Bilingualism in Children: Learning a Second Language in the Home vs. Acquiring a Second Language in an Educational Setting
Mason 1Jessie MasonStephen PlaskonA Survey of Language LearningApril 23, 2012Bilingualism in Children: Learning a Second Language in the Home vs. Acquiring a SecondLanguage in an Educational Setting1. Bilingualism: History and ExperienceLanguage is an essential trait in any society. Without language and or capability ofcommunication, the growth and development of society members would stagnate, and this lackof communication would most likely cause the society itself to fail. In short, without language, acoherent society cannot exist.Through the development of different cultures and civilizations through time, differentlanguages also developed. As a result, in order for a member of one language community tocommunicate with a member of a different community, one of two things need to happen: a newlanguage has to be created, or a new language has to be learned.The first case would result in thedevelopment of, first, pidgin and,later, creole languages. Pidgin languages are created whenmembers of two distinct language groups form a simplistic common language that shares aspectsof both of the original languages. They typically have ―a small vocabulary, simple grammaticalstructure, and a narrower range of functions than the language[s] from which the pidgin wasdeveloped‖ (Otto 59). A pidgin language turns into a creole language when the original speakersof the language pass it down to the following generations. It undergoes expansion of keylinguistic features to make it more of an actual language instead of a combination of twodifferent languages. The second case results in what is traditionally considered bilingualism, or if
Mason 2more than two languages are learned, multilingualism.My experience with bilingualism started in fourth grade, when my mother signed me upfor an introductory French class that met once a week before school. I remember beingsurprisingly adept at picking up the language and the accent, although my age probablyaccounted for most of that. After fourth grade, I was pretty much English-only for the next fiveyears until I took Spanish 1 during my freshman year of high school. I continued throughSpanish 2 and 3 during my sophomore and junior years, and ended up skipping Spanish 4 to takeAP Spanish Language, receiving a 5 on the exam. Now, at the end of my first year at UVa, I amalmost halfway done with my Spanish major and it seems safe to say that I have reached a pointwhere I can call myself bilingual. I’m able to communicate through written and spoken wordconfidently and fluidly in both Spanish and English.Personally,I’ve found bilingualism to be oneof the most useful skills I possess when it comes to navigating the academic and social realms ofmy life.My second language acquisition has been relatively smooth,(compared to my peers, someof whom genuinely struggle when it comes to learning a new language) and so I have becomeincreasingly interested in the different ways second languages are acquired, and if learning alanguage in the home versus in an educational setting makes a difference in the languagelearner’s control of each language.2. DefinitionsDiscussing bilingualism requires an understanding of different terms related to theacquisition of two (or more) languages. The critical period is the time during which languageacquisition is supposed to be the easiest; usually defined as the time from birth until puberty.Simultaneous bilingualism occurs when a child acquires two languages prior to age 3, as
Mason 3opposed to successive bilingualism, which refers to children acquiring their second languageafter age 3 (Otto 71). Children who know two or more language sometimes confuse knowledgeof their first and second languages when speaking, ―For example, a child might use thevocabulary or syntactic structure of one language when attempting to communicate in the otherlanguage‖ (Otto 72). This is known as language interfernce.Learning a second language withoutcontinuing to develop the first can result in a phenomenon termed subtractive bilingualism,where a second language is learned at the price of losing the ability to speak the first language.Additive bilingualism also exists; programs that cause additive bilingualism place emphasis onthe acquisition of a second (target) language while, at the same time, development of the first(home) language is continued (Otto 73).With regard to the issue of subtractive bilingualism, Congerclaims that ―bilingualeducation either interferes with English-language acquisition or has no effect‖ (1119). However,a study conducted by Dixon found that ―…bilingualism does not necessitate the improvement ofone language at the expense of the other. Although dominance in one language or the other wascommon (slightly over 50%), nearly one-quarter of the children [in the study] showed highproficiency in both languages, indicating strong dual language proficiency is possible‖ (31).In this paper, I will use the term ―home bilingual‖ to refer tochildren who learn bothlanguages in the home and ―schooled bilingual‖ to refer tochildren who learn their first languagein the home and acquire their second language in school, whether in an ESL, bilingual education,or immersion program.3. Second Language AcquisitionThe acquisition of a second language is not exactly the same as the acquisition of a firstlanguage, although the two processes do share some similar qualities. Towell and Harkins list
