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Poll: "Early exposure to a foreign language may disrupt the acquisition of the first one". Do you agree?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff
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Sep 13, 2016

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question ""Early exposure to a foreign language may disrupt the acquisition of the first one". Do you agree?".

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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 15:50
Member
Italian to English
Not sure what "early exposure" means Sep 13, 2016

I began learning German at eleven, but when I went to university, Italian became my first language and the only one I now work in, despite learning both to degree level.

I think children who grow up in a bilingual household will be better equipped to learn other languages - I really fail to see how early exposure to a foreign language could possibly disrupt acquisition of other languages.


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:50
Spanish to English
+ ...
It depends Sep 13, 2016

Based on personal experience, I think it may be posible in some cases. People are different. But other than anecdotally, I have no data to back up my notion.

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Edith van der Have-Raats  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 15:50
Member (2016)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Interestingly ... Sep 13, 2016

... there is a cultural connotation to this. In the Netherlands (and, looking at the results of the poll so far, probably also in many other countries) being raised bilingually is seen as an asset. However, in Denmark it is not - the common idea over there is that neither of the two languages is learnt particularly well - and hence 'bilingual' can be used to indicate people of foreign descent. See e.g. https://www.dr.dk/ligetil/gymnasie-laver-klasser-kun-med-tosprogede-elever about classrooms with 'bilingual' and 'ethnic' Danes. In the Netherlands, 'bilingual' is far too positive to make this distinction; we use 'allochthonous' vs. 'autochthonous' (terminology introduced to try to make the distinction neutral, but the word 'allochthonous' has grown into something negative over the years).

[Edited at 2016-09-13 08:32 GMT]


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Michael Harris  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:50
Member (2006)
German to English
Nope Sep 13, 2016

And why on earth should it?
Our 2 daughters speak 3 languages fluently. The only thing that you have to do is the parent of the one language should only speak this with them. The third language is the environment language and that comes from alone.
This from a survey carried out in S.Korea over a period of 25 years and was very successful.

And we cannot see any disadvantgae, more it makes children think more and I am fasinated how quickly children can switch through the languages, and also translate at such an early age. Not only that, if they already speak some languages, it opens the door to learn more when they get older.


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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 14:50
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Don't know! Sep 13, 2016

I believe each case is a case and it depends probably on how early is early. I started learning French in the Kindergarten when I was 4 or 5 and I don't think it disrupted my acquisition of Portuguese in any way…

P.S. I worked abroad within an international environment for 20 years and as you would expect some of my single Portuguese colleagues married foreigners. It was interesting to see how easy it was for their children to switch quickly from one language to another. One of my closest friends married an Italian. Between them they spoke Italian. The children spoke Portuguese with the mother and Italian with the father and French at school and with each other. Some of them (they are 4 girls) decided to pursue their university studies in Portugal and as far as I know they had no problem whatsoever, quite the contrary.

[Edited at 2016-09-13 09:09 GMT]


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Phoebe Indetzki  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:50
German to English
+ ...
Yes Sep 13, 2016

The question is worded very cautiously – "may disrupt". We live in Germany, and our children grew up bilingually; I always speak English, my husband always speaks German. All of them were considerably later than their peers in learning to talk at all (still on two-word German sentences by the age of three and a half...) so yes, I'd say their language learning was disrupted, but they got there in the end with the German, of course. English is another matter, though...

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Kenny Barclay  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:50
Member (2016)
Spanish to English
Yes? Sep 13, 2016

My bilingual kids have, when compared to their monolingual peers, been slower learners of both of their languages and always been slightly behind (although they have never been the slightest bit bothered). And anyway, they are still young and I pretty am sure they´ll catch up in the end.

I suppose this might not be relevant since we´re not exactly talking about "first" and "foreign" languages but it shows me that there is some kind of "disruption".

So I went for a "Yes".


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:50
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Bi-lingual great nephews Sep 13, 2016

I recently met my two American great nephews for the first time, aged 5 and 3.
Their father (my nephew) is American of Irish descent, their mother is Venezuelan but fluent in English. However, the boys spend much of their time being cared for by their Venezuelan grandmother who speaks hardly any English at all and always talks to the boys in Spanish.
The boys seem completely bi-lingual and both speak and understand English and Spanish with equal facility. Their exposure to both languages daily doesn't seem to have disadvantaged them at all - on the contrary. However, a facility with languages runs in our family, so perhaps they have inherited it - or perhaps they are particularly bright.


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:50
French to English
Neuroscience Sep 13, 2016

There is obviously a great range of variability. Language learning experiences are not necessarily identical and so comparing like with like is difficult. However, the general view in neuroscience for a number of years now is that being to a second language does not adversely affect the first (mother?) tongue. While some children may be slowed in the language learning process, others will not. Variations of this type will exist within a single family.

