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Basa, Maria Angelica R.

MA Ed Reading

Dr. Melchor A. Tatlonghari


Linguistics 599
On Fred Genesees Bilingual Acquisition

Pagel (2011) said that language is very powerful and in some cases subversive, as it
allows one to implant a thought into another persons mind without surgery (Pagel, 2011). In
his talk, he also said that the result of different people cooperating with each other and forming
a society is language: language evolved to solve the crisis of visual theft and to exploit
cooperation and exchange. Different societies in different countries all over the world make
use of language either to spread knowledge or the opposite. It is in this sense that knowledge
of one language can make an individual powerful, provided that s/he knows how to use it
properly. Imagine how much more powerful an individual will become if s/he is equipped with
two languages.

Fred Genesee (2007), in his article Bilingual Acquisition, comprehensively debunked


popular myths and explained the different phenomena that occur with regard to young childrens
bilingual acquisition. He also enumerated some things that parents, caregivers, and teachers
alike should remember about bilingualism and bilingual children.

The acquisition of language is something that is natural for most human beings and is
considered by many to be normal (Genesee, 2007).

Children acquire the language their

parents use at home and eventually learn its metalanguage in school. In more culturally diverse
societies, children not only learn one language, but they learn a second one as well. However,
for most monolingual societies, as Genesee mentioned in his article, adult monolinguals who
have bilingual children are worried about the possible negative effects bilingualism could have
on their children.

Bialystok (2001) and Cummins (1981) in Genesee (2006) expressed that bilingualism,
Bilingual First Language Acquisition to be exact, could result in impaired cognitive, as well as
linguistic development. Arguing further still, Macnamara (1966) in Genesee (2006) said that
bilingual education puts children in a situation that will most likely make them at risk for
academic failure or delay. However, Genesee (2007) pointed out that this skepticism may be
the result of the lack of familiarity with or knowledge about childhood bilingualism, causing the
members of monolingual societies to expect negative consequences to result from children
learning two languages during the preschool years (Genesee, 2007).

Most monolingual

societies see monolingualism as the norm, and are therefore afraid of the possible effects
bilingualism can inflict on their children.
One of the monolingual societies worries is that learning two languages might result in
delays in language development.

According to Genesee (2006), bilingual learners differ in

terms of the regularity of their exposure to both languages.

The more a bilingual child is

exposed to both languages, the more the child becomes proficient in both. If a bilingual child
will be able to become proficient in two languages, then doesnt that mean that the child is more
developed cognitively since s/he can associate, or if there need be, distinguish and separate the
surface and deep structures of the two languages? In fact, studies show that bilingual children
exhibit the same fundamental milestones in language development and even the same rate of
language-specific grammatical development in both languages as monolingual children.
Moreover, Genesee (2006) said that bilingual children babble (Oller et al, 1997, Maneva and
Genesee, 2002), produce their first words and word combinations (Petitto et al 2001), and
exhibit developmental patterns for specific morpho-syntactic properties of the target languages
within the same age ranges as those reported for monolingual children (De Houwer, 1990,
Paradis and Genesee, 1996, Yip and Matthews, 2000). Genesee (2007) pointed out that it is
the responsibility and duty of the parents of bilingual children to expose the children properly to
both languages parents of bilingual children provide systematic exposure to both languages
all the time and that they avoid radical changes to the language environment of the child. Such
changes can disrupt language development and create difficulties for the child.
Another apprehension that monolinguals have has something to do with a bilinguals
mastery of the two languages. Genesee (2007) points out that bilingual children are capable of
acquiring the same level of proficiency in both phonological and grammatical aspects of the two
languages they are acquiring in the same way that monolinguals acquire the same aspects of
their language. However, this is where the role of the parents and teachers become important.
Genesee (2007) points out that it is the duty of the parents and teachers to systematically
expose the children to substantial use of each language. If these bilingual children grow up in
an environment where bilingual literacy and oracy materials are readily available, they readily
acquire all of the social language skills they need.

One of the most common fear people who grew up in monolingual societies have is
code-mixing. Leopold (1978) in Genesee (2006) said that code-mixing is controversial because

it is attributed to the lack of language differentiation or to confusion. However, Genesee (2006)


says that it should not be a cause of alarm since virtually all bilingual children code-mix within
and across utterances.

He makes a distinction between intra-utterance mixing and inter-

utterance mixing, saying that the former happens when people mix codes or, if you permit,
languages, within a single utterance and that the latter happens when people use another
language for a second utterance after using a first language for the first utterance. According to
Genesee (2006), the mixed elements can be phonological, lexical, morpho-syntactic, or
pragmatic, with lexical mixing often reported to be the most common form (Goodz, 1987, De
Houwer 1990), but not always. Genesee (2007) later points out that the main reason why
children code-mix is, since they are still young and are not as proficient as adults, because they
lack the appropriate and sufficient vocabulary in one language, and thus opt to express
themselves in the other language to be understood. To put it more simply, bilingual children
mix words from language X when using language Y because they do not know the appropriate
word in language Y (Genesee, 2006). This is known as the lexical gap hypothesis. However,
not knowing the exact translation of a word in another language may not be the only reason why
bilingual children code-mix. There might not be an exact translation of the word in the target
language. Children also code-mix (Genesee, 2006) for pragmatic effectto emphasize what
they are trying to say, to quote what someone else said, or even to protest. Generally, however,
Genesee et al. (1995a) in Genesee (2006) said that, young bilingual children mix more when
they use their less proficient language.

Genesee (2007) highlights the following as being the important things to keep in mind
whenever handling young bilingual children:

bilingual acquisition is a common and normal childhood experience


all children are capable of learning two languages in childhood
knowing the language of one's parents is an important and essential component of
children's cultural identity and sense of belonging
bilingual acquisition is facilitated if children have sustained, rich, and varied experiences
in both languages
proficiency in both languages is more likely if children have sustained exposure in the
home to the language that is used less extensively in the community; the language that
is used more widely will get support outside the home
parents can facilitate bilingual proficiency by using the language they know best and by
using it in varied and extensive ways

I believe that it is indeed important for parents and teachers alike to be acquainted with these
seemingly small matters which make a difference in the lives of our young bilingual learners.

References:
Pagel, M. (Host) (2011, July). Language [Podcast]. TED Talks, Edinburgh, Scotland
Genesee, F. (2006). Bilingual First Language Acquisition in Perspective. In P. McCardle & E.
Hoff (Eds.), Childhood Bilingualism: Research on Infancy Through School Age (pp.45-67)
Genesee,
F.
(2007).
Bilingual
Acquisition.
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