Whether Bilingual Children Distinguish between their Two Languages for the Beginning

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Whether Bilingual Children Distinguish between their Two Languages for the Beginning


Investigations show that older people who attempt to learn a foreign language find it complicated and confusing to master the entire pattern that forms part of the other language. Younger children, however, are in a better position to acquire a second language without much difficulty an indication that it is easier to learn more than one language at a tender age than when a person is already an adult. The report seeks to answer whether children who grow in settings where people speak more than a single language can distinguish between the two patterns from the very beginning of their lives.  The report provides information showing that young ones can discern the different sound patterns that they encounter from a tender age.

Literature Review

Investigations suggest that early childhood is the most appropriate time to become familiar with another language.  Lewis asserts that young ones who experience more than one language from birth naturally become indigenous speakers of both, while grown-up individuals mostly struggle to become fluent speakers of the second language. The report by Gervain and Werker (1151) indicates that children start to learn the sounds of a language even before their birth and that the child recognizes the mother’s voice as the most dominant sound while still inside the womb. Lewis asserts that at birth, a baby is only capable of distinguishing between the language their mother uses and that used by others, but there is also evidence showing that the child can in fact tell the difference between different languages.

In actual sense, learning any language relies on one’s ability to process and differentiate between many sounds. Lewis shares the same ideology with Hoff and Core (217) that the languages of the world make up to 800 sounds, but each language only applies up to 40 sounds or phonemes which make a language different from the other. The baby’s brain at birth has the ability to differentiate between the 800 sounds meaning the infant at this stage can acquire any language that they encounter, but as they grow, they tend to master the sound patterns that they hear the most.

Scholars find that babies attain the ability to differentiate different sound patterns a few months after birth. Weston and Petter imply that babies can process between two languages 20 months after birth. Zeccari on her article mentions that at eleven months, babies from monolingual families that speak English can process the patterns of English and not structures of Spanish which they perceive as a strange language. Babies of the same age (11 months) from bilingual families that speak Spanish and English gain the ability to identify the patterns of both languages. The article by Lewis recognizes that children in bilingual environments acquire the ability to differentiate the grammatical frameworks of two languages at only seven months, while Swingley (308) estimates that many infants would gain the ability to distinguish speech sounds that belong to different languages at 12 months.

Children are more likely to develop the concept of the second language when the stimuli promote the acquisition process. Chumak-Horbatsch (6) makes reference to De Houwer’s framework that helps to understand the early development of bilingualism in minority language children to show how the parental behaviors and external factors play essential roles in building bilingualism in children. Houwer’s concept stipulates that the familial linguistic patterns have a significant correlation with the way the children use language. The theory further recognizes three forms of early bilingualism in children also confirming that infants can distinguish the phonology of more than a single language. The first form is the early active bilingual where the preschool child can initiate and respond to conversations in either of the languages (Chumak-Horbatsch 7). The scholar also identifies the passive bilingualism where the preschooler seems to know two languages but only communicates using one, and the early monolingual which is a feature of a young one who does not seem to understand two languages and only communicates using one (Chumak-Horbatsch 7). Howard and Messum (135) share the same idea that imitating the parents in terms of using speech sounds serves a way that may help children gain the ability to use different languages. Children who are born into a monolingual setting, however, may not be able to display any form of bilingualism Houwer describes in her framework.

Empirical Studies that Confirm Children Understand Bilingual sound patterns

Various scholars have performed investigations to identify whether children can discern the sound patterns that belong to different languages and their findings seem to give similar results. Weston reports of research that sought to identify the child’s capacity to monitor and regulate language where the investigators included 24 infants and 24 adults in Montreal who speak English and French. The researchers display the images of familiar objects to the participants who also get to hear simple syntactical structures in either one or two languages. The investigators then applied the eye-monitoring measures to identify the length of time it takes adults or infant’s eyes to remain fixed to a photo after, especially after hearing a sentence. The individuals in charge of the process also monitored the diameter of the participants’ eye pupil to understand how hard the brain work to discern the images and the sentences.

