Children who hear two distinct languages in their environment are able to acquire the knowledge of both languages. This is a process known as Bilingual First Language Acquisition, and it occurs from a child’s birth. This is a concept that has been analyzed by various authors in their works.
According to De Houwer (2009), instead of acquiring a single language, such children are exposed to two first languages in their first six years. This is especially due to the fact that early years language acquisition occurs naturally; it has no influence from formal instruction thus focuses solely on the child’s innate abilities. The author also explores the acquisition of; a single first language, three first languages, and a second language within the early years. These form the four main contexts of language acquisition in early childhood, which include; Monolingual First Language Acquisition, Bilingual First Language Acquisition, Trilingual First Language Acquisition, and Early Second Language Acquisition. Each context has identified developmental processes (De Houwer, 2009).
Though a child can learn first language through spoken or sign processes, the author focuses on the role of spoken language in the family environment. In bilingual families, the child is able to learn both languages. For instance, in the case of Monika and Arnou, their children learnt to communicate in both Spanish and Catalan. This can be made effective by ensuring each parent speaks to the child in a specific language to avoid confusion.
Bilingual children undergo the normal language developmental processes; babbling, syllables, simple words, complex words, phrases and finally complete sentences. By age three, they are able to make comprehensible sentences. From three through to six years they can narrate short stories. Their skills improve as they grow older. There are variations in the developmental process that may be affected by medical or psychosocial conditions the child may experience. The author effectively explores the concept of bilingual language development effectively through the analysis of several family situations the effects they have on the child’s language development.
In his book, Qi (2011) explores the effects of a bilingual context on a child’s acquisition of personal identity and grammatical skills of two languages. This study is focused on the language development of Chinese children living in Australia as they acquire both English and Mandarin languages. The author explores various studies and views by other authors on the concept of bilingual development. The acquisition of two languages is dependent on ensuring each parent addresses the child in a specific language.
In other cases, each person may use mixed languages or environmental-bound language which changes depending on whether the parent is at home or in the community. The child’s input is crucial in the linguistic development of bilingualism; they may mix the languages they acquire from family members without being aware that they should not mix them. As they develop these skills, they learn to differentiate the two languages (Qi, 2011).
According to the author, the moment a child is born, he has auditory discrimination capacities which enable them to understand specific languages. This is evident in both bilingual and monolingual children. The study of bilingualism in children is largely dependent on the role of family in language acquisition. The context has influence on the child’s language processing, and the speech of two languages thus; it is a crucial factor to be considered during the study of bilingualism in children.
Genesee (2003) explores the development of bilingualism from 1913 when the first scientific report on the matter was published. Over the years, several studies have been done on the processes and impact of bilingualism on children’s language development and other aspects such as social, psychological and cognitive development in children.
Though there is a common view that early bilingual development in children has negative effects, the author believes in the view that the child is biologically capable of acquiring two languages in the same way as he would acquire one. In order to acquire two languages effectively, the child must be able to; discriminate crucial differences related to language input and to retain the information they acquire.
In the early stages, a child has a single lexical system containing words from both languages. Though assumptions are that children are initially monolingual, they acquire an understanding of both languages. As they develop they learn to differentiate the two languages. The author provides empirical evidence of properties of bilingual development in children and how it is affected by family and other factors. In conclusion, the acquisition of more than one language is dependent on various factors. Though this is an innate skill, it can be facilitated by ensuring specific people speak to the child in a specific language. Every child develops at his own pace this process should not be rushed even in language acquisition.
De Houwer, A. (2009). An Introduction to Bilingual Development, Bristol: Multilingual Matters
Genesee, F. (2003). Rethinking Bilingual Acquisition In J. Dewaele, A. Housen & W. Li (Eds.). Bilingualism: Beyond basic principles. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters
Qi, R. (2011). The Bilingual Acquisition of English and Mandarin: Chinese Children in Australia. New York: Cambria Press