A number of scholars have referred to the issue of bilingualism as one of the most urgent issues nowadays. As far as the world globalization and technological progress make the societies and cultures become more connected every day, learning languages is tightly associated with the future successful career of a person. Moreover, bilingualism is also associated with wider worldview and cultural understanding. Considering each language as a system shows that its acquisition since childhood is influential for development of all cognitive processes. Therefore, with regard to development of peculiar features of human mind and cognitive abilities, it is necessary to understand the best approach and age for the second language acquisition. According to the common knowledge on language learning, one may assume that the elementary school or even earlier stages of life are the periods when learning the second language is the most effective. At the same time, it is also necessary to understand that learning a language in different life periods demands distinctive methods of teaching. The aim of this paper is to investigate the process of speech learning in elementary school as the gradual change of the cognitive abilities and answer in what way the study of two languages contributes to the brain processes and how the language chosen for the instructions influences the proficiency in two languages.
Rationale. Any person is aware that language learning is the basis of communication among people. In addition, the importance of bilingualism was emphasized in a great number of studies. Among such, one can indicate the works of Brion (2015), Conger (2015), Haboud (2009), Kang (2012), Zou et al.(2012), Shafiro & Kharkhurin (2009), and many others.
Being supported by various researches, the idea that bilingualism provides different advantages to people of all ages demands particular analysis since it will contribute greatly to the understanding of how languages are acquired by children. Therefore, understanding the process of speech learning as a system shows that bilingual education is based on the gradual change of cognitive, phonological, and other skills of the students. As for the personal aspects of the research, I have to emphasize that when we came to the USA, my son was in the third grade. At that time, he could not speak English at all. However, after he passed an extra program at school, after three years, he could translate and understand English very well. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that the Arabic-speaking elementary school students can learn the second language effectively. Still, it is interesting to understand in more detail how such studies influence the cognition of a child. Such knowledge can let me not only understand what cognitive processes are involved but also conclude the best alternatives for the further development of the child. Understanding the cognitive processes would lead to proper understanding of some other practices and studies that would become more difficult or easier for the child’s perception. Based on the above-mentioned ideas and deeper literature analysis, the current study is aimed at identifying the most important aspects of teaching two languages in elementary school and its influence on child’s mind.
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Discussion. There is numerous evidence of the connection between the studies of two languages. Conger (2010) investigated its considerable role in the life of immigrants. The scholars proved that there were solid differences between the skills of monolingual and bilingual children at different levels. Kang (2010) proved that bilingual elementary school children have advantages when performing the phonological tasks. Verhoeven et al. (2012) also proved that the skills of bilingual children were higher in comparison to the monolingual ones. Moreover, the relationship between the proficiency of L1 and L2 was closely interconnected. The common idea was supported by Kan & Sdagopan (2015) who suggested that the development of skills for different languages was interrelated and should be analyzed in complex.
Many studies reveal the strengths of bilingual education and indicate that it has a substantial positive influence on each individual and entire nation. Brion’s research (2014) presents the development of bilingual education throughout the history to show that bilingualism improves the education outcomes for the “world’s poorest nations.” Using the colonial experience of Burkinabe as an example, Brion (2014) showed that monolingual schools hindered the development in the region, while the bilingual ones promoted success as they taught children some useful experience in the economic and agricultural spheres. What was also interesting was that bilingual education was proven to be effective in shaping the leadership skills among children and have a considerable impact on altering their worldview in contrast to monolinguals (Brion, 2014). Consequently, bilingualism contributes to children’s communication skills, independence, and improved leaning skills. In such a way, language learning becomes effective for the entire nation due to its contribution to the economic, social, and cultural potential of citizens and the country.
With regard to the above mentioned advantages, linguistic and cultural diversity is supported worldwide. The Ecuadorian example shows that teaching foreign languages is not a threat to the cultural identity. Instead, development of listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills provides the communicative growth of all people and the means to input some culturally shaped knowledge into human minds (Haboud, 2009). Even though there exist some contradictive views based on the beliefs that each country has to provide only indigenous education to the population, the truth is that the native population that learns only one language, especially in the developing countries, is limited (Haboud, 2009). For example, learning of English in Ecuador since pre-school is a considerable positive contribution to the child’s future as it unifies the child with the world, insures intercultural competency, and provides new philosophical views (Haboud, 2009). Ultimately, learning a foreign language is the right that should be possessed by all people. However, one should understand that it is not an easy process.