The investigators identified that the bilingual adults and children experienced a processing cost when they heard instances of code-switching as well as showed dilated pupils at the time of language switch. Dr. Lew-Williams who is part of the team that performed the study mentioned that “the study identified behavioral and physiological features of their being a cost processing related to code-switching.” The study, according to Lew-Williams, reiterates that younger children can differentiate different sound patterns just in the same way as adults who may display better forms of responding to the alterations because of their age. The primary lesson from the study according to Weston is that it shows how children develop improved cognitive capabilities by being part of a setting where the speakers use more than one language.

A study by Chumak-Horbatsch reveals that children who come from families where the parents speak different languages have higher chances of gaining the structures of more than two languages. Chumak-Horbatsch (10) hypothesizes that minority language children who are part of bilingual groups will develop the second language and be able to distinguish the different sound patterns when the parents have positive values towards L1 and L2, have positive views about early child bilingualism, and when there is a rich L2 impact, where the home language use of both forms is consistent and meaningful. The investigators include eight immigrant families, and the handlers of the operation strive to absorb families where the mother and the father speak different languages. All the families also have children whose ages range from one to twenty months. The investigator presents questionnaires to the parents asking them to give their opinions on early bilingualism in children (Chumak-Horbatsch 12). The researcher also reads a series of sentences to the children using different languages their parents use to identify any responses. The finding of the study is that more mothers are not willing to support the idea of using dual language, unlike the men who consider the practice to be suitable. The finding in this instance suggests that children who grow in families where the father takes sole control of determining language acquisition are likely to develop better ways of communicating using two languages compared to children in homes where the mother has a significant influence on language acquisition (Chumak-Horbatsch 13). The investigator learns from the study that the children identified the different sound patterns by responding through bodily movements and the structure of the pupil.

The Merits of Learning Two Languages

Parents on bilingual and monolingual babies tend to develop the feeling of whether it is right for their children to gain the ability to speak more than one language, or whether the child’s brain would not have any deficiencies if the child only acquires a single the phonology of a single language. Zeccari points out that bilingual children exhibit a relatively stronger brain capacity because they learn the language the monolingual speaker uses at the same rate. A bilingual speaker who acquires the sound patterns of a particular language at the same level with a monolingual speaker is likely to develop a sharper brain because they process multiple things.

Parents who bring up their children in bilingual settings usually become worried that their young ones may not learn as many languages as babies who grow up in monolingual settings. Zeccari mentions that even though the claim may be correct to some extend because the children split their time learning the two languages, other findings show that bilingual children do not remain behind when considering both languages. Zeccari suggests that bilingual children seem to have an equal number of vocabularies or might even have a richer in their utterances than children in monolingual families.

Some parents also tend to think that raising children in bilingual settings may confusion, but this is not the case. Zeccari asserts that the misconception emerges because of the code-switching which is part of how bilinguals speak. Zeccari gives the example of how her four-year-old son displays evidence of code-switching. The child communicates in Slovene, Spanish, as well as English and would sometimes use Slovene endings at the end of words in English and Spanish languages. Parents need to understand that children in bilingual settings code-switch because they see adults acting similarly and that the act adheres to rules that govern the way of speaking, and therefore, not hazardous.

Evidence shows that the constant desire to use different languages has cognitive advantages to the young ones. Zeccari indicates that bilingual children have a more developed executive working of the brain which makes it easy for them to shift attention, alternate between tasks, and deal with problems with less difficulty. Zeccari proceeds to mention that children in bilingual families or environments build better metalinguistic capabilities which entail being more aware of a language and how it works. Furthermore, being bilingual makes it easier for both children and adults to learn the third language. Finally, Zeccari informs that children who acquire the ability to communicate in more than a single language can overcome the cognitive decline that comes with aging, or even after the emergence of Alzheimer’s disease.


