SUCCESSIVE BILINGUAL ACQUISITION
While simultaneous bilingual acquisition proceeds in much the same way as monolingual acquisition in the respective languages, successive bilingual acquisition is qualitatively different from monolingual first language acquisition. Research on young ethnic Turkish children growing up in Germany and in the Netherlands shows that the children show clear signs of morphosyntactic influence from Turkish in their second language production (e.g., Pfaff, 1994; Verhoeven & Boeschoten, 1986; Verhoeven & Vermeer, 1984). For example, Pfaff (1994: 86) notes that a Turkish child produced the following incorrect German sentence: “alle Kinder is Jocken anziehen” (all-children-is-jogging- suit-on-put; “all children are putting on their jogging suits”). This sentence contains a progressive that does not exist in German but does exist in Turkish. While errors like this involving the application of Turkish grammar rules in the production of German were quite common in Pfaff’s study, they are normally not observed in the speech of simultaneous bilingual children (De Houwer, 2009). The errors that the Turkish children made in German look more like patterns of SLA of German observed for adults than patterns of first language acquisition of German by monolingual children.
In a study of Turkish immigrant children in the Netherlands, Verhoeven & Vermeer (1984) found that in terms of the size of the receptive and productive
Dutch vocabulary, the Turkish-Dutch bilingual children were at least two to four years behind their monolingual Dutch peers. In addition, the Turkish children scored considerably lower than their Dutch counterparts in Dutch morphosyntax. Verhoeven & Vermeer found that while the Turkish children made relatively rapid progress in certain syntactic structures such as wh- words (e.g., who, what, where, when, why), they had great difficulties with complex noun or verb phrases and embedded clauses in Dutch. The authors attribute the Turkish children’s developmental lag in Dutch to the restricted Dutch input they were receiving in school.
The children in these studies live in economically depressed urban areas with high concentrations of Turkish immigrants. Verhoeven & Vermeer point out that the Turkish children in their study started learning Dutch when they entered kindergarten in a “submersion context” with little or no support provided in their first language. Similarly, although Pfaff’s subjects attend a bilingual daycare program where half of the teaching staff speaks German and the other half Turkish, the aim of these programs is not necessarily to promote functional bilingualism. In many of the programs serving mostly Turkish ethnic children, teachers are often poorly trained, and the schools have poorer facilities and fewer resources than schools for predominantly German children. The teaching of German as a second language is often inadequate and culturally appropriate teaching materials are in short supply. Largely segregated from mainstream society, the children have little opportunity to practice the second language in peer group contexts outside of school and often suffer from anxiety, low self-confidence, and low teacher expectations. Skutnabb-Kangas (2000: 579) notes that even with a great deal of effort in the family and the community, many of the minority children in these “subtractive non-forms of bilingual education” become virtually monolingual in the majority language.
Contextual information such as this is critically missing in many childhood bilingual acquisition studies, making cross-study comparisons difficult. Since only a few studies precisely describe subjects’ linguistic history and exposure patterns, as well as the social context of acquisition, the available research provides insufficient basis for answering many of the important questions such as, “Why do some children develop into bilinguals while others become monolingual in the dominant language?” As we will see in the following case studies of bilingual families, socially and culturally detailed accounts of language development are vital in our understanding of why some children become bilingual and others monolingual.