Topics: Linguistics, Second language acquisition, Language acquisition Pages: 9 (3514 words) Published: June 2, 2013
A comparison of the bilingual and the multicompetent|
Flittig Student|
Spring 2013|

Exercise 5|

A comparison of the bilingual and the multicompetent
Previously, monolingualism was seen as the norm and the natural case of language development and consequently, bilingualism was devaluated (Meisel, 2004: 91). Today, however, this belief has changed and researchers point to the many advantages of bilingualism. Still, not all are provided with the opportunity to become a bilingual. Instead, many monolinguals learn a second language. Nevertheless, one might wonder whether there are differences and similarities between being bilingual and being monolingual knowing a second language. This assignment aims to investigate the concept of bilingualism by looking at similarities and differences between having two first languages (L1), and one first language and one second language (L2). Additionally, it will be argued that there is a continuum from simultaneous bilingual acquisition, through successive bilingual acquisition, to child and adult L2 acquisition, a continuum which presents definition challenges to the distinction between a bilingual and a multicompetent. Both a bilingual and a multicompetent each know two languages, including their L1s. First, according to Meisel, L1 acquisition is qualitatively similar for a bilingual and a monolingual (who is not multicompetent at this point) in that they proceed through the same developmental sequences and achieve the same grammatical competence in their respective L1s (2004: 94, 95). In fact, Meisel claims that both of the L1s of a bilingual are acquired in equal manners as the L1 of a monolingual. Furthermore, the acquisition rates will not diverge from each other either, even though the bilingual may start to speak later than the monolingual, but still within what counts as normal range (Ibid: 95, 100). Still, the development is not completely equal since bilingual L1 acquisition can show cross-linguistic influences (more on this later in the assignment), something which the monolingual cannot (Ibid: 101). Even if both the bilingual and the multicompetent are equipped with two languages each, each of the language pairs can be acquired in different ways in that a bilingual can acquire the L1s simultaneously soon after birth, and the multicompetent can acquire his/her L2 several years after (s)he has acquired the L1 (thus, becoming multicompetent). One of the differences between a multicompetent and a bilingual is that the former has an L2. L2 acquisition differs from L1 acquisition in that the initial state and the early developmental stages are different, the course of L2 acquisition varies among individuals (unlike for L1 acquisition where the course is more or less equal to all learners), and there are unequal levels of preexisting language knowledge between L1 acquisition and L2 acquisition (Meisel, 2004: 106, 107, 109). The latter point is crucial in that the L1 can be used as an aid to acquire an L2, such as through transfer. Obviously, a person acquiring an L1 does not have any preexisting language knowledge to rely on. Moreover, as opposed to L1 acquisition where both the multicompetent and the bilingual ultimately will reach native competence in the L1 grammar, this result will not be attainable for an adult learning an L2 (Ibid: 107). Consequently, the levels of proficiency will differ between the bilingual and the multicompetent in that the latter will reach native competence in only one of his/her languages. However, this does not necessarily have to be a problem since the L2 acquisition still may be successful in that the learner reaches a highly proficient level, and since the need for ultimate attainment may not be there as this is not a prerequisite for communication. In other words, both a bilingual and a multicompetent are capable of communicating in two languages, and both may achieve high total linguistic...

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[ 5 ]. At exactly which age is still a controversial issue (cf. Meisel, 2004: 104).
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