Mason 4five observable phenomena of second language acquisition: transfer of properties of the L1 (firstlanguage) grammar into the L2 (second language) grammar, staged development in secondlanguage acquisition, systematicity in the growth of L2 across learners, variability in learners’intuitions about, and production of, aspects of the L2 at certain stages of development, andsecond language learners stop short of native-like success in a number of areas of the L2grammar (7-14).Transfer of properties of the L1 grammar into the L2 grammar is most noticeable if thefirst and second languages differ in a specific construct, ―because this leads to patterns in thespeech of the non-native speaker not found in the speech of the native speaker‖ (Towell andHarkins 7). This property would not be as visible in a home bilingual, since he or shelearns bothof his or her languages as native languages, instead of acquiring them as second languages.Transfer of properties that two languages share, like definite and indefinite articles, can also helpthe schooled bilingual in acquiring his or her second language more quickly (Towell and Harkins9).Although the stages of first and second language acquisition differ, first and secondlanguage learners go through specific stages in their acquisition of the target language (Towelland Harkins 10). The example given by the aforementioned authors is schooled bilingualslearning the word order patters in German, and the gradual transition from ungrammaticalstructures to grammatical ones that they go through.In addition, most second language learnersstart off from an different level of grammar relative to one another, and these starting grammarsmay provide certain advantages or disadvantages to learners.Systematicity in the growth of L2 knowledge across learners is visible in the stages thatsecond language learners go through in learning a language. These stages are independent of
Mason 5their home languages. Specifically, ―learners from different L1 backgrounds develop L2linguistic knowledge in a way that is not directly attributable either to their L1, or to the L2input‖ (Towell and Harkins 11). These stages also appear to be independent of how the secondlanguage is learned, whether in a natural or classroom environment.Variability in learners’ intuition about and production ofa second language allows fordifferent constructions of an idea to be produced by the learner. These variable structures canoccur without pattern until the speaker learns which variant is correct, or continue to varyrandomly if the learner never learns the rule governing the variation (Towell and Harkins 12).This seems a little bit similar to the concept of distribution in linguistics, in which two or moreforms of a word or phrase can appear in different situations depending on context and speaker.The final phenomenon listed, that second language learners stop short of native-likesuccess in L2 grammar, seems debatable. I would argue that schooled bilinguals usually have abetter grasp on the concepts behind and situations in which to use complicated grammaticalstructures in the L2 than do native speakers. However, that may just be my personal experiencewith high-achieving, high-effort individuals and may not reflect the general pattern.4. Second Language Acquisition in the HomeRaising bilingual children has been a goal of mine for years. I have seen the benefits thatstem from knowing more than one language, both professionally and socially. I’m able tocomfortable converse and communicate with a much broader scope of people than I would beable to if I only spoke English, andI would love to afford the same opportunity to my children,and begin fostering it at a young age.In Carlson’s article on his experiences with bilingual homeschooling, he praises both thebilingual approach to imparting language to his daughter and going about bilingual education in
Mason 6the home. He and his wife decided to pull his daughter out of traditional schooling, optinginstead to homeschool in a dual-language manner. He claims, ―through bilingual homeschoolingshe was able to grow and learn using both of her first languages in various contexts every day sothat now, as an adult, she has a balanced native-speaker command of two languages —something that never would have happened had she continued to attend school‖ (12). It’s notclear whether it was the focus that the homeschooling provided or the bilingual aspect of it, but itseems that in this instance, learning a second language in the home provided a much betterenvironment to actually acquire and be able to utilize a second language.A child’s parents are his or her first language teachers. If the parents of a bilingual childare not particularly strong in one or another language themselves, then the child’s level ofknowledge in that language will obviously be lacking. This may be discouraging to either thechild or the teacher (in the educational