This can be seen with regard to the issue of codeswitching in bilingual children. As Scheu (1999) states, the effects of culture and context are extremely important in bilingualism. This refers to language choice as well as observed linguistic phenomena such as codeswitching. Codeswitching refers to when "…bilinguals code-switch or mix their languages during communication" (Heredia and Brown). Scheu ( 1999) finds "…codeswitching as a significant feature of bilinguals' speech repertoire and it offers strong evidence of the interdependence of bilingualism and biculturalism" (Scheu 2000, p.131).
The importance of cultural contact in bilingualism is underscored in a study by Barbara Pearson ( 2007). The study explores key cultural factors that affect whether a child in a multilingual environment will become bilingual. The factors that were found to be influential in the choice of bilingualism were language status, access to literacy, family language use, and community support, including schooling ( Pearson, 2007, p.399). Peason argues that "… the quantity of input has the greatest effect on whether a minority language will be learned, but language status and attitudes about language also play a role. When families are proactive and provide daily activities for children in the minority language, the children respond by learning it "( Pearson, 2007,p. 399).
Positive Aspects of Bilingualism
Besides the obvious advantages of being able to communicate in a second language, there are many other positive aspects that relate to the child's development. As noted above, studies indicate that in many instances bilingual children show a certain superiority over monolinguals in various intelligence tests as well as in tests of school achievement.
This view is supported by research that examines the link or the connection between cognition and bilingualism.
The interactive theoretical model proposed by Cummins ( 1981) states that "…children who achieve "balanced proficiency" in two languages are advantaged cognitively in comparison with monolingual children" ( Garcia, 1986, p. 96). However, this theoretical model also states that "…children who do not achieve balanced proficiency in two languages (but who are immersed in a bilingual environment) are cognitively disadvantaged in comparison to mono-lingual and balanced-proficient bilinguals " ( Garcia, 1986, p. 96). In other words, being immersed in a bilingual environment is by itself no guarantee that the child will achieve more advanced cognitive skills. The proficiency in both languages needs to be equal and balanced for positive results.
However, what is of significance in terms of the way that the bilingual child is perceived is that, from a theoretical perspective, the older negative evaluation of bilingualism in young children has been radically questioned. As Garcia (1986) emphasizes,
This formulation presents most directly the shift away from viewing bilinguals as cognitively disadvantaged & #8230; to considering them as cognitively advantaged-while at the same time continuing to consider the potential negative influence of nonbalanced bilingualism. ( Garcia, 1986, p. 96)
There are many other studies that suggest that bilingualism in fact assists the child in developing attention skills sooner than monolingual children. For example, there is the view that bilingualism enables children to develop various attention skills much earlier on in their development (Two languages spoken here). This refers in part to the theory of 'selective attention'. Selective attention is the ability to "…focus on important details while ignoring distracting and misleading information" (Two languages spoken here). It is suggested that in the process of learning two languages bilingual children in become more proficient in terms of selective attention in that "….they learn to filter out words from one language when speaking in another" (Two languages spoken here).
This positive assessment of the value of bilingualism also extends to other areas of language production. Studies claim that the myth that bilingual children take longer to learn a language is countered by research, which shows that "… they pick up their dual tongues at the same pace as monolingual children attain theirs, despite having to cope with two sets of grammar and vocabulary" (Yong, 2009). There is also the finding in some studies that bilingual children tend to be more " flexible learners" than their monolingual peers (Yong, 2009). This also has implications in terms of learning skills and the advantages that the bilingual child may have in later learning where flexibility in processing data may be needed. As Yong (2009) states; "Their exposure to two languages at an early point in their lives trains them to extract patterns from multiple sources of information" (Yong, 2009).
An interesting study by Agnes Melinda Kovacs and Jacques Mehler ( 2009), noted in Yong ( 2009), finds that children raised in bilingual homes tend to have more advanced " executive functions" (Yong, 2009). The term 'executive functions' refers to; & #8230;a number of higher mental abilities that allow us to control more basic ones, like attention and motor skills, in order to achieve a goal" (Yong, 2009). This set of mental abilities, which according to many theorists is fostered by bilingualism, are considered to be important aspects of future intellectual and social development. Yong described them as follows: "They help us to plan for the future, focus our attention, and block out instinctive behaviours that would get in the way. Think of them as a form of mental control" (Yong, 2009). Furthermore, quoting the research of Kovacs and Mehler (2009), Yong states that
…even from a very young age, before they can actually speak, children develop stronger executive functions if they grow up to the sound of two mother tongues. They show a degree of mental control that most people their age would struggle to match. (Yong, 2009).
An intriguing aspect of modern research in this regard is the findings in neuroscience that suggests that there may be a difference in the brains of bilinguals when compared to monolinguals. This research suggests that"…early bilinguals may have different access to executive function compared to monolinguals" ( Childhood Bilingualism: Current Status and Future Directions). However, the researchers also insist that a great deal of caution should be exercised in the interpretation of these results. Nevertheless, this research opens the possibility of further exploration of the link between cognition and bilingualism.
Problems and issues
As has been briefly referred to, the re-assessment of the value of bilingualism among young children has meant that a more positive view has been taken of developmental and cognitive issues. However, linguists and educators are also aware of areas which are problematic in terms of child growth and development among bilinguals, which have to be taken into account and weighed up against the more positive findings.
There are also results, for example, that show certain shortcoming in the development of bilingual children. One is the view that "… for general language proficiency, bilingual children tend to have a smaller vocabulary in each language than monolingual children in their language" (Bialystok, 2008). However, this is offset by the concomitant finding that bilingual children generally tend to have a better and wider comprehension of linguistic structure in language than children who have learned a single language. This is referred to in the literature as metalinguistic awareness (Bialystok, 2008).
Another issue that is central to this discussion refers to the types of languages that are learned. There are languages that are dissimilar, or similar, in their basic structure and this has an impact on the child's cognitive and developmental processes. This refers, for instance to languages that are similar in terms of their writing system, for example French and English; and languages that are dissimilar in this regard, such as English and Chinese. The child who learns two languages which are similar in their writing systems will show greater progress in their reading skills. However, bilingual children learning languages with very different writing systems will generally not show the same degree of reading skill development. Bialystok (2008) summarizes this point as follows.
Specifically, children learning to read in two languages that share a writing system (e.g. English and French) show accelerated progress in learning to read; children whose two languages are written in different systems (e.g. English and Chinese) show no special advantage, but neither do they demonstrate any deficit relative to monolinguals. (Bialystok, 2008)
The last point that Bialystok makes is also important to note as it suggests that even learning languages with different writing systems does not seem to retard the oversell progress of the learning in comparison to monolingualism. This is also a central point that relates strongly to the issue of the learning of English as a second language. In other words, in order to ascertain the value and desirability of learning English and another language, one should in terms of these findings consider it in relation to the type and structure of the first language that is being learned.
Other challenges and issues noted in the literature include the following. Studies note that the bilingual children tend to have as smaller vocabulary in each language than their monolingual peers. However, this is ascribed to the fact that they "…need to learn new words in…