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The Psychology of Bilingual Children

In the early stages of bilingual development, children are often faced with the task of learning two languages at the same time. Now depending on the type of language acquisition setting the family is situated in, this may determine the type and amount of challenges encountered within a child’s linguistic growth. In addition, it is also possible that outside influences can affect a child’s bilingualism, such as – extended family, school, and society. There are many ways to approach the matter of introducing a second language to a child.

However, there is no single “ideal” method that parents can use to evade common issues like speech delays, and mixing languages. While there are major setbacks in the beginning that cause concern for parents, bilingualism presents many advantages (cognitive and social development) in which they have great impact on young learners, in comparison to those who become bilingual later in life, or monolinguals. In an overall sense, an early upbringing in a bilingual environment changes life entirely for an individual as “It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age” (Bhattacharjee ‘Why Bilinguals Are Smarter’ 2012).

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Routes to Bilingual Acquisition

The primary focus of bilingual acquisition is set between two routes for early bilinguals: Simultaneous Acquisition and Sequential Acquisition. However it will be important to also acknowledge the route that monolinguals take, in order to make a comparison of early language development between these two sets. Primarily there is what is known as Simultaneous Acquisition- “occurs when a child is raised bilingually from birth, or when the second language is introduced before the age of three.

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” (Lowry, Lauren). The second possible route is Sequential Acquisition- “occurring when a second language is introduced after the first language is well-established (generally after the age of three). Children on the path of simultaneous acquisition generally learn the language structure of the two languages at the same time. Since they are already immediately immersed into both languages, they often start to talk before hitting what is called a “critical period”. This critical period determines whether or not the child has a learning disability. Children under this category, however, are not far behind for monolingual children in the language development race; but some delays may occur. Eventually these children are able to distinguish between the two languages, so that they can assess which language they will have to use depending on who they are speaking with. Children on the sequential path tend to have more difficulties in comparison to those children raised on the simultaneous path. Since the second language is learned later on, the child may try to compare and mix language structures. The overall confidence for a child in this position is low. There may be periods where the child will prefer not to speak the second learned language until enough is understood to eventually form short sentences. In this type of acquisition, these children tend to make more grammatical errors. This may be due to a dominant influence of the first language learned by the child. The upbringing in the path of Sequential Acquisition may be induced by outside influences. Sometimes the immediate family will not engage in regular conversation with the child, may depend on outside help. For example: the immediate family rely on extended family to engage with their child in the weaker language to kickstart familiarity with that language. In other cases families may rely on schools to help their child get immersed into the new language.

There are Many Different Types of Familial Structures that Also tie in with Bilingual Acquisition:

There is the one person-one language approach where each parent has a different language in which they use to communicate with the child. This strategy is applied from birth. The second type is when both parents speak the non-dominant language inside the home, whereas the child is exposed to the dominant language outside the home only. The third type is non-dominant home language. This is where both parents speak their own language to the child, because the dominant language is not their first language. The fourth type is double non-dominant home language. The dominant language in this case, is different from both the parents first language. The strategy for this type of acquisition is having both parents speak their own individual language to the child. This is similar to the non-dominant home language type. The fifth type is non-native parents. The dominant language of the community is also the dominant language of both parents. In this case, the strategy is to speak to the child in a language that is not native to either parent. Type six is a combination of two languages. In this case both parents are bilingual, and they use code-switching as well as just going back and forth between two languages.

Works Cited

  1. Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit. “Why Bilinguals Are Smarter.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Mar. 2012,
  2. Lowry, Lauren. Bilingualism in Young Children: Separating Fact from Fiction,–separating-fact-fr.aspx.

Cite this page

The Psychology of Bilingual Children. (2020, Sep 14). Retrieved from

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