Müjde Gümüșçü Uğurlu
The effects of bilingualism in a minority language on third language acquisition
In the area of language acquisition, bilinguals differ from monolinguals in several ways. It is accepted that previous language knowledge is facilitative in developing proficiency in a new language and both the learner’s native and non-native languages can be sources of influence in acquiring a new language. Given the evidence that in some social situations knowledge of a second language is facilitative in learning a third, the paper investigates to what extent knowledge of a widely-spoken but non-official local language can be shown to be facilitative in this way. The students in this study are adolescent monolingual Turkish and bilingual Kurdish-Turkish learners learning English in Diyarbakir. The study depends on two quantitative instruments, a language acquisition attitude questionnaire and a grammar proficiency test, and one qualitative technique, in which English learners were interviewed face to face. The differences between second language acquisition (SLA) and third language acquisition (TLA) are discussed. In this setting, the monolingual students achieved greater proficiency in English than the bilingual students. The bilingual students’ knowledge of their minority language was not facilitative in developing proficiency in English. These results can best be interpreted by considering that the bilingual students did not previously receive language instruction in their native language, thus negating the traditionally perceived advantage bilingual students have in acquiring a third language.
Bilingualism, second language acquisition (SLA), third language acquisition (TLA), minority language.
2.2.4 Political Status and its contribution to creating subtractive bilingualism 9
2.2.5 Attitudes and Motivation 10
2.3 The Role of Metalinguistic Awareness 13
2.4. The Effect of Bilingualism on Cognitive Development 14
2.5 Cognitive Development of Bilingual Minority Language Learner 15
2.6. The Importance of Similarities between the Linguistic Systems 16
2.7. SLA and TLA 18
3. Methodology 19
3.1 Subjects 19
3.2 Quantitative Instruments 20
3.3 Interview 21
4. Problems and Limitations 22
5. Analysis and Results 23
5.1 Analysis and Results of Grammar Proficiency Test 23
5.2 Analysis and Results of Language Acquisition Attitude Questionnaire 25
5.2.1 The Languages The Students Know. 25
5.2.2 Where Did You First Come in Contact With English? 26
5.2.3 Where Did You Start Learning English? 27
5.2.4 Age at Which Students Started Learning English 28
5.2.5 Have You Lived in / Visited an English-Speaking Country? 28
5.2.6 Students Who Have Problems and How They Feel Speaking English in Class 28
5.2.7 What Is Your Motivation for Learning English? 30
5.2.8 Do You Expect to Use English in Your Adult Life/ The Future? Why? Why Not? 32
5.2.9 Do You Feel Comfortable Asking Someone for Help When You Are Uncertain About How to Express Something in English? 33
5.2.10 Number of Students Who Enjoy English Classes 34
5.2.11 Students’ Favourite Subject in School 36
5.2.12 Students’ Homework Fulfilment 37
5.3. Analysis and Results of Interviews 37
5.3.1 Do You Like Your English Classes/Language? 38
5.3.2 Why Do You Learn English? 39
5.3.3 Do You Speak Any Foreign Languages? Which Ones? 40
5.3.4 Tell Me About Your Experiences Learning a Foreign Language. 41
5.3.5 What Are Various Strategies You Use to Learn Vocabulary, Reading, Writing, Speaking and Grammar? 42
5.3.6 What Is Your Belief on the Best Way to Learn English? 44
5.3.7 If You Had To Pick One out of the Five (Speaking, Writing, Listening, Reading, Culture), Which Do You Think Is the MOST Important? 46
5.3.8 Explain a Situation in Which You Had a Problem With English and How You Resolved It. What Would You Do Differently? 48
5.3.9 In Your View, What Is the Most Pressing Problem Facing Kurdish Language Learners Today When Learning a Foreign Language? 48
5.3.10 How Would You Describe the Relationship Between Language and Culture? 49
5.3.11 Do Your Parents Help You in Learning English? How? 50
6. Discussion and Reflections upon the findings drawn 51
7. Conclusion 56
Appendix A 62
Appendix B 65
Appendix C 69
Learning a second or foreign language can be difficult and also may require a significant investment of time to develop fluency. Many different reasons exist for learning a second or foreign language, such as being able to get better work opportunities, personal enjoyment or even acquiring the ability to understand people of other countries and civilizations. The truth is that globalization has brought up to the surface a new demand for people living in this era and sharing the experience of the world having turned into a global village. An increasing proportion of people have started studying not one but usually two foreign languages. All those involved in the procedure of teaching foreign languages have increasingly acquired awareness not only of L2 acquisition but of L3 acquisition as well. The study of bilingualism and third language learning has developed considerably in the last few years. Traditionally linguists and psychologists have a great interest in studying bilingualism and how it affects people. According to earlier studies bilingualism affected children negatively, while nowadays bilingualism is seen as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
