Acquiring a second language is form of bilingualism

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The result of the acquisition of a second language is a certain state of bilingualism. In this work by first approaching the said bilingualism this should contribute to a better understanding later of the acquisition of the second language.

Cummins and Swain (1986) demonstrated that the results of studies about the advantages and disadvantages of bilingualism are contradictory. A positive aspect is that bilingualism is in itself an advantage. The strong points in general, are associated with children of a majority linguistic group, and the disadvantages with the subjects belonging to groups of the minority language.

Another factor related to that mentioned above is the valuation and the prestige that a determined community concedes to the L1 and L2 (Fishman, 1976; Swain, 1978 and Tucker, 1977). The positive results are related to situations where both languages receive a similar valuation in social and economic fields.

An additional factor to keep in mind is the socio-economic background. As a general rule, children from a higher social and economic class tend to perform better in tests such as those of linguistic skill, sensitivity to feedback clues, divergent thinking, formation of concepts and verbal and non-verbal intelligence.

In Paulston's opinion (1975), children of humble social origins have a tendency to perform worse in tests similar to those already mentioned, however, they will never arrive at the extreme of those who despite coming from a similar environment, form part of unilingual groups (Bruck, Jakimik and Tucker, 1976).

Based on this analysis there have been authors (Cummins, 1976, 1978; Toukomaa and Skutnabb-Kangas, 1977) that have suggested that perhaps threshold levels of a higher competence exist, which a bilingual child must reach to prevent cognitive disadvantages and before being influenced by the aspects that are beneficial for their cognitive functioning. In other words, the grade of confidence achieved in both languages by bilingual children, may act as an intermediate variable for their cognitive functioning.

Hamer and Blanc (1989) are in agreement with the theory that separate linguistic contexts (for example, one language, one person) facilitate bilingual development, while mixed contexts prevent the necessary differentiation. However, this theory is still awaiting empirical confirmation. Both consider that the role of social networks and linguistic models facing the child are more important.

The same authors also review investigations into the neuropsychological development of bilinguals. Although the empirical results are not completely clear, they concluded that, especially the age and the context where the acquisition takes place are important factors in the process of lateralization.

Conducted in the same field is research attempting to ascertain how bilinguals process information. However, this will not be a matter for comment here given its limited relation with the investigation in the present work. Nevertheless, another matter will be included which is related to the treatment of information, as in the experiment of this present piece of work; the maximum exposure hypothesis.

This hypothesis has been proven wrong by lots of evidence that has been offered up from various different investigations. This maximum exposure hypothesis suggests that development of academic skills in English is directly related to language exposure, which means, students from a minority language require maximum exposure to English if they want to have academic success.

An area where older pupils do not have an important advantage is pronunciation. This appears to be one of the less cognitively demanding aspects, as much in L1 as in L2.

In a piece of work, by Cook and Brown (described by Cook, 1991: 52), the latter researchers discovered that the speed of speech in English pupils studying French was related to the amplitude of the working memory span of both languages. In Cook's (1991) Articulatory Loop model, the speed of speech is linked to the working memory described by Baddeley (1986). People who speak more quickly have a better lapse in this type of memory. Chinese words are pronounced quicker and the Chinese possess a bigger lapse: Welsh words however, are longer and the lapse of the Welsh is much shorter. Therefore, apart from age-considerations, this class of memory is also connected to pronunciation.

I.3.2 Bilingual Education

The programme in the school plays a fundamental role in determining if being bilingual has more advantages than disadvantages. Positive results are associated with immersion programmes while negative ones are related to submersion programmes.

Immersion refers to "immersion programmes", a form of bilingual education which means children speaking only one language enter a school where the second language is used in teaching. For example, Canadian schools for Anglo speaking children, where French is the classroom language. Submersion refers to "submersion programmes", another form of bilingual education in which the L1 used only belongs to part of the pupils. This occurs in many countries where children of immigrants attend schools where the teaching is in the language of the host country.

In an evaluation of pupils that studied under a French immersion programme it proved that in reference to English and study skills, they were the same or better than other similar English groups. In maths and science, no differences were found with the comparison groups. In some French tests, these pupils in the immersion programme obtained results that were comparable with natives of this language.

The results of a long term evaluation EFI (Early French Immersion) of the CBE (Carleton Board of Education) and the OBE (Ottawa Board of Education) and others (Andrew, Lapkin and Swain 1980; Genesee, 1979) suggested two important conclusions:

It is possible to develop, through programmes with a relevant FSL design (French as a Second Language) a considerable level of bilingualism without worrying about any long term negative effect in: cognitive increase, skills in the first language or academic performance. There are indications that signal its positive effect in the development of skills for the first language.

It was not possible to appreciate the positive results until the immersion programme was well advanced, which stresses the importance of long term evaluation. It can be seen how pupils with English as a second language take between five and seven years in reaching the average levels of their class, which refers to academic and cognitive English skills.

These results have made specialists conclude that interpersonal communication skills differ a lot from the cognitive/academic level. This is very similar to the process that pre-school age children are subjected to when they learn their first language (Donaldson, 1978). These interpersonal communication skills offer little information about the academic ones.

