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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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3. Discussion and conclusions

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The present research study was based on the questionnaires completed by parents/caregivers of children raised in early bi-/multilingualism, i.e. children who had had regular contact in authentic communication with two or more languages before the age of five. Thirty-one parents/caregivers provided information on thirty-six children. Originally the group of respondents was bigger, but thirteen children whose language development took place in exceptional circumstances were excluded from the study (however, the comments of these children’s parents/caregivers were also taken into consideration).

Twenty-nine children had two native languages and seven children had three or four native languages. Many children were not balanced bilinguals or multilinguals, which is not surprising and reflects the nature of bi-/multilingual ability, or multicompetence (section 1.3.1). In addition to their native languages, fourteen children knew one non-native language.

For the purposes of the analyses, the children were divided into four groups: Group 1 – children aged 2–5 (8 children); Group 2 – children aged 5;1–7 (7 children); Group 3 – children aged 7;1–11 (12 children); Group 4 – children aged 11;1 and older (9 children). The division was based on the current knowledge regarding children’s linguistic development (section 1.2) and on the stages of cognitive development as described by Jean Piaget (1966 [1936], 1999 [1937], 1964).

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