In the era of globalization and continuous transfer of human resources worldwide, many children are exposed to bilingual environments from the first days of life. Immigrants in the United States and other countries face a dilemma of the relevance of growing their children bilingual. On the one hand, they prioritize the language spoken by the host society to enable the required language capacity in the children to communicate and interact with peers, teachers, and other community actors. On the other hand, individual linguistic capabilities are shaped by one’s cultural background (Summer, 2015). Thus, each ethnicity has its specific linguistic and communication practice and traditions passed through generation to form the ethnic identity. Therefore, individual intellectual development, including literacy, requires consideration of the cultural origin through developing child’s awareness and competence in native language. Besides, native language acquisition is essential for preserving child’s self-identity for his or her further success in studies and social life. Given credit to the above-stated arguments, immigrant parents have to take effort and find a balance in developing native language skills along with the dominant language competence to ensure child’s successful integration into society while preserving the cultural ties.
When growing up in a bilingual environment, children differ in their exposure to native and prevalent languages, which explains the disparity in their success of developing bilingual language skills. Thus, the role of linguistic exposure is extremely important for children expected to be bilingual. Apart from the amount, linguistic exposure should be high quality to ensure the child’s acquisition of the desired language skills. In this vein, socioeconomic factors of the family play a vital role in determining the level of the native language competence in children growing in a bilingual environment (Kanto, Huttunen, & Laakso, 2013). Precisely, parents’ education, own native language experiences, language learning beliefs, economic characteristics, and child-rearing practices influence the process of the native language acquisition. Other factors that require consideration when bringing up bilingual children are individual language learning capacity and bilingual activity compared to passive use of two languages.
Although bilingual environments are common today, the existing knowledge base lacks insight into differences in acquiring both languages and using them effectively. In other words, why children regularly exposed to two languages achieve different accomplishments in becoming active bilinguals. Indeed, the linguistic environment of children growing up bilingual depends on linguistic choices and strategies used by their parents to provide the necessary amount of exposure to two languages (Byers-Heinlein and Lew-Williams, 2013). As a rule, one language is minority learnt by a child for the cultural identity, while the other – is dominant acquired for successful integration and interaction with the host society. The lower status of the native language may impair its acquisition compared to the dominant language. As such, a child growing up bilingual is exposed to the minority language at home and at some specific community events or meetings, whereas the exposure to the second language is much greater – at school, public places, official institutions, media, literature, and the like.
Given evidence above, acquisition of the native language requires a precise and specific attention and securement to compensate and balance the disparity in input levels. Parents should be aware and consider various factors affecting linguistic development when exposing their children to the native language. Auditory processing, memory, attention skills, and perceptual capacities are vital contributors to the child’s linguistic achievement. These mechanisms are essential for bilingual children, whose acquisition of grammar and vocabulary is much challenging than the one of monolinguist children. Therefore, it is essential to utilize all cognitive and processing mechanisms when exposing a child to both native and the second language (Kanto, Huttunen, and Laakso, 2013). The ultimate priority of parents of children growing up bilingual is to underline importance and ensure convenience and comfort in the native language acquisition. Otherwise, such children are not likely to share the language of their parents.
Byers-Heinlein, K., and Lew-Williams, C. (2013). Bilingualism in the early years: What the science says. LEARNing Landscapes, 7(1), pp. 95-112.
Kanto, L., Huttunen, K., and Laakso, M. L. (2013). Relationship between the linguistic environments and early bilingual language development of hearing children in deaf-parented families. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 18(2), pp. 242-260.
Summer, L. Q., 2015. Language acquisition for the bilingual child: A perspective on raising bilingual children in the US. In NCHAM eBook, 2015. A resource guide for early hearing detection and intervention. Ch. 27. [online] Available at: