© Borgis - Postępy Nauk Medycznych 6/2016, s. 419-423
Paulina Przybysz1, 2, *Teresa Jackowska1, 2, Łukasz Obrycki3, Piotr Hartmann1, 2
Speech development in bilingual children**
Rozwój mowy u dzieci dwujęzycznych
1Department of Pediatrics, Centre of Postgraduate Medical Education, Warsaw
Head of Department: prof. Teresa Jackowska, MD, PhD
2Department of Pediatrics, Father Jerzy Popiełuszko "Bielański" Hospital, Independent Public Health Care Institution in Warsaw
Head of Department: prof. Teresa Jackowska, MD, PhD
3Student Research Circle, Department of Pediatrics, Centre of Postgraduate Medical Education, Warsaw
Head of Circle: Piotr Hartmann, MD
Dzieci dwujęzyczne posiadają umiejętności mówienia w obu językach, które pokrywają większość znaczących obszarów ich życia, pozostając jednocześnie we względnej równowadze. Rozwój mowy dzieci wychowywanych w środowisku dwu- lub wielojęzycznym cechują pewne różnice w porównaniu z ich jednojęzycznymi rówieśnikami. Odrębności charakteryzujące dwujęzyczność, jak np. mieszanie języków, nie stanowią patologii, o ile występują w ściśle określonych okresach. Oceniając rozwój mowy u dzieci dwujęzycznych, należy kierować się takimi samymi zasadami jak w ocenie dziecka jednojęzycznego. Niezależnie od uwarunkowań kulturowych określono kamienie milowe rozwoju językowego, które obowiązują wszystkie dzieci. Dziecko powinno opanować podstawy języka do 4. roku życia, a jego mowa powinna być w tym czasie w całości zrozumiała. Dwujęzyczność nie powoduje opóźnienia rozwoju językowego. W artykule przedstawiono podstawowe różnice w rozwoju mowy u dzieci dwujęzycznych oraz odpowiedzi na najczęściej zadawane w tej kwestii pytania.
Bilingual children are children whose skills in both languages involve the most significant areas of life and are in relative mutual balance. Speech development of children raised in a bilingual or multilingual environment is different from that of their monolingual equals. The main features of bilinguals, such as language code mixing, do not account for abnormality if they appear within strictly defined periods. To evaluate speech development of a bilingual child, the same rules apply as for assessing a monolingual child. Regardless of the cultural determinants, there are specific milestones of speech development that apply to all children. Every child should master the basic language skills until the age of 4, and its speech at this age should be completely comprehensible. Bilingualism does not cause a delay in speech development. This paper presents the basic differences in the language development of bilingual children as well as the answers to frequently asked questions regarding this issue.
Speech development is a complex and dynamic process, dependent mostly on the child’s age, exposure to language and social interactions. This process is even more complex if the child is raised in a bi- or multilingual environment. In the context of the recently more frequent phenomenon of migration, the number of children exposed to more than one language since birth is constantly growing, alongside with the uncertainties of parents about multilingual upbringing, its impact on the children’s speech and social development. The paper presents the differences in speech development among bilingual children, what aspects should be paid special attention to, what is norm as opposed to what should raise concerns, as well as answers to questions most frequently asked by parents.
1. Speech development in bilingual children differs from the speech development of children exposed to only one language at the developmental age.
2. Bilingualism does not cause a delay in language development.
In order to discuss the issue and analyse the speech development process in bilingual children, it is necessary to refer to a definition of bilingualism. In specialist literature function various descriptions, including mutually inconsistent ones; moreover, parents not always understand their children’s bilingualism in the same way. Altogether, bilingualism a child is bilingual if its skills in both languages concern significant areas of the child’s life, remain in balance, and are mastered at a similar (although not necessarily equal) level in speech and writing. The skill that is characteristic for bilingual persons is the ability to function at ease in both language cultures, including such aspects of communication as gestures, mimics and intonation typical for each language, and, what follows – thinking and expressing emotions in both of languages (1).
Two models of bilingual upbringing are predominant:
– the first model – when the parents use different mother tongues and each one of them speaks to the child in their own language (the child has contact with both languages simultaneously before the age of 3, which is called parallel language acquisition),
– the second model – when the first language of both parents is the same, but the language of the environment is different (in this case, the second language is introduced at a similar scope as the first language, but mostly not before the child starts going to kindergarten or school, that is, after the age of 3 – this is successive language acquisition).
In both cases the child is able to acquire both languages as its native (provided the contact with them is strong enough before the age of 8). The difference is only in the linguistic openness. The child who acquires languages simultaneously, functions in its peer group as a monolingual child, especially since the moment when it is able to easily distinguish the languages (1-5). The level of mastering both languages is changing throughout the course of life, but generally one of the languages becomes the so-called strong language, while the other language becomes the weaker one (1, 2, 5, 6).
