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Review of  Early Bilingualism and Multilingualism

Reviewer: Leila Ahmadpour
Book Title: Early Bilingualism and Multilingualism
Book Author: Zofia Chłopek
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 29.3517

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Nowadays, it is recognized that families and communities play a critical role in children’s and adolescents’ language learning journey (Yamamoto & Holloway, 2010). Parent’s involvement with the child’s education can largely influence the child’s motivation and accomplishment. The parent’s or other caregivers’ expectations, provided help and cooperation can lead to children’s optimism about life and enhance a sense of self-competence, which would have long-term effects on an individual’s educational and occupational future. These specificities make persons ready for adult roles and provide a firm start on life opportunities. This significant issue is discussed in the book which is the subject of the present review.

The book by Zofia Chlopek even at first sight makes an impression on the reader, as it includes 223 pages, comprising 171 pages of text and a bibliography of some thousand resources. The length of the text alone testifies to the extent of the material it presents to the readers. The book consists of three main parts: the first part intends to provide state-of-the-art information on language learning by young learners and on early bilingualism and multilingualism. This review is substantially derived from psycholinguistic and neurolinguistics works. The second part is devoted to the methodological design of the research and the obtained results. More specifically, the parents’ and caregivers’ responses to the you children’s development and their perceptions and opinions towards early language learning are examined. And the last main part is focused on the comparison and contrast of the achieved results with other existent studies in the field.

As mentioned previously, the first chapter provides some fundamental and necessary information about early bi/multilingualism and its results. This chapter presents a significant result based on its review of the existent literature: overloading a young mind with a lot of language knowledge is impossible. There are quite a few studies indicating that a young learner is able to learn languages and there are other studies demonstrating that the linguistic progress of learners raised as bilinguals or multilinguals is quite similar to the linguistic development of monolingual language learners in the case that they receive adequate language input and that this input originates from a single linguistic code at one time. This similarity is also dependent upon the fact that the environment holds a positive perspective and attitude towards all the languages. The results of the overview in Chapter One also refers to the fact that even though language mixing is a common phenomenon in early years, it is not as rigorous as the language mixing that takes place during foreign language learning in subsequent years. Young children are often successful in the appropriation of the languages they are exposed to and the literature links this success to their higher metalinguistic awareness and metapragmatic consciousness, which are more fine-tuned and well-established in bilinguals and multilinguals than in monolinguals. This chapter also provides evidence for the positive role of bi/multilingualism to young learners’ cognitive advances and their cognitive capabilities such as cognitive control and multiple intelligence. Chlopek calls for more research to investigate the relationship between bi/multilingualism and cognitive development. Another important theme emerging from the first chapter is that language learning difficulties, cognitive problems and psychological problems should not be solely related to bi/multilingualism. Clearly, these problems might stem from a variety of different sources such as social, economic, linguistic and the context in which a child is raised. It is also stated that young monolingual learners’ developmental problems would be lessened if they knew additional languages.

The second chapter revolves around the purpose of the study done by Chlopek and its design and the results. This study aimed at approving the findings achieved from prior psycholinguistic and neurolinguistics research showing the many advantages associated with early bilingualism and multilingualism for a young learner. In particular the study intended to address these objectives: 1) To see if the language development of a bi/multilingual child proceeds in the same way as the language development of a monolingual child and if it is related to the child’s number of learned languages, 2) to see if cross-linguistic influence is a usual issue in early language learning and if it is age-dependent, predominantly conscious or unconscious, and dependent upon parents’ or caregivers’ language mixing habits, 3) if young bi/multilingual learners possess a greater amount of metalinguistic awareness, 4) if the cognitive development of bi/multilingual young learners takes place in a way similar to that of monolingual learners, 5) if cultural transfer is probable in early childhood, 6) what bi/multilingual young learners’ attitudes are towards bi/multilingualism, and 7) what bi/multilingual young learners’ attitudes are towards other cultures.

In addition