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Early Bilingualism and Multilingualism

Parents’ and Caregivers’ Attitudes and Observations

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Zofia Chłopek

The author investigates the development of children raised bilingually or multilingually. Parents and caregivers completed a questionnaire, providing information on 36 children growing up with two or more languages. Their responses indicate that bilingual and multilingual children usually develop as well as their monolingual peers, and sometimes even better. Some drawbacks of early bilingualism or multilingualism, such as a slight delay in the onset of speech production or asymmetrical language competences, are compensated for by several benefits of early acquisition of two or more mother tongues and early contacts with two or more cultures.

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1. Early bi-/multilingualism – current research outcomes

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Nowadays, the knowledge of languages is an indispensable skill for many people all over the world. Apart from their mother tongue, they often learn at least one foreign language – at school or university, at a language course, at private lessons, even at nursery school. Furthermore, more and more children the world over are raised bilingually or even multilingually (Tucker 1998; Tokuhama-Espinosa 2003a; Aronin and Singleton 2008). Even in essentially monolingual countries, more and more parents and caregivers ask themselves whether they should raise their children bi-/multilingually. They are typically worried whether the children will be able to cope with the double or multiple challenge of language acquisition and whether it will impact negatively on not only their mother tongue development, but also their cognitive development. There may be cause for concern if one realizes that a bilingual child must master two language systems (and a multilingual child even a few language systems) at the same time as a monolingual child masters only one. This means that the amount of stimuli in each language is necessarily reduced – the more languages, the less contact with each of them. This also means that two or more languages must be “squeezed” into the same area in the brain in which a monolingual mind stores only one language (Hernandez et al. 2001; Goral, Levy and Obler 2002; Paradis 2004; Perani and Abutalebi 2005; Klein et al. 2006; Gandour et al. 2007). ← 17 | 18 →

Figure 1: Early monolingualism versus multilingualism – a multilingual...

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