It is accepted that previous language knowledge is facilitative in developing proficiency in a new language, based on bilingual learners having acquired both familiarity with the process of learning a new language and “metalinguistic experiences and learning strategies to facilitate foreign language learning” (Falk and Bardel, 2010, p. 192) . Some studies have demonstrated that both the learner’s native and non-native languages can be sources of influence when acquiring a new language (Cenoz, 2001; Hammarberg, 2001; Ringbom, 1987, 2001). Although a variety of factors have been identified regarding how the learner’s native and non-native languages influence the acquisition of an additional language, the importance of each factor in the acquisition process is still unclear. Recently, there has been much interest in the cognitive aspect of second language and third language acquisition. There have been many research studies on whether bilinguals or monolinguals perform better in third language learning (Rauch et al., 2012). While some studies show that monolinguals perform better than bilinguals in some tasks, other studies show better performance in bilinguals.
The issue of bilingualism is at the centre of many political debates. Residents of a country who speak a language not considered to be the dominant language of that country are often regarded as unwelcome immigrants who refuse to assimilate into the political and social norms of the country. In the United States, for example, immigrants from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries are regarded suspiciously as possible illegal aliens (Phillipson, 2003). In addition, periodically states with large Spanish-speaking populations in the United States debate and introduce legislation to make English the official language of their state (Phillipson, 2003). In Turkey, residents who speak Kurdish are also regarded as lower-class socioeconomically and undesirable. Until recently, national laws in Turkey forbade Kurdish to be used in schools and other government-controlled settings. There is no formal recognition that a significant portion of the population speaks another language, as there is in Canada, whose laws require official documents to be published in both English and French. In Turkey, the Kurdish language is barely tolerated in public settings and generally there is a social stigma attached to speaking it (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2008).
1. 1. Aim
My aim is to identify any differences between Turkish-Kurdish bilinguals and Turkish monolinguals when learning English as a new language in terms of language attitudes and motivation, learning strategies and language proficiency. The distinctive feature of this situation is that although the fırst language (Kurdish) is a widely spoken local language, it is not an official one. Because of non-official status of the Kurdish language, the bilingual students may have had limited formal second language (Turkish) acquisition in terms of being able to respond to the expectation of using this language in which they have been immersed throughout their education. KS do not have a strong language knowledge / background in Turkish compared to NKS because KS start to learn Turkish only when they begin school whereas NKS speak and hear Turkish from their childhood and also when they begin to go to school. So when the KS learn English as third/foreign language they may make comparisons or similarities with their native language Kurdish because they may feel safer thinking in Kurdish and they may have lack knowledge in Turkish. One could question if the absence of formal language instruction for the second language which is not their mother tongue could cause even more implications in the acquisition of a third language (L3). Several questions can be considered in examining this situation.
- Which group will be more proficient in learning English?
- What attitudes to English and motivations for learning do we see among the two groups?
- Do the bilinguals have different views on how languages are learned?
- What are the characteristics of the learning experience the students have had thus far in acquiring a new language, and is there a difference in experience between monolinguals and bilinguals?
These questions are all exploratory in the beginning stages of investigating a new and little-known situation. However, even though there is virtually no existing research into this group’s language acquisition, my initial hypothesis is that knowing the Kurdish language in addition to knowing Turkish will be facilitative in acquiring English. It is the existing state of their bilingualism which will be explored in terms of affecting the third language acquisition.
