Acquiring language in childhood versus from birth

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Acquiring language in childhood versus from birth

Learning a language in childhood is a different process than learning a language from birth. And this is because a child who's learning a language in childhood already has another language from which to draw and on which to build the second language. This doesn't mean that the process is easier. In fact, learning a language in childhood is a long process that takes many years. And this is really not, it goes against what many people believe. The child will go through several stages, going from basically not being able to speak the language to using the home language or from a silent period to a period when the child can actually use the language productively. And this can take in between, for a conversation or competence, two to three years. But for the child, for example, to be able to function in school and learn academic language competence, it might take up to seven years. There are factors that speed up the acquisition of a second language in childhood, and these include the child's personality; if the child is extroverted he will be a faster learner. There is the parents' attitudes, how much the parents are valuing bilingualism. There is motivation. There is how much support there is for the second language in the environment. And so in any case with second language in childhood, we see that it can be a faster or shorter process depending on these external and internal factors.

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Simona Montanari, PhD


Simona Montanari is Assistant Professor in the Department of Child and Family Studies at California State University, Los Angeles, where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on language development and second language acquisition in childhood. She received a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Southern California specializing in language development in monolingual and multilingual children. Dr. Montanari has published her research in prestigious peer-reviewed journals and she is regularly invited to present on early bilingualism and trilingualism locally and internationally. Dr. Montanari has also been involved in the creation and implementation of an Italian-English dual language program in the Glendale Unified School District, for which she continues to work as a consultant. Dr. Montanari has two trilingual and tri-literate daughters, six and seven years of age.

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