and writing, and the circumstances in which they can utilize it, like visits to the country of origin.
Teachers have an important role in helping bilingual children maintain and develop their mother tongues by interacting to them strong positive messages on the value of acquiring additional languages and that bilingualism is a key linguistic and intellectual achievement (Cummins). They must also create an instructional environment where the cultural and linguistic experience of a child is actively accepted (Cummins). References Appel, R. & Muysken, P. (2006). Language Contact and Bilingualism. Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press. Bialystok, E.
(2001). Bilingualism in Development: Language, Literacy, and Cognition. England: Cambridge University Press. Cummins, J. Bilingual Children’s Mother Tongue: Why Is It Important for Education? Retrieved June 7, 2009, from http://74. 125. 153. 132/search? q=cache:f490N3_lOpAJ:www. iteachilearn. com/cummins/ mother. htm+positive+effects+of+bilingualism&cd=5&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ph Ng, B. C. & Wigglesworth, G. (2007). Bilingualism: An Advanced Resource Book. U. S. : Routledge. Romaine, S. (1995). Bilingualism (2nd ed. ). Malden, M. A. : Wiley-Blackwell.
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