This essay is based on one questionnaire and a test that have been disseminated to the students and the interviews that have been conducted with students. The students who completed the questionnaire and the test and took part in interview studied English as a foreign language.
In the following I will review the studies being done in the field of bilingualism and SLA and TLA and the factors that affect SLA which are related to the results from the questionnaire, test and interviews done.
Bilingualism has been defined in several ways by different researchers. The definition of bilingualism is complex, influenced by many factors such as the age of acquisition of the second language, relative skill in each language, the circumstances under which each language is learned and some other factors which will be discussed later. There have been many different scientific definitions and descriptions of bilingualism:
Grosjean defines bilinguals as “those who use two or more languages (or dialects) in their everyday lives” (2010, cited in Baker, 2011, p. 4). DeAvila and Duncan state that “bilingualism does not imply equal mastery of two languages, but rather the ability to use two languages” (1980, cited in Harris, 1992, p. 516).
Bilingual education can mean different things in different contexts. According to Carrasquillo and Rodriguez (2002, p. 67) additive bilingual education means that students learn a new language by adding a new language and culture to their existing language knowledge and culture without taking anything from what they already know. On the other hand, subtractive bilingual learners feel that learning a new language takes away from their culture and language and replaces it with a second language and culture (ibid. p. 68). Subtractive bilingualism is similar to Skutnabb – Kangas’ “assimilationist teaching” that the society has the right to expect people to give up their native languages and become speakers of the majority language of the country (Baker, 2011). Cummins (1994) concludes that students in an additive bilingual environment have more chance to succeed than those whose first language and culture is not valued by their schools and by the wider society.
Subtractive bilingualism tends to occur in situations where a particular language is used by a minority of the population. Precise census data is not available, but studies of the Kurdish language situation in Turkey have determined that 15-20 million Kurdish speakers live in Turkey, a country of approximately 72 million (Öpengin, 2012). Data on literacy rates in Kurdish are primarily unreliable because of ongoing social stigma about using Kurdish among non-Kurdish groups and government restrictions on use of Kurdish in schools and government offices. Since the Turkish government eased its ban on using the Kurdish language in public places in the 1980s, a Kurdish television station has been created and approximately one hundred books in Kurdish are published annually (Öpengin, 2012). Given this limited number of books in Kurdish, most schoolchildren in Turkey do not have a Kurdish text-rich environment.
The Kurdish language is neither valued nor accepted in the society, schools, and authorities in Turkey generally. The major exception to this devaluing of Kurdish occurs in the east and southeast of Turkey, in the regions where Kurds live; the Kurdish language and culture have a high value in the society even if Kurdish is not allowed to be used as a primary language in schools and government offices. In addition to the general lack of value accorded to Kurdish in general throughout Turkey, there is ongoing negative attitude toward using Kurdish in workplaces (Schluter, 2010).
So since their language is not valued by the community and they are expected to give up their native language and become speakers of Turkish, the majority language of the country, Kurdish/Turkish bilinguals in Turkey are subtractive bilinguals. Therefore the arising question lies into the effect that bilingualism can hold on the learning procedure and acquisition of a third language within the borders of subtractive language environments like the one in which Kurdish speakers are immersed in other languages. Notice should be paid to the fact that researchers like the above mentioned, have mainly emphasized on the effects of bilingualism on the third language acquisition having taken into consideration that the first language (L1) has not been stigmatized. The innovation in the approach of this essay lies into the existing stigma towards the first language which changes at a great extent the nature of the existing bilingualism and the effect of this kind of bilingualism on the acquisition of English as a third language (L3).
Attention will be also given in this essay to the issue of social inequality when apparent and the effect it may have on the acquisition of languages with special emphasis on the acquisition of the third language.
Third language acquisition refers to the acquisition of a new language by learners who already acquire or are acquiring two other languages (Cenoz, 2003, p.71). Cenoz also notes, “Third language acquisition occurs generally in bilingual and multilingual contexts where languages overlap in a region because of historical and political reasons and also among individuals who need to communicate for professional or other reasons” (2006, cited in Berns, 2010, p. 219). Cenoz concludes that “bilingualism has a positive effect on third language acquisition when L3 acquisition takes place in additive contexts and bilinguals have acquired literacy skills in both their languages” (2003, p. 83). Within the context of Turkish-Kurdish subtractive bilinguals acquiring English, then we should not expect to find a positive result for bilingualism.
