Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, Almaty, Kazakhstan email@example.com
ON THE ISSUES OF CHILD MULTILINGUALISM
The issues of child multilingualism in Kazakhstan, where research community needs to be provided with the basics of language acquisition in order to educate multilingual generation, are considered in this article. For many years, the author has been conducting her own research related to the vital problem of child bilingualism, and her materials on child bilingualism demonstrate the main theoretical statements from founders who laid the foundation of the theory and practice for first language acquisition field as well as child multilingualism. Among the author’s findings the most important one is a statement about socialization, as an extremely important factor of multilingualism. The author argues that to raise a child with balanced bilingualism, efforts are required from both family and society.
Keywords: child multilingualism, simultaneous bilingualism, language delay, language confusion, code switching.
In the modern world, more people are becoming bilingual and multilingual, and we believe that the desire to speak in another language or several languages is as natural as the very nature of human being.
In the Republic of Kazakhstan, the official (in terminology of post-soviet countries it is socalled «state language») Kazakh language coexists simultaneously with the Russian language, which is the language of interethnic communication, and the majority of the population speaks these two languages, and that allows us to assert that both individual and social types of bilingualism in modern Kazakhstan are the reality of our life. In addition, many people speak one (or even more) local ethnic language (-s) or their heritage language, for instance, Uighur or Turkish (Meskhetian) might be heard in the suburban areas of Almaty. At the same time, increasingly more Kazakhstani people, especially youth, are starting to learn and speak a foreign language, mainly English, which is an essential component of the globalization process. In general, foreign languages come into our lives through learning in educational institutions, although we have to give credit to the Internet, thanks to which it is possible to find authentic resources and even language practice.
As for the definitions, the word “bilingual” refers, mainly, to a person who speaks two languages, however, in the specialized literature the linguistic term “bilingual” also means “of people or communities speaking two or more different languages” [1, 40].
We are going to consider some issues related to children’s bilingualism and multilingualism, since they are very vital and topical problems for our society, both for research communities and ordinary people, as children’s languages are the object of their parents’ concern. Traditionally, children’s speech has been studied by psycholinguistics, pedagogics, speech and language pathology sphere, and in western countries this branch is known as either “first language acquisition” – related to the monolinguals, or “second language acquisition”, although the latter can be devoted to the speech of adults, too. In Russia, this branch of research is called “ontolinguistics”, and the leading research school in Saint Petersburg is dealing with a wide variety of issues on children’s communication. It enriches its databases from year to year, by including materials from researchers of bilingual and multilingual children in Russia and around the world.
In Kazakhstani linguistics children’s speech was studied on the material of the Kazakh language in terms of syntax ; impact of bilingualism on children’s personality development , as well as the psycholinguistic analysis of verb forms learnt by pre-school children were investigated ; also, the features of children’s bilingualism are being studied based on the corpus approach .
Researches argue that there are at least several interacting and overlapping areas where a bilingual or multilingual personality’s advantages are being realized. First and foremost, they are communicative, cognitive, and cultural advantages [6, 6-8]. At the same time, it would be misleading to argue that bilingualism and multilingualism is only preferential to the development of children. Bilingual children, in in the real world, still might face some problems, which are mostly either individual or social, sometimes both.
Our bilingual children speak Kazakh, native to them, and Russian, which serves as a lingua franca, due to consequences of a complex set of historical processes, as well as modern demographic factors. In fact, the Russian language for Kazakh children is the language of socialization. As for English, children acquire it mainly through specialized education; sometimes parents show their children animated movies in English, hoping that in this case children will be able quicker and better learn a foreign language.