setting), however, ―teachers must… keep theirexpectations high for all of their bilingual students: regardless of their SES [socioeconomicstatus] or home language, students of all backgrounds are capable of reaching high proficiency intwo languages‖ (Dixon 33).In researching children who learn two or more languages at home, I began to wonderwhether teaching an entire family two languages at once would be feasible, and if it would helpparents and/or children develop and maintain a firm grasp on the target language and itsstructures. This would be a combination of learning a language in an educational setting andlearning a language at home, since everyone would technically be receiving their education froma strictly classroom setting, but the parents and children would be living in the same linguisticenvironment and be able to help each other learn the target language. Children who learn asecond language in school, specifically one that their parents don’t speak, face certain challenges
Mason 7in acquiring one language and maintaining another. As Wang puts it,For those children whose home language is different from that of their school (ormainstream) language, the home language literacy development path is often different.Although their emergent heritage language literacy skills developed at home in earlychildhood will no doubt benefit their school literacy development, their emergent literacyskills will not automatically become conventional home language literacy skills unlessspecial efforts are made.As these children become more involved in mainstream school learning as well asextracurricular activities, they have less time for home language literacy activities.Without extra effort, it is unlikely that these children’s home language literacy willdevelop any further and may even terminate (89-90).I have no real idea as to how a widespread parent-child bilingual education system could be putin place, and more research needs to be done, but I believe that putting second language learninginto a home where a parent and child both don’t know the target language could be an effectivemethod of teaching a second language and encourage them to work together in their acquisitionof said language.In order to create and maintain bilingualism in a home environment, Piper recommendsusing each of the two languages for distinct and separate tasks, saying ―[children] seem to havelittle trouble learning the separate languages of their two parents, or the language of their parentsand the language of their peers or other caretaker‖ (139). She also firmly asserts that acquiring asecond language does not put children at risk for falling behind in their linguistic capabilities norin their education, and that ―bilingualism is clearly an advantage‖ for school-aged children (139).Piper details case studies on specific children as they progress through their bilingualism.One child, Quy, moved to the United States with his mother from a refugee camp in Malaysia.His mother spoke little English, and taught him what she knew while mainlyusing Vietnamese ineveryday life. His experiences in English-only daycare and preschool helped to kick-start hisEnglish language learning. For a while he refused to speak Vietnamese to his mother, but oncehe realized that he could separate his Vietnamese use from his English, but retain the ability to
Mason 8use them whenever he wanted, his language development rapidly increased. He was able to helpother Vietnamese-speaking students in his class, and by kindergarten, he was on the samelinguistic level as his native English-speaking peers (166-174).A second child observed by Piper, Miguel, came from a Spanish-speaking family nativeto Monterrey, Mexico. In order to prepare him for English school, Miguel’s mother taught himthe English she knew, and made sure that every day he did three things: watch Sesame Street,learn five new words (nouns or verbs), and go to a playground where he could intermingle withEnglish-speaking children. This base in English provided him a solid jumping-off point once hegot to traditional school, but he ran into a few issues with the way his teacher thought he shouldbe educated. Fortunately, his mother and the principal worked with his teacher and modified hiseducation plan to fully take advantage of his English and Spanish language background (182-187).Essentially, learning two languages in the home is a useful, if potentially difficult,method to foster bilingualism in children. Going to a school that only teaches in one languagecan hinder the growth of the other language, but in case studies where the parent maintained theuse of one language in the home and the child was exposed to a second language in school, therewas no issue in growth and maintenance of bilingualism.5. Second Language Acquisition in an Educational SettingMost information found on second language acquisition in an educational setting focusedon one of two topics: children from non-English-speaking homes learning English out ofnecessity, or native English-speaking adults trying to learn a second language for work orpersonal reasons. I will only be discussing the first case, as there was more literature readilyavailable and it contrasts more specifically with the situation of children learning both a first and
