In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the concept of bilingualism and its influence on individuals life. Bilingualism is usually defined as the ability to speak two or more languages. As the world develops and boundaries become less vivid due to the technological progress and spread of the Internet, bilingualism expands. There is a growing appreciation of bilingual individuals and their importance in the development and growth of any diverse society. Numerous personal and social benefits occur from knowing more than one language. Over the recent years, various studies were carried out aimed at the understanding of the importance of bilingualism. Some people become bilingual in childhood, and some learn to speak another language fluently later in their life. Overall, the process is rather dynamic and fluid, depending on multiple factors and individuals experiences. The interesting thing about bilingualism is that it is a unique experience for each individual. Multiple researches were carried out in order to determine the main advantages of being bilingual. This research paper seeks to address the following: the concept of bilingualism and connected research, the relation betwixt age and bilingualism, and the outcomes of children being bilingual.
Bilingualism is usually defined as individuals ability to speak two languages fluently or native-like. However, there is no one universal definition because it has individual features for each person. Solely, from the biological perspective, the left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for individuals language skills (Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007). Numerous experiments were carried out in order to determine the precise localization of the language in the brain. Even though the language functions are located in the left hemisphere, it is impossible for the language to exist without the involvement of the right hemisphere (Pinel, 2011). Both sides of the human brain are equally successful in dealing with the language perception and production, but in different ways. Language is a complex conception that consists of various cognitive notions, and it is not lateralized in only one hemisphere. The language localization in the brain does not usually depend on the brain lateralization. Different areas of the brain are active while the individual is involved in different activities related to language (Pinel, 2011).
One of the most common aspects associated with bilingualism is language proficiency and competence. Considering the topic, it is important to understand how the individual becomes bilingual and to what extent they are fluent in the language. There has been discussions concerning to what extent should the individual be proficient in another language for them to become bilingual. When trying to understand bilingualism, it is important to realize that one bilingual will not act as two monolinguals, unless they are simultaneously exposed to two languages since infancy (Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007).
A bilingual person usually is well acquainted with the language and is good at four basic skills such as speaking, writing, reading and listening. There are still discussions concerning the measurement of individuals competence. Depending on the level of the acquired skills, bilinguals are divided into categories. Balanced bilinguals are the ones that are fully competent in both languages in all surroundings. However, certain scientists argue that balanced bilingualism is almost not possible to achieve because there still would be certain aspects and backgrounds of the second language that would not be familiar to the speaker. Dominant bilinguals are those, who have dominant knowledge of one language, and the knowledge of second is subordinate. Recessive bilinguals are those, who are in the process of losing their competence in one of the languages because of its rare usage. Limited bilinguals are the ones that are not fully proficient in first and second languages. For example, the low levels of competence might manifest themselves in the incorrect grammar or vocabulary usage. These categories might be of great usage in further study of bilingualism (Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007).
The aspects of acquiring second language skills differ from individual to individual. Usually, the bilingual experience is unique to everyone some grow up in bilingual families, some obtain the knowledge of the second language at school or university, some are forced to learn a new language due to their working environment, travels or living in a foreign country (Bialystok, 2006). Depending on the environment, there are different factors that determine the type of bilingualism and its further development. If a child acquires language skills in natural environment, it is considered a primary context. In this case, language is obtained via the family or the community and sometimes is believed to be of greater importance. A secondary context occurs if a child acquires language skills within formal environment (Ng & Wigglesworth, 2007).
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Certain researches have proven that children posses an innate capacity to obtain the rules of any language, and this ability weakens by adulthood. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 21% of children between ages of 5 to 17 usually speak a language other than English at home. What is more, the amount of English language learners in the U.S. schools becomes higher over the years, and it keeps growing (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). This proves the fact that more children are being raised as bilinguals in the U.S. today. Sometimes, as it was stated above, bilingualism occurs due to the external conditions, but sometimes it is an individual choice. According to the recent research, a child might become bilingual in two ways, namely, via simultaneous acquisition or sequential acquisition. Simultaneous acquisition develops when a child grows up in the bilingual family and is exposed to two languages since birth, therefore learns them simultaneously (Flynn, Foley, & Vinnitskaya, 2005). In this case, bilingual children follow the same stages of language development as monolingual children. What is more, they are able to differentiate betwixt the languages and switch them depending on their interlocutor. Sequential acquisition develops when a child is acquainted with the second language after the first language skills have been established already (Flynn, Foley, & Vinnitskaya, 2005). Usually, the first language of a child is a good basis for the study of the second. With the help of associations and similarities, he or she is able to get a sufficient knowledge of the second language.