Nowadays, there are many various researches all over the world who explore childhood bilingualism from different points of view. Nevertheless, the interest in child bilingualism has existed for a long time. The linguists usually recorded the speech of their own children: one of the oldest best known researches is J. Ronjat’s study of French-German children’s bilingualism , which was the result of his observation the linguistic development of his own son Louis for five years. The father and researcher practiced so-called “one parent – one language” (OPOL) strategy, where he was talking to Louis in French, whereas his wife, Louis’ mother was speaking German. After five years the child was fluent in both languages. There is W. Leopold’s linguistic study , consisting of four volumes and containing extensive analysis of the child’s German-English speech, as well as detailed records of his daughter Hildegard, who was growing up in the United Stated of America, in the family, where her father spoke German, and her mother spoke English. When Hildegard was two years old, she was not able to separate those two languages, but in her third year she started to differentiate them and even translate from one language to another, although her English became dominant in the speech. The issues on child speech and its development was also considered in the works of American psychologist J. Bruner, German psychologist K. Buhler, German psychologist and philosopher W. Stern, as well as many other researchers’ works [9, 176186].
A wide range of researches on child speech have been conducted by Russian scientists; among them A.K. Gvozdev, N.Kh. Shvachkin, K.I. Chukovskiy, D.B. Elkonin, A.M. Shakhnarovich, S.N. Ceitlin, E.Yu. Protassova, K.F. Sedov, N.I. Lepskaya, I.A. Sternin, N.A. Lemyaskina, F.A. Sokhin, S.N. Karpova, etc. who made the most important contributions into the development of the research field in Russia, and whose works are devoted to different aspects of Russian children’s speech activity, as well as to speech ontogenesis and phylogenesis [10, 20-21]. Saint Petersburg school of child speech, or ontolinguistics, has been systematically publishing references on studies and materials related to the bibliographic index . In our opinion, that is an obvious evidence of special place for children’s speech and importance of many research fields and areas dealing with language acquisition. In fact, all of them form a very important branch of linguistics, which in Russia is called ontolinguistics, or children’s language linguistics, and even age psycholinguistics [12, 3-4].
A concept of language acquisition has started to be used by Noam Chomsky; theoretical approach to language acquisition differs and depends on beliefs of what makes the development of child first language acquisition. For instance, N. Chomsky argues that linguistic knowledge is predetermined by genetic grammatical knowledge, where language acquisition is guided by principles of Universal Grammar . Chomsky’s theory held that sequences of language acquisition are very similar everywhere in the world, but his theory was not able to explain why a language can be learned only if a child has an opportunity to talk to someone. Swiss scientist Jean Piaget claimed that language development reflects the stages of cognitive development through which a child progresses. His theory describes some mental structures of children as they develop from infants into adults. Piaget, in contrast to Chomsky, argues that children play an active part in their language acquisition, and their comprehension arises out of their discoveries of the world.
These two points of view represent innateness hypothesis, which is nativism, and developmentalist theory.
The outstanding soviet psychologist L.V. Vygotsky in his article «On the question of multilingualism in childhood” noticed that the question of multilingualism in childhood is one of the most difficult and complicated in modern psychology [14, 122]. According to Vygotsky, children’s language development progresses as a result of the interplay between the child and his or her caregivers. He believed that adults’ role has taken a part not only in children’s upbringing, but also in communication and speech development. In the interplay between a child and an adult, it is equally important both quantity and quality of the speech used as an input.
In our country, parents who are bilingual Kazakh-Russian and Russian-Kazakh people, often are concerned about the late appearance of speech in a situation where a child grows in a bilingual family (although, according to paediatricians, such cases are also common in monolingual families). First of all, it is necessary to separate cases of normal development of the child from autistic children, or other cases, when additional attention of other specialists is needed. Professional paediatricians, defectologists, speech language pathologists, ontolinguists state confidently that there is no evidence that raising children in a bilingual environment would cause any reasons for the late appearance of speech in the child. Although some parents believe that bilingualism results in language delay, research suggests that monolingual and bilingual children meet major language developmental milestones at similar times [15, 1].
