When a child learns two different languages from their date of birth, it is a form of bilingualism which is called simultaneous bilingualism. The learning prosess of both the languages needs to take place before the age of two, and until the final learning stage is reached. This in order for it to be called simultaneous bilingualism. Both languages are considered as first languages. At least according to Annick De Houwer.
A common misunderstanding when we are talking about bilingualism is the idea that bilingular children will have “language handicaps” in comparison to monolingual children. The early research from the beginnning of the last century that prooved the connection between bilingualism and a lower intelligence level, contained several flaws. The children in the different language groups also came from different social classes. The bilingular children in this research often came from immigrant families who were less educated.
This is in strong contrast to recent research. Now, linguistic researchers have found evidence supporting the opposite allegation. Simultaneous bilinguals have an advantege over the one native language-speaking, in many linguistic areas. Whether to believe in this or not is up to each individual. A lot of professionals in psychology are still in belief that bilingualism may be damaging for the cognitive development of children. Coming from authority persons, many bilingular families have chosen to start speaking one language only, fearing that their children could be harmed linguisticly.
More than half of the worlds population has two native languages. This is common all over the world, here in Norway as well. Among the Sami people, for instance. In addition to their own language, they have had to learn norwegian as well. In the US there is in fact over 300 spoken languages. Children with parents with different native languages, or who have a family with origin from a different country, often learn both of the languages in an early age. The most common bilingual composition in America is English and Spanish. Some of the childres speak Spanish at home, while English is used everywhere else. In the kindergarden, at school, in stores and supermarkets.
One of many questions that comes up when we talk about bilingual language acquisition is whether or not the language development is the same for monolingual children and bilingual children. There are two completely different kinds of for example vocabularies and syntactical systems that needs to be learned, in comparison to learning only Norwegian. If we compare the Spanish, the Norwegian and the English phrase: “I do not like mondays” we easily see that the sentence structures are completely different from one another.
* No me gustan los lunes. (Don’t I like the mondays)
* Jeg liker ikke mandager. (I like don’t mondays)
* I do not like mondays.
It seems likely that learning the differences in two languages is quite challenging, when these kinds of differences can be very confusing.
The study of bilingualism has been going on in almost 100 years now, with the first official study in 1913. A boy named Louis learned German and French simultaneously. He learned both of the languages in normal speed, and did not seem to be confused. The reason of this could be that his parents only used one language talking to him. He knew which language to talk in with dad, and which one he should use talking to mom. This theory do not seem to be quite certain in its conclusion. When his sister Hildegard was born and started learning German and French, she used some of the words from both languages, even though the parants used the same methods now as they did with Louis. One parent – one language. Still, many would say that Hildegard was monolingual because of this confusion.
Studies like this are still important to the study of bilingualism today. There are theories about bilingualism, such as children learning two native languages (BFL-learners) goes through a monolingual stage at first, that bilingualism strains the language learning capacity of a child, that it delays the development of languages. These cases could lead to the risk of failure or delay academicly speaking. Bilingular children could also have problems identifying with the languages, and be socio-cultural misfits.
Despite this, the benefits of having two native languages are so many, better ability to learn new words easily for instance. They advantage from this in the job market, being able to speak two languages is extremely beneficial for the career opportuneties. The cultural benefits from originating from two countries are irreplaceable. Bilinguals can enjoy litterature, music and folk stories from different cultures. Think about the amount of books they have available. They have advantages in thinking, because they have more words for everything. This helps develop creativity and flexibility in their thinking. It also enhances the mental development. In fact, bilinguals have better scores at IQ tests than monolinguals. The advantages are so many.