Studies from around 20 years ago or more tend to suggest a negative impact. More recent studies show the contrary. It depends what question is being asked. Indeed, the question here is whether being exposed to a second language disrupts the first one.
i) What is meant by "exposure"? Is it a situation where the child is just hearing a language which is not his/her mother tongue? Does it mean in the family environment? A school environment?
ii) What is meant by "foreign language"? Is it one which is not spoken by either of the child's parents? Does the question take account of the fact that children may be in a bilingual environment already at home?
ii) What is meant by "disrupt the acquisition of the first one"? What is the first language? what if the child is being raised with two languages at the home? What is "disrupt"? Slowed? Less rich in terms of understanding and/or expression?


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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Member (2011)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Sort of Sep 13, 2016

Our kids have gone through Welsh-language schools and their English spelling and grammar are pretty poor

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Sophie Dzhygir  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 15:50
Member (2007)
German to French
+ ...
Depends Sep 13, 2016

Phoebe Indetzki wrote:

The question is worded very cautiously – "may disrupt".
Agree. It 'may' always happen, although it often does not, so here the most reasonable answer is "it depends". It also depends on a lot of factors, for instance if the child gets exposure to the second language but no more (or little) exposure to the first one, for sure the first one will be disrupted. Nikki made very good points here.
Plus the fact that all children are different. Yes, it is a known fact that bilingually raised children tend to begin to speak later. But it's not always the case. My son is just learning to speak and he makes 3-4 words sentences in French (in baby talk, though), which is not late at all for a 2-year old child. His Russian develops slower for the moment, he hardly ever put 2 Russian words together. He possibly won't become a true bilingual, or will pick up Russian with time, who knows!


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:50
English to Spanish
+ ...
The use of “disrupt” is a dead giveaway Sep 13, 2016

Phoebe Indetzki wrote:

The question is worded very cautiously – "may disrupt". We live in Germany, and our children grew up bilingually; I always speak English, my husband always speaks German. All of them were considerably later than their peers in learning to talk at all (still on two-word German sentences by the age of three and a half...) so yes, I'd say their language learning was disrupted, but they got there in the end with the German, of course. English is another matter, though...


No, it isn't worded cautiously but carelessly by some individual star stricken by all things Silicon Valley, Uber, Lyft, Ali Baba or whatever you want to call those “startups.” After the current technobubble blows up, I wonder what overpromising inexperienced companies will call themselves to attract venture capitalists (no more dotcoms, that was done already).



Seriously, I couldn't find this faux quote anywhere (yes, I used Google search). I'm not claiming to be a child development expert or a language teacher, but I was exposed to English and some Italian in my childhood. So I am assuming that “early exposure” means exposure during childhood. Apparently, Proz's parameters for quick polls are stuck in a time warp. It's not 1998 anymore, you can expand the number of characters now.

I would have used influence, impact, affect, shadow, have a positive effect on, or a number of other possibilities. Even then, the question cast such a broad net that every answer is worth considering.


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Katrin Bosse  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:50
Member (2009)
Dutch to German
+ ...
Depends Sep 13, 2016

Jenny Forbes wrote:

I recently met my two American great nephews for the first time, aged 5 and 3.
Their father (my nephew) is American of Irish descent, their mother is Venezuelan but fluent in English. However, the boys spend much of their time being cared for by their Venezuelan grandmother who speaks hardly any English at all and always talks to the boys in Spanish.
The boys seem completely bi-lingual and both speak and understand English and Spanish with equal facility. Their exposure to both languages daily doesn't seem to have disadvantaged them at all - on the contrary. However, a facility with languages runs in our family, so perhaps they have inherited it - or perhaps they are particularly bright.


The thing is, this example of the two boys is very much a "work in progress" of which the outcome (when they turn adults) remains to be seen.

I had a student in uni once who had grown up completely bilingual (English/German). She failed every translation exam I gave her because she simply could not keep the languages apart in her brain, especially in using English sentence structures when writing German. Both languages seemed to occupy the same "brain space" and had become completely meshed and entangled ,without her being able to determine what the idiomatic solution would be. She couldn't even recognise mistakes when I specifically pointed them out to her. She didn't graduate, she failed her "Vordiplom" twice and had to leave uni. I don't know what carrier she finally took but I sincerely hope it was nothing in the field of translation.

I am not saying that bilingualism must and will always end this way. But when two languages are acquired at the same time, chances are that they will get in each others way during the encoding period - in whatever form.

ETA: Wow, carrier was meant to be career, of course, I am working in almost 30 °C and my brain is sweating bullets...

[Bearbeitet am 2016-09-13 14:13 GMT]


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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:50
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Each person and situation is different ... Sep 13, 2016

... of course. I'm sorry to hear about your unfortunate student and I sincerely hope that doesn't happen to my great nephews. They don't appear to muddle their two languages up at the moment, but who can tell what may happen in the future?Perhaps your student was not linguistically gifted in the first place and should have been studying something other than languages, but who can tell?
I presented my story only as an example of children brought up in a completely bilingual environment who do not (yet?) appear to have been disadvantaged by it. I wasn't meaning to lay down any "rules".


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