“Bilingualism is the ability to speak two languages proficiently.” However, there is a problem in defining bilingualism because people with varying characteristics can be classified as bilingual. The definition of bilingualism ranges from a minimum of two languages to an advanced level of proficiency which enables the speaker to appear as a native speaker of the languages. Anyone can call themselves bilingual but this may mean the ability to communicate orally, while others can only be good at reading other languages (Hoffman, 2014). Bilingualism can be obtained by growing up using two languages simultaneously (simultaneous bilingualism). Alternatively, one may become bilingual by learning a second language, sometime after the first one. This is referred to as sequential bilingualism. This essay aims to critically analysing bilingualism and how one can be termed as bilingual.
In 2004, there was a treaty signed by the European Union including countries like the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Sweden. The agreement enabled the countries to open up their labour markets to the Polish; this enabled the Polish to flow into the United Kingdom and mingle with the citizens. The Polish immigrants were employed in small businesses, but they showed a tendency to move to better ones. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) (2014), Polish mothers had given birth to 20, 500 children by 2011 in the United Kingdom. These children grew up using two languages, that is, Polish and English (Aigadag, 2014). During the first three years of the children’s lives, they are exposed to languages spoken at home, but after going to school and mingling with other kids, they grow up using English and hence became sequentially bilingual.
According to De Houwer and Mitchel (2016), there are three learning contexts for the acquisition of language before children reach six years. These are; Monolingual, BFLA (regular input in both languages from birth), and early second language (regular input in the second language (L2) from the age of 18 to 48 months). Regular input, Power means the daily interaction with a language through normal communication or overhearing people speaking the language (Baker, 2014). During childhood, the ability of a child to communicate in one or two languages depends on parental estimates.
Studies by the ONS show that most children are bilingual if they are exposed to about 40% of one language and 60% of the other language, whereas children exposed to 80% of a single language are considered monolingual. The results also revealed that children aged between 20-30 months having less than 35% exposure to a minority language demonstrated significantly lower proficiency in what Language than their monolingual peers (Cumming et al., 2015). However, some studies on older children aged six years and above have shown that over 65% exposure to one of the languages may result in equal levels of emotional vocabulary in bilinguals and monolinguals. On the other hand, the same results also showed that expressive vocabulary could be observed even at a 25% level of interactive early exposure to a language. Nonetheless, Pearson (2017), concludes that children who had exposure to less than 20% of a language were practically monolingual.
Children from low social, and economic backgrounds experience difficulties in language. A recent government-commissioned review of services for children with language and communication needs to be, highlighted the scale of language difficulties brought about by low socioeconomic status. The difficulties gave rise to an all-party governmental group that tackled this particular issue and fashioned a further report on the links between language and speech and social disadvantage (Chiswick et al., 2013). However, though the causes of these difficulties remain unclear, the All Party Parliamentary Group report points out, they ‘may be due to neurodevelopmental problems or other impairments.' They also may be attributable to limit developmental opportunities preventing the child from learning the language properly.
Language difficulties are socially based (Chiswick et al., 2013) because they benefit from writing experiences and language use that are less availed to children living in poverty than their more privileged peers. Poor performance in language by children hence is due to limitations in children’s language surroundings and familiarity rather than inherent impairments in acquiring language.
In contrast to standard language assessments, measures of core language target basic language abilities which appear in children with language impairment, but they are less dependent on language exposure and experience. The studies confirmed that these measures are free of social, and economic effects (Debruin et al., 2016). Children only understand and produce words they have heard before, so the knowledge of their vocabulary highly depends on the experience. Receptive language is tested by telling children to point out pictures of words that they hear. Researchers carrying out the study concluded that this might undervalue speech problems as some children’s replies to test items were much more comprehensible than their natural productions. Teachers related the poor language to the extended use of dummies /pacifiers and poor dental health.
Given that all but one of our measures of performance are standard scores that take account of age, unrelated changes were not expected. However, numbers did reduce with age, this reduction in bad performance reached significance for receptive language. The level of return did not change with age, but spec production reduced as the children got older and were more exposed to more vocabulary in school. The reduction in the number of low standard scores in speech production suggested that some children in the low group catch up as they grow older. The catching up coincided with the start of schooling, hence it is possible that the school experience is responsible for the change.
Extensive research has revealed that bilingualism is obtained by the use of more than one language during childhood, the ability of a child to communicate proficiently in two languages is based on exposure to them during the early years of childhood. Bilingualism can also be influenced by factors such as poverty and one’s social background, children from privileged families have better understanding and proficiency in more than one language and have a better vocabulary, while children from low social, and economic families have poor vocabulary and may be able to speak only one or two different languages spontaneously proficiently.
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