The Bilingual First Language Acquisition

Children who learn two languages at the same time are categorized under the bilingual first language acquisition (BFLA). One of the concerns that educators and researchers have concerning BFLA concerns the patterns of grammatical development for each dialect. The concern is, at the initial stage, the young people may acquire the words from the two languages as monolingual (Déprez & Espinal, 2020). Next, they may be able to differentiate two differing lexicons but still utilize the same syntactic rules for the two dialects before learning the difference. Due to such presumption, some teachers think that it is normal for BFLA children to delay some of their milestones. The objective of this paper is to dispute the notion that simultaneous learning of two languages results in retardation. Although the pupils who are BFLA may initially struggle to differentiate the grammatical structures and usage of the two dialects, such challenges do not warrant any delay.

Bilingual language development has a distinct impact on consolidation and acquisition of superordinate and coordinating semantic association. The superordinate-level lexical entries are usually taught starting with the basic-level lexical. Therefore, a child must first understand the conceptual representation of various basic level entries and note the similarities that they share (Lam & Sheng, 2020). It is vital that bilingual children are exposed to divide language input as it causes confusion in information and reinforcement of links between the semantics and the phonology of the specific language. In addition, BFLA children also face challenges understanding cognates, which are vocabularies with similar semantic meaning that overlap in phenology between the two dialects (Squires et al. 2020). The challenges do not, however, denote any stagnation since there are no significant taxonomic differences between the bilingual and monolingual children

Children make errors in grammatical morphology, but such issues are typical, not exclusive for bilingual children. According to Dam et al. (2020), many children tend to make errors in tense morphemes when learning two languages. However, the errors they make are typical and not characterised with delay of developmental milestone. In some cases, the child may undergo a silent stage during which they fail to orally pronounce any word in the second language, but they are still learning (Roberts, 2014). It is vital for the teachers to understand the kinds of errors that young people are likely to make so that they are better prepared to assist them. The educators can use assessment tools and standardized tests of language ability. This will ensure that the delays in children are rightly diagnosed and not assumed to be natural.

Notably, there is a paucity of evidence-based literature, which shows what constitutes normal phenomenological development. Evaluating dual language learners can be confusing for the speech-language pathologists (SLPs) because they are not sure of what is typical as it pertains to any two dialects (Keffala et al., 2020). Besides, the few research has revealed conflicting results, which makes it hard to compare the findings. More educators should consider exploring the phenomenological aspects in BFLA so as to understand the differences between typical errors and some cognitive deficits.

The BFLA kids have a cognitive advantage due to the effective function that emanates when they know how to distinguish phenological characteristics of the two dialects. For instance, being bilingual makes the child develop executive attention, which is useful in tasks such as metalinguistic awareness (Gunnerud et al., 2020). The modification of the executive attention occurs continuously, thus positively influencing the performance of all tasks. Research study by García Armayor (2019), also revealed young people who have attained high levels of bilingualism depicted superiority in nonverbal abilities, creativity, metalinguistic awareness and reading achievement. Children learning two languages simultaneously are therefore more likely to perform better in some mental tasks without experiencing any developmental delays.

Children who learn languages simultaneously are capable of acquiring gender systems in both languages without any delay. According to Eichler et al. (2012), the children learning either two of French, Italian, German and Spanish, found it more challenging to understand gender difference in German. The next difficult language was French then Spanish and Italian were easier for both monolingual and bilingual young people. The implication of these findings is that the level of difficulties experienced in acquiring any language is the same for toddlers, whether they were mono or bilingual. The most dominant dialect spoken with the people can, in some cases, be acquired more easily.

Differences between individual children acquisition of dual languages may be influenced by environmental factors surrounding the child at school and home. A study that was conducted by Lauro et al. (2020) indicates that the child’s intelligence quotient, number of births, and parent’s dialect can all influence how a child learns two languages. Educators need to liaise with parents to help the young person find a conducive environment to learn the right semantics. Also, when assessing the delays, the external context should be considered and not just the cognition and personality of the pupil.

Conclusively, developing dual language at the same time may present a few challenges to a young person. The child may confuse between vocabularies such as cognates and poor pronunciation. In some cases, the toddler may experience a silent stage where they do not make any pronunciation. The educators must never assume that the developmental delays are normal. Proper assessment of the child using diagnostic tools and in consideration to the environmental influences. Children may also have individual differences in learning languages, but some unnecessary delays may be indicative of a cognitive deficit.

References

Dam, Q., Pham, G., Potapova, I., & Pruitt-Lord, S. (2020). Grammatical characteristics of Vietnamese and English in developing bilingual children. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 29(3), 1212-1225.

Déprez, V., & Espinal, M. T. (2020). The Oxford handbook of negation. Oxford University Press, USA.

Eichler, N., Jansen, V., & Müller, N. (2012). Gender acquisition in bilingual children: French–German, Italian–German, Spanish–German and Italian–French. International Journal of Bilingualism, 17(5), 550-572.

García Armayor, O. (2019). The possibilities of elective bilingualism in BFLA: Raising bilingual children in monolingual contexts. Elia, (19), 235-296.

Gunnerud, H. L., Ten Braak, D., Reikerås, E. K., Donolato, E., & Melby-Lervåg, M. (2020). Is bilingualism related to a cognitive advantage in children? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 146(12), 1059-1083.

Keffala, B., Scarpino, S., Hammer, C. S., Rodriguez, B., Lopez, L., & Goldstein, B. (2020). Vocabulary and phonological abilities affect dual language learners’ consonant production accuracy within and across languages: A large-scale study of 3- to 6-Year-Old Spanish–English dual language learners. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 29(3), 1196-1211.

Lam, B. P., & Sheng, L. (2020). Taxonomic development in young bilingual children: Task matters, and so does scoring method. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 29(3), 1162-1177.

Lauro, J., Core, C., & Hoff, E. (2020). Explaining individual differences in trajectories of simultaneous bilingual development: Contributions of child and environmental factors. Child Development, 91(6), 2063-2082.

Roberts, T. A. (2014). Not so silent after all: Examination and analysis of the silent stage in childhood second language acquisition. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 29(1), 22-40.

Squires, L. R., Ohlfest, S. J., Santoro, K. E., & Roberts, J. L. (2020). Factors influencing cognate performance for young multilingual children’s vocabulary: A research synthesis. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 29(4), 2170-2188.

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