Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Early Bilingual Acquisition: A Case Study in Iran

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Early Bilingual Acquisition: A Case Study in Iran

Article excerpt


This study takes a look at the acquisition of early bilingualism of Persian and English languages by a five year old boy named Daniel in Iran. It aims to find out the progress he has made while acquiring these languages simultaneously, degree of his success or failure in communication in each language, his code switching and mother tongue dominancy during the five year period since his birth. The result of this study shows that early bilingualism has not caused delay either in Daniel's speech or his language acquisition process. Also it reveals that few code switchings Daniel has made are quite part of his normal language learning process and not indicative of his insufficient knowledge or his difficulty in using and communicating in either language. Moreover, it demonstrates that Daniel's mother tongue has mostly been dominant during the period although Daniel's mother has been communicating with him only in English which is not her first language. For this study, a descriptive method has been used based on his parents' observations, audio and video recordings and taking notes of his bilingual communication developments since his birth.

Keywords: bilingual, early acquisition process, mother tongue dominancy, code switching, communication development

1. Introduction and Background

It is often believed that bilingualism is the ability to speak two languages with the same fluency the native speakers of two languages speak. Bloomfieldians viewed bilinguals as those who have "native-like control of two languages" (Adebileje, 2013, p. 7). Although bilingual children may go through the same language acquisition stages as the monolingual children do, it is not necessarily the case that they should have a native-like control of two languages. Moderate bilingual researchers have not emphasized on a native-like control over the languages bilinguals are acquiring. Ogunkeye (2007), for example, viewed bilinguals as "individuals who can use at least two languages comfortably, with varying degrees of competence" (cited in Adebileje, 2013, p. 3). Similarly, others like Haugen (1953) defined bilinguals as "individuals who are fluent in one language but who can produce complete meaningful utterances in the other languages" (cited in Butler, & Hakuta, 2004, p. 114). Many other researchers (e.g., Hakuta, 1986; Macnamara, 1967; Mohanty & Perregaux, 1997) believed bilinguals show various degrees of proficiency in two languages. Genesee (2003), Patterson and Pearson (2004) believed bilingual children can produce their first words at nearly the same age as monolingual children can.

In their studies of bilingualism, Gawlitzek, Maiwald and Tracy (1996) referred to bilingual children's language mixing which is called code-switching. Bilingual children tend to code switch from one language to another. However, this is a misconception that children learning two languages simultaneously are confused or unable to differentiate between the two languages well.

Children can be bilinguals. Baker (2000) stated that "children are bom ready to become bilinguals. They are like sponges, and they can sponge up all languages provided by their environments" (cited in Qismullah, 2009, p. 305). He thought children are capable of picking up any language at home, school or the community they're living in without the impediment of their own first language development. Sometimes, bilinguals learn one language better than the other. In this case, the language a child knows better is the dominant language.

Researches on bilingualism between 1920 and 1960 concluded that bilingualism ends in cognitive deficiencies and lower IQ scores and that bilinguals are nearly three years behind monolingual children in some skills relating to verbal and non-verbal intelligence. Still years after that period, few disadvantages were also reported by scholars like Streets (1976) and Brook (2002). Streets (1976) conducted a research on rural bilingual children in Wales. …

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