Information shows that developing a society where people have adequate knowledge on how to use other languages produces a community that is more integrated. Edelenbos, Johnstone and Kubanek (34) imply that supporting the development of bilingual children facilitates the realization of objectives of the language policy enacted by the Council of Europe. Encouraging the use of more than one language among children, for instance, makes it easy to preserve the rich heritage of cultural and linguistic variation, and also facilitate the interaction of people with unlike mother tongues thus facilitating the process of achieving mobility and mutual understanding (Edelenbos, Johnstone and Kubanek 24). Instructors who handle bilingual children should, therefore, adopt teaching practices that help the young ones to improve their ability to apply the languages without significant hindrances. Teachers, for example, should encourage active forms of learning and should know when to allow the learners to use code-switching. Parents should also help their children to use the different languages simultaneously to improve their awareness of the vocabularies in the two forms of interaction. Finally, the researchers in this area need to come up with more directives that describe how the mechanism of bilingualism functions to help parents and instructors develop young ones who are proficient when it comes to using more than a single language.

Parents need to consider the positive features that come with being a bilingual child and should adopt a language attitude that promotes the learning of more than a single language. Chumak-Horbatsch (4) describes language attitudes as the expressions of negative or positive view towards a language. Chumak-Horbatsch (5) points out that the parents’ attitude towards a language can be negative, positive, neutral, tolerant, or even flexible, and that these feelings can be channeled towards a particular way of speaking (language), language choice, a child’s bilingualism, and/or form of language switching. Parents who aspire to develop children who are fluent in more than one language should not have a strong impact belief that Chumak-Horbatsch (5) defines to be a parental belief that they have total control over the linguistic forms their children choose to apply. Parents, instead, should have a weak impact belief which is the view that the larger environment takes control of shaping the child’s ways of speaking or picking up of a language which requires minimum parental intervention.


Children can distinguish the phonological sounds that they hear in bilingual settings from an early age. The findings of different scholars find that even though the specific time at which the child can distinguish the sounds differs, they all agree that one does not have to grow into an adult to be able to know the dissimilarities. The emerging issue is that the child will develop L2 more rapidly when the parents support the acquisition process and may not when the external features do not facilitate the development. Parents and instructors need to have a positive attitude towards the acquisition of additional languages to promote integration and cultural diversity that are essential elements for the growth of any society.
















Works Cited

Chumak-Horbatsch, Roma. “Early Bilingualism: Children of Immigrant in an English-Language Childcare Center.” Psychology of Language and Communication, vol. 12, no. 1, 2008, pp. 3-28.

Edelenbos, Peter, Johnstone Richard and Kubanek Angelika. The Main Pedagogical Principles Underlying the Teaching of Languages to very Young Learners. European Commission, 2006.

Gervain, Judit and Werker Janet. “How Infant Speech Perception Contributes to Language Acquisition.” Language and Linguistics Compass, vol. 2, no. 6, pp. 1149-1170.

Hoff, Erika and Core Cynthia. “Input and Language Development in Bilingually Developing Children.” Seminars in Speech and Language, vol. 34, no. 4, 2013, pp. 215-226.

Howard, Ian and Messum Piers. “Creating the Cognitive Form of Phonological Units: The Speech Sound Correspondence Problem in Infancy could be solved by Mirrored Vocal Interactions rather than by Imitation.” Journal of Phonetics, vol. 53, 2015, pp. 125-140.

Lewis, Tanya. “How Bilingual Babies keep Languages Separate.” Live Science, February 15, 2013, Accessed 1 December 2017

Petter, Olivia. “Bilingual Babies can distinguish between Languages before they are Two, Study Reveals.” Independent, August 9, 2017, Accessed 1 December 2017

Swingley, Daniel. “The Roots of the Early Vocabulary in Infants Learning from Speech.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 17, no. 5, 2008, pp. 308-311.

Weston, Phoebe. “Pupil Dilation of Bilingual Babies Reveal they can tell the Difference between Two Languages at just 20 Months Old – and they grow into much Smarter Adults as a Result.” Mail Online, August 8, 2017, Accessed 1 December 2017

Zaccari, Irene. “Why the Baby Brain can Learn Two Languages at the Same Time.” The Conversation, April 15, 2016.  Accessed 1 December 2017


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