2.2 Factors That May Affect Second Language Acquisition
Different factors affect success in language learning: age, gender, social status, political status, ethnic identity and motivation and attitudes. These factors interact with each other in many ways but the relevant ones will be discussed separately here.
According to Carrasquillo and Rodriguez (2002, p. 30) adolescent learners are more cognitively mature than younger learners. They put forward that generally, adults and older children are more efficient and faster in learning a second language than younger learners. Children on the other hand achieve more fluency in communication since they get more exposure in the second language while they interact with their peers in the target language (ibid. 30). Lightbown and Spada (2006, p. 69) have also showed with their studies that older learners are more efficient than younger learners, at least in the early stages of language development. However, there is evidence that there is a critical period of language acquisition, resulting in younger learners being more able to acquire native fluency in a second language provided they acquire the second language prior to the age of 7 (Bialystok, 1997) which can be considered according to literature reports and findings that this is an age below the critical period of time for the acquisition of the second language.
2.2.2 Social Status
According to some studies, middle-class students outperform those from lower- and working- class students. Furthermore, working class students usually drop their L2 language earlier than middle class students; for example, more middle class students tend to continue to study the L2 language at the university (ibid, p. 204-206). The same situation is valid for L3 learners whose social background, social class and status affect the learning procedure and the acquisition of the third language.
2.2.3 Ethnic Identity
Edwards defines the ethnic identity as:
Ethnic identity is allegiance to a group- large or small, socially dominant or subordinate - with which has ancestral links. There is no necessity for a continuation, over generations, of the same socialisation or cultural patterns, but some sense of a group boundary must persist. This can be sustained by shared objective characteristics (language, religion etc.) or by more subjective contributions to the sense of `groupness`, or by some combinations of both. Symbolic or subjective attachments must relate, at however distant a remove, to an observably real past (1985, cited in Hoffman, 1991, p. 196).
Articulating the connection between ethnicity and language is very common in literature. According to Ellis (1994, p. 207-210) an ethnic group is a group of people that has the same native language, nationality and in most cases the same religion. Edwards puts forward that a group can lose its language or change its original language to another language for some reasons, but their original language may still retain symbolic value for that group (1977, cited in Hoffman 1991, p. 195).
For example, in Turkey in Diyarbakir most of the Kurdish people speak mostly Turkish because of the forced assimilation politics of Turkey, but they have not lost their Kurdish identity. This can be seen in “Newroz” (Kurdish New Year,) which they celebrate every year even if it is not officially allowed in Turkey. The Kurds also assert their identity by giving Kurdish names to their children and also introduce themselves always as Kurds. It is clear that Kurds keep their national identity and autonomy in high connection and dependence on their language awareness. They seem to have acquired both their national and language identity and autonomy long before they enter the educational system within which they are immersed in learning Turkish. So the Turkish language instead of being treated solely as a second language within the field of actual bilingualism, it turns out to be a second language whose acquisition takes place within the borders of subtractive bilingualism.
2.2.4 Political Status and its contribution to creating subtractive bilingualism
Political suppression of minorities has existed for centuries in many countries, restricting minority rights, banning the use of minority language in schools, courts and local administrations and also by neglecting local cultural traditions (Hoffman, 1991, p. 233). Kurds have their own language, culture and religion. Kurds were forced to assimilate for many years. Their existence was denied by the majority countries, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, and they were forbidden to use their own language. These states have not only influenced the Kurdish language but also Kurdish culture with these countries’ different educational systems, mass media and their distinct political cultures (ibid. 35). After 2000 the existence of the Kurds as a minority was admitted by the government in Turkey, but Kurds were not allowed to use the Kurdish language for any official purposes and they are still not granted official recognition as a minority. This political status has negatively affected the availability of Kurdish language literature, for example, making it difficult for learners to access primary texts in Kurdish (Öpengin, 2012). Even though Kurdish is now more commonly accepted than it was in the last decades of the 20th century, workers still experience discrimination if they speak Kurdish at work and tend to do so only in private conversations (Schluter, 2010).
