Bilingual children acquire vocabulary using the same mechanisms as monolingual children.

Bilingual Children

Bilingual Children

A diversity of dynamics can influence the child’s dual language development, which do not seem to cause delays in early language development milestones. Also, beyond the early months, language development generally occurs in bilinguals within the normal range, as determined by monolingual children, for some language aspects, whilst it could lag behind monolinguals’ development  in some other aspects. Nevertheless, these differences do not lead to any difficulties in the child’s development and can be explained by examining, in most instances, the relationship between the child’s dominant and non-dominant language. In fact, it is unlikely for pre-school bilingual children to achieve a balanced proficiency in both languages, whilst most probably they will be dominant in one language. Also school age bilingual children could maintain a dominant language depending on the amount of language input they receive. Empirical research demonstrates that bilingual children could lag behind monolingual children in their non-dominant language in the vocabulary acquisition as bilingual children tend to have smaller vocabulary compared to their monolingual peers. This appears to be logical considering that bilingual children possess identical cognitive abilities and limitations related to memory capacity as monolingual children. Recent research confirms that language exposure influences bilingual children’s performance with regards to the acquisition of vocabulary. In fact, Thordadottir (2011) studied the performance of receptive and expressive vocabulary in 5 year old children of Montreal who were learning English and French simultaneously and compared their performance to monolingual children. The children had the same age, socio-economic status and non-verbal cognition. Also, the bilingual children spoke languages with equal status. The only variable was the amount of exposure to each language the children received across the bilingual process. Children exposed to both languages equally, achieved the same results as their monolingual peers in receptive vocabulary, whilst a greater exposure was required to attain the same monolingual’s outcomes in expressive vocabulary. In contrast to several previous studies, the bilingual children examined did not show a significant gap correlated to monolingual children in receptive vocabulary. This optimistic result could be attributed to the positive language-learning conditions for English and French in Montreal, but it could be also related to the fact that there is not a great typological distance between the two languages. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that bilingual children acquire vocabulary using the same mechanisms as monolingual children. Even though, their word repertoire in each language might be smaller, parents and professionals need to bear in mind that the size of their vocabulary will vary depending on the level language exposure they receive; influenced by the home, school and social environments. Another language domain subject to language exposure in young bilingual children, is morphosyntax, the process in which children start to use word combinations and produce simple utterances to express themselves. A widespread measure of children’s early morphosyntactic  development is “mean length of utterance” (MLU), (Paradis et al, 2011). Such a measure consists of establishing the average length of a child’s utterances, and it is calculated across a number of utterances produced by the child in a spontaneous speech. Most recently researchers have been interested in whether bilingual children’s MLUs augment with age at the same rate as monolinguals. Several studies have been conducted on the topic and they resulted in varied outcomes; showing a similar growth in MLU in bilingual children when they lived in favourable language learning environments, while the MLU appeared to be lower when the bilingual children’s non- dominant language lagged significantly behind their dominant language.


