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As a child living of one year, with American mother and Portuguese father, Jayme Simoes became fluent in both languages. However, soon after moving to Chicago, Jayme lost almost all of memory of Portuguese because English prevailed. Now married and a father, Jayme decided to raise his toddler son, Macus, to be a bilingual. Even before Macus was born, Jayme played Portuguese songs and poetry. From the child's earlier days, he began teaching him Portuguese. "At bath time, we speak in Portuguese, read him stories in Portuguese, listen to Portuguese folk music together," Jayme says. "In Portuguese, he can count, say 'hello' and 'goodbye' (ola and adeus), 'up high' and 'down low' - para cima and para baixo." (Gardner) As the world has been culturally mixed, parents' desire of raising bilingual children is getting bigger. And also, the world increasingly values the people, who are able to communicate in more than one language. Then, is early second language education desirable? In fact, childhood second language education is mandatory because many studies, examples of advantages of bilingualism and scientific evidences have proved it.
First, dealing with the necessity of learning second language may be a matter of the highest priority. A senior lecturer in education, Michael Grenfell seems fairly pessimistic about learning second language:
We know that second language learners already have 'linguistic competence' in another language, but the usefulness of this is questionableâ€¦ learners certainly try to apply their existing linguistic knowledge to the new language, yet the result often seems to be a hindrance rather than a help. (7)
This is absolutely such as thoughts like being behind the times. Today, we live in the world that we cannot live without communication between people. Language is a basic means of the communication. Therefore, in order to communicate with the people who speak another language, learning second language is not an option but essentiality.
Even in native language, there is critical period for learning language. An event of a girl proved it for sure. In 1970, a California social worker visited a home in which a parent and a daughter, Genie, lived. The social worker found out that the parent had kept her in isolated places and even abused her during childhood. Genie had spent daytime in a child's potty seat. At night, whenever she had tried to sound out, her father beat her. After she escaped from her parent, she spent a few years in extensive rehabilitation programs, such as speech and physical therapy. However, her language ability was not like normal children. As an adult, she speaks in short, mangled sentences, such as "Big wood" and "high sky"(Santrock, p187). This exactly shows when language develops.
German and Italian scientists have proved the critical period that is a necessity for a human being to acquire a language. Their studies show that childhood is the best time for studying second language as well as native language. Co-author Stefano Cappa, head of the psychology faculty at the San Raffaele Vita-Salute University in Milan says, "The younger, the better. In our investigationâ€¦ our brain seems to have the need for additional resources when a language is learned late. This doesn't happen when a language is acquired since birth or at a very early stage"(Lorenzi) And also, Mr. Cappa emphasizes that the finding does not mean like an impossible fluency of a person who has learned second language in adult age, yet it means that the person needs more effort that treats second language in a different way from the native language. (Lorenzi)
Then, does hearing more than one language in childhood cause the disorder and delay in learning language? Many speech therapists and medical doctors ask parents of children who grow up with more than one language to stop using two languages. They assert that hearing two languages will confuse the children and lead a serious problem in learning language. However, there is no evidence that is related to the disorder and delay in acquisition language. All over the world, many children who speak more than two languages are growing up well without any symptoms of the disorder and delay in language. Thus, there is no relation between hearing more than one language and linguistic problems. (Houwer)
In addition to the above instance, the differentiation ability of bilingual children between native and second language could be also arguable. The supporters of monolingual children claim that bilinguals at an early age cannot differentiate between two languages, which leads confusion. Code mixing that switches back and forth between languages can occur very often to bilingual children. There is an interesting thing that the bilingual children do. That is, when they do the code mixing, they exactly notice themselves that they are confused. Differentiating between two languages is just up to time and after all, the bilingual children get over the code mixing. Therefore, this clearly represents that bilingual children are able to make the two languages separated. (Houwer)
Study findings confirm the advantages of bilingualism in childhood. Psychologist Ellen Bialystok, Ph.D., of York University tested 137 bilingual (French & English and Chinese & English) and monolingual children (English) of 4 to 5 year olds. The study was aimed at recognizing if bilingual children have more progression in written language than monolingual children. According to psychologist Ellen Bialystok, "the children were given two word tests that assessed their understanding of the symbolic function of the letters."(qtd. in Willenz) By comparing the level of the scores that the two groups recorded in the examination, Dr. Bialystok concluded:
By four, bilingual children have progressed more than monolingual children in understanding general properties of the symbolic function of written language. By five, they are more advanced than monolinguals and bilinguals who have learned only one writing system in understanding specific representation properties, even in English. (Willenz)
Through this study, it is obvious that bilingual children not only have an advantage of using more than one language, but also outstanding ability in written language.
Benefits of bilingualism are not limited to linguistic perspective. Rhys Byrne who goes to the Sydney Japanese School speaks Japanese as well as most 10 year olds Japanese children even though he has never been to Japan. Being excited he says, "If I go to Japan one day I've got a way to speak to people,"(qtd. in Giglio) He is also familiar with Japanese cultural custom. Experts state, "Not only does bilingualism improve a child's lateral thinking and cultural awareness, they say, but it's also a distinct advantage in the local and international job markets."(qtd. in Giglio) In addition, bilingual children have cognitive agility. University of Melbourne linguistics specialist Professor Michael Clyne says, "Children become more divergent thinkers. So if they can't solve a problem one-way, they will try another,"(qtd. in Giglio) Consequently, an opportunity of learning another language allows children to have an infinite potentiality beside a language itself.
Because of specific period that enables children to learn a language and a variety of benefits of bilingualism, childhood second language education is essential. Second language education is to qualify "world citizen"(Papadaki) to children and provide them necessary skills for enjoyable life. (Papadaki) From now on, anyone who brings up children should not hesitate teaching second language to them.
Marilyn, Gardner. "Bringing Up Baby Bilingual." The Christian Publishing Society. 27 August. 2003. 28 November. 2003
Michael, Grenfell, ed. New Perspectives On Teaching And Learning Modern Languages. Clevedon, England: Multilingual matters, 2000.
John, Santrock. 6th ed. Children. University of Texas: McGraw-Hill, 2000
Rossella, Lorenzi. "Children Make Better Bilingual" 6 January. 2003. 27 November. 2003.
Annick, Houwer. "Two or More Languages in Early Childhood: Some General Points and Practical Recommendations." July. 1999. 27 November. 2003
Pam, Willenz. "Bilingual Children Understand Written Languages Sooner Than Monolingual Children, Study Finds" 12 May. 1997. 27 November. 2003.
Michelle, Giglio. "Languages as Second Nature" 16 June, 2003. 26 November. 2003.
Eugenia, Papadaki. Bilingual Education. 1 December. 2003.