The marginalization of Kurdish and the previous outright ban on its use in the public sector would affect learners in a negative way; simply put, with limited access to mainstream Kurdish texts or other media, learning Kurdish would primarily rely on oral tradition not only in the beginning stages of language acquisition but also during those stages when students would normally use texts to see the language and learn to read it.
2.2.5 Attitudes and Motivation
Attitudes and motivation play an important role in the language learning process. As noted by İnal, Evin and Saracaloğlu (2005) in their study of the relationship between the attitudes of Turkish high school seniors toward foreign language acquisition and their actual performance when learning the foreign language, sufficient evidence exists to support a claim of a positive relationship between students’ attitudes, that is, their affective characteristics, and their achievement in acquiring a foreign language. İnal, Evin and Saracaloğlu report that these affective factors include whether students like studying a foreign language, whether they want to be able to speak the language, and ingrained feelings they have about the value of foreign language based on factors such as maternal level of education (the higher the maternal level of education, the higher the value the student places on foreign languages).
In İnal, Evin and Saracaloğlu’s study, they found that Turkish high school seniors with positive attitudes had correspondingly higher achievement in foreign language studies than students with negative attitudes. In a similar study, König (2006) examined the attitudes of Turkish high school students and found that most of the students surveyed had positive attitudes toward acquiring a foreign language. In the study, the students wanted to be able to speak a foreign language if they were visiting that country; they wanted a high degree of proficiency in the language; they liked to meet other people who speak the foreign language; and most considered learning a foreign language enjoyable (König, 2006). König’s students were not as positive about wanting to be able to read in a foreign language rather than relying on translated works.
The level of effort that learners expend at various stages in their L2 development depends on how motivated they are to learn. The more motivated students are, the easier they will learn a new language. In the context of language learning, scholars have classified motivation into two primary types. According to Gardner and Lambert integrative motivation reflects that students learn the language to become a member of the target language community and to take part in the culture of its people (1972, cited in Baker, 2011, p. 128). For example, learners will search for opportunities to practice the language, read its literature and visit the country on holiday, which will help them to be more successful in the L2 classroom. Instrumental motivation on the other hand reflects that learners learn the language for career, educational or commercial reasons or other practical reasons (ibid. 128). So we can conclude that for some learners, the learning activation is due to the external factors in instrumental motivation while in integrative motivation learners have the sincere willingness to learn the language. For other learners, the internal and external factors may differ, such as enjoying the experience of learning a language while not actually liking the culture from which the language comes.
In König’s study (2006), the Turkish students he examined expressed more instrumental than integrative motivations. In more recent studies, Sultan and Hussain (2010) demonstrated that university-level second language learners in Pakistan who achieve a high level of proficiency possess both instrumental and integrative motivation, and a positive correlation exists between their motivations and learning the new language.
However, there is inevitably some overlap in these types of motivation. Consider a learner who likes some aspects of a foreign-language popular culture and thus wants to become fluent in the language, and who also has more pragmatic goals of finding a job in which the second language is necessary or desirable, and who has an additional motivation of emulating successful people in his or her own culture. That learner would possess both integrative and instrumental motivation, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to measure the relative importance of those factors and the extent to which they increase overall motivation.
Noels (2001) also puts forward a different perspective on motivation, using the term intrinsic motivation to describe when persons freely choose the learning activity because they perceive it as fun and enjoyable, while extrinsic motivation occurs when the locus of motivation occurs outside of the self’s pleasure in the activity. For example, a person might have an extrinsic motivation of wanting to acquire a foreign language because more financially rewarding jobs are available if one can speak that foreign language. In that sense, the instrumental motivation seems to align closely with extrinsic motivation. However, Noels also remarked that at extreme levels, extrinsic motivators can have a short-lived effect, such as when promising a reward or threatening with a punishment is used as an inducement to learning, the motivation will exist as long as the threat or punishment remains in effect, but will disappear if it is removed.
