Notes on Bilingualism and Second Language Acquisition (SLA)
Terminology: it is customary in studies of multilingualism to refer to a person’s first language or native language as “L1” and a person’s second language as “L2”
Common Myths about Bilingualism/SLA
* Speaking two languages to a young child will confuse them. * Speaking two languages to a young child will slow down their development. * Supporting L1 takes away from acquiring L2.
* Younger children are better at getting L2 or becoming bilingual.
All of these are false – and true, or at least a nugget of truth is in them. In order for us to understand their factual basis, we must first make some distinctions, because not all bilinguals are the same!
Factors or dimensions in bilingualism and SLA:
* Sequential vs. Simultaneous Acquisition
* Compound vs. Coordinate Input
* Dominant vs. Balanced Bilingualism
* Contextualized vs. Decontextualized language use for L1 and L2
Truth behind the myths
Linguistic Confusion – this occurs only for simultaneous acquisition, and only for a few months early in the life of a child. It is not a large degree of confusion, and it quickly is overcome (and some researchers propose that it is never really confusing at any stage of acquisition).
L1 takes away L2 – this is only true in the sense that INPUT MATTERS, and the amount of input of L2 is important – how much L1 is not important. However, the better foundation of L1, the easier time people have getting into L2, at least in the early stages of L2 acquisition in terms of oral language. And literacy skills transfer even more easily, so literacy acquisition in L1 clearly benefits literacy acquisition in L2.
Younger is better – the truth is that older is faster, but younger goes further in acquisition; in other words, younger is slower but farther, older is faster but not as far, in terms of fully acquiring a language in a “native-like” productive way.
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