Referring to the statistics, one can see that bilingualism is a highly valued characteristic due to a number of reasons. Conger (2010) reported that language proficiency predetermined higher wages and lower level of life. Such dependencies are primarily noticed among the immigrants. It is clear that it is crucial for the immigrants who want to live in a foreign country as language is the basic means of communication. Dresser (2007) reported that low English level among the Latino students became the common reason for school drop-outs. Therefore, language knowledge is the basic demand to students who want to get higher education. With regard to the fact that not all Latino children start learning the second language since their early childhood, there is nothing strange about the fact that that there is such a considerable gap in the language proficiency and further complications with studies. Consequently, the studies presented by Dressner (2007) offer that the school teachers can have a positive effective impact on such a situation by means of the improvement of the learning process. He indicated such aspects as word meaning, concept learning, and making content comprehensible, and stated that they were crucial in the process of language acquisition (Dressner, 2007). One can hardly argue with that. However, it is also necessary to pay particular attention to the age of a person, language of instructions, and the native language structure as the factors that are influential to determine the success or failure in foreign languages learning.
Since learning languages is not an easy task, it is necessary to explore its main obstacles. Moreover, it is interesting to analyze why it is widely believed that it is better to learn foreign languages earlier than later. According to Zou et al. (2012), learning of the second language is to a great extent predetermined by the brain framework that has already been shaped by the acquisition of the first language. Mainly for this reason, it is easier to learn new languages when this framework is not completely shaped. The second language also influences the brain framework in the process of its learning. The experiments conducted by Zhou et al. (2012) display that the process of learning languages always affects the same brain areas. In such a way, learning each new language leads to some particular changes in these areas. The functional areas get accommodated to the new demands.
The study conducted by Shafiro and Kharkhurim (2008) was focused on the connections between visual similarity of the languages and improved phonological awareness. Russian and English were chosen as the different languages that represented the phonological and orthographic contrast for the students. The results showed that there really existed a correlation between the perceptions of similar graphical signs of two languages. In particular, native language phonology could lead to some confusion during the study of the second language (Shafiro & Kharkhurim, 2008). However, such impact is stronger among the late learners and is less considerable at the younger age. Therefore, this is the other evidence that bilingualism is obtained more easily in elementary school than at further stages of life. At least, the basic phonological, visual, and reading skills should be taught earlier.
The decoding skills of the younger students are less associated with grammatical literacy. Therefore, the phonological skills should be more involved in language recognition. Phonological awareness of the 5-6-year-old bilingual Korean students was investigated by Kang (2010). The research was focused on different phonological and orthographical awareness aspects of bilingual students. Their skills were also compared to those of the monolingual children. The results showed that the oral language proficiency of the students was to a great extent predetermined by the phonological skills (Kang, 2010). Moreover, the scholar proved that bilingual children had an advantage in comparison to the monolingual ones. The examination of the Korean and English-speaking students was based on two languages that were phonologically and orthographically distant from one another (Kang, 2010). The awareness of the sounds that were spoken by the teacher was comprehended much easier by the bilinguals and could be transferred across languages. In such a way, exposure of children to two languages provided development of better phonological skills. Moreover, the same practice contributed to better reading skills among bilingual children (Kang, 2010). Consequently, the current research should make parents and teachers see that even the pre-elementary education of children as bilinguals becomes a solid background for their further better cognitive development. In particular, phonological and reading skills can be improved if the child is taught two languages since the early years. However, it is not always possible to start learning a language since the early age. Moreover, in many cases, the teachers’ approaches and the tests chosen for the program become crucial for the better or worse language proficiency level.
As for the language for instructions, it should be regarded as an essential aspect by bilingual education analysis. Moreover, it is necessary to identify crucial influence of the teaching practices on the language acquisition. Brion (2015) proved that bilingual education had to be provided in stages, and the language for instructions had to get varied after some definite periods. The research offered by Conger (2010) has provided evidence that bilingual education programs are quite complicated since there may remain the same demand to the students of different nationalities during the proficiency tests. However, having such language as Spanish or Chinese as a mother tongue provides a different background for obtaining the knowledge (Conger, 2010). Therefore, it is not always correct to provide the same demands and instructions to the students, especially in high school. As for the elementary level, the language group differences are less influential as the brain processes are not yet completely formed.
Reed et al (2013) investigated another practice. The scholars focused on such practice as reading aloud versus silent reading. With the main aim of understanding which of the practices provides better understanding of the material to students, the experimental group consisted of bilingual students who spoke English and Spanish. With the detailed prior explanations of the best approaches to work and the further comprehension check, Reed et al. (2013) found no significant differences between the visual and phonological perception of the bilingual students. However, the interviews showed that silent reading seemed easier to the students and provided better and more rapid comprehension of the material (Reed et al., 2013). In addition, better remembering of the information was also associated with silent reading. Such information is consistent with some other studies primarily due to the idea that language decoding is easier since there is a visual contact with the words and structures. However, the above-mentioned study was based on the testing of middle and high school students. The current research is focused on the elementary school students. Therefore, there are good reasons to refer to another study and compare the results.
Verhoeven et al. (2011) also emphasized the interconnection between the skills obtained in two languages. Among the prior evidence, equal impact of SLI on acquisition of both languages proved the correlation between the study of two languages with regard to all levels, including conceptualization, sentence imitation, auditory skills, and others. The scholars focused on Turkish-Dutch bilingual elementary school students in order to prove that language impairment was significant in shaping the definite brain processes. With regard to the fact that language learning influences the same neurological processes, the scholars have indicated that learning two languages can lead to simultaneous influence of two stimuli on the same process (Verhoeven et al., 2011). In such a way, hearing impairment, low non-verbal intelligence, neurological damage, and even language disorders can appear. However, the choice of proper practices and moderate imposition on brains would lead to gradual formation of the skills that are necessary for the command of both languages. In particular, attention, processing speed, and memory are the aspects that demand particular attention while teaching languages to children with PBI.
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Ebert et al. (2012) offered the common research that provided the study of correlation between bilingualism and cognitive linguistic processes from the perspective of some deviations. The scholars focused on children with language impairment in order to characterize the learning processes that take place in students’ minds when acquiring two languages. PLI is a disorder characterized by language deficit and impairment, problems with working and verbal memory (Ebert et al., 2012). Cognitive skills, speed, and selective attention were analyzed to show that bilingualism was a positive phenomenon for the overall development and better proficiency in the native language (Ebert et al., 2012).
The research conducted by Kan and Sadagopan (2015) has provided evidence that repeating a model is an effective practice for pre-school learning of English as the second language. Therefore, one can see that for students with Cantonese as the first language, auditory models and developing of language skills starting with the phonological practices are very effective. In addition, the use of fast mapping is also appropriate to teach children new words (Kan&Sadagopan, 2015). However, it is important not to overdo with the amount of new information as the brain frame structure demands gradual adoption to new information. Since word learning is a very complicated process that demands new skills to structure understanding, utterance production and long-term memorizing, repeating and regular training are important practices for activation of the appropriate neural areas (Kan&Sadagopan, 2015). What is interesting is that bilinguals show that such practices become effective for both languages. Moreover, the interactive nature of the language system shows that the learning of two languages should be based on the development of common skills. However, it is often necessary to choose only one for the tests or instructions.
Palmer and Lynch (2009) reported that the “higher status of English” often predetermined its choice for the instructions or the high-stake tests in elementary school. For example, in Texas, the TAKS test is commonly offered in two languages. However, it is necessary that the tests are conducted in the language which has been used for instructions during the studies (Palmer&Lynch, 2009). For example, those who learn in Spanish should pass the test in Spanish, and the same with English. At the same time, reference to the essence of bilingual programs shows that the flexibility should be one of the leading characteristic obtained due to the program. In such a way, the choice of the same language will be regarded as repetition of various constructions. At the same time, the higher level of proficiency can lead to the use of the second language in order to improve the adaptability skills and develop the cognitive linguistic skills even more.
Conclusion. Bilingual children have a number of advantages in comparison to the monolinguals. The scholars have proved that they not only get the possibility to learn new words and grammatical structures but learn to use various areas of their brains in a different way. In such a way, bilingualism predetermines a peculiar brain framework that makes communication, cultural, leadership, and other skills function better and contribute to the prosperity on the individual and collective levels. Both languages that the person studies influence the same brain processes and areas. Consequently, the proficiency in languages is always closely interconnected with them. However, such skills can be developed in a different way in the earlier and later years of studies. According to the researches, earlier years are better suited to teach children two languages. At the earlier stages of studies, the oral language proficiency of children is closely interconnected with their phonological skills. Repetition can also be effective to remember various structures. Moreover, the language of instructions throughout the studies is crucial for the level of proficiency in both languages. In conclusion, speech learning in elementary school has considerable impact on cognitive abilities, and it is a positive phenomenon for the future achievements of the child.