From the point of view of the psychology of learning, bilingualism is very positive, but this has not always been the case. Until the 1960s, it was thought that this compromised the intellectual development of children. It was believed that they had to simultaneously translate everything they heard and read in both languages, and that this led them to waste time and strength.
It has been proven that far from compromising learning, bilingualism is beneficial. The benefits of bilingualism are obvious. And not only for the youngest, but also for adults since learning a new language slows cognitive deterioration.
The emergence of bilingualism
Some of factors that have contributed decisively to the expansion of bilingualism are historical and cultural. In concrete terms, they are often linked to opening up and establishing new borders between countries. Here are some factors:
- The territorial expansion of some nations or cultures. This was the case of Latin, whose spread exponentially increased the number of bilingual people in this millenarian language.
- Political unification by agreement has facilitated the communication of free languages. For example, English has been established as the scientific language par excellence.
- Post-colonial situations also allowed the colonizers to impose their language in conquered villages that were forced to adopt a language that was not native to them.
- immigration. Migrants must learn another language: that of their country of destination.
- Cosmopolitanism promoted the growth of bilingual intermediaries or traders.
The importance of the mother
The relationship that is created between the mother and the baby is the prototype of the communicative exchange par excellence. For months, the mother interprets the signs that her child sends her (tears, cries, laughter, signaling). It then translates them into words and a wide range of intentions.
Little by littleadult becomes a mirror for the baby. When the mother makes a sound, the child reproduces it. When she makes a gesture, he tries to imitate him. This is how a playful exchange develops which allows the baby to develop understanding and expand the knowledge of the world in a progressive and unlimited way.
The interaction between mother and child actually determines the appearance of language and level of it in the child. The types of communicative interaction that occur between the two will change and evolve over the years and the growth of the small.
Types of bilingualism
There are two key variables in the development of bilingualism in children. On the one hand, the context in which it develops, and on the other hand the phase of growth in which the child is. According to this, there are two types of bilingualism:
- Simultaneous : both linguistic systems are learned at the same time. In general, bilingualism is achieved when parents speak two languages daily and indiscriminately;
- Successive When the child has access to a single language during childhood: the mother tongue. Once dominated, he learns a second language, for example, English at school.
Correct bilingualism is very difficult to reach. There is always a language a little more developed than the other which therefore has more importance. The more similar the mother tongue and the foreign language, the more the two will learn quickly and effectively.
Factors and conditions of bilingualism
Studies of 6-month-old infants have been conducted (Nazzi y Cols, 2009) using filtering techniques to verify infant precocity of bilingualism. The conclusions were surprising: at just 6 months old, babies are already able to distinguish between their mother tongue and a second language.
This does not mean that they are able to differentiate the phonetic details of the language, but that they can distinguish the prosodic information (intonation, rhythm …). Cela converts 6 month old babies into potential polyglots. Nevertheless, this capacity is reduced with age, because by not being considered indispensable for survival it disappears; fruit of evolution.
According to Mariscal, one must respect a series of social, cognitive and linguistic circumstances for bilingualism to be positive for the child:
- A high and sufficient level of knowledge in both languages, fruit of a prior contact between the two.
- A good development of the mother tongue and the learning of a second linguistic system at school.
- High expectations and positive attitudes of parents and teachers towards the child, while respecting its integral development.
- The existence of a good social prestige of both languages.
Cognitive benefits of bilingualism
According to many researches, children who can use two languages indiscriminately have the prefrontal cortex and dorsolateral cortex more developed ; both related to the executive functions. This allows them to be faster and more efficient in specific tasks for which they need their superior abilities.
In addition, they generally differentiate environmental stimulations better and are therefore able to easily ignore noise in the classroom. They are therefore better able to concentrate during class. These children have often a larger cognitive reserve which means that they have a mechanism of brain control that allows them to "slow down the effects of age" and thus delay their intellectual deterioration.
As we have seen, the benefits of being multilingual are not limited to language alone. Fulfill in an intercultural environment effectively in two languages is the result of a good reaction to the adaptive opportunities provided by nature.