Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism

Last Updated: 09 Apr 2020
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In America, there is a predominant growth in multiple ethnicities and cultural backgrounds; leading to the usage of multiple languages in the American culture. There is a growing need for many people to learn and utilize multiple languages within the workplace and within one's own personal life. The importance of bilingualism and the knowledge of multiple languages is ever increasing, and therefore becoming more important for the younger generations. The push for knowing multiple languages and becoming bilingual has many potential negative and positive effects.

Bilingualism is the ability to use two languages when communicating orally or in writing. The usage of multiple languages within the American culture is becoming very common and beneficial. It is difficult because as teacher you always have to find new and interesting methods in order to arouse learner’s interest, but at the same time it is enjoyable since teachers are given the opportunity to work with them. For myself, I enjoy working with bilingual children; I as a caregiver try to learn the students’ first language so that I will be able to communicate with them as much as possible in their native language.

Currently in my classroom I have a German native. His name is Lucas and he is fifteen months old. His mother is German and his father is an American soldier. Both of his parents speak English and German. So at home they communicate with him in both languages. I talk to his mother and father on a daily basis to find out new words in German so that I can talk to him in both languages. I have discovered that some words that I do say in German he really does respond to them better, than if I would tell him to do something in English. Second language acquisition is the process of learning other languages in addition to the native language.

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Second language acquisition is a long process which can include many stages. For instance, a child who speaks German as the mother tongue starts learning English when he/she starts going to school. English is learned by the process of second language acquisition. Students of second language acquisition go through the same stages of learning, the period of learning varies. Some students tend to learn better by responding to visuals and pictures. There are many positive benefits in the acquisition of a second language and bilingualism. There are many positive affective factors for second language acquisition and bilingualism.

Some positive factors can be listed as: the student’s attitude towards learning the new language, the teacher motivational attitude, and the proficiency in the student’s first language. Also learning a second language at an early age can have a positive effect on intellectual growth, and also enhance and enrich the child’s mental and development. Furthermore it can open the doors of opportunities to other cultures and help the children learn and appreciate other people from other countries. There are two types of bilingualism. The first type is simultaneous bilingualism.

Simultaneous bilingualism is when children acquire two languages prior to the age three. Simultaneous bilingualism normally happens when the language used at home is different from language used in the community or school. The parents, caregivers or other family members might not speak the language of the school or the community, or the parents could speak two or more languages but have made a decision about which language they speak with the child. (http://www. brainy-child. com/article/bilingual. shtm) The second type of bilingualism is successive bilingualism. Successive bilingualism refers to instances in which a child acquire their second language after the age of three” (Otto, 2010, pg. 71). Once they have reached the successive bilingualism stage some children learn their second language formally through school or through language classes. With successive bilingualism a child has the advantage of their first language as a base. They use this to both analyze and develop the second. For example, the child knows that language is organized in a particular order. The more mature a child is they also have a better vocabulary base, acoustic perception, and comprehension.

Therefore they would make fewer errors in a second language. For example, I once worked with a little boy, Julien, he spoke NO English when he entered my classroom (only Spanish) also, and his mom spoke NO English. As time passed he picked up English but when he got angry he would spout off in Spanish. ABSOLUTELY the cutest thing I ever saw! When parents to do not speak English I take that as a learning opportunity for myself and the parent. I try to communicate in that parent’s native language as best as I know how. Even if that means only knowing the basics.

As the year progressed, the parent also learned how to speak English from taking classes on the army installation. When she could finally communicate with me she was very excited and so was I. Our relationship really grew. However, there is a critical period of learning a second language, “Many linguists believe there is a 'critical period' (lasting roughly from birth until puberty) during which a child can easily acquire any language that he or she is regularly exposed to. Under this view, the structure of the brain changes at puberty, and after that it becomes harder to learn a new language.

This means that it is much easier to learn a second language during childhood than as an adult. Apart from the above, children do tend to develop more native-like pronunciation when bilingualism begins before adolescence. ” (http://www. brainy-child. com/article/bilingual. shtm) With that being said children tend to learn a second language better before the age of fifteen. “Learners and their learning strategies will change over time. A five year old will have a different language learning profile and language learning strategies than a fifteen year old. ” (http://www. rainy-child. com/article/bilingual. shtm) As bilingual children acquire the home and target language they have been found to mix the languages in the same communicative interaction. This is known as language interference (Otto, 2010). “Code mixing is also when the children appear to be mixing the two languages. When the children code mix this may simply reflect their parents’ use of the two languages. It can also reflect the attempts to maintain a conversation when knowledge of the second language is not sufficient to express the desired message. ” (Otto, 2010, pg. 72).