Mason 9second language in the home.I have noticed that there are many people who speak against bilingualism, saying that itinterferes with competency in a person’s first language. However, none of the authors that werespecifically against bilingualism as a concept mentioned whether or not they were competent intwo or more languages. As someone who is bilingual, I believe that bilingualism is not ahindrance, and rather a useful aid in navigating daily life. In fact, as Dixon puts it,―the fact that achild is bilingual—or will become bilingual through an early childhood education program—should not be considered a risk factor for low proficiency in both languages; rather,socioeconomic status or double home language exposure may put children at risk for lowvocabulary in both languages‖ (32). That is to say, low vocabulary in one or both languages isnot caused by bilingualism, and there are other factors in play in situations where a bilingualchild suffers from vocabulary deficit.The ―low vocabulary‖ mentioned is a trait that I have noticed in myself and otherschooled bilinguals; but this quality makes complete sense. Home bilinguals have the advantageof learning basic vocabulary words from birth, in addition to using these words and seeing theseobjects or actions in their natural setting. Schooled bilinguals have the disadvantage of notgrowing up hearing and using the language in a practical sense, and have to go through rotememorization of chapter after chapter of vocabulary, instead of acquiring basic semanticconcepts through actual interaction with words and constructs. However, in my personalexperience, there are many ways to get around this vocabulary deficit as long as the personattempting to learn the language is willing to go outside of the classroom setting to expand uponthe existing vocabulary base. It takes work, but it’s possible.
Mason 10Home language and home situation in general can also have an effect on bilingualdevelopment among children. Dixon found―Four major factors that may contribute to thedevelopment of… different [linguistic] profiles among bilingual children includ[ing]: the statusof the languages involved, the socioeconomic status (SES) of the child’s family, the amount oflanguage input in each language, and the language(s) the mother or caretaker uses with the child‖(26). This assertion nicely sums up all of the other research I found, and divides the influenceson bilingualism up in an effective manner. It makes sense that the language, economic situation,amount of language exposure, and home environment all contribute in different ways and indiffering amounts to the development of bilingualism and linguistic skills in children.The attitudes of teachers of second languages can have a resounding effect on students’acquisition of a foreign language. I’ve found that it’s easy to tell when a native speaker orteacher is ―dumbing-down‖ a foreign language. Piper details the practice in the followingpassage:Studies on language input focus on describing foreigner talk, or the modifications nativespeakers make when talking with someone they perceive to have less than nativeproficiency in their language. Several common modifications have been identified. Forexample, native speakers typically choose topics concerned with the present, they chockmore often to see whether they are being understood, they repeat or paraphrase both theirown utterance and the other speaker’s, and they give shorter responses (154).In the beginning stages of acquiring a second language, I think this is a relatively helpfulpractice. It makes the process of language learning a little easier, a little simpler to understand.However, I believe that once a certain threshold is reached, it is necessary for teachers of secondlanguages to speak the language to the learner as if they were speaking to a native speaker,treating the learner as either a beginning native speaker or an experienced one (depending on theexisting skill level). If someone is consistently speaking to a learner on a linguistic level belowhis or heractuallevel, it’s impossible to make progress.The learner’s linguistic and conversational
Mason 11skills aren’t being challenged, so there is no way to improve.With regard to the reading skills of bilingual children, ―Research suggests that the age offirst multilingual language exposure affects reading development in children learning to read intheir multi-languages. There is definitely a reading advantage for children who are educated inmultilingual schools‖ (Wang 30). The existence of two separate grammars, once for eachlanguage, might be a factor that strengthens the reading skills of bilingual children. However,children with strong reading skills may be more predisposed to learning a second language. Ilearned to read (in English) at around 2 or 3 years of age, much sooner than my peers in daycare,and my reading skills had far surpassed that of my peers by the time I reached kindergarten. Iattribute this to my home environment; I grew up in a household where books were regarded asimportant as food. In a home such as this, reading was a valuable skill and one of many activitiesthat my parents and