Introduction in Spanish...
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Analysis of language development in bilingual children 3.

Continued from page 2...

A bilingual child's drawing to illustrate language analysis.  A bilingual child's drawing to illustrate language learning.

Conclusions to audio extract analysis of a bilingual child.

Developing grammatical morphemes - influence from English or Spanish?

From this very brief analysis of Carmen's English at the age of 4 years and 11 months I find it surprising that evidence of first mother tongue influence is not obvious. Brown and others have demonstrated the nature of the grammatical morphemes seen during monolingual development in native English children. These morphemes can be deceptively similar to correct Spanish structures meaning that a bilingual child may be receiving influences from one language or the other and sometimes the observer cannot detect the source. A prime example is the early simple negation "Mummy no go", which has been described as appearing in native English monolingual children's speech yet also appears to follow the correct Spanish negation pattern Mami no va. On the other hand, considering Carmen's case, and despite the fact I am the only human English input source, there is much evidence of English morpheme development such as: "don't" and "can't" in these extracts. My conclusion is that it appears safe to assume native English morpheme progression for general purposes of evaluation of grammar progress and discard concerns that the influence originates in the L1a.


Brown's grammar morpheme development patterns.

A factor that may slightly upset the accuracy of Brown's list of morphemes learnt in a particular order (or more or less in a particular order - it has always been a guideline) may be in the case of bilingual learners. This is due to the lag in the learning of L1b compared with L1a and therefore the child is older and cognitively more aware during L1b development. In Carmen, I would suggest this can be observed in her use of "why?", which, supposedly learnt later than the other "wh" words, was used by Carmen during very early stages of L1b acquisition due to her older age and consequently more advanced cognition level.


Advice to parents for observing the progress of L1b in their bilingual children.

So what is this all about? Why the stress on the importance of ascertaining the origins of the grammatical morpheme patterns in your bilingual child? It could be very frustrating for parents who carry out frequent checks on the second mother tongue (L1b) progress of their child because he/she may appear not to advance. Many parents following these articles are Spanish natives teaching their own children English. This is a high stakes situation and they are often doubtful as to whether abandoning their native Spanish during discourse with their child will have positive results at all. It is therefore essential that parents do not evaluate advancement as a simple transition from:

error   -   no error.

In other words, a parent should refrain from considering that advancement has not been achieved until a child who says "No play" eventually utters the correct "Daddy doesn't play with me". Language advancement should be assessed by studying grammatical morpheme development and attempting to detect the child's evolving progress moving from one essential morpheme stage to the next. For example, in the case of negatives the progress could be:

no play - Daddy no play - Daddy don't play with me - Daddy doesn't play with me

If advancement is considered in this way, parents of bilingual children will enjoy observing progress in their bilingual child's second tongue that appears always to be moving forward and maturing rather than remaining static and immovable from the eternal error phase.

Suggested further reading.

I would like to suggest the following book, on which this article is loosely based and which describes in more detail the grammatical morpheme phases. How Languages are Learned by Patsy M. Lightbown and Nina Spada (revised addition) OUP is an easy-to-read, non-technical book to help EFL teachers understand better the various theories in first and second language learning. Most of the book is dedicated to the latter but there is a section for bilingual and mother tongue development and, I believe, all the content is relevant for parents of bilingual children because L1a, L1b and L2 learning will all be present in your bilingual child's life.



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