Bilingual children and sentence production.
Date of writing: 14th January 2014.
Parents, teachers versus the bilingual child at the one-word output level.
The leap from one-word output (car, window, Daddy; Mummy, yes, me, etc) or rote-learnt phrases typical in young school learners (what's your name? I'm fine, thanks) to structured sentences in conversational interaction seems a huge one to the parent/teacher listening critically. In fact, if the language input environment is the correct one, full sentence production is just the next step in a natural language learning process. It is not only predictable but inevitable so if the child fails to reach a level where he or she can speak in sentence form in a reasonable space of time, the language environment may not be adequate. Unfortunately, in many school settings, the second language learning environment may never have been suitably developed in the first place for this happy event to occur. This results in schoolchildren who, year after year, find themselves in linguistic stagnation with poor communicative skills in the second language.
On the other hand, diligent parents who constantly use English at home with their children probably have a far greater chance of creating the rich linguistic environment required for full sentence output than many schools. This would be due to concentration on authentic communication, familiar context situations such as domestic life and simply because parents can spend more time (than schools are able) with their children inputting the second language. To me, these seem to be excellent reasons for the parents (or at least one of them) to take advantage of those early pre-school years and use English in the home.
The more complete set of dialoguing tools.
Carmen, at four-and-a-half is now starting to be able to dialogue with her father rather than just reply to questions with one-word answers. She can now take the initiative in a conversation and initiate dialogues as she does in Spanish although with a good deal less language accuracy. This is a gratifying state of affairs not only with respect to the language learning benefits but also because greater mutual parent/child empathy can evolve through discourse in English at a similar level as with Spanish speakers in the child's life.
Awareness of languages.
Carmen also employs interaction techniques that are obviously absent in discourse in monolingual children. This is her awareness of language as a communication tool; she realizes there are two languages in play and makes references to them (ie. through translation) as we shall see in these extracts below.
Carmen on Christmas.
Dialogue recorded at one session on 5th January 2014.
Me: (We're looking at a Peppa Pig book about Christmas.) What's happening in this picture here?
Self-correction in pronunciation and translation during discourse.
Here Carmen uses a self-correction technique for a word she was not very familiar with. In other words, she learns during her own output. Another reason why output (compared with only input) is so important for progress in language cognizance and acquisition. On each utterance "tangerine", which she got in her stocking, is pronounced just a little better - even though she had a cold at the time! Secondly, note Carmen's reference to Spanish (she translates!) when she suspects she is not being understood.
Carmen: And tangerine, tangerine, tangerine.
Natural morphological error or Spanish influence?
I'm still not certain whether the preference for the prepositional genitive (house of Peppa) instead of the Saxon genitive (Peppa's house) is just a natural morphological error of language development or influence from the Spanish.
Asking about language.
Carmen frequently asks how to say things in English with the question "How do you say + Spanish phrase?" Sometimes, however, she confuses the two languages.
Carmen: How do you say, how do you say "wash the hair"?
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