I shared as leisure activities. A love of reading and communicating, fosteredat a young age, may have contributed to my ease when I began to learn a second language.It may be that strong reading skills lead to bilingualism, and this manifests in bilingualchildren as higher reading ability in both languages. However, Wang details the readingadvantages afforded to bilingual children, citinga study [that] compared bilingual Spanish-English children with English-speakingchildren in monolingual English schools. Early first bilingual language exposure had apositive effect on reading, phonological awareness and language competence in bothlanguages: early bilinguals (age of first exposure 0-3 years) outperformed other bilingualgroups (age of first exposure 3-6 years). Remarkably, schooling in two languagesafforded children from monolingual English homes an advantage in phonemic awarenessskills. Early bilingual exposure is best for dual language reading development, and it mayhave such a powerful positive impact on reading and language development that itcounteracts the negative effect of low socioeconomic situation on literacy(30).This research points out an obvious correlation between bilingualism and both readingdevelopment (in home bilinguals) and phonemic awareness (in schooled bilinguals). This
Mason 12information directly contradicts the ideas of those who argue that bilingualism adversely affectsthe linguistic development of children, and asserts that bilingualism in fact aids immensely inthat development.Piper details two more case studies, this time on children whose first English exposuresoccurred in a school setting. The first, Lucy, came from a Portuguese family living inVancouver, British Columbia (where she was born). The community in which she lived had noreason to use English in daily life since everyone spoke Portuguese, so she had little to noEnglish exposure before she went to kindergarten. Five weeks between the first and secondobservations of Lucy during her first year of school in an English-only kindergarten, her Englishskills improved from the level of a 2 year old monolingual to that of a three and a half year old.(174-177). The constant exposure to native English speakers in an English-only setting,combined with her prior knowledge of Portuguese and status as an emerging reader in her nativelanguage probably contributed to Lucy’s rapid growth in her English skills.The second child, Jani, lived in a Labrador community and attends a school where shewas taught by two co-teachers; one spent half the day teaching the class in English, and the othertaught the other half of the day in Inuktitut. Jani had the distinct benefit of attending a school thatvalued both her home language and the common language of the area as equally useful, and soshe had the opportunity to develop her skills in both languages at the same pace without havingto work particularly hard at one language or the other to maintain her linguistic capabilities (180-182).Children who learn a second language in school may flourish or stagnate linguistically,depending on the individual personalities and motivations of the children in question and theirhome language situations. I see no reason why a child still in the critical period shouldn’t be able
Mason 13to acquire a second language and communicate with it at a native-like proficiency, as long asproper instruction and support is provided in both the home and school environment.6. Methods of Teaching a Second Language in the ClassroomThere are many types of programs utilized in the classroom setting for second languagelearners. Otto separates these programs into five categories: English as a second language,bilingual education, immersion programs, the submersion approach, and foreign languages in theelementary school programs.ESL or ESOL (English as a second language or English for speakers of other languages)programs focus only on teaching English, with no emphasis put on the speakers’ home languages(Otto 81). Students in these classes come from diverse language backgrounds, and it seems thatan ESL setting could be very chaotic for both teacher and students since everyone is comingfrom a different language, and skill level within that language. However, since everyone is tryingto learn the same language regardless of their home language, it might be easier than trying tointegrate the home languages of each individual into the process of learning English.There are three types of bilingual education programs. TBE (Transitional bilingualeducation) programs set the goal as the gradual transition from the student’s first language toEnglish. However, these programs don’t consider the first language valuable to students’ long-term education (Otto 81). These programs are a little better than ESL programs when it comes tounderstanding the linguistic backgrounds of the individual children and using their previouslanguage knowledge to make connections between their home and target languages.Developmental bilingual education programs emphasize both the home and target languagesthroughout students’ education (Otto 81). These programs help to create fluency in not just thetarget language, but also improve skills in the home language.
Mason 14There are three types of immersion programs. Simple immersion programs groupchildren according to their home language; language arts classes are taught in the students’ firstlanguage and instruction in all other subjects is in the second language (Otto 82). Theseprograms probably do an excellent job of bridging the vocabulary gap that many learners ofsecond languages experience. Two-way immersion or dual language programs are designed todevelop students’ linguistic competency in more than one language. Students in the class aresplit evenly – half from homes where the home language is English, and half from homes withanother home language. Amount of instruction in each language varies depending on the specificprogram (Otto 82). The mix of culture and language that the students already have when theycome into class must be useful for teaching the two different languages as well as the culturalassociations tied in to each one. Finally, second foreign language immersion programs aredesigned specifically for native speakers of a single language. The target language is used toteach 50% of the curriculum in these classrooms (Otto 82).The so-called ―submersion‖ approach is less of an approach and more of a back up; if aschool does not have any sort of bilingual education or ESL system in place, students who don’tspeak the common language are put into the classroom, even though they may have noknowledge of the language being spoken. These situations don’t foster comprehensive learning,since the linguistic levels of the teacher and students surrounding the non-native speaker aremuch higher than the linguistic level of the speaker (Otto 83).FLES (Foreign language in the elementary school) programs are designed to simply teacha target language. They are structured a little differently than traditional high school stylelanguage classrooms, and successful programs place more emphasis on culture and oralcommunication rather than drilling and memorization (Otto 83).
Mason 157. Final ThoughtsBefore doing research on the difference between home and schooled bilingual children, Iassumed that if both languages were learned in the home, a child would have native-level graspand fluency in both languages, and if a second language were acquired in a school setting, a childwould be functional in that language in the same way that many adults are in their secondlanguages – approaching fluency, but being nowhere near the level of a native speaker.Indeed, ―it is clear that children learning two languages simultaneously acquire them bythe use of similar strategies. They are, in essence, learning two first languages, and the key tosuccess is in distinguishing separate contexts of the two languages‖ (Brown 67). As long as thesupport system in both languages is solid and consistent, it seems that children can learn as manylanguages as they are exposed to in their home. However, ―research confirms that the linguisticand cognitive processes of second language learning in young children are in general similar tofirst language processes‖ (Brown 67). Children acquiring a second language in a school settingdo so in a manner similar to the way they learn their first language in the home, implying thatevery child has the potential to become bilingual. As Wang puts it, ―when school and home jointogether and collaborate to buttress multilingual learning, children are likely to thrive anddevelop‖ (32). This is reassuring, and makes me hopeful that one day I will be able to fosterbilingualism in children with whom I come in contact, through friends, family, or children of myown.
Mason 16Works CitedBrown, H. Douglas. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. 4th ed. White Plains:Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 2000. Print.Carlson, David. "Homeschooling and Bilingual Education: A Well-Kept Secret." Encounter 22.4(2009): 10-3. Web.Conger, Dylan. "Does Bilingual Education Interfere with English-Language Acquisition?" SocialScience Quarterly (Blackwell Publishing Limited) 91.4 (2010): 1103-22. Web.Dixon, L., Shuang Wu, and Ahlam Daraghmeh. "Profiles in Bilingualism: Factors InfluencingKindergartners Language Proficiency." Early Childhood Education Journal 40.1 (2012):25-34. Web.Otto, Beverly. Language Development in Early Childhood. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River: PearsonEducation, Inc., 2010. Print.Peleato, Irene Verde. "Educación Bilingüe En EE.UU. Estudio De Casos De Una EscuelaPrimaria. (Spanish)." Estudios Sobre Educacion.21 (2011): 139-58. Web.Piper, Terry. Language and Learning. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc.,2007. Print.Towell, Richard, and Roger Hawkins. Approaches to Second Language Acquisition. Bristol:Multilingual Matters Ltd, 1994. Print.Wang, Xiao-lei. Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family. Tonawanda:Multilingual Matters Ltd, 2011. Print.