The Impact of second language acquisition and bilingualism on language development

How individuals acquire language capabilities and develop these as they grow is a subject that attracts widespread attention in education research. A number of factors have been proposed to affect language acquisition and development. Language acquisition is for instance advanced to be entirely via various environmental interactions (Otto, 2010, p. 43). By interacting with their mothers on a frequent basis, children are for instance able to discern their mother’s sounds from other sounds at an early age. Language development is however also subject to the “quality and quantity of the stimuli in the linguistic environment in which an individual interacts” (Otto, 2010, p. 43). Further, some aspects of language development – phonemes, syntax and morphemes – are associated with particular developmental stages beyond which their development is not optimal (Otto, 2010). Exceptions can however occur where learners may acquire excellent mastery of a second language despite having surpassed the developmental stages linked to enabling the mastery of such a language (Otto, 2010). Other aspects of language development – the semantic (vocabulary) and pragmatic (discourse structures) – are however not associated with a specific developmental stage and could be acquired throughout an individual’s life (Otto, 2006). How the environment is able to provide the quality and quantity of stimuli necessary for language development at appropriate times may thus affect ones mastery of a language.

With this importance of quality and quantity of linguistic stimuli in fostering language development; the occurrence of multilingual environments may be perceived to obscure the stimuli necessary for optimal language acquisition and development. Similarly with the indications that critical periods exists during developmental periods where a language can be effectively acquired and developed, a question arises as to whether native second language proficiency can be attained in late beginners. The purpose of this paper is thus to evaluate the impact of bilingualism and second language acquisition on language development. The paper first evaluates how bilingualism affects a child’s acquisition of literacy skills at school when the language of instruction differs from the home language. The impact of bilingualism on aspects such as ability to solve arithmetic problems is discussed in this section. Secondly, the paper assesses whether age is a crucial factor in attaining native proficiency in a second language. Go to part 2 here.

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