The Benefits of Bilingualism

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Language and culture diversity have always been an intercontinental barrier in the past. Now, many people have learned to acquire other languages for them to destroy that barrier and also maybe to appreciate and learn other cultures that may one day help them towards becoming universal citizens. Some people have argued that these people, known as bilinguals, are tainting their respective cultures by learning a different language and learning other cultures. As a result, these bilinguals end up being discriminated in their own native country. They become emotionally separated from their countrymen who can only speak their native tongue, creating a rift in their community. Many other issues similar to this have sprouted over the years. It is because they do not understand what it means to be bilingual and the benefits which they may receive upon acquiring a second language (L2). As the issues pertaining to bilingualism increase, it is necessary for everyone to know the tremendous benefits of becoming bilingual. “Bilingualism is the ability to speak and use two languages.” (Saunders, 1988; Hyltenstam & Obler, 1989). It also refers to the use of two or more languages in teaching, especially when one wishes to encourage learning in pupils who are trying to learn a new language. This is especially true with learning Asian or European languages, which are extremely difficult to learn. Becoming bilingual has never been considered significant in the past, most everyone thought that it was best to leave each to his own. But eventually, people, layman and educators alike, have found out and proven that this view is wrong. Bilingualism can be classified into three types. One is simultaneous bilingualism. To be a simultaneous bilingual is for an infant to learn two or more languages at the same time as its first language (L1). This type of bilingual can be divided into two groups: Those from majority ethnolinguistic communities and those from minority ethnolinguistic communities. “The language and culture of the majority are either formally or unofficially recognized as "official", while the acquisition of L2 is supported and valued. These children are likely to achieve a high degree of bilingual proficiency” (Alvarez, n.d.). In the Philippine context, this is how most Philippine-raised Chinese learn how to speak three or four languages all at once. They learn how to speak Chinese, whether Fukien or Mandarin or both, from one or both of their parents since infancy, and rudimentary Tagalog and English from household help and local friends, while most of their Tagalog and English are further developed as they grow up and attend school. Although this is true to Philippine-raised Chinese, not everyone is a bilingual, even if one lives in a bilingual or multicultural country. “The language and culture of the group is not reflected in the community at large and in most cases, is not supported or valued. These children need numerous enriched opportunities to speak and be exposed to the non-majority language in order to reach proficiency” (Alvarez, n.d.). In the American context, this is how foreigners who live there and do not know how to speak English fluently are being treated. These foreigners face discrimination most of the time because of the mere fact that they are of a different origin than that of their colleagues/classmates. The second type is sequential or additive bilingualism. To become this type of bilingual, one must have already established an L1 before learning their L2. This is typical for adults who have realized that they have a need for an L2 because of business, politics, or they just want to learn. This is also typical for those who become bilingual early in life but not during infancy. But this is not always the case. Sometimes, the opposite happens, which is called subtractive bilingualism, which happens to children only. Due to circumstances a child may face (e.g. death of one or both parents, peer pressure, emigration...
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