Speech development in bilingual children
The basic condition for language development and communication is differentiating the speech sounds coming from the environment (e.g. human sounds vs. inanimate nature) (3). The child has a natural ability to learn any language, but the condition to acquire any one of them is the ability to hear speech (1, 3, 7). A newborn is able to identify the sounds of speech, and during the first year of life this capacity is mastered for the native language. The consequence is a loss of the ability to recognize sounds that are not used while learning the native language, that is, phonemes that are characteristic for other languages. If the child has constant contact with two languages, the sounds characteristic for both of them are preserved, and the accent and typical intonation is acquired (3, 7-10).
Apart from the child’s physical conditions, the whole process of speech development also involves other areas of functioning. In order for this process not to be disturbed, it is necessary that the child’s psychic and socio-emotional development is progressing well. The process of acquiring language takes place in subsequent stages that are the same for all children, irrespectively of the particular language they are raised in. The human mind is prepared to acquire two “first languages” to the same extent as one (4, 6). That is why bilingual children reach the same milestones as monolingual ones, although possibly in a different way (tab. 1) (1, 4, 8, 11).
Tab. 1. Milestones in proper speech and language development
|Age||Monolingual children||Bilingual children|
|1 month||Crying.||No differences.|
|2-6 months||Vowel sequences (cooing, gooing, gurgling).|
|After 6th month||Vowel-consonant sequences (babbling).||Phonemes typical for the language spoken in the child’s environment.|
|1 year||Syllables: “mama”, “papa”, “boom boom”.||Starting to understand both languages, children learn words they often hear in both languages and use them synonymously, less than one new word a week.|
|1 1/2 years||Toddler speech with single-word insertions: “give”, “no”, “car,” etc.|
|2 years||Two-word sentences: “mummy give”, “so what”, “don’t want”. Speech partly comprehensible.||Children notice that the words belong to two distinct languages; they use one, simple, childlike grammar. They learn new words every day.|
|3 years||3-5-word sentences. “Vocabulary explosion”.||Children distinguish the languages, learn two gram mars. Frequent mixing of the languages. Certain children are able to translate.|
|4 years||Talking in a conversation, telling stories. Speech fully comprehensible.|
|5 years||Complex narration.|
Future tense, abstract concepts. Inventing words like “a stealer” (thief).
The first way the child communicates with the environment is cry, which then becomes differentiated, depending on the situation and needs. In the case of speech development, the first attempts to speak take place in the 3rd month of life, in the form of cooing or gurgling, that is, repeated vowel sequence vocalizations in response to the sounds of the environment. At this age the child should also turn its head or eyes towards the source of the sound. This stage is similar for all children, and even deaf children coo (1-3).
About the 6th month of life vowel-consonant combinations occur, called babbling. The child starts reacting to its name and looks at the family member who has uttered its name (1, 3). Deaf children do not babble (1). Babbling smoothly turns into the stage of canonical babbling, when the consonant-vowel sounds form long sequences that are like singing. Both stages takes place between the 6th and 10th month of the child’s life. The child at this age is able to recognise all sounds that occur in human speech and gradually starts specialising in the sounds that are characteristic for its environment – it uses words like “mama”/“dada” – nonspecifically, and understands basic concepts, like “bye-bye”, “don’t” (1-3).
Uttering first words that have concrete meaning usually takes place between the 9th and 12th month of the child’s life, not later than at the age of 18 months. A child brought up in a bilingual environment learns both languages at that time, rather using easy and more frequently heard words (1). This is an undifferentiated stage of “one language”, the same like in monolingual children, however, it consists of two languages (2). About the age of 2 children start to become aware that there are two distinct languages spoken around them (before that, since the 4-5th month, children have been creating two patterns, depending who uses the given language and in what situation, but they have not yet been aware of their distinctness), they learn words in both languages and they use them synonymously (1, 2, 4).
When the so-called “explosion of vocabulary” takes place, which happens in the child’s third year of life, children notice grammar rules and start using them. There occurs a phenomenon that is characteristic for multilingual environments, that is, of mixing languages (1, 3, 5, 6). The child borrows words from one language to the other, constructs utterances based lexical items from both languages and mixes grammatical rules, i.e. when speaking in one language, the child uses syntactic structures characteristic for the other language. At the age of four, the child is able to use the appropriate language to communicate with the given family member or in a given situation. Alongside with an expanding vocabulary, the capacity to express strains of thought using words and acquisition of grammar rules, children gradually mix the languages less and less, and are able to translate them (1-3, 6). Research suggests that the ability to identify selected semantic equivalents in both languages is already observed in children who use as few as 12 words, but full skills in this area require a total distinction of the languages (8).
Regardless of the cultural conditioning, the child should acquire the basic language skills until the age of 4, and by then its speech should be completely understandable (3).
Until about the 8th year of life it is possible to acquire another language at the same level as the native one, including the natural melody (intonation) and the ability to think and feel in this language. Language acquisition at a later age involves different areas of the brain than in childhood, thus, the typical linguistic mistakes made by adults learning a foreign language are very different from the ones made by a small child (1).
Assessment of speech development in a bilingual child
The standards for the diagnosis and therapy of speech development delays in bilingual children have not yet been specified. It is worth noting that apart from the physician’s own sensitivity and experience, the anxiety of the child’s parents is another factor that should awaken the doctor’s interest and need of examining the problem.
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