Bilingual Code Mixing is not a sign of confusion










A distinctive behaviour of bilingual speakers is Bilingual Code Mixing (BCM), which usually takes place when two languages are mixed in the same or in two different utterances in the same conversation. The amount of code-mixing varies in bilingual children, with some who code-mix frequently, some others a little and some children code-mix at different rates with different family members. Virtually all bilingual children code-mix even if their parents adhere to the “one-parent, one-language” principle; that is when each parent communicate to their child in one language only. Empirical research extensively supports BCM, which appears to be a normal phenomenon in dual language development. Furthermore, code-mixing does not occur only in bilingual children as it is common among adult bilinguals and highly proficient language learners. In this field, a vast body of research demonstrates that such individuals are able to create a flawless conversation when mixing both languages. Therefore, given the above conditions, code-mixing is believed to be a sign of proficiency in adults. Nevertheless, among children BCM has been thought to be, by parents and some professionals alike, a signal of confusion and cause of concern. In order to debunk this bilingual myth, it will be helpful, once again, to look into the Unitary Language System Hypothesis, according to which bilingual children are not able to differentiate their evolving languages at early development stages. Parents and professionals who believe in the validity of such a hypothesis, interpret code-mixing as a symptom of confusion, and in some instances as a sign of incompetence. As previously mentioned, such a hypothesis has been discredited by research that has exposed numerous shortcomings in the design methodology applied to these early studies. In fact, early research focused exclusively on how often bilingual children code-mixed and overlooked how frequently they could use their language in a sensitive context manner. A study conducted by Genesee et al, 1995  examined bilingual children between the ages of 22 and 26 months during naturalistic interactions. All the children were English-French bilinguals from Montreal, raised by their parents following the cited one-parent, one-language rule. The children were observed in three different contexts; alone with their mothers, alone with their fathers and in presence of both parents. In the latter context, the children were able to separate the two languages according to which parent they were interacting with. In this way, even at early ages, children were able to adjust their languages according to different contexts. These findings are incompatible with the Unitary Language System Hypothesis which would have expected the children to use random language despite diverse contexts. Furthermore, such results do not support the confusion hypothesis according to which children are not capable of becoming bilingual without experiencing language confusion. An integrative review of the subject is provided by Guiberson (2013), who did not find any evidence in the literature analysed to support such an assumption. Moreover, a recent study conducted by Greene et al., 2013, sustains the Lexical Gap Hypothesis (Paradis et al, 2011), according to which bilingual children code-mix not because they experience confusion or are not able to differentiate between their languages, but rather because they are filling the gaps in their lexical or syntactic knowledge in order to satisfy their communication needs. The scholars analysed code-mixed responses of 606 five-year old English and Spanish speaking children, and compared their prevalence, frequency and accuracy on expressive semantic items. The children were divided by language dominance established, based on the amount of language exposure and usage. In addition, they were allocated to a no-risk or at risk of language impairment group according to individual performance achieved in an English-Spanish screening battery. The results showed that the children used code-mixing to fill lexical gaps, which is consistent with other studies on children and adults. This study demonstrated once again that lexical choice and language preference requires linguistic competence in more than one language. To close, in most cases BCM should not be regarded as evidence of language delay or impairment; parents and educators should not admonish children for using it. Further, it is recommendable for language development specialists and educators to desist from advising parents to restrict their communication exclusively to one language on the postulation that this will correct any language learning problems.

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Depressed? Cooking and baking can help you out!

preparing food

Virgina Woolf once said : “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one had not dined well”.It looks like science is finally catching up with the writer’s words. According to a recent report from the Wall Street Journal cooking and baking can help out with depression. That explains why more and more treatments centres and clinics are offering cooking classes.

According to Jeanne Whalen who wrote the story in the WS Journal there are two reasons why cooking combined with a therapy can be beneficial; one is that it simply teaches how to make healthy food, secondly the process of cooking is a way for patients to focus and avoid negative thoughts.It is a way to help socialise and increase confidence.

The focus of the report is on teenagers patients receiving classes through a treatment center o clinic, however she states that cooking in general is considered therapeutic. A study carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention affirm that parents and children cooking together instil healthy habits and behaviours moreover it boosts the bond between them. In addition it avoids the risk for children to get obese at an early age. So it appears that attending a cooking class whether or not you are in therapy is beneficial anyway. It is a hands on approach which gets the person to focus the mind on something concrete for a period of time. Also, at the end of the class there is a sense of accomplishment that can be shared with others.

Here at Languages Alive we offer language and cooking classes for adults and children, the workshops are fun and promote an easy way to learn a language.

You can if you want – Best ways to pick up a new language


Despite the fact children are better language learners than adults, there is still hope for us to become fluent in another language. In most cases our brain won’t respond as a native speaker like brain, but neither the brain of three year old children will.

Past puberty (this is what the majority of researcher agree upon) our brain doesn’t absorb a new language as it would if we were 6 or 8 years old. However, there is still a chance for adults to become bilingual or multilingual or at least fluent.

