Tag Archives: Bilingualism

FAQ: Do children get confused learning two languages at once?

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No, children do not get confused about languages. Bilingual children speak at least two languages. Instead of confusing the two, they have to learn what language(s) they can use with each person. They start learning fairly early on (before age 2) but this can be influenced by the language situation at home. If some children go through a period in which they mix languages, this is nothing to be worried about. Eventually all bilinguals end up with at least one native language, possibly two. If parents and/or siblings use both languages in communicating with the child then the child will at first naturally assume that everybody is bilingual and that it can mix both languages when speaking with other people. It might take a little bit for the child to figure out that the daycare teacher only speaks English. But eventually it will happen (rather sooner than later). Keep in mind that no healthy grown-up bilingual mixes up languages when speaking to monolinguals.

FAQ: What is a heritage language?

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A heritage language is a language learned the same way as a native language, but it is thought of as being learned in an incomplete manner. There are different degrees to which someone can be a heritage speaker. This can range from having only passive knowledge (understanding) to very advanced fluency (passive and active).

For example, a person can grow up in a house where his or her parents speak only Ukrainian, but outside the home everybody else speaks English. If the only Ukrainian input this person gets is from his or her parents then, this speaker will most likely become a heritage speaker of Ukrainian.

FAQ: Who is bilingual?

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A bilingual speaks two languages. To what extent the speaker knows both languages may vary. One of the languages is going to be a native language. The proficiency level of the second language can range from knowing very little all the way up to having a second native language. Although technically all these speakers would be bilingual, very often the term “bilingual” is used for speakers that have a native or native-like level of language proficiency in both languages. The term multilingual is used to refer to people who speak two or more languages, being generally reserved for speakers of more than three languages.

Linguistic Link: Bilingual Children Have Better Memories

The British Psychology Society points us to yet another study about the positives of being bilingual. Read here  to find out more about research done at the Univeristy of Granada and the University of York in Canada, which presented on the benefits of raising children to be bilingual, specifically how it can boost one’s memory.

Publications: Babel No More

How do you become a master of multiple languages? That is the question central to Michael Erard’s new book, “Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Langauge Learners.” The New York Times describes it as “part travelogue, part science lesson, part intellectual investigation” and “an entertaining, informative survey of some of the most fascinating polyglots of our time.”

Here’s more information from the book’s website:

If you’ve ever tried to learn another language, you know how much time, energy, and brain power is required. Imagine a person who can pick up languages very easily. Someone who can navigate our world’s multilingual hullaballoo. Who can leap language barriers with a single bound. Who can learn without effort and remember indelibly. Such people aren’t parrots. They’re not computers. They’re language superlearners.

Michael Erard searched for these people, and when he found them — in history books and living among us — he tried to make sense of their linguistic feats and their mental powers. His book answers the age-old question, What are the upper limits of the human ability to learn, remember, and use languages?

Linguistic Link: Learn to Speak Colbertian

It is common for researchers to use artificial languages to test certain aspects of language acquisition. Linguists at Northwestern University cleverly took it one step further by referencing the world of pop culture with their made-up language, naming it after satirist Stephen Colbert, a man known for humorously coining his own words, such as ‘truthiness’. Colbertian was used to test whether being bilingual aids in learning another language, which the researchers say it does. You can read more of the details in the Chicago Sun-Times write-up. Furthermore, you can even learn Colbertian yourself!

Linguistic Link: Bilingual Benefits for Deaf Children

A new study from La Trobe University highlights yet again the importance of bilingualism from a young age. The same way that early exposure to multiple languages increases cognitive abilities in hearing children, exposure to both spoken and sign language for deaf children has positive effects on cognition and language learning. Check out this article for more details.

While you’re at it, feel free to increase your own bilingual abilities by taking a moment to learn some basic greetings in British Sign Language (BSL), which was the sign language focused on in the study.

Linguistic Link: Clever Apes on Bilingualism

Chicago public radio station WBEZ 91.5′s Clever Apes focused on bilingualism recently. Be sure to check out their segment which highlights the benefits of being bilingual. It also includes an interview with Dr. Boaz Keysar from the University of Chicago who studies language and decision making.