Various people contributed to this discussion, and gave various
suggestions. Credit has not been given here for these contributions.
- Comparative studies of reading and problem solving in two languages
TESOL Quarterly, Volume 4, Issue 2 Macnamara, John Washington, DC,
- Bialystok, Ellen. Bilingualism in Development.
- Genesee, Fred. 2003. Rethinking bilingual acquisition. In Jean- Marc
Dewaele, Alex Housen & Li Wei (eds.). Bilingualism: Beyond Basic
Principles*. Festschrift in honour of Hugo Baetens
Beardsmore. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 204-228.
- Hakuta, Kenji. 1986. Mirror of Language: the debate on
bilingualism. Basic Books.
Although Hakuta's book deals with a range of topics connected to
bilingualism, he does provide a balanced discussion of a number of
studies on bilingual children: this is particularly the case in
chapters 2 and 3, entitled ''Bilingualism and Intelligence'' and
''Childhood Bilingualism''. Hakuta openly sets out to debunk a number
of myths about bilingualism, but this does not prevent him from
critiquing studies that speak in favor of childhood bilingualism,
e.g. Peal and Lambert's (1962) study on French/English bilinguals in
Canada. I recommend this book because, like Hakuta, I find it interesting that
the question as to whether it is 'problematic' to raise a child
bilingually surfaces much more frequently than the inverse question:
is it 'problematic' to raise a child monolingually? The wide-spread
and popular (or 'folk') stigmatization of bilingualism suggests that
greater socio-political factors are involved in the process.
As linguists, I think it is interesting to ask ourselves why it is so
often the case that monolingualism is taken as the starting point or
the default 'position' rather than bilingualism? It was with this
question in mind that I responded to your message and immediately
thought of Hakuta's book.
- Romaine, Suzanne. 1995. Bilingualism. 2nd
edition. Oxford: Blackwell.
- Eveline de Jong, (1986), The Bilingual Experience, Cambridge
University Press (reprinted 1993).
This book summarises the experience both of parents who succeeded to
raise their children bilingual as of those who failed to do so.
Finally, I think one important aspect often not taken into account is
that bilingual children often have parents who have a higher/academic
education. This has of course a certain impact on the way the child is
supported/stimulated in the process of language acquisition.
I find the literature over the years to be non-commital in the
- Methodological problems: Usually the studies reported are case
studies as these reflect long-term follow-up on development. Those
studies that are empirical in nature tend to provide measures that
while numerically convincing, always seem to represent a utopian
average to which no bi or multilingual can relate but rather
institutions such as educational systems establish policy based on
- The study of bilingualism (albeit the mainstream attitude) tends to
view bi or multilinguals as ''one entity'' in two ways: first,
bilinguals are regarded as the sum total of two monolinguals- they are
bilinguals simply by virtue of a phisiological fact namely, the
containment of both languages within one body. Bilingualism is a
special - third state phenomena which is the priviledge or the
handicap of a bilingual individual. (Read anything you can get your
hands on by the following: Grosjean,Genessee , Lanza, Stavans, De
Hower, and Hoffman).
- Second, the definition of bilingualism has over the years has been
flexed to the extent that almost everyone on the globe (this being a
global village) can count as bilingual. There are distinctions to be
made between incipient and later bilingualism, functional or
instrumental bilingualism, active or passive bilingualism and so
on. There is almost no care in these comparisons (bi/mono)regarding
issues of pragmetics, sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics that
account for the history of the individual's bilingualism which in my
view is an integral part of that individual bilinguality as well as
- In the eye of the beholder/believer - the split between advantages
and disadvantages on bilingualism are a matter of taste, experience,
and beliefs. The training of the researchers advocating one or the
other view seems to me to have a strong impact on the view they
advocate. When reading on this matter keep in mind who is writing.
- Personally, there is no one bilingual that can be described or
qualified or quantified by one model of either each monolingual system
or a fixed model of bilingual. I mean to say, that even when we
establish the pros and cons of bilingualism we must take care of not
doing so by looking at a bilingual accordint to the ''fixed'' ideal
features of a utopian monolingual of the languages he knows, nor
according to a made up utopian model of bilinguals as these will fail
on two counts:
- the languages (typologically similar or different) may render
various types of bilingual productions;
- individual differences in processing language among bi or
- the needs and style of communication of the individual in different
life situations and social settings may shape the bilingualism in
numerous ways that may not be the same across individuals nor within
- It is always more difficult to deal with complex systems
(multilingualism) than simple ones (monolingualism).
On average I do not think that bilinguals experience more learning
difficulties than monolinguals but rather a similar distribution of
difficulties in both types of individuals is to be found. What may
give this impression is what sort of difficulties are we talking about
and how those are diagnosed or tested. To do so there have been
studies sowing that bilinguals do perform better than monolinguals on
both analytic and non-analytic tasks but again it depends which study
you read and how that study impresses you as credible /
convincing. People to read who think like me would be: Genessess,
Grosjean, Kroll, Obler, Lanza, Stavans, DeHower, Meisel and Wei (off
the top of my head) also Baker gives interesting layperson
descriptions on these issues with the educational twist to it.
- Kielhfer, Bernd, and Sylvie Jonekeit Zweisprachige Kindererziehung
(1995/1998. Tuebingen: Stauffenburg Verlag).
I haven't read it in a while, but some of the arguments against
raising kids bilingually had to do with: not having enough exposure in
at least one language to be the ''strong language'', bicultural
confusion/identity confusion (familial relation difficulty is also
brought up in the context of there possibly be stress in the family
partly attributable to two parents from different linguistic/social
backgrounds), and some really crazy sounding stuff about kids with two
languages having ''intelligence deficits''! Also brought up is the
claim that learning a 2nd language somehow weakens the 1st, or strong
language. Acquiring literacy in two languages at the same time also
seems to be under question. These arguments often seemed to center
around immigrant families in Gastarbeiter sort of situations, if I
recall right, and some of the negative arguments get very crazy
sounding (these kids are emotionally damaged, stutter, etc.).
A couple of sources noted for negative effects are:
- Cummins, J. (1984). Bilingualism and Special Education: Issues in
Assessment and Pedagogy. Clevedon. Multilingual Matters.
- Jones, W.R. (1959). Bilingualism and Intelligence. Cardiff.
- Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (1984). Bilingualism or not: The Education of
Minorities. Clevedon. Multilingual Matters
- Cummins, Jim. 1976, April. The
Influence of bilingualism on Cognitive Growth: a Synthesis of Research
Findings and Explanatory Hypotheses. In Working Papers on
Bilingualism. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
pp. 1-43. Repr. in Colin Baker & Nancy H. Hornberger (Eds.).
2001. An Introductory Reader to the Writings of Jim
Cummins. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 26-55.
- Cook, V. 1997. The consequences of bilingualism for cognitive
processing. in A.M.B. de Groot & J.F. Kroll. eds.
Tutorials in Bilingualism: Psycholinguistic Perspectives. Mahwah, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum. pp.279-299.
Reviews research up to about 1993. The bibliography of >70
references should be useful. The author covers both sides of the
debate fairly, I think, though he comes down in the end very much on
the ''for'' side.
- Oller, J.W. 1997. Monoglottosis: What's wrong with the idea of the IQ
meritocracy and its racy cousins? Applied Linguistics 18/4:467-507.
An attack on IQ as a construct and as used in assessment, in the
context of bilingualism. One might find here support for the view that
in some cases where a bilingual disadvantage was found, this was an
artifact of testing.