We often hear talking about the best ways to learn a language, however, nobody talks about a vital factor that is the first factor which determines language attainment. I am talking about Language Aptitude which is a particular intelligence strictly linked to language learning. Certain individuals have higher levels than others so we could say “they are more talented”.

However, forget about picking up a new language if you do not have motivation, the second best factor which determines language achievement. You could be interested in learning because you like the language, therefore we talk about intrinsic motivation or you need to learn a new language for work, holidays etc. so we talk about extrinsic motivation.

Now that you are motivated, do not let language anxiety get you. Researches have pinpointed this particular anxiety which could affect the learning process negatively. Nevertheless, other researchers believe it could serve as a stimuli to improve learning. The matter is still controversial.

Now you are wondering which is the best way to learn?

1) To acquire new vocabulary just read read and read if you are beginner start from children’s books. Learning a bunch of isolated words won’t get you anywhere.

2) Improve your listening skills by watching the news, listening to music or  watch tv programs you like.

3) Speak speak speak, surround yourself with people ideally native speakers, travel to the target country as much as possible, however, if you live in a big city it is likely a community of the target language exist. Learn from them, absorb their culture.

4) Once you start, train your brain in thinking in the new language, talk to yourself in the language you learning, maybe not out loud lol.

5) Be gentle with yourself, but always believe you will make it, maybe slowly but surely. To speed up the process you could join a group or to make it even faster choose private tuition they are the quickest way to learn according to your needs.

So what are you waiting for? A new exciting challenge is waiting for you!

Culture diversity: Italian business meeting protocol



Italians as most of Southern Europeans are relationship oriented, which means they are very loquacious and prefer to establish long term business relationships. Debating is for Italians an emotional issue where intense discussion is highlighted by the expression of strong opinions and detachment means disinterest in the business itself. The establishment of a reciprocal climate of trust is as relevant as the exchange of information about a specific business proposal.

Meetings are a tool to further study the business proposal rather than closing the deal right away.Therefore, they are more analysis-oriented than decision-oriented. The aim of the first meeting is usually to exchange details and information about the business deal but above all is about establishing a climate of reciprocal respect and loyalty.

Planning your business meeting with Italians.

To avoid language misunderstandings for the first approach, a written communication is preferred. A letter or a fax is best to introduce your idea following a phone call, however, a better way is to be introduced by somebody who already knows people in the company. Meetings take place usually at company’s office in late morning or early afternoon.

For more information on Italian business etiquette contact us.



Go beyond language, discover Italian cultural awareness.


Ok Italian gesture

Before going into the Italian business meeting protocol, I would like to give you a little introduction about the way we address to somebody in Italian and why. As in Spanish and French, in Italian there are two ways to address to somebody: informally and formally. The informal uses “tu” and the formal uses “Lei”. So, how do we use these two ways?

We use “tu” when we know somebody and they are around the same age as us, or we don’t know them but they are the same age or younger. This does not apply to a business environment. They usual greeting used is “ciao”, which we use to say hello and say bye when we are leaving.

We use “Lei” (always capital L when writing), to address formally to somebody who is older than us and we don’t know very well, remember always address with Lei as the older person could take offence otherwise. It can happen that the older person will tell you to address to them with “tu”, however, if it’s not happening, keep addressing with “Lei” even if they do address to you with “tu”.

Also, we use “Lei” when we are in a business environment and you are new to the people you are doing business with. Sometimes you will be asked to address with “tu” if it’s not happening, keep addressing with “Lei”. If you are talking to your boss or someone higher in the company, address with “Lei”. There is a strong power relationship distance in the Italian business context so the boss will have to be addressed with Lei unless specified he/she wants to be addressed with “tu”.

Formal greeting are “buongiorno” (good morning), “buonasera” (good evening), careful when you say “buonanotte” (good night) your night is finished and you are going to sleep. Another way is “arrivederci, or arrivederLa” (good-bye).

I hope this was useful, are you going to do business in Italy or relocating there? If you need more tips, do not hesitate to drop me a line at

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