It is of importance for one to keep in mind that informants involved in the research presented in this essay may have negative attitudes. There are both positive and negative attitudes toward the L2 being learned. A learner who has positive attitudes towards the language will be more dedicated doing the homework and the activities; she may also make a greater effort to try to have contact with the language outside the classroom. Negative attitudes, on the other hand, can impede language learning because of lack of interest or having difficulties with the teacher (Ellis, 1994, p. 197-201). Furthermore, students’ attitudes can change. They may have negative attitudes at the beginning of learning a language but their attitudes change when they realise that it is good to know that language (ibid. p. 197-201).
2.3 The Role of Metalinguistic Awareness
Metalinguistic awareness is thought to play a critical role in language acquisition. Harris (1992, p. 518) defines metalinguistic awareness as “to be able to think in a flexibly and abstractly way about the language which refers to an awareness of formal linguistic features of language.” Thus to be metalinguistically aware is to be able to have a better conscious awareness about language and the use of language (Gass & Selinker, 2008, p. 359). Gass and Selinker claim that bilingual children`s metalinguistic awareness is higher than monolingual children’s (ibid p. 359). In a recent study of 9th grade Turkish-German biliterals in Hamburg, Germany, the researchers found that proficiency is needed in both L1 and L2 for their biliteracy to increase their metalinguistic awareness, and that if they do not have full literacy in either L1 or L2, then they will not be able to compare the respective grammars of the two languages and thus will not derive the benefit of acquiring good metalinguistic knowledge (Rauch Naumann and Jude, 2011, p. 414). This is an argument easily realized within the field of the acquisition of the first language. L1 is a language easily acquired through the natural process which is actually practiced practically during the learning process in which everything learned naturally is put into practice.
Jessner (1999, p. 201) suggests that metalinguistic awareness can be increased by teaching similarities among languages which learners already know and which also can help to learn a language easier. She also points out that learners with higher metalinguistic awareness understand better the arbitrary nature of sign, can handle the shortcomings in linguistic, discursive, interactional, and socio-cultural competences, have better flow in communication, etc. (ibid p. 201). On account on this, if Kurdish were valued by the community and could be taught in schools, Kurdish/Turkish bilingual learners should be expected to have higher metalinguistic awareness than Turkish monolingual learners since the bilinguals would be able to see the similarities between their background languages and compare the linguistic structures among them. Since this is not the case, we would expect to see minimal differences in metalinguistic awareness between Turkish monolinguals and Kurdish/Turkish bilinguals, which Reich, Naumann and Jude’s study showed to be possible.
2.4. The Effect of Bilingualism on Cognitive Development
The effect of bilingualism on cognitive development has been debated in the literature and has given rise to some controversy. Most of the studies before the 1960s indicated that bilingualism has negative effects on the cognitive development; it was thought that bilingualism caused children to become mentally confused but the majority of these studies had serious methodological weaknesses. In 1962 Peal and Lambert presented empirical data showing positive influence of bilingualism on children’s cognitive ability for the first time in the literature on bilingualism (Arefi & Alizadeh, 2008, p. 12). So, “the debates over the validity of these negative conclusions and the counter arguments showed that bilingualism in fact develops intellectual abilities such as translation (to reformulate a message from the source language into the target language), through the comparison and differentiation of two language systems” (Braunhausen, 1928, cited in Harris, 1992, p. 516). This has also been supported by later researchers such as Harris, who points out that “bilingualism has a positive effect on cognitive development when both languages are supported emotionally and academically by the community and the society at large, that is, when both languages are positively viewed and valued by the community” (ibid p. 516).
2.5 Cognitive Development of Bilingual Minority Language Learner
A second language is often acquired by members of a minority group or immigrants who speak another language natively. For example, as noted above, the Kurdish minority in Turkey are not allowed to have formal state-sponsored education in their own language. They learn their mother tongue Kurdish at home and they learn the majority state language Turkish as soon as they start school. Later in school they start to learn English as a foreign language. It is difficult for minority children to acquire the second language fully if they do not first achieve sufficient competence in their first language (Kurdish); furthermore, they then often experience more difficulty when they start to learn a third language (English). In this case minority children’s school achievement is lower. This finding is supported by Cummins, who states that minority language children often have difficulties in school because of not acquiring the communication skills either in their first language or in the majority language which is necessary for the school-based learning (1981, cited in Hoffmann, 1991, p. 130). Cummins also puts forward that the minority children must achieve a level competence in their first language and their second language in order to avoid cognitive disadvantages. If minority children do not receive education in their mother tongue and develop it in the school, then their progress in cognitive development will be prevented (1978, cited in Hoffmann, 1991, p.130).
