Curriculum Content Supporting Language Acquisition Education Essay

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The purpose of this paper is to examine the effects of bilingualism on language development in children. Theories suggest that bilingual children are able to learn a second language after they have mastered their first or primary language. One of the reasons behind this is that the child has already developed the nonverbal concept to the word (because the child is already using it in the primary language), so only the verbal concept must be constructed. It has been shown that balanced bilinguals are more cognitively and linguistically flexible. However, unbalanced bilinguals generally show mixed results.

Bilingualism is a big issue. Although most people are not bilingual, a large minority does speak a second language. Of those second languages, Spanish is by far the most widely spoken, mainly because of the many Spanish-speaking countries and Mexico’s close proximity to California. Bilingualism is a hot topic in California's political arena as well. The move to halt bilingual education is a prime example of this. Although a large portion of the population speaks a second language, such as Spanish, there are those who trumpet the benefits of monolingualism in schools. They cite the opinion that children will be confused in school and will not be able to differentiate between the two languages.

This paper will explain the different effects that bilingualism affects cognitive processes, specifically language development. When talking about how bilingualism affects language development, we are speaking of cognitive implications. When children

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Curriculum Content Supporting Language Acquisition

learn two languages equally well, and both languages are treated with respect among parents, teachers, and friends alike, the child's cognitive development is improved. Apparently, if the child is able to use both languages interchangeably, then they are considerably more flexible in their cognitive processes. These "balanced bilinguals" as they are called, are significantly more skilled at comprehending different syntactical structures. On the other hand, what if a child does not lend equal weight to both languages and tends to rely on one more than the other (unbalanced bilingualism)?

Evidence suggests that even though the limited knowledge of the weaker language may help, the child usually experiences some sort of detrimental social reactions. For instance, if the child is primarily a Spanish-speaker and English is the weaker language, people tend to looked down upon their lack of mastery of the English language. Because English holds more prestige in our society, people generally discredit those who do not speak it as well. However, even if the child only has some knowledge of the second language, in some circumstances (most often if English is the primary language and Spanish or another language is the secondary), it can also carry more prestige. The sword swings both ways on this issue, but for the most part, it cannot do any real harm to the child.

Another question, which one can ask; if a child already knows one language, is it easier to teach a second, or is it easier if the child learns them simultaneously? According to one study, children who are bilinguals construct only one universal

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Curriculum Content Supporting Language Acquisition

nonverbal concept for a word (Genesee, Nicoladis, & Paradis 1995). That nonverbal concept is the basis for language. From that concept, the verbal concept is developed. Now, one verbal concept for each language is necessary, so if the child is bilingual, then two verbal concepts are necessary. Since the nonverbal concept is already constructed, it would take less time to learn a second language and even a third or more. All that someone needs to learn a second or other language is the verbal concept.

It is also important to examine the argument put forth by the supporters of monolingualism that children cannot differentiate between their two languages, which leads to confusion. Code mixing, as it is called when a child switches back and forth between languages throughout a conversation, is an often occurrence, even among adults. Children, though, are seen as confused when they do it. It has been shown that children, very early on, are able to differentiate between their two languages. The code mixing is just a way that they are able to communicate better. It shows more cognitive flexibility and agility, not just with language, but with abstract concepts as well (Genesee et al. 1995).

Evidence has been found that bilinguals have a definite advantage over monolinguals in their cognitive functioning. In the study, children (both bilinguals and monolinguals) were shown two pictures and then a word on a card. The card was first put under the picture it described. The child was asked what the card said. Then, two toy bunnies were introduced. They were made to "scuffle" by the experimenters, and in the process, the card was moved under the other picture. The child was then asked again

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Curriculum Content Supporting Language Acquisition

what the card said. Finally, the experimenter told the child to tidy up the mess created by the bunnies (thereby moving the card back to its original position under the right card) and asked what the card said again. The test was meant to measure cognitive consistency concerning the word on the card. It was found that bilinguals performed better than monolinguals, giving the right word more than monolinguals. The bilingual children performed so well, that the younger bilinguals scored better than older monolinguals, even though the scores did increase with age across the board.

In yet another study, a widely used standardized test was shown to underestimate the development of bilingual children. Gonzalez (1995) found that those children in fact performed above the levels they were assessed. She subjected 30 6- and 7-year-old Hispanic bilingual children of low socioeconomic status to evaluation of their scores on the IDEA Oral Language Proficiency test, scores in the Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (TONI), and parental evaluations. Gonzalez findings on verbal and nonverbal representational systems echoed those of Genesee et al, (1995). She also concludes that bilingualism has a definitive positive impact on cognitive development.

This evidence overwhelmingly contradicts the social convention of discriminating against bilinguals. They may be of a lower socioeconomic status than others may, but on the other hand, they may be more cognitively advanced. So, not only are those who discriminate against bilinguals ignorant, but they may also be less intelligent as those they discriminate against. In this case, the term intelligence used very loosely, may apply

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Curriculum Content Supporting Language Acquisition

to many different measures of intelligence, but for the most part, it, describes cognitive functioning.

From the evidence found in these studies, it is clearly an advantage to be a balanced bilingual. It can positively affect many areas of cognitive development, not just language development. Balanced bilingual children are more cognitively flexible and can easily differentiate between their two languages. They are able to conserve abstractions better and develop faster cognitively than monolinguals. Not only is it impressive when someone knows another language, but it is also advantageous. These people are more likely to succeed not only because of their abilities, but also because of their potential.