There has been a considerable debate concerning the age of the language acquisition and the possible outcomes depending on it. More and more researchers are pointing that the earlier the language is acquired, the higher level of proficiency the individual will have. It is believed that children that learned the language before the age of six are more likely to achieve a native-like proficiency (Poulin-Dubois, Blaye, Coutya, & Bialystok, 2011). However, due to globalization, there is a question of what are the exact features of the native speaker. Some researchers believe that it is useless to teach a child a new language before the age of two because the brain is not yet fully developed. However, at this time, the brain is more flexible and perceives more than when the child is older. Therefore, it might be concluded that it is easier for a child to obtain various second language skills efficiently in early age and be able to differentiate between the native language and the secondary one. The brains flexibility and incomplete lateralization make it easier to acquire a second language. It is believed, that there is a critical point in the brain development, after which it becomes harder for a child to learn a second language on a native-like level (Poulin-Dubois, Blaye, Coutya, & Bialystok, 2011).
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Due to the above presented facts, the majority of parents and/or educators believe that the earlier the child begins to study new language, the better. If the child starts to learn a second language in the early age, the outcome will definitely be greater. For example, children are more likely to have an authentic accent; they are able to learn faster and more effective despite the lack of background knowledge of the world. Children are more curious and willing to discover new things without regard of the previous experience or the desired result. Unlike adults, they do not take the language skills for granted (Bhattacharjee, 2012).
On the average, a child before the age of six is able to learn up to ten new words per day, sometimes, even after hearing the word once. Children tend to less serious violations in the grammar or sentence structure of the second language (Bhattacharjee, 2012). Despite the popular concern, they do not usually mix and confuse the two languages, as they are able to choose which language to speak depending on the interlocutor. Bilingualism in children does not result in development delays; in fact, it has proven to be rather beneficial (Bhattacharjee, 2012).
Recent research shows that becoming a bilingual in an early age is beneficial to the individuals development. Some aspects of cognitive processing are positively influenced by the process of learning a new language. Bilingual children are proven to perform better than monolingual children do in certain phonological aspects, in the amount of learned vocabulary and the speed of its retrieval. By the way of illustration, bilingual children usually have better short-term and verbal memory. Most studies in the field of bilingualism in children have focused on the cognitive advantages (Poulin-Dubois, Blaye, Coutya, & Bialystok, 2011). For example, bilingual children are more likely to have better attention, focus and inhibition because of their ability to control their knowledge of two languages and switch them. In addition, children who can speak more than one language are proven more creative than their monolingual peers and are able to solve more complex problems. Bilingual children tend to outperform their peers in various intelligence tests. This leads to a conclusion that bilingualism might lead to a greater intellectual flexibility (Marcos, n.d.).
Some researches even consider that bilingualism enhances the capacities of the brain. The ability to simultaneously manipulate various amounts of information in order to choose and make it active makes brain functions stronger and more efficient. Furthermore, bilingualism might be of great assistance in the future by reducing individuals chances of getting various mental illnesses such as Alzheimers disease, Parkinsons disease and schizophrenia (Marcos, n.d.). Bilingualism is like a constant exercise for the brain because it has to keep both language systems active and efficiently working. Therefore, the language and cognitive mechanisms of the brain strengthen. There are also physical changes in the brain such as the increase in the amount of grey and white matter. Bilingualism stimulates neurons and reduces the possibility of cognitive decline in the future (Genesee, 2009).
Despite the cognitive benefits, there are certain positive psychological outcomes as well. For example, bilingual children tend to show lower levels of anxiety, higher self-esteem, and they usually have reduced negative behaviors; therefore, children are less exposed to stress (Gillette, 2013). This comes from the childs ability to understand and perceive not only more languages but also more cultures. This multicultural competence is one more aspect that makes bilingual children different from their monolingual peers. What is more, children that are fluent in more than one language usually are more socially active and have better interpersonal skills (Genesee, 2009).
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The application of the topic of bilingualism in everyday life is appealing to me personally. I am bilingual, and I have gained plenty of various experiments connected with it. So many people around are able to speak two or more languages, and it is so interesting for me to understand how they have learned the language, at what age, and what benefits they gained. Bilingualism is more than just the knowledge of two languages it is also the knowledge of cultures. What is more, bilingualism is connected to one of the most interesting sciences psychology. Language functions originate in brain. However, the influence of bilingualism on mental, psychological and emotional health has not yet been fully researched. Therefore, there is a broad field of study to carry out. Now, after learning about the topic of bilingualism, I would definitely be more attentive towards my bilingual friends.
This paper has discussed the main features of the concept of bilingualism and appropriate research, the relation betwixt age and bilingualism, and the outcomes of children being bilingual. More and more people are learning to speak the foreign language because of different factors. The linguistic flexibility decreases with age; therefore, the prime time for studying a new language is childhood. Many features exist concerning the age and the language perception. The researches have proven that knowledge of two or more languages is very important and useful to the brain because it serves as a constant exercise and helps to keep the both hemispheres in hood shape. The topic of bilingualism is not yet fully researched, but it is applicable and efficient for the everyday usage, and psychology studies as well.