I have seen this happen on a regular basis in the preschool classroom. One incident I remember, I was joining my son for lunch and I was passing the lunch to the child next to me, when handing him the ham in the container, he replied “no bitte” which means no thank you. He said “no” in English and “thank you” in German. According to Otto, the author of Language development in Early Childhood, “Codeswitching is distinguished from code mixing and language interference by the speaker’s apparently conscious and deliberate use of two languages within the same sentence or from one sentence to another” (Otto, 2010, pg. 2) Codeswitching usually occurs when a idea label is not available in the language being used. When talking to my father he uses codeswitching all time. He would be in the middle of a conversation with me speaking to me in English and if he does not know the correct word in English he would automatically say it in Spanish. I never knew that there was a professional word for this type of language. “In the past, especially prior to 1960, bilingualism was thought to be an educational handicap” (Otto, 2010, pg. 72).

It was believed that children could not learn a second language, while maintaining their first language (Otto, 2010). This is termed subtractive bilingualism. When a child encounters subtractive bilingualism this could result in the negative impact on the families. The communication between the families can become disrupted. “Prior to the 1970’s research has increased our understanding of the factors involved in second language acquisition” (Otto, 2010, pg. 73). We as educators need to get involved and help children and their amilies that are bilingual. “Current approaches to bilingualism emphasize the acquisition of the second target language, with the continued development of the home language. “This approach is also referred to the as additive bilingualism because a child’s language skills are enhanced in both languages” (Otto, 2010, pg. 73). Immersion programs promote additive bilingualism for majority language speakers. These are highly valued educational programs. Although teaching is provided in the second language, the teacher knows and may use both languages.

For example, the Child Development Center that I work for here in Hohenfels, Germany offers immersion programs to the military community. They offer German and Spanish immersion programs. I believe that these are great programs and that will be very helpful for our community, being that we have some many bilingual families in our community. Right know the classes are offered for children ranging from ages three years until twelve years of age. Also in the Hohenfels community there is Host Nation classes offered at the Elementary school.

The host nation class teaches basic German words. This class also teaches the German customs. The class is offered twice a week in forty –five minute blocks. This class is very beneficial when you are in a different country. I went out to eat with my co-worker and her daughter is in the fifth grade, and just from her attending those classes twice a week she was able to order my food for me at the restaurant. I was impressed. Just being able to communicate basically and the read the menu, is what she has learned from her host nation class at school.

As mentioned before, I believe the younger the child is, the better the time is to teach a child a second language. “Children who have acquired a level of fluency in two languages have been described as having the following increased language competencies: higher levels of metalinguistic awareness, greater and earlier awareness of language structure, wider perspectives, and more social skills” (Otto, 2010, pg. 73). This supports the claim of there being positive effects to bilingualism. Language is not taught directly, but it is acquired through ways which are clearly understood in a low anxiety environment.

I am seeing this in my profession more and more each day. The amount of importance put onto second language acquisition is much higher that it has been before; at least it is more profound now. As a caregiver, I have learned that relationships and learning opportunities will allow children to strive in acquiring a second language. Children and families will continue to learn English as they come to the land of the “American Dream,” and caregivers, like myself will only slowly begin to see the effects second language acquisition has on our society.


Otto, B. (2010). Language Development In Early Childhood. (3rd Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

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Alice Callaghan.  (2010, July 11). English immersion. Los Angeles Times,p. A.33.  Retrieved March 01, 2011, from Los Angeles Times. (Document ID: 2078277161).

MacLeod, A., ; Stoel-Gammon, C.. (2010). What is the impact of age of second language acquisition on the production of consonants and vowels among childhood bilinguals? The International Journal of Bilingualism, 14(4), 400-421,511.  Retrieved March 01, 2011, from Research Library. (Document ID: 2266735221).

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Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism. (2017, May 13). Retrieved from

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