Towards a Better Understanding of Bilingualism: Considerations for Teachers of Children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs
Keywords:Bilingualism, Education, Second Language Learning, Language Impairment, Language Disorders
Census figures show that more and more children in Ireland are growing up speaking two or more languages. While fluency in two languages is generally considered an asset for both children and adults, bilingualism is seen as a barrier to learning for children with special educational needs. The belief that developing two languages would be challenging for these children has been pervasive among education and healthcare professionals in Europe and beyond. This belief has informed both policy and practice, and for this reason for many years the majority of children with special educational needs have been deprived of the chance to become bilingual.
In recent years, international research has highlighted the benefits of bilingualism at the social, cognitive and educational level, and this has raised questions in relation to encouraging bilingualism among families with children who have special educational needs. Most of the research carried out in recent years shows that parents are advised to avoid bilingualism, to stop speaking their home languages, and to favour the use of the majority language or the language of instruction. However, research on bilingual language development has shown that children with language and communication difficulties can indeed grow up bilingually, and their abilities in each language does not differ from that of monolingual children who are affected by the same disorders.
The paper reviews relevant literature to shed light on the latest findings on bilingual language development in children with language disorders, and suggests possible solutions for some of the challenges faced by teachers.
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