Cummins (1976) developed a threshold hypothesis dealing with bilingual children`s cognitive development and education of minority children (Baker, 2011).
Type of bilingualism and the cognitive effect
At this level of threshold there are balanced bilinguals who have
have high levels in both languages and positive cognitive
At this level of threshold there are dominant bilinguals
who have neither positive nor native- like level in one
of the languages and negative cognitive effects
At this level of threshold there are semilinguals that have
low levels in both languages and negative cognitive effects
Figure 1: Diagram showing cognitive effects of different types of bilingualism (in Baker, 2011, p. 167).
2.6. The Importance of Similarities between the Linguistic Systems
SLA researchers have pointed to the importance of similarities between the linguistic systems studied. Prior knowledge is very useful and helpful for the learner in the acquisition of a new language when the new language is closely related to the learner’s L1, but when the languages are distant and not related to each other the prior knowledge would not be relevant and so useful (Ringbom, 2007). In other words, we can make transfers from our background languages and find associations and connections that will really help us to learn the new language easier. But it would be very difficult to be able to make any transfer from the background languages if there were not any similarities or some associations between the new language and the background languages. For example, both Kurdish and Turkish use the Latin alphabet, albeit with slight variations, so students who were fully literate in either or both of these as background languages would be able to transfer knowledge better to some extent when learning English, which also uses the Latin alphabet, as opposed to having to learn the Cyrillic alphabet if they were studying Russian. The students in this study are not literate in Kurdish but have familiarity with the Turkish alphabet. Jessner (1999) also points out that metalinguistic awareness can be raised in teachers and students, by focusing on the similarities between L1, L2, and L3 (cf2.3). This is also supported by Cenoz (2001) who argues that influence from the L2 is favored when it is typologically close to the L3, especially if the L1 is more distant.
The Kurdish language is a member of the Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages, which is akin to Persian, and by extension to other European languages. It is fundamentally different from Semitic Arabic and Altaic Turkish (Kreyenbroek, 1992, p. 70). In order for one to have a better understanding of the conditions under which the relationship between L1, L2 and L3 acquisition is developed in this particular case study of this essay, a general background on the Kurdish language which in this essay holds the position of the second language L2, is given in brief. The most widely-spoken dialect is Kurmanji or northern Kurdish, spoken by about three-quarters of the Kurds today, in Turkey, and the northernmost parts of Iraqi and Persian Kurdistan. Zaza, another dialect of Kurdish, is spoken in northwest Kurdistan, in a large area north and west of Diyarbakir (Bruinessen, cited in Kreyenbroek & Sperl, 1992, p. 35).
According to this explanation English and the Kurdish languages seem to be more closely related than the Turkish and English languages. So I expect that students with a Kurdish mother tongue should have a slight advantage in their acquisition of the English language because of historical similarity, compared to those students with a Turkish mother tongue, and since English and Kurdish languages are in the same language family, although they are under different branches. There are similarities in some words, such as the words for numerals, family relationships, and some animals.
2.7. SLA and TLA
The notion that bilinguals are better language learners than monolinguals has been considered in studies on the linguistic and cognitive effects of bilingualism and on third language learning which have also been noted above.
Third language acquisition shares many characteristics with second language acquisition, but it also presents differences because third language learners have the possibility of using two languages as base languages in third language acquisition while second language learners can only use their first language as their base language (Cenoz, 2003, p. 72). Third language acquisition differs from second language acquisition because prior language learning experience changes the quality of language learning (Jessner, 1999, p. 203). This causes differences in language strategies which the experienced language learner develops in contrast to the inexperienced one (ibid p. 203). Being bilingual has also been shown in the literature to have some cognitive advantages over being monolingual. Because bilingual children have two referent