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21st CENTURY BILINGUALISM
• How important is it that children today grow up effectively bilingual?
• What is the difference, if any, between the terms ‘native language’, ‘first language’ and ‘mother tongue‘?
• Are you raising your children within a bilingual or multilingual household? And if so, what have you observed about their general cognitive development and ability to cope with other academic studies?
• Are you concerned that if your child learns multiple languages simultaneously they might get confused or not be able to master one language?
• Are there benefits to being bilingual, and if so, what are they?
Over the next few weeks, as part of a series of posts on the topic of bilingualism, we will address the above questions and answer typical concerns parents have about their children learning multiple languages. Hopefully we can provide some interesting insights about bilingualism, with a particular focus on our little island of Singapore.
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
Prior to the early 1960s, there was a wide held belief, according to research up to that time, that bilingualism was detrimental to children’s linguistic and cognitive development. It was thought that children who were learning more than one language from a young age would spend too much time differentiating between the languages, and that consequently they would acquire less vocabulary and less proficiency in both.
However, this research was later debunked!
In short, the research methodology used in early studies has since been considered unreliable because tests carried out were unstandardised and subjective. Interviews and tests on bilingual individuals appear not to have taken into consideration important factors such as the subjects’ age, sex, socioeconomic status, level of education and national origin of their parents. In others words, there were just too many assumptions!
In 1962 carefully conducted scientific research by Elizabeth Peal and Wallace E. Lambert, concluded that bilingualism does not impair cognitive development but actually enhances it instead. And in subsequent research over the past five decades have had even more positive conclusions about bilingualism(More about these in later posts!)
FUN FACTS : Did you know…?
• There are estimated to be about 7000 living languages in the world.
• Chinese is the language spoken by the most people in the world, with an estimated 1.2 billion Mandarin speakers.
• Contrary to what you might think, English is not the 2nd most spoken language across the globe – Spanish is. English comes in 3rd! In fact, it is estimated that 75% of the world’s population DO NOT speak English.
• India has 427 languages though only 22 of them are designated as official languages. The country that boasts the most languages spoken however is Papua New Guinea with a whopping 820!
• The official languages used by the United Nations are English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Arabic.
• The scientific study of languages is called Linguistics. This field includes the study of grammar, syntax, and phonetics, as well as specific branches with some very long names: sociolinguistics, dialectology, psycholinguistics, computational linguistics, comparative linguistics and structural linguistics!
• Bilinguals have more grey matter in their brains than monolinguals. (Whoo Hoo!)
• The language learning process is mainly conducted by the left side of our brain, which controls logic, reasoning and mathematics. This alone though does not make for the most proficient linguists (as we will discover later).
• Do you know what a polyglot is? A polyglot is a person who knows and is able to use several languages which means that if you are bilingual you are also a polyglot! According to the Guinness World Records, the person who currently holds the title of being able to speak the most number of languages – 59 – is a man called Ziad Fazah. However when tested on a TV programme, he fell somewhat short, as it appeared he did not understand many of the more common languages spoken! Oops!
In our next post in this series about bilingualism, we will highlight some of the main concerns parents seem to have about their child learning multiple languages and delve into a little bit of the science behind the facts.