Bilingualism Including Learning English as a Second Language in Young Children Essay

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Bilingualism including learning English as a second language in young children

Bilingualism in young children

The issue of bilingualism and particularly the problematics and advantages of learning more than one language is one which has been hotly debated in academic circles. What becomes clear from the literature is that there are many positive reasons for teaching children more than one language at an early age. As one linguist noted, these advantages include the following

Young children can pick up a new language faster and more easily than a teenager or an adult, although some experts suggest this difference can be attributed to the level of exposure rather than the age of the child.

A second language is a skill that allows a child to explore other cultures, and communicate with more people -- at home and abroad.

The ability to speak more than one language can create broader opportunities for employment in the future. (Two languages spoken here)

However, there are also a number of negative sentiments expressed about learning a second language. These include the view that bilingual children are more prone to experience language disorders and to have difficulty with syntax. This view however is often discounted by experts.

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Another theory that is also refuted by many linguists and educationists is the view that bilingual children have trouble communicating in both languages (Two languages spoken here). These views, as well as many positive views about bilingualism will be explored in this paper. The context that will also be taken into account in the paper is the issue of bilingualism in relation to English as second language.


The term bilingualism is commonly defined as follows:

Essay on Bilingualism Including Learning English as a Second Language in Young Children Assignment

The term bilingual refers to individuals who can function in more than one language. The category of bilinguals is very broad - encompassing individuals who are sophisticated speakers, readers, and writers of two or more languages, as well as those who use a limited knowledge of a second language (L2) for purposes such as work or schooling, and who may be literate in only one language (or even completely illiterate). (Bilingualism, Second Language Learning, and English as a Second Language)

The definition of bilingualism included a number of factors that are commonly accepted. These are firstly that bilingual children are able to comprehend and produce linguistic aspects of two languages (Garcia, 1986, p. 96). Secondly, that they are exposed "…'naturally' to the two systems of languages as they are used in the form of social interaction during early childhood "( Garcia, 1986, p. 96).

There are many different types and forms of bilingualism. There are also many countries in the world where bilingualism is an intrinsic part of the culture and social makeup of the country. For example, countries like Canada where French and English are both official languages. Another bilingual country is Saudi Arabia, where most of the population speaks both Arabic and English (Bilingualism, Second Language Learning, and English as a Second Language).

In many cases bilingualism is related to second language or L2 learning, in that the second language is learned after, or in conjunction with, the first language (Bilingualism, Second Language Learning, and English as a Second Language). What is clear from the literature is that, "Individuals can become bilingual at any age…" (Bilingualism, Second Language Learning, and English as a Second Language). In other words, young children can easily become bilingual and, in fact, studies have shown that children are amazingly adept at becoming bilingual.

For some children bilingualism is a natural process as they grow up in a cultural environment where both languages are spoken in the home. On the other hand, and in other instances, " Children growing up with parents who speak a minority language (within the larger societal context) may also be natively bilingual, if visitors, neighbors, television, regular caretakers, and other sources make the majority language available" (Bilingualism, Second Language Learning, and English as a Second Language).

Bilingualism and Second Language Learning

Studies have found that it is possible to teach even very young children to be bilingual. "In Europe, a great many toddlers learn four languages with little or no difficulty" (Can my new baby learn two or more languages at home?). As one study notes, there

…appears to be a 'window' of learning language that 'opens' at about the age of ten months… It is clear that they will begin to imitate the 'noises' they hear, and when there is a reaction from their caregivers, they begin to associate meanings with the sounds. (Can my new baby learn two or more languages at home?)

In the first few years of life the infant is able to acquire language at an exponential rate and they normally acquire basic syntax and sentence structure by the age of three. Motivation plays a very important part in the development of language and especially in the acquisition of a second language. This is usually facilitated by talking with parents or caregivers and by motivation from their peers and those outside the home. As noted, second language acquisition is greatly dependent on social and cultural factors and the environment in which the child plays and lives. This aspect will be dealt with in the following sections.

False Myths about Bilingual Children

One central myth that has been exposed as false by modern research is the view that somehow bilingualism results in language disorders later in the child's development. The fear that bilingualism early on in the child's development negatively affects language and cognitive ability has "… long been a concern for parents and educators" (Bialystok, 2008). Therefore, in the first half of the twentieth century, the prevailing view was that bilingualism and second-language acquisition early in life "…made children confused and interfered with their ability to develop normal cognitive functions" (Bialystok, 2008). However, these ideas were changed considerably with later research by, among others, Peal and Lambert in their work, The relation of bilingualism to intelligence (1962).

The view that young children will not be able to cope with learning more than one language is also discounted by research findings. In this regard one critic notes that;

Despite being faced with two different vocabularies and sets of grammar, babies pick up both languages at the same speeds as those who learn just one. Far from becoming confused, it seems that babies actually develop superior mental skills from being raised in a bilingual environment. (Yong)

This new trajectory in the theoretical understanding of bilingualism reversed previous negative ideas about the effects of early bilingualism. Peal and Lambert, for example, "…showed a general superiority of bilinguals over monolinguals in a wide range of intelligence tests and aspects of school achievement" (Bialystok, 2008). Recent research in this area has led to a more balanced approach which has assessed the areas in which bilingual children excel, as well as those areas in which they do not do well.

The negative view of the effects of early bilingualism was often based on the fact that children might use words from each of the two languages in the same sentence. However, experts have dispelled this myth and have stated that, "From time to time, children might use a word from one language while speaking in another. But these moments of 'language switching' disappear after a few years, usually by age five" (Two languages spoken here).

Another myth is that it is not possible for the child to learn more than one language at a time. This has also been shown to be incorrect in reality. Linguist's state that that this is in fact quite possible and occurs frequently. It has been ascertained that the central elements in acquiring two language at the same time are essentially exposure and practice; basically, "The more children hear and use a language, the faster they will learn it" (Two languages spoken here).

There is also the misconception that learning two languages at the same time will adversely impact reading and writing skills in each language as the child develops. This has been shown to not necessarily be the case and some linguists emphasize that the very opposite is in face true. In other words, "…learning to read in one language helps a child learn to read in another" (Two languages spoken here). This is an important aspect of bilingual learning among children and leads to other assertions about the positive cognitive and developmental aspects of bilingualism.

Social Factors

According to experts in the field, the main requirements for using two languages at a very early age are that the child has some reason or motivation to learn the language and that there is "…reinforcement of some kind for these languages, preferably outside the home." (Can my new baby learn two or more languages at home?). For example, playing outside the home with other language children can increase the motivation to learn the other language. The issue of social and cultural reinforcement and motivation to learn a second language is complex and must take into account a wide… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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