Encyclopedia of Language and Literacy Development
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General Issues in Multilingual Language Development
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Key Messages
What do we know?
When defining bilingualism, age of second language acquisition, proficiency, continued exposure, and context of language use all must be considered. As a result, bilingualism should be regarded as a continuum of skill levels.  Simultaneous bilingualism refers to circumstances in which two languages are acquired prior to one year of age, whereas sequential bilingualism refers to circumstances in which one language is initially acquired, followed by a second. Bilinguals are sometimes categorized according to their proficiency and dominant language, the context in which they learn a second language (L2) and the amount that they use their first language (L1). Social and environmental factors, such as family attitudes towards both languages and the availability of community programs also contribute to bilingual language learning.
There are several cognitive implications of bilingualism. For the most part, children with strong language skills in their first language also have similar abilities in the second language. Children who are bilingual are also thought to develop an enhanced metalinguistic awareness (the ability to think about language), depending on the similarities between languages.  Additionally, some research has demonstrated that learning two languages has benefits for literacy acquisition.
Several new research findings are important regarding simultaneous bilingual children. Bilingual children achieve similar language development milestones at similar ages when compared to monolingual children. However, their skills sometimes develop unevenly between languages; this is thought to be attributed to exposure. Consequently, language milestones are not always met simultaneously in both languages.  The most important difference in timing suggests that bilingual children require a longer period of time (up to 5 more months) than monolingual children to develop word comprehension.
Milestones that are important for all children involve the following: Milestones that are important for bilingual children are: What can be done?
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