Bilingualism points out to an individual’s or a group’s predisposition to communicate efficaciously in two languages. It is a useful talent, according to many current language scholars. Not only can knowing different languages aid communication, but it may also provide unique benefits to the growing brain. A bilingual child’s executive control, or capacity to successfully regulate higher cognitive functions like problem-solving, memory, and reasoning, improves as they move between languages. They also grow more adapted to inhibiting certain reactions while promoting others, resulting in a more dynamic and versatile mind. The elements that impact the emergence or decrease of bilingualism in both individuals and groups have been explored. Family factors and socioeconomic influences have been postulated as plausible reasons for the disparities in multilingual abilities. Other issues, however, are hard to answer because of the huge diversity in families, societies, and cultures. Nevertheless, bilingualism remains a social aspect among societies governed and facilitated from the social norms and more in place, both at the family and the community level.
There subsist several factors within a family setting that act as definitive ends within which the bilingual capabilities of a child are enshrined. One of the elements to consider is the aspect of immigration. Regarding families living in a foreign land, there is the penchant for children, especially in the third generation post the immigration, to be solely speakers of the newfound language. As Pearson (2007) outlined, the first generation to migrate would often try to adapt to the new norms, which includes learning a second language in their new jurisdiction. In this respect, first-generation speakers are often aggressive about their language and continue to speak the minority language, teaching it to their progeny. Moreover, the next generation of the immigrant population is now blended with their new land and are fluent speakers of both the minority language and the new language. However, the subsequent generation often finds themselves as monolinguistic speakers.
As highlighted by Nakamura (2016), a factor that inhibits becoming bilingual is an element referred to as “language delay anxiety.” In this regard, parents would overtly diminish the learning opportunities for their children of the minority language with the fear that learning the language would interfere with learning the societal languages. This mindset acts as a buffer by the families by creating barriers and blockades to learning new languages while also endorsing moves to learn and acquire skills in the societal language.
What is more, concerning family factors, another tenable explanation for the rise or decline of bilingualism is the socioeconomic status (SES) of a family. In this respect, Pearson (2002) postulates that higher socioeconomic statuses have a higher prevalence and regard for minority languages. The general supposition is that families, especially parents of children in higher SES households, promote and endorse the speaking of their native languages and make it a preferential household communication language. On the other hand, parents of children in lower SES families endorse speaking the majority language, which is often used for almost every other transaction in a region, including public education (Pearson, 2007). Such parents approve the speaking of the majority language without much demur over its ramifications on their native language. As such, there is a higher prevalence for most of the members in higher socioeconomic statuses to be bilingual.
Furthermore, community factors are pivotal considerations for whether individuals are inclined to learn the minority language. Generally, cohesion within a community predicates the vigor with which individuals, more so the new members of society, including children, embrace the language. In the case of immigrants, there may be instances where local parishes or assemblages house these new populations, maintaining their culture in their ancestral homes (Pearson, 2007). Such a conclave is an example of a community factor in maintaining that the native language is not lost within a population. In instances where such cohesion in communities is elusive, there is the predilection of the minority language being lost amid the efforts to blend in the new society.
Additionally, the communal aspect of accepting or dismissing a given language boils down to a political issue. In one of the case scenarios granted by Nakamura (2016), a migrant and her daughter were granted limited access to recreational facilities simply because she could not speak fluently in Japanese (Nakamura, 2016). Moreover, she was told to join the foreign mother’s playgroup. This depiction of communal acceptance or dismissal of a given language further inhibits or affords better chances to learn a given minority language and thus become bilingual or multilingual speakers.
Bilingualism is a linguistic capability to be fluent in two languages and is governed by some social factors in the community of one’s setting. Primarily, and perhaps the most integral determinant of bilingualism, is the family. The family develops the social rules of engagement, enforcing them on the children who readily accept them as unquestionable truth. Furthermore, the community also acts as a factor to galvanize bilingualism or dispel its presence by focusing on one established societal language. Although these factors may seem disparate, there is a relationship between communal and family factors. When family attitudes are endemic, they lead to the concomitant societal view on minority languages.
Nakamura, J. (2016). Hidden bilingualism: Ideological influences on the language practices of multilingual migrant mothers in Japan. International Multilingual Research Journal, 10(4), 308-323.
Pearson, B. Z. (2007). Social factors in childhood bilingualism in the United States. Applied psycholinguistics, 28(3), 399-410.