Do Bilingual Children Experience Language Delays?


Scientists estimate that at least half of the world’s population is bilingual. This makes bilingualism a norm instead of an exception. Although bilingualism is less common in the United States than the entire world in general, about a quarter of the country’s population can comprehend a second language, and given the current rate of globalization, the number of American bilingual speakers is projected to grow in the near future. This growth triggers several concerns among which the most significant comprises the risk of academic delay. Many existent speculations maintain that bilingual children are likely to suffer language delays and record poor academic performance in school. However, such assertions are not consistent with scientific evidence. In fact, children who become exposed to two languages at a young age generally become better bilingual speakers than adults who attempt to learn a second language. This is on account of the fact that the capacity to learn language is equally applicable to two languages and bilingual learning is similar to monolingual learning in many aspects.

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The Bilingual Learning Process

            Language learning in the first year. Scientific research shows that the young brain is more capable of learning two languages concurrently. Nevertheless the learning process depends on the quantity and quantity of language children hear. A group of scientists from University of California found out that infants at 9 months of age learn to discriminate foreign language sounds with the help of a live tutor in just six hours which is the same level at which infants exposed to that language from birth record. Even so, no learning occurs if the same material is presented in audiovisual methods (Kuhl, Patricia, Feng-Ming, and Huei-Mei 9096). Therefore bilingual learning greatly relies on social interactions and quality of speech.

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            Another group of scientists found similar results when they concluded that language growth in bilingual infants is directly related to quantity and quality of speech for each language (Ramírez-Esparza, Garcia-Sierra & Kuhl 1216).  Young infants tend to record higher bilingual learning on hearing infant-directed speech. Thus, parents can boost bilingual growth of their children by exposing them to interactions at an early stage. As a whole, growth in bilingual and monolingual learning in children reflects the quantity and quality of speech they hear and infants attain better learning rates with the presence of regular, quality, social interactions with native speakers.

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Learning vocabulary and grammar. Children who get exposed to two languages at a young age begin to pronounce the first syllables and words at the same age as children who get exposed to one language. Moreover, the process of grammatical and vocabulary growth is similar to the course followed by young monolingual learners. This includes grammatical and vocabulary growth in each language as well as the kinds of words learnt. However, the rate at which bilingual learners acquire grammar and vocabulary is often described as a lag. According to Hoff at al. (2), bilinguals control a smaller scope of vocabulary than monolinguals in each language and lag behind on grammatical terms when assessed from a single language perspective. This is primarily because bilinguals split their learning time between two languages, implying they hear less of each language. All the same, they do not lag behind when both languages are taken into account.

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Acquisition of Reading skills. Although a number of studies have reported that bilingual immigrant children perform poorly in reading acquisition than their monolingual counterparts, research shows that exposure to bilingualism augments phonological awareness, which is generally the ability to identify and manipulate language sound units (Bialystok, Ellen, Gigi, and Ernest 43). Although there is a need for further research on how varying backgrounds affect literacy skills, current research reveals that access to two languages facilitates grammatical knowledge, sound-symbol awareness, as well as vocabulary knowledge.

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The Facts

            The acquisition of two languages does not interfere with cognitive and non-cognitive skills of bilingual children, such as the ability to match pictures, responsiveness to behavior, and recognition of objects. Rather, it temporarily affects vocabulary knowledge. Bilingual children may lag behind in vocabulary knowledge, but this limitation soon withdraws before the age five in most cases.

The role of parents

Scientific research confirms that early educational achievement is crucial for later academic learning outcomes. Language is a particularly significant factor since it affects the acquisition of new skills and the level academic performance. Linguists maintain that bilingual children may exhibit educational advantages over their monolingual counterparts through the alteration of understanding of specific concepts as well as the improvement of creative thinking abilities. Hence, as a child’s linguistic competence greatly depends on the home environment, parents are wholly responsible for their children’s success of bilingual development, especially at the young stage.

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             Because vocabulary acquisition remains the biggest drawback for bilingual children, parents can augment their children’s bilingual development by practicing letters with them to improve their vocabulary. Alternatively they can make plans to incorporate their children in formal childcare programs that provide similar services. 

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There is no conclusive evidence revealing that bilingualism interferes with any skills other than vocabulary acquisition. Studies involving physical, behavioral tests, and cognitive performance have shown that bilingual children perform comparably to monolingual learners. However, it important to note that children with developmental disorders often experience severe delays and therefore require intensive language and communication-adjusted therapy

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