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7 – Bilingualism


Gottfried Diller

discusses special needs and requirements for the rehabilitation of hearing impaired children who are raised bilingually as the family has a migration background.


Hearing-impaired children with an immigrant background often grow up in a bilingual or multilingual life situation. They are, in both their family and social environments, confronted with a language different from that used outside the home. This is also true of hearing-impaired children up to the age of 3, provided their impairment is detected early enough and they are included in an early-intervention programme.
For these children, their immigrant situation means that their hearing impairment is compounded by difficulties (which are social and societal in origin) in early language acquisition. The bilingual language environment, combined with severe hearing impairment, leads – in a higher-than-average number of cases – to these children not developing sufficiently in their language skills and personality.
In two separate chapters, this Module addresses the problems faced by these children.
In the first chapter, general aspects of early bilingualism in children are discussed. What will be addressed here – initially quite irrespective of the problems caused by hearing impairment – is bilingual language acquisition and its specific characteristics.
In the second chapter, the problems involved in raising and educating hearing-impaired children bilingually will be examined. This part will mainly look at:
the most important factors that influence bilingual language acquisition in hearing-impaired children; and
the needs that must be taken into account when bringing up and educating hearing-impaired children bilingually from an early age, both in terms of intervention itself and parental guidance.

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Chapter 1 – Early bilingualism and general models of acquisition

Chief learning goals: the reader should…

understand the differences between simultaneous acquisition of two first languages, early and successive second-language acquisition and the learning of foreign languages at school;
be able to explain how acquisition of vocabulary takes place in a bilingual learning environment;
know how children undergoing successive language acquisition develop linguistic skills in the second language;
be able to form an opinion on language mixing, language switching and choice of language.

The early acquisition of two or more languages will be discussed here, taking the situation of Turkish migrant children in Germany as an illustrative example. The situation for other countries, where immigrants face different conditions, may of course differ in detail but is likely to be similar in terms of the basic issues raised and problems encountered.
In Germany, children with an immigrant background show considerably poorer educational performance than children of German parents. The PISA comparative study revealed that 50 % of 15-year adolescents from migrant families achieve only skill level I (elementary reading ability) compared with 23 % of non-immigrant German adolescents. Migrant children are significantly less successful at school than children of long-resident families. Children from an immigrant background are three to four times as likely to repeat a year, and a quarter of children of foreign origin fail to obtain even the most basic secondary-school-leaving qualifications. In order to understand these facts, we need to first discuss a few basic terms from the field of early language acquisition and from bilingualism research.
The language acquisition situation of German children in early childhood
Children of this age have a basic grounding in their native language, show a good command of frequently used sentence structures and know several thousand words in this first language. They are generally able to speak clearly and intelligibly and already know a number of pragmatic rules (such as how to word questions and answers, and the different ways in which one addresses adults and peers). At the age of about 5, they can explain simple things to other people and use language to plan actions. They also generally understand explanations given by adults.
The situation of children growing up bilingually
“Children who are confronted with a foreign language at the age of only 3 or 4 find themselves in a similar position to that of children who are learning two languages in parallel. The younger the children are, and the less of their first language they have acquired, the more the learning situation resembles the initial situation of those acquiring two languages simultaneously.” (Apeltauer 1997, 37) [Translator’s translation of quoted passage].
Observations and reports show that 4-year-old Turkish children frequently mix their two languages, i.e. they cannot separate them to a sufficient extent. They make mistakes similar to those of German children acquiring their first language. Children aged 4 and over who are learning German make different errors. A further observation from available studies is that Turkish children who grow up bi- or trilingually have, when they start school, a smaller vocabulary than that of their non-immigrant German peers. Turkish school starters often have less in the way of conceptual knowledge and language experience than do non-immigrant German children, and frequently show deficiencies in morphosyntactic ability and narrative skills.
Inadequate language proficiency is regarded as the main cause of poor school performance by migrant children, and especially of their limited vocabulary. Having a smaller vocabulary leads to difficulties in learning – primarily, in learning to read – and may result in limited reading comprehension.

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Theories of second-language acquisition

In the early 1980s, the prevailing hypothesis was that children act like ‘young linguists’ in that they investigate and acquire the second language independently (in other words, children learn the second language without being actively ‘driven’ from outside). More recent studies show, however, that language immersion alone does not suffice. Rather, learners of a second language are highly dependent on interaction partners and the various forms of interaction in the target language. It is also vital that the language they hear is received within a positive emotional climate, and that sufficient input is provided (i.e. that the quantitative aspect is satisfied). A crucial variable in the acquisition of the second language is interaction between the learner and the users of the target language. This requires the learner’s utterances to be understood and interpreted by the interaction partner. No isolated language skills are disseminated, as learning cannot be successful when the learner’s own interests are not incorporated. Therefore, if children are to successfully acquire a second language, they must be given sufficient opportunities to interact with able speakers of the target language, and learning must take place within as small a group as possible. Studies confirm that the brain’s ability to process language is not inborn but emerges out of linguistic interaction with the caregiver and the social environment. It follows that it is enormously important, when observing children’s use of language and providing language support to children who are growing up bilingually, to obtain as accurate a picture as possible of the ‘social interaction’ network (parents, nursery school, intervention, speech therapy, etc., etc.) within which they acquire language (and languages). In this way, many different aspects of a child’s linguistic environment can be documented. On this basis, considerations can be made as to where opportunities for targeted language intervention can be provided, and regarding the extent to which the parents or other caregivers can receive guidance as to their use of language.
Models of early bilingualism
In principle, the acquisition of several languages is possible at any age. This is bilingualism in the sense in which many experience it, namely learning a second language at school. However, ‘native language’ acquisition can occur only within defined age limits. Here, we speak of early second-language acquisition or early bilingualism. This can be subdivided as follows:
(1) Bilingual first-language acquisition in children who learn two languages between the first and third years of life
The parents have different native languages (e.g. the mother is German and the father is English). Each parent speaks to the child only in their own mother tongue. Before reaching the age of two, the children can in principle separate the two languages, use different languages with different people, and correct their choice of language. In terms of how acquisition progresses, it would appear to make no difference whether the child acquires one or several languages at the same time. Evidently, the acquisition of individual languages differs only slightly from that of a child growing up monolingually (Schmitz-Salue 2007).
If a child is to successfully acquire a second language early in life, opportunities need to be available for interaction with able users of the target language, and frequent interaction sequences must be possible. These processes of interaction enable children to accelerate the progress of their own cognitive and linguistic development (Tomasello 2002).
For almost all children of Turkish parents, however, this situation does not obtain, so that this form of bilingualism in hearing-impaired children with different home languages is the exception rather than the rule.
(2) Successive early second-language acquisition
This applies to children who learn a second language between the third and fifth years of life. They first come into contact with the second language to a significant extent at the age of 3-4. In the interests of optimizing language development by children with a multilingual social environment, they should be first confronted with the different languages as early as possible. However, the available study findings relate only to hearing children.

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Raising and educating children bilingually

Children who are confronted with a second language at the age of 3 or 4 will already have a basic command of their first language. They thus have an important asset in place for further language learning. The first language is the catalyst for cognitive development, which in turn activates further development in both the first and second languages. The first language must not, therefore, be neglected.
A number of parents wish for their children to learn German as soon as possible, even if the first language is forgotten in the process. Other parents’ preference is for their child to keep up the first language. A third category want their children to learn the second language but, as far as possible, do not want the first language to be ‘unlearned’; nevertheless, in this third group, the local language (i.e. German) does dominate.
However, a child’s proficiency in their second language partly depends on their level of competence in the first. Parents must, therefore, be continually reminded that the first language is automatically activated during second-language acquisition and that a command of the subtleties of the first language is a good prerequisite for picking up the second one. The first language must therefore, especially at preschool age, be cultivated and nurtured. If neglected, the first language falls into ‘disrepair’ (so to speak) and will eventually no longer be of any use. Moreover, children who acquire only a low level of competence in the first language show poorer cognitive development than those who have acquired good linguistic skills in their first language, as they have no ‘code’ within which they can structure and store their knowledge.

Bilingual child-rearing and education need not have either a positive or negative impact
The advantages and drawbacks of raising children bilingually depend partially on the circumstances under which languages are acquired and on the level of development attained in the two languages. If children of minority ethnic origin have the opportunity, before starting school, to continue developing both languages – in a positive emotional climate, interacting with able users whose input provides good linguistic models – they can achieve a high level of proficiency in both languages and even benefit from bilingualism (as will the society in which they live).

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Vocabulary development and bilingualism

Those who study vocabulary acquisition recognize different ways in which new vocabulary items are acquired. A distinction is made between ‘fast mapping’ and the conscious learning of new words. The greater part of the vocabulary is acquired without outside influence. Words that are not used ‘die off’ and disappear from the vocabulary. When it comes to second-language acquisition, there are also different types of learners, namely ‘word collectors’ and ‘set-phrase collectors’. Learners of a second language tend to transfer core meanings from the first language to new words in the second language.
Differences between first- and second-language acquisition
People learning a second language are generally further on in their cognitive development than those learning their first. Words in the first language can initially be helpful to young children as an aid to perceiving the world around them; this highlights the interdependence of linguistic and cognitive development. This does not apply to the same extent, however, to the development of vocabulary in the second language. Second-language acquisition builds on meanings that have (to a greater or lesser degree) already been internalized, and on the semantic network of the first language. In preschool children, this process of keeping meanings distinct and separate (within the first language), as they internalize more and more of them, is still very crude; they also have only a limited vocabulary, even in their first language. As a result, the meanings of words can be transferred both ways: i.e. from the first to the second language or vice-versa. The development of the first language can be stimulated by the acquisition of the second. Let us say, for example, that a child learns the new word ‘dinosaur’ at nursery school; they know this word only in the second language, but ask at home how to say it in their first language.
Quantitative aspects of vocabulary development
A study (Fenson et al. 1998) of the growth in vocabulary of children growing up monolingually reveals the following acquisition rates (broken down by age):
12-16 months approx. 0.3 words/day
16-23 months approx. 0.8 words/day
23-30 months approx. 1.6 words/day
30 months – 6 years approx. 3.6 words/day
6-8 years approx. 6.6 words/day
8-10 years approx. 12 words/day
10 years and above rate slows
On average, children of preschool age learn around 1,080 words each year, with those of early primary-school age picking up some 2,000 words annually. Children aged 8-10 are reported as mastering about 3,600 new words a year.
It is, therefore, unrealistic to expect children who are growing up bilingually (without receiving preschool intervention for a sufficiently long period) to follow normal lessons at mainstream school. Neither should we expect that targeted support in the final year of nursery school (preparatory to starting primary school) will enable children to build a basic vocabulary of 3,000 words (i.e. around three times as large as that acquired by nursery school children), especially as their rates of language acquisition fail to match those of children growing up in a monolingual environment. Year 1 children from an immigrant background without preschool language intervention would therefore have to acquire 3,000 words as a core vocabulary to serve as a basis for understanding – plus 2,000 additional words per school year – in order to successfully make their way through school (i.e. 2.5 times as fast a vocabulary growth rate as for a primary-school child).
These figures highlight how essential it is to plan interventional measures over a lengthy period of time in order to ensure the child has acquired a vocabulary of around 3,000 words before starting school. The choice of new words to be introduced in the support programme should involve a combination of items based on vocabulary from attractive picture-books and words that just come up in natural situations, as this helps create a positive mood and a beneficial emotional atmosphere for learning.

Vocabulary development in the second language
Acquiring meaning in the second language involves passing through various phases. The initial stage entails learning the names of familiar objects for which there are words in the first language. Initially, only a core/partial meaning is acquired, after which the meaning of the word is further differentiated and expanded by the child’s own experience.
A further key factor for vocabulary acquisition in the second language is the internalization of consistent patterns of speech sounds. Not until the basic principles of the system of speech sounds in the second language have been mastered can vocabulary acquisition pick up speed. After the initial phase comes a stage during which children broaden their information base; they explore the limits to the extension of meaning, which involves testing out which objects the word is applicable to. At the same time, or shortly afterwards, they seek connections between the words and meanings; they create cross-links between the individual items and form connections to other words (e.g. formation of superordinate and subordinate terms). This phase is followed by the acquisition of knowledge about ways of combining the word with other words (i.e. syntagmatic orientation/connections).
The role of the first and second language in the acquisition of new words
The acquisition of new words in the second language is automatically associated with activation of the first language. Presumably, when two languages are acquired early in life, these languages mutually activate each other (since, whenever something new is learned in either of the languages, children compare and ask what the relevant word is in the other one). Monolingual caregivers/teachers do not generally expect that, in the early acquisition phase, children will draw connections with vocabulary in their first language; however, children growing up bilingually do precisely this. This ‘dual networking’ enables words to be permanently stored, flexibly retrieved and flexibly combined. The aim should, therefore, be to give children the opportunity to systematically develop both languages.
Difficulties with vocabulary acquisition in the second language
The degree of difficulty in acquiring a new word depends on various factors. Among these is the existence of ‘false friends’; that is, different languages that sound similar but mean different things (for example, the word ‘notebook’ in English means both a laptop computer and a pad of paper, whereas in German a ‘notebook’ refers only to a computer). The articulation of the word (including aspects such as consonant clusters and ways in which the articulation system differs from that of the first language) plays an important part. Another factor here is the role of culture. Sometimes there will be no word for a given meaning or concept in one of the two languages, so that neologisms must be created in this language (for example, in Turkish there is only one word to cover the meanings of both ‘brush’ and ‘comb’).
Preschool children have, by virtue of their situation, several deficiencies. Firstly, their articulation system in the first language is not yet fully developed. This makes it harder for them to acquire the system of speech sounds in the second language. Secondly, for many words they only have imprecise meanings available to them (even in the first language), so that their network of semantic cross-links is still fragmentary overall. The meaning of new words must be progressively put in place on the framework of this rather rudimentary vocabulary; this meaning must be kept separate from that in the first language and interconnections created within the second, with cross-linkage also established between this network and that in the first language. If necessary, a more abstract, language-independent conceptual representation must be developed. This highlights the increasing challenges – in terms of cognitive, language and oral motor skills – that children face when growing up bilingually.

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Recommendations for intervention work with children growing up bilingually

How can these children, in terms of their language development, be stimulated and motivated to learn a second language? How can their progress in this second language be accelerated to the extent that the children have, before beginning school, laid the necessary linguistic foundations despite not having playmates of the same age?
The basis for successfully acquiring a second language, both at preschool age and in general, is a supportive atmosphere in which the child feels secure. It is also important that these children continue to gain experience of their first language. At the same time, the aim is that a basic command of the second language will be acquired through play: the child should be specifically stimulated to form comparisons and to build the initial bridges between the two languages. As the first language is closely bound up with cognitive development, and a higher level of development in the first language means that an important foundation for acquiring the second language is in place, the first language should continue to be cultivated; it needs to be ensured that ‘native-language input’ is still provided within the family. In order to make it easier for children to ‘access’ the foreign language more easily, this input should initially be used in conjunction with the actions to which it refers and should (if possible) be translated. To encourage biliteracy, picture-book stories ought where possible to be provided initially in the first language, then in the second. It is also a good idea to act out the story and thus further reinforce understanding. Another goal should be to cultivate regular contact with children whose native language is the child’s target second language (for example, to seek out collaboratively run nursery schools or playgroups). In every case, the foundation for positive bilingualism and biliteracy will be close cooperation with the parents. Other things which make for a beneficial wider framework that fosters development and learning include small learning groups, comprehensive documentation of the language-learning environment and the children’s linguistic and general progress, and scope for providing nursery school teachers with in-service training and supervision.

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The development of language skills

What children first develop in a foreign language is a solid basis for perceiving speech sounds; only then are the first words and set phrases acquired (see the above discussion on vocabulary development). During the ‘familiarization through hearing’ phase, only a few new words are picked up. Not until the foundations for perception of speech sounds have been laid can the child’s vocabulary begin to expand.
Why is the perception of speech sounds so difficult? At normal talking speed, some 125-180 words are spoken a minute, equivalent to around 25-30 phonetic units per second. Coarticulation causes these units to overlap, so that the individual sounds are hard to discriminate between. Furthermore, speech sounds are subject to a great deal of variation; for example, male and female voices (and speech sounds) come across differently. Specific aspects of children’s voices can also make it harder to perceive words and speech sounds, as can articulation difficulties.
On entering nursery school, children will generally know several hundred words in their first language, as well as the underlying syntactic pattern. They will also have formed patterns of hearing, and expectations of hearing, that may hamper them once they are confronted with a foreign language. Becoming acquainted oneself, through hearing, with the unfamiliar prosody of the second language (e.g. intonation and rhythm aspects) makes considerable demands cognitively, auditorily and linguistically. Distinguishing between speech sounds (i.e. discriminating) is also difficult owing to the rapid speed at which language is spoken. These problems are compounded by the fact that the new speech sounds in the second language, while often being close to the familiar sounds of the first language, are slightly different and are thus produced differently. The initial priority is, therefore, for a child to be able to acoustically register the system of speech sounds in the second language, because only if it is correctly heard can it be correctly spoken.
Acquiring the system of speech sounds
Rhythmic and intonation features of the native language are perceived while the child is still in the womb, and certain ‘expectations of hearing’ are formed. After birth, a child learns which sounds there are in its mother tongue and which combinations of sounds are possible (and ‘permissible’) in this language. In order to be able to articulate sounds in a foreign language, new perceptual habits and new motor skills need to be developed. Children who acquire two languages at nursery school age thus internalize two different systems of speech sounds. Children usually have no difficulty in picking up two such systems, but the time taken to acquire them may vary greatly. Not all sounds pose children with the same problems; there are both ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ sounds and combinations of sounds.
The perception and discrimination of vowels is easier than that of consonants, with vowels tending to be mastered around the third year of life. The perception of consonants (and combinations thereof) develops slowly. This does not, however, apply to second-language acquisition. The early acquisition of vowels means that these are often ‘fixed’ within the native language, which frequently leads to problems and to vowels getting mixed up. Children’s learning of the system of speech sounds in their first language tends to be completed in their seventh year.

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Language mixing, language switching and choice of language

Apeltauer (2004) describes how – in connection with a pilot scheme in Kiel, Germany – children of nursery school age acquired German as a second language. The processes he discusses are a recurring theme in the literature and can thus be regarded as typical. At the start of the project, the children spoke mainly Turkish when they were addressed in German. The first evidence of their emerging German skills came when the children suddenly joined in a conversation and replied (in their native language) to questions or instructions in German. Language mixing, language switching and code-switching (sometimes involving isolated German words) were observed.
In some cases, neologisms (i.e. new words of the children’s own devising) were created by taking elements from both languages (for example, ‘köpekhund’, with ‘köpek’ and ‘Hund’ respectively being the Turkish and German words for ‘dog’), especially as expressions of emotionality.
Observations in the field of phonology
It is very interesting to look at phonological processes that occur in Turkish children at the start of second-language acquisition. In many respects, they correspond to the phonological processes observed in hearing-impaired children who are cochlear implant (CI) recipients. Among hearing-impaired children growing up bilingually, therefore, a distinction must be made between (on the one hand) typical speech and language disorders that arise due to the hearing impairment, and (on the other) those that occur as a result of second-language acquisition. Furthermore, at nursery school age many children still show inaccuracies in articulation that are development-related.
During the phase of phonological over-generalization, few new words are learned; the bulk of the available energy is tied up with articulation, so that there is no spare capacity for storing new words. Moreover, prosodic elements of the new language must be acquired, as must the rules governing stress. In general, nursery school children have no problems in picking up the regular prosodic and articulatory features of the second language. Difficulties do emerge, however, when children develop tendencies towards reticence in their use of language and – owing to uncertainty and a lack of confidence, ambition and fear of making mistakes, and a negative parental attitude towards the foreign language – do not use this second language.
During the acquisition phase, transitional phonological mistakes (interference errors) also occur, such as /e:/ und /i/ => /erdbirne/. Words or parts of words that sound quite similar are mixed up, although this phase tends to be only brief. Interference effects manifest themselves, largely involving sounds for which native-language perception and production are already developmentally ‘in place’ (i.e. vowels). As vowels are acquired at a very early stage, children are more prone to making interference mistakes with vowels than with consonants (these being acquired later).
While they are at the stage of acquiring the new system of speech sounds, children frequently produce what are called ‘unstable words’ (i.e. their articulation is not consistent). This is often seen in hearing-impaired children as well. Initially, until a stable pattern of hearing has developed, many words are produced in a highly unstable form. In studies it was observed that, around three months after bilingual education at nursery school began, children’s language became sprinkled increasingly liberally with German, and that the children were more successful at keeping the two languages apart (although Turkish remained the dominant language). Turkish, the mother tongue, was used as the language for expressing emotions and negotiating. To a growing extent, too, switching to Turkish was deliberately used as an exclusion tactic (i.e. a conscious choice of language to exclude the German teacher). The children also learned to differentiate between interaction partners in their choice of language (Turkish with Turkish children; German with teachers). Their growing German skills enabled them to make increasing use of German-language media such as CDs and picture-books.
Use of set phrases to facilitate getting started
Many children with an immigrant background use set phrases in their second language. Nursery school teachers and other educational caregivers tend to have misgivings about this, as children at this stage are not yet flexible in their use of language. Is, however, the use of set phrases essentially detrimental?
Set phrases facilitate learning processes (including those in first-language acquisition) und help children uncover regular patterns in language. Complex utterances (i.e. set phrases) tend to be stored as whole units (e.g. /eyesclosed/ for /eyes closed/; original German example /augenzu/ for /Augenzu/) and initially remain unanalysed. (Set phrases are sometimes simplified in terms of articulation and grammar.) Children draw on their existing language abilities in producing whole units of language, so that adaptations of set phrases such as /wie heiti/ (pronounced ‘vee hahytee’) for /Wie heißt das/die?/ (pronounced ‘vee hahyst das/dee’) (meaning ‚What is that called?’/What is she called?’) sometimes occur. Use of these adapted phrases is then discontinued when learners have sufficient linguistic contact with speakers of the target language. However, children do ‘cling’ to set phrases of this kind for quite a long time. Set phrases can usually be recognized in that they are spoken more quickly and the stress used is uniform in nature. Common set phrases include rituals (greetings, goodbyes, thank-yous), instructional phrases (such as ‘Sit down on your chair’, ‘Please close your eyes’) and phrases that guide interaction (‘May I…?’, ‘I’m…’, ‘It’s your go’, ‘What’s that’?) Exposure to children’s literature supplies new set phrases (a typical fun repeated phrase encountered in a book being ‘the very hungry caterpillar’). As children gain language experience, set phrases also seem to grow in their complexity (e.g. the number of elements and grammatical requirements; examples include ‘Ready, steady, go!’ or modal verbs, as in ‘I would like to’). For children in the process of acquiring a second language, set phrases perform several functions. Firstly, they are tools for commenting on one’s own actions (e.g. ‘I’ll be back in a minute’), and for guiding conversations and interaction (e.g. ‘It’s your go’). Set phrases are also less hard work for the cognitive apparatus and offer a kind of ‘utterance generator’ for creating new sentences.

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Language-learning behaviour and strategies

Each child seems, over the course of the acquisition process, to develop their own ideas about how they can best learn. Interactive reading aloud provides a very good opportunity to observe these strategies: children can take part in the telling of a picture-book story by contributing language. Some children participate at the ‘noise level’ (onomatopoeic use, as in the use of animal noises), by repeating individual words they hear, by unsolicited repetition of words with a view to improving their own pronunciation, and by repeating utterances several times (e.g. by way of augmenting the story that is being told or read aloud).
In order to keep communication going or to ensure they can get their wishes across, children develop different compensation strategies. Typical strategies of this kind include the over-generalization of words (e.g. ‘car’ for buses, trains, etc.), and the use of universal expressions/utterances (such as ‘Go like this’). Language development is rarely a straight-line curve; it is often punctuated by quantum leaps.

Metalinguistic development and language awareness

The term ‘metalinguistic development’ refers to the ability to reflect on language in general and languages in particular, and to develop awareness for language (regarding the use of the individual languages, for example). After five months, children can consciously separate the languages and are aware of who speaks which one. In many children, a phase of name-switching occurs in which objects are, for fun, deliberately referred to by the wrong word (e.g. /‘You’re a jacket’/; use of these ‘switching and transformation games’ depend on the child’s level of language and conceptual development. In this phase of increasing metalinguistic awareness, children also often exploit the bilingual situation for their own mischievous ends; for example, children pretend that they no longer understand German expressions, in order to deliberately confuse their nursery school teachers. Deliberately excluding teachers by consciously switching languages is a sign of increasing language separation and metalinguistic awareness (children know who speaks Turkish and who does not, and what consequences this has for interaction).

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Review questions on Chapter 1

1) What are the prerequisites for successful simultaneous acquisition of two first languages?
a) Systematic language training;
b) Opportunities need to be available for interaction with able users of the target language, and frequent interaction sequences must be possible;
c) Both parents must be capable users of both target languages;
d) It is sufficient if children are confronted with both languages in their day-to-day environment, as they will then acquire both automatically as interactional needs dictate.
2) When do we refer to ‘successive’ early second-language acquisition?
a) When children learn a second language between the third and fifth years of life;
b) Early language acquisition is ‘successive’ when the second language is introduced only gradually at first but is then used increasingly;
c) ‘Successive’ means that a second language is added once the child starts going to school;
d) Both languages are learned at the same time but the sequence (in terms of choice of language) is reversed.
3) How many new words does a child growing up monolingually, aged between 12 and 30 months, learn per day on average?
a) Around 20 words;
b) Between about 0.3 and 1.6 words; the older the child, the more they learn;
c) This is the period of the ‘vocabulary spurt’, i.e. up to 50 words;
d) Children do not learn any words between the ages of 12 and 18 months.

4) What may be the cause of difficulties in second-language vocabulary acquisition?
a) Excessive cognitive demands;
b) The fact that parents and therapists explain the same thing in different ways;
c) Ineffective crosslinking between the various semantic networks;
d) Individual genetic predisposition.
5) What part do the new systems of speech sounds play in successive second-language acquisition?
a) Formation of speech sounds is universal, and the same in all languages;
b) Vowels are always spoken in the same way; languages differ only in their consonants;
c) The more similar the phonology of different languages is, the harder it is for these subtle differences to be learned;
d) Children need to develop new perceptual habits and new motor skills in order to master the second system of speech sounds.

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Chapter 2 – Raising and educating hearing-impaired children bilingually from an early age

Chief learning goals: the reader should…

recognize which factors are responsible for the subnormal performance of hearing-impaired children in bilingual environments;
appreciate the importance, for the language-learning process in these children, of the choice of first language;
be able to reflect on the implications of the bilingual language acquisition situation for intervention in hearing-impaired children.

To date, little academic interest has been shown in early hearing and language acquisition as it relates to bilingualism in children with hearing impairment. This is perhaps because the phenomenon of multilingualism in the hearing impaired did not really fit in with the way that deafness was perceived. Bilingualism in this context has been the subject of intensive discussion for centuries, but only in the sense of an approach to acquiring both spoken and sign language. This chapter does not deal with bilingualism in this other sense, but with the acquisition of two spoken languages.
Which people are we specifically talking about here? The present-day reality is that, in many countries, a high proportion of all children have a migration background. In Germany, for example, the figure is 25 % (the figures vary between 15 % and 45 % depending on region), and the situation is comparable in other large European countries. The largest group of migrants in Germany will again be taken as an illustrative example here: around 30 % of all hearing-impaired children in Germany come from Turkish families, and this discussion centres around them.
Many studies show that even normal-hearing children from Turkish migrant families can sometimes have considerable problems acquiring their second language, and that speech and language problems are evident even at school. Nevertheless, hearing children invariably do learn their native language, although not always to a high level.
If we look at the situation of hearing-impaired children today, it is a ‘given’ that cochlear implants (CIs) or hearing aids enable deaf or severely hearing-impaired children to pass through the stages of spoken-language development virtually normally, i.e. that their spoken-language skills are more or less equal to those of hearing children.
This applies only to a very limited extent, however, to children from Turkish migrant families. These children show very poor spoken-language development, despite being fitted with the same assistive hearing devices and receiving the same early intervention.
Almost 95 % of all Turkish children who are deaf or have severe hearing disorders fail to develop language skills – either in their native language or in German – that come close to what is normal for their age.

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Factors influencing bilingual language acquisition

Which factors may influence language acquisition among children with a (Turkish) immigrant background? As has already been discussed, even Turkish children without hearing impairment very often have problems picking up German. As experience gained in rehabilitation and intervention has consistently shown, children with this additional difficulty to overcome – namely, hearing loss – acquire only very limited language skills both in their mother tongue and in the local language (i.e. German).
Of course, any number of factors may be responsible for this, including culture, religion, the parents’ level of education, the degree of integration into (or segregation from) the host society, and socio-economic status. Very often the various influences cannot be clearly isolated; it is, however, still worth trying to highlight certain trends.
The socio-economic status of Turkish migrant families
Socio-economic status is the product of three main factors: the family’s formal education and income situation, the ‘standing’ of the family’s minority language within the host society, and the ‘power relations’ between the majority culture and the minority ethnic group. At present some 2.45 million people of Turkish descent live in Germany, of whom around 25 % have German citizenship. Their socio-economic status is evident in the fact that, overall, they have considerably lower educational attainment (60 % gain only the most basic school-leaving certificate; 12 % have no school qualifications) and, in consequence, lower income (43 % of the Turkish workforce being blue-collar workers and only 17 % skilled workers). A higher proportion (20 %) of Turkish citizens are unemployed. Their poorer economic status is also manifested in their living conditions – they tend to have smaller, poorer-quality homes, often in less attractive residential areas. Studies also show that Turkish migrants feel they are devalued – in terms of their language and culture – within German society.
The high proportion of socio-economically disadvantaged Turkish parents with an immigrant background makes it very difficult in practice to pin down the problems associated with language acquisition in hearing-impaired Turkish children. It appears, however, that those Turkish children whose parents have a good level of education – and thus enjoy higher status in society – undergo positive bilingual development despite their hearing impairment. Children of parents who are lower educational achievers and of lesser socio-economic status, however, show substantially poorer development. In many cases, it does not come at all naturally to these children’s parents to reflect on their own language and to become more consciously aware of how they speak to their child. Hearing-impaired non-immigrant German children, too, whose parents are of lower educational attainment, often fail to achieve a satisfactory level of language competence.
Cultural orientation
Along with socio-economic status, the question of whether a family embraces the majority culture or remains firmly within their culture of origin is crucial for language acquisition. Has the family adapted well, both linguistically and culturally, or do they deliberately close themselves off from the host society? Parental attitudes towards the society in which they have settled are a crucial factor influencing motivation to learn German. Families who feel at home in Germany pass on to their children a positive attitude towards the local language. Parents who feel less integrated convey to their children – however unintentionally – a feeling of distance from the German language and, owing to the psychological strain caused by poor integration, probably speak less (especially at the emotional level) with their children. This will have a detrimental effect especially on hearing-impaired children, for whom perception of prosodic elements is particularly important.
Parental linguistic competence
Another important factor determining the success of bilingual child-rearing and education is likely to be the oral linguistic skills of the parents in the host language. Stronger identification with the majority culture leads to more ‘language contacts’ and thus to improvement in spoken-language skills. Moreover, Turkish parents with poor German can often not be adequately counselled with regard to the help their hearing-impaired child needs. Early intervention, speech therapy and ongoing educational support at nursery school take place largely in German. Solely because of the inadequate language skills of many Turkish parents (especially mothers), for example, guidance sessions cannot be conducted satisfactorily. For Turkish parents this leads to yet more exclusion, as they cannot be properly included in the programme and cannot ‘relate to’ the language support work. Turkish families in which at least one parent speaks good German can be far more actively involved in shaping their children’s intervention. Better German-language skills generally lead to more positive integration into German society, as well as lessening the emotional strain on the family.
Reading resources and habits
With children of minority ethnic origin the risk is very high that, owing to their families’ socio-economic status and low educational attainment, these children will fare poorly in terms of exposure to the printed word and reading as a doorway to socialization skills. Unfortunately, there is currently a dearth of representative data on frequency of reading among the Turkish population in Germany. Figures from a study on “Use of the media and integration among the Turkish population in Germany” show that 62 % of the Turkish population in Germany above the age of 14 either read only little or read no books at all (by comparison: 49 % of non-immigrant Germans). Only 20 % of Turks (by comparison: 28 % of non-immigrant Germans) read books ‘regularly or (almost) daily’ or ‘several times a week’. In general (based on anecdotal observations), Turkish homes tend to have very little in the way of books and Turkish families fall into the category of non-readers or very occasional readers, so that Turkish children are far less likely to have a positive parental role model, and receive little encouragement to read within the family.
This is often apparent to professionals providing support to Turkish families of hearing-impaired children. Many children possess few or no picture-books, and those that they do have are often purchased from supermarket chains and are of poor quality. In parental-guidance sessions, parents frequently seek advice on helping their children but are very often not in a position to put these recommendations into practice and to create a stimulating language environment for them. Their own lack of exposure to the printed word makes it hard for these parents to instil in their hearing-impaired children a positive attitude towards books and reading. There is need for action here in terms of advising parents as to which picture-books help stimulate linguistic growth, and how they can use these materials with their children to help them improve their language skills.
Use of radio und television
There are, at present, no reliable academic data available on the use of radio and television by Turkish families in their first and second language. However, Grabow (2005) surmises that TV and video consumption is above average among families who are socio-economically worse off. As a far higher proportion of Turkish families in Germany fall into this category than their non-immigrant German counterparts, this suggests that the nature of media use also has an impact on the language abilities of children of minority ethnic origin. For many children, the television is their only ‘voluntary’ contact with the German language prior to starting school. A problem is that many Turkish children tend to prefer watching animated series that fail to provide challenging language input and thus have a low language-learning effect. Moreover, data on the duration of media use show that Turkish children watch TV, and play computer games, for longer than their non-immigrant German peers. Turkish parents are probably less likely to keep tabs on their children’s use of media, although no reliable data on this are yet available. In guidance sessions with Turkish parents, they often justify this high TV consumption in terms of its benefits to the child’s language development, pointing out that the child can follow what is going on. For their language development, however, hearing-impaired children have a particular need for interaction with a conversational partner. Moreover, children with hearing impairment are happy to focus on the visual stimulation they get from watching television, which is normally enough for them to understand these cartoons. Greater TV consumption also very often results from the fact that there is a shortage of available space and materials (e.g. books and creative playthings such as building bricks and pens), and that watching TV is such an appealing pastime.

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Hearing impairment and the intervention situation

Language acquisition is also dependent on the nature and extent of the hearing defect, its time of onset, the intervention received and how soon it starts, assistive hearing devices, multiple disability and other difficulties.
Data on provision of hearing-impaired Turkish children with technical aids indicate that the majority of these children are fitted only unilaterally, whereas most non-immigrant German children are bilateral recipients. Little information is available on the intervention situation of hearing-impaired Turkish children, but discussions with their parents indicate that they often find the situation less than ideal (mainly owing to the language barrier). This brings us to the next important factor: what should be chosen as the first language for intervention work?
Choice of first language
The choice of first language in communication with the hearing-impaired child is regarded as a critical factor. These remarks will therefore focus on the scope for language perception in these children’s situation, and on the importance of linguistic input from the parents and of the language used in therapy.
The ‘ideal-typical’ situation for bilingual first-language acquisition is rarely encountered in Turkish families. It tends not to be the case that one parent speaks German and the other Turkish, and that the child receives equal input in both languages during the crucial, formative early years – thus becoming bilingual in such an apparently effortless way!
In many families, German and Turkish are not clearly separated, so that the child cannot develop good patterns of hearing and speech in either language. In many conversations with Turkish mothers it became evident that the parents themselves switch between the languages and many interference mistakes occur (i.e. grammatical errors caused by transferring the rules of Turkish onto German). Moreover, many parents have little awareness of their own linguistic behaviour and, for example, do not know which words their child understands and says in which language. Furthermore, mixing of the languages leads to prosodic elements being lost, as prosody and word stress are markedly different in German and Turkish. This loss of prosody makes it very difficult for the hearing-impaired child to perceive sentence intonation and ‘grasp’ syllable structures by means of these stress patterns. The mixing of two different systems of speech sounds also makes it harder to acquire patterns of hearing in the two languages.
If the two languages are separated by person, then it will generally be only the father who speaks German with the child (which is unlikely to be for more than two hours a day in the evening), whereas the mother will tend to speak only Turkish throughout the day. We can at present only speculate as to why these children, too, pick up spoken language only with great difficulty. It may be that emotional and psychological strain on the mother’s part, caused by her lack of integration into the host society, play a role. The sense of having been left to fend for herself with her hearing-impaired child – of not being adequately looked after by the support system in Germany – may be of importance here. A lack of awareness regarding the child’s language needs, resulting from a low level of education, may have a detrimental effect on the child’s linguistic development.
The situation surrounding guidance for Turkish families as to the choice of first language
As hearing-impaired children – quite apart from their family circumstances – have considerable difficulties acquiring spoken language in any case, parents were often advised during guidance sessions to communicate with the child in only one language right from the start, namely the local language (German). The thinking behind this was to ensure that a hearing-impaired Turkish child could progress in at least one language, and to enable them to get off to a positive start with a view to later integration within the German education system. However, bringing up their hearing-impaired child in German was a demand that Turkish mothers were in most cases unable to satisfy. Especially in the first months of life (or of hearing), it is very difficult to communicate in one’s second language, as prosodic elements in ‘motherese’ are emotionally very highly charged and can be transferred into the second language only if a very high level of proficiency has been reached. Asking that a mother speak to her child in what for her was a foreign language brought with it the risk that the language-based relationship between the two communication partners might be considerably disrupted. As already mentioned, interaction between mother and child – especially at the start of the language acquisition process – forms an essential foundation for successfully picking up the language. If this communication is affected, as for example through the use of a language that may hold negative associations, there may be a detrimental impact on the development of the child and the mother-child relationship and, in turn, on language development.
Most of us know the uncomfortable feeling of being unable to communicate adequately in another language. The resulting tension and uncertainty creates a block and prevents us from being emotionally authentic. If parents are now required to relate to their child in their second language, this amounts to asking them to give up their emotionally positive and real communication with their child in favour of what is likely to be a more strained relationship that is counterproductive in terms of helping their auditory, speech and language development. Since, at the start of their child’s intervention programme, parents tend to be feeling less than sure of themselves anyway – and as they want the best for their child’s future – many parents have in the past been willing to pay this price.
Very often, however, the result of this essentially unnatural parent-child interaction was that the parents’ tension was passed on to the child, who thus did not respond as the parents (either consciously or unconsciously) expected them to. The resulting uncertainties in communicative interaction between mother and child meant that, in many children, the unsatisfactory language situation was compounded by behavioural problems. This process of transferring, and transferring back, affected the behaviour of all the people involved.
If one looks at the actual situation in many Turkish families, it becomes evident that this well-meant advice – namely, to communicate with the hearing-impaired child in German only – has effectively built up a language barrier around the child. In many families, most of the communication takes place in Turkish, so that hearing-impaired children raised in German are linguistically isolated and respond in the ‘logical’ way by exhibiting behavioural problems. Above all, it is emotionally charged issues that tend to be discussed in the native language, which in turn means that the hearing-impaired child may be excluded from what are important issues for the family.
Findings from diagnostic investigations of hearing-impaired Turkish children
Neither can a case be made for recommending that children be raised in the local language (in this case German) based on diagnostic findings in the field of speech and language disorders. Data from past years clearly highlight the benefits of raising children in the parents’ native language. The following bar chart illustrates the findings of a study on the language development level of children from Turkish families who either speak both Turkish and German, or Turkish only, at home. It clearly shows that where only Turkish was spoken, virtually no language development delays were evident, and that this was not the case where both languages were used. This means that hearing-impaired Turkish children who acquire Turkish as their first language and do not learn German as a second language until they start nursery school are far more proficient in both languages.
Figure 1: Language development delays where two different languages are used at home (g+t = German and Turkish, t = Turkish)
Despite the small number of cases documented thus far, it is evident that these children pick up German fairly quickly at nursery school and undergo language development that is comparable with the way in which they acquired their first language. Speech understanding and sentence production develop reasonably rapidly following an initial familiarization phase, and exhibit a higher syntactic and morphological level than children raised by their parents in the second language. This is, in particular, shown by the fact that they employ more complex syntactic structures, put the verb in the right place and, above all, use conjugated verbs. Admittedly, these findings need to be very verified by studies with a larger sample size. What we can already assert, however, is that hearing-impaired children, too, are quite capable of acquiring two languages.

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Implications for intervention work

Those children with hearing impairment who are brought up bilingually from the very start will – unless the parents provide balanced and correct linguistic models – face a much more difficult task in the language-learning process than their peers who are raised in a monolingual environment. Severely hearing-impaired children are, despite receiving state-of-the-art hearing devices and having the same functional hearing ability, not able to internalize the distinguishing features of the different language codes or to complete the language acquisition process at normal speed, let alone close the gap that has arisen owing to their delayed start in language development. Confrontation with different language codes seems, rather, to set them further back and make them fall behind in terms of picking up language.
By contrast, those hearing-impaired children who are brought up only in a foreign language, and who also receive native-language input in therapy, learn language far more easily and quickly, although not quite as well as their German-speaking peers. Once their auditory development with the CI has gained momentum, a large proportion of these children learn their first language at a normal pace and – as experience shows – can, building on this, be confronted with a second language while still of preschool age without it interfering with the first language.

Implications for parental guidance
One important consequence to be drawn from these findings concerns not only ‘therapeutic access’ to the children, but also parental guidance and ongoing support. It is precisely the parents of CI-recipient children who have an immigrant background (with all that entails) that require careful direction if they are to be able to support their children in their language-learning process. They must, especially, be encouraged to initially relate to their hearing-impaired child in their native language and not to use different language codes. These parents should be encouraged to provide their children with a lot of language input, to create a rich learning environment and a favourable atmosphere for learning, and to especially monitor their child’s development with regard to hearing comprehension. They need, therefore, guidance and ongoing support in terms of their own contribution as linguistic role models – not, however, in the sense of the traditional speech therapist role, but in the sense of improving their own communicative behaviour.
Implications for staffing for intervention programmes
We need professionals who can, perhaps, draw on their own experiences in an immigrant setting and who will become the new key players in the rehabilitation of children growing up bilingually. It is, of course, not feasible that all children growing up in Germany and speaking German as a foreign language can have access to such staff, but it would be a great help if early-intervention programmes could draw on practitioners working in the two or three commonest foreign languages.
The advantages in choosing a native-speaker therapist to help a child develop their first language are obvious, and include:
the sharing of a common language for intervention;
the ease of assessing language performance;
the fact that parent-child interaction is unencumbered by language problems;
the use of affective factors in language learning; and
the child’s integration within the family.
What can be done if native-speaker support is not yet available? The therapeutic implications for work with families from an immigrant background may include:
resource-oriented approach (in terms of language);
empowerment with regard to use of native language;
confidence in the child’s linguistic competencies;
training of native-speaker therapists; and
encouraging bilingualism by adopting a strict policy of keeping languages spatially separated (one within the family, and the other within the wider social environment).
Overall, all experience and empirical findings obtained thus far impressively confirm that applying the concept of ‘successive second-language acquisition’ in therapy and parental guidance yields far better outcomes than other approaches do.

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Review questions on Chapter 2

1) Which factors may make bilingual language acquisition more difficult for hearing-
impaired children from immigrant families?
a) They do not receive the same quality of technical intervention as non-immigrant
German children;
b) They usually have multiple disabilities that are more difficult to treat;
c) The same factors that also make it difficult for non-immigrant German children to simultaneously acquire two first languages;
d) Culture, religion, the parents’ level of education, the degree of integration into (or
segregation from) the host society, and socio-economic status.

2) What would be the ‘ideal-typical’ situation for simultaneous acquisition of two first
languages (i.e. German and Turkish)?
a) One parent speaks German and the other Turkish, and the child receives equal input
in both languages during the first years of life;
b) Initially, only German is spoken; after a few years, only Turkish is spoken;
c) Initially, only Turkish is spoken; after a few years, only German is spoken;
d) The child can, while growing up, alternate between both countries of residence.

2) Turkish children with hearing impairment should learn Turkish as their first language
and not learn German as a second language until they go to nursery school, because:
a) only then are they ready to acquire a second language;
b) nursery school teachers are unable to communicate with these children in Turkish;
c) if the parents had to use a foreign language they would have to give up their
emotionally positive and authentic communication with their child;
d) hearing-impaired children should on no account be exposed to two languages from
the start.

4) What are the staffing implications for intervention programmes?
a) Early-years professionals and therapists should all learn a second foreign language;
b) There should be greater use of professionals who can speak these children’s native
c) The early-intervention systems are unable to cope with this problem, and the
solutions are not affordable;
d) Signing skills are more important than ability in a foreign spoken language.

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