Thursday, May 19, 2005

Bilingualism in children

Bilingualism can be defined as an equal ability to communicate in two languages. Being perfectly fluent in two languages is not easy to achieve, the natural and traditional way of becoming bilingual is being growth in a community in which two languages are used. This community can either be the family core or a more extended environment such as the school, the group of relatives and friends, the neighbourhood or the city. There are different theories about which is the best way to teach a child to use two languages. Most researchers agree that a child, who is exposed to two languages from an early age, and simultaneously, will naturally learn to use both languages. Children will surely go through some periods of mixing the two languages and borrowing vocabulary to express ideas, sometimes within the same sentence. However the child will gradually get to separate the two languages. A good way to help the child to separate the two languages from the beginning is providing an association for each language, for example, when one language is used with the father and other with the mother. It is also frequent that one language is used in less formal contexts and for events related to home and family while the other may be reserved for formal situations and used outside the home. There may also be periods when one language is used more than the other. Some children suffer speech language problems when being taught to be bilingual but these are less likely to happen when both languages are introduced early and simultaneously. The probability of speech problems increases when the second language is introduced during the preschool years after another language was used exclusively. Some people believe that if a second language is introduced before the first language is fully developed, the development of the first language may be slowed or even regress. However realising that a child has some delays in both languages does not necessarily indicate a serious trouble for the child as delays are characteristic of a two language learner.

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