Academic journal article School Community Journal

Families and Educators Supporting Bilingualism in Early Childhood

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Families and Educators Supporting Bilingualism in Early Childhood

Article excerpt


Early bilingualism is understood as the acquisition and development of two languages (L1 and L2) in a child's preschool years, either simultaneously or sequentially. Three categories of factors impact the ability to speak two languages: the individual, the family, and society. Some of the individual factors are the learner's personality, gender, motivation, and intellectual ability, as well as age at exposure to two languages and birth order, among others. The family's language proficiency and use of L1 and L2, socioeconomic status, and the parents' attitude toward bilingualism also affect the acquisition of two languages. Finally, acquiring two languages occurs in a societal context that expresses attitudes toward the minority and majority languages, determines the status of bilingualism, and affects the level of support for the majority and minority languages in the school and the community (Iglesias & Rojas, 2012; McLaughlin, 1984).

Achieving productive bilingualism in early childhood (the ability to speak both L1 and L2) versus passive bilingualism (the ability to understand L1 but only speak L2) requires attention to the child's and family's needs as well as involving the child's early childhood teachers and the community in supporting them both. This article is a contribution to the literature that examines the role of the parents in promoting the development of early childhood bilingualism and the challenges that they face. It proposes that overcoming the many obstacles that parents encounter in pursuing bilingualism for their young children necessitates the involvement and collaboration of parents and educators in the context of the community.

Literature Review

The literature on early bilingualism that informs this study includes the advantages of bilingualism, the parents' rationale for promoting early bilingualism, the strategies they use for raising their children bilingually, and the difficulties that they face based on the children's and their family's characteristics as well as society's support or lack thereof for young children's minority language. Extensive research suggests that there are advantages at being bilingual at an early age, including: cognitive flexibility, metalinguistic awareness, and executive functioning skills (Genesee, 2008; Lauchland, Parisi, & Fadda, 2012; Poulin-Dubois, Blaye, Coutya, & Bialystok, 2011; Yoshida, 2008). Other research focuses on understanding why an increasing number of minority and majority parents choose to educate their children bilingually. These studies suggest that parents value the academic, social, and economic advantages of bilingualism (Caldas, 2006; Chumak-Horbatsch, 2008; Guardado, 2011; Kennedy & Romo, 2013; King & Fogle, 2006; Park & Sarkar, 2007). There is additional research that also emphasizes that some families promote bilingualism as a way of maintaining the family's heritage and culture (Kennedy & Romo, 2013; Park & Sarkar, 2007; Reyes, 2011; Schecter, Sharten-Taboada, & Bayley, 1996; Worthy & Rodríguez-Galindo, 2006).

Further research examines the strategies that parents employ to raise their children bilingually, the role of the family in attaining the goal, as well as the challenges that they face in attaining their goal. The research examines what Schwartz, Moin, and Leikin (2011) called internal strategies that are performed at home and external strategies that support the minority language in the community. The reviewed research relevant for this study examines parents' effort to support the Russian language in Israel (Schwartz et al., 2011); Chinese (Zhang, 2010), German (DeCapua & Wintergerst, 2009), French (Caldas, 2006), and Spanish (Kennedy & Romo, 2013; Reyes, 2011) in the United States; and Korean (Park & Sarkar, 2007) and Spanish (Guardado, 2011) in Canada. The primary internal strategy of all these parents was to enforce using the minority language at home. …

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