Hamer and Blanc (1989), state that sufficient exposure to the language in school is essential for the posterior development of academic skills. However, as or perhaps even more important is that pupils learn the academic input to which they are exposed. In minority language students this input is directly related to conceptual attributes that develop as a result of exposure to L1.

These results do not mean that the exposure to a language is insignificant but imply that the cognitive-academic skills in L1 of pupils, whose mother tongue is a minority, are as important as exposure to the L2 for the development of these same skills in L2.

Hamer and Blanc (1989) say that under a poor academic performance lie social-cultural, social-structural, and problematic social-psychological factors more important than bilingualism. However, given that these factors vary between communities, it is not possible to propose a single solution; each case must be separately evaluated.

Nonetheless, Hamer and Blanc (1989) have identified some characteristics of the programmes, which have proven their success. All teach the L1 before or simultaneously with the L2. Equally, this motivates the pupil to learn or stimulates the linguistic concepts through the L1, in this way achieving a better level of L2.

Bilingual education is a necessary condition but it is not sufficient for a child of a minority language. The loyalty to his community and active use of the L1 at home are equally important.

In the case of homes with low socio-economic backgrounds or in those where the language used is discredited by its own members and others, it seems to be advantageous to start education with the L1 of the child. On the other hand, initial instruction in the L2 gives a more beneficial result where the language at home is the majority language, it is valued in the community and it stimulates the capacity of reading and writing at home (Swain and Bruck, 1976; Tucker 1977).

Points to stress due to their special significance are: the long term evaluation in order to appreciate the academic and cognitive results of bilingual education needs a period of 5-7 years; the importance that socio-cultural, socio-structural and social-psychological factors have in the origin of poor academic performance and the transcendence of the family context (in-group) of the home.

I.3.3 Social-Psychological Aspects

The pure vastness of this area obliges us to limit ourselves only to the most important aspects. Hamer and Blanc (1989) are of the opinion that a bilingual does not develop two separate cultures, but integrates them into a single identity. The result depends on the socio-cultural conditions where this integration takes place. If the community finds conflicts and exclusivity of both cultures, they can result in emotional disruption such as that of "anomie".

The hypothesis of cultural independence by Clement (1986) proposes that an individual must firstly identify himself with his L1 group, before he can do this with an L2 group. This order is an indispensable requisite for achieving the skills of a native in the L2.

Hamer and Blanc (1989), observed that social factors are, in the majority, responsible for consequential negatives ('subtractive' bilingualism), while the development of a cognitive function of the language in a favourable social environment results in an additive bilingualism.

Various theories have been developed with the intention of clarifying the relationship between social factors and the acquisition of the L2. Schumann (1978a) commented that people vary in the way that they adapt to the culture of the L2 of the society in question. In the Acculturation Model, those that maintain a distance from the culture of the L2 develop only a basic skill in this language. By contrast, others develop a high level and according to Schumann the social factors are responsible for the intensity of the contact with the L2. Moreover, in his longitudinal study (1978b), Schumann demonstrates that people who have acquired a language in a naturalistic environment often do not reach native domination.

One of the achievements that the results of determined investigations emphasise is the probability that a bilingual individual contributes in reducing the stereotypes maintained by speakers of another language and its community.

Cummins and Swain (1986), propose that the academic difficulties detected in children with English as a second language, are caused by using this language in the home. The use of a type of imperfect English can have disastrous results. Parents who do not feel comfortable with English also spend less time with their children and consequently their schoolwork.

A longitudinal study carried out in England (Wells, 1981), shows that the agility of linguistic development in children is significantly related to the quality of their conversations with adults. The literary knowledge that children have when they enter school is strongly related to the standard of reading they obtain there.

In inter-group relations the language will vary in function of its importance as a symbol of identity and conform to the power relations between both ethno-linguistic groups.

Two studies by Beebe (1977) and Beebe and Zunengler (1983), demonstrate the existence of another factor inside the social-psychological perspective, the sensitivity that the learner presents in front of its interlocutor.

This has been commented on in more detail in the Speech, or Communication Accommodation theory proposed by Street and Giles (1982) to explain the natural dynamic of variation inside conversations. This is supported by Thakerar, Giles and Cheshire (1982). In the latter investigation, these researchers studied conversations between English nurses of different categories and found that those nurses belonging to higher spheres at work reduced the speed of their speech and used a less standard model. The nurses of an inferior range increased the acceleration of their speech while at the same time using a larger number of standard forms. The researchers state that this study demonstrates that the nurses were converging to the stereotype of speech of their interlocutor.

More recently, the integration of various theories about the processes of acquisition into only one has been attempted (described in Young and Perkins, 1995). The "cognitive/conative" model has been developed in fields of educational psychology and educational measurement by Mislevy (1993) and Snow (1990) and is based on numerous empirical investigations. Five types of mental framework are recognised: mental structures, process skills, learning strategies, auto-adjust functions and orientation through motivation. The acquisition is defined by a change in one or more of these. Each one can be characterised by its initial state, its final state and the development between these states. Additionally, this model explains the individual differences between the processes of acquisition of a second language. Moreover, it suggests a vision of proficiency in a second language, following which the advanced participants do not only obtain more of what the beginners lack but also that the underlying factors in both are different and interact in a different way.

The key is to see the current state of the research into acquisition of the second language from the advantageous perspective that it is the highest theory of learning in humans.