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Language and Cognitive Aspects of Child Bilingualism

Research Observations and Classroom Applications


Maria Andreou

This book investigates how bilingualism affects children’s language, cognitive and narrative abilities. The data sample derives from 209 8-12 years old bilingual children, in three different targeted languages (Greek-English, Greek-German, Greek-Albanian) along with 100 monolingual Greek children. The children completed baseline and experimental tasks measuring their vocabulary, grammar, cognitive skills, and narrative production abilities. The outcome of this work reveals that learning to read and write in two languages is beneficial for the development of language and cognitive skills. A strong case can be made to the growing bilingual communities in Germany and beyond to provide literacy training in both languages within mainstream schools, afternoon classes outside of the curriculum or in community schools.

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2 Theoretical background


It has been argued in many studies (e.g., Baetens-Beardsmore 1982; McCardle and Hoff 2006a) that the term bilingualism is not well described or understood, as its definition is loosely presented. Meisel (2006) claims that a child can be considered bilingual when s/he grows with two or more languages from birth or soon afterwards. Bloomfield (1933: 55), on the other hand, chooses a narrower perspective in defining bilingualism as the ability to achieve “native like control of two languages.” Lim, Liow, Lincoln, Chan and Onslow (2008: 389) consider bilingual anyone who can interact in two languages using the oral and written form, regardless of whether performance reaches the native level or not.

However, in order for a child to be considered bilingual, there have been a number of alternative possibilities suggested, such as (see Bialystok and Barac 2012): 1) the child must use two languages throughout (childhood, adolescence, adulthood) at home and at school; 2) one language exclusively at home and to begin the second one at school age; 3) two languages at home, one at school; 4) one (or more) language at home and a different one at school; 5) one language at home and school and an additional one in adulthood.

For similar reasons, many researchers who have studied monolingual and bilingual children claim that examining bilinguals is a complicating procedure, since in bilinguals there is an individual variability over and above the individual variability of monolinguals. For instance, a typical factor that can create...

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