If the parents themselves speak in mixed Kazakh-Russian, it is clear that the child would not have a clear idea of the two languages separately, and the requirement for him or her to speak well both Kazakh and Russian without mixing the two languages, becomes a task causing complexity for the child at an early stage of its development. If parents use the “one parent — one language”, that is OPOL principle, recommended by scientists, there will be more chances that a child would be able to distinguish between the two languages, consequently later he or she would be able even to translate from one language to another, and vice versa. Basically, The OPOL rule is that each language should be personified; that is, the child knows that one member of the family, for example, the mother, speaks one language, for example, Kazakh, and another family member, for example, the father, speaks another, let’s say Russian. Respectively, if the personification of two languages is not differentiated, i.e. the mother speaks something in Kazakh, then in Russian, and so does the father, the process of switching from one language to another occurs with difficulties and might be the cause when child begins to distinguish between words and forms of the two languages very late.
The problem that bothers both, parents and researchers, might also be connected to the switching of languages, so-called “code switching”, which is not a problem by itself in our opinion, because the switching of language codes is associated with the language skill, or the level of mastering in different languages. While pursuing certain pragmatic and linguistic goals, a bilingual or multilingual child easily switches from one language to another, and vice versa; in this kind of cases, we can say about mastering in two languages and higher linguistic level of language skills, because he or she is able to distinguish the linguistic phenomena of the two languages and even play with them in his or her speech. For example, in Kazakhstan, where switching between two language codes is widespread, it would be more reasonable for parents to pay attention to the quality and number of switching operations in their own speech activities. Moreover, the ratio of the time of speaking in one and the second languages also matters, because it is also very significant factor in formation of child bilingualism or multilingualism.
Another problem might be if a child’s languages show signs of a so-called in linguistic terminology, semilingualism, that is, “half-lingualism”, when he or she is not able to express his or her thoughts completely and clearly in any of two (or more) languages. In primary schools, the speech of some children, which was investigated by us, is often characterized by linguistic confusion, and we found multiple examples of mixing of lexical and grammatical units of both the Kazakh and the Russian languages, and sometimes we have to say about the child’s pidginized speech activity. In these cases, we believe that a lot depends on children’s age, certain language situation, and both on the family and in the larger community where bilingual or multilingual child is brought up.
In certain situations, when the specific knowledge obtained through one language is not enough, or even there is a lack of knowledge related to this language, bilingual children can use their knowledge gained through the second language to replenish that specific knowledge. For example, scientists have found  that children’s mastery of each language influence the benefits derived from being bilingual. Thus, language skills affect the overall level of children’s literacy and his or her cognitive abilities, which, in its own turn, raise the level of his or her general development of erudition.
However, sometimes both parents and the popular media overstate the advantages of multilingualism. For example, sometimes we can hear that bilingualism and multilingualism can make children smarter just because they speak two or several languages, when in fact, different researchers, mentioned here in our article, suggest advantages for bilingual and multilingual children in some specific areas, which are certain for each of certain cases.
It turns out that the problem of child bilingualism and multilingualism involves another important issue related to the intellectual development of a bilingual and / or multilingual child. Experiments from intellectual tests (IQ) up to the 1960s showed a lag in the development of bilingual children, until scientists discovered that bilingual children were forced to answer questions written in the second language for them, which was acquired at school, and in fact, that explained the test results. If we allow a bilingual child, with good skills in English, to take an intellectual test, compiled in English, and we know that the first language of a child is not English, it becomes clear that his or her test results will be worse than those of a child whose English is his or her native language or the only language of communication for him or her.
The point is that the language is connected to the brain on the psychic bases, and the process of associative connection established between the set of sounds and its corresponding meaning. Therefore it is assumed that in case of bilingualism there are two associative links instead of one, each presenting every single language (although nowadays there are many hypotheses, in fact). Between those two associative links there is assumed to take place a competition. As a result of the competitive relationships between them, the most appropriate language in each certain case wins; therefore it is considered as a strong language for that case. For the reason of that process, the competition between associative links slows down and even sometimes disrupts the associative process itself. As a result of disruption, a bilingual child develops a confusion of languages that can lead to a complicated process of word selection, various types of stylistic and grammatical errors in speech, and the mixing of different linguistic units. This phenomenon in psycholinguistics is called “associative inhibition”, and it is related to Epstein’s name .
We mentioned that the use of the OPOL principle helps a child to understand better both languages, as he or she is able to compare the facts and phenomena of both languages. Ability to compare, in it own turn, contributes to the earlier development of metalinguistic and cognitive abilities of a bilingual or multilingual child. However, researchers have also seen cases when the principle «one parent — one language» led to passive bilingualism , when the child understands both languages, but speaks only in one of them, preferring that one which has a higher status in this community and / or society and greater prevalence. Thus, parents should not be afraid to speak two languages, but — we emphasize it again — they should pay more attention to the quality and quantity of language content as well as the time related to each of the languages.
As for the English language in Kazakhstan, that is in non-English speaking country, some parents rely on the Internet and television to teach the foreign language, yet this is best considered a fun source of secondary support for language learning. In fact, human interaction is the best method for fostering foreign language learning.
Reading has always been the best choice for any language development. However, with the advent and ever more accessibility of new technologies, their influence on the learning and development of a second or foreign language becomes inevitable. Many parents, for the purpose of teaching their children English, systematically includes animated films, audiobooks, music CDs, videos, television programs, etc. Researchers say that depending on the age, a certain effect of this kind of language activity can be obtained. However, all these types of language training cannot go in comparison with talking alive and / or teaching in person. For example, at a very early age, children gradually lose interest in the video, on which they focused their attention for the very first time .
Approximately the same data were obtained for children of preschool age; for example, in comparison with watching TV, reading aloud enriches the lexicon of preschool children in a second or foreign language much more . Based on the results of the study, researchers state that audio and video materials can be a good source for a variety of language activity types. They can support language learning at any stage of language learning, add a positive emotional attitude to the learning process itself. However they cannot replace human communication activity for development and mastery of child’s first language, as well as in terms of a second and / or foreign language acquisition.
Language contacts have a long history, and Kazakh and Russian languages, being genetically and typologically different languages, coexist, function, and interact in the life of our state on the territory of Kazakhstan. Child bilingualism is always formed under the conditions of universal bilingualism or multilingualism, which are needed to have some basis in Kazakhstani branches of the Humanities, and it is required bot for parents and researchers in different fields. In responding to parents concerns about raising multilingual Kazakh-Russian-English children, professionals should warmly encourage the use of these languages, although the quality and quantity related to the languages do matter.
In the 21st century, the processes of globalization continue to strengthen and develop, creating the conditions for the demand for English as a global language. On the planet more people become bilingual or multilingual, and speak several languages. Multilingualism is not a static phenomenon, it is formed in different ways, varies depending on a number of factors, such as historical, cultural, political, social, psychological, linguistic and others.
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Мақалада бала көптілділігіне қатысты мәселелер қарастырылады, олардың арасында әсіресе Қазақстанға аса маңызды болып табылатын көптілді ұрпақ тәрбиелеу мақсатындағы тілді меңгеру негіздерінің қажеттілігіне назар аударылады. Бірнеше жылдар арасында автор өз зерттеуін өткізіп, тіл меңгерудің теория мен практикасын негізін салушылардың қағидаларын өз материалдары арқылы көрсетеді. Мақала нәтижелерінің арасында әлеуметтену туралы пікір көптілділіктің ең маңызды факторларының бірі ретінде таныстырылады. Теңдестірілген қостілділікке ие баланы тәрбиелеу үшін отбасы да, қоғам да күштерін салуы қажет, деген пікір мақалада айтылады.
В статье рассматриваются вопросы детского многоязычия в Казахстане, где исследователи нуждаются в основах знаний об усвоении языка с целью воспитания многоязычного поколения. В течение нескольких лет автор проводит собственное исследование, посвященное актуальной проблеме детского билингвизма, и ее материалы по детскому двуязычию демонстрируют основные теоретические положения основателей теории и практики усвоения первого языка и детского многоязычия. Среди основных результатов автора важнейшим является положение о социализации как чрезвычайно важном факторе многоязычия. Автор заявляет, что для воспитания ребенка со сбалансированным соотношением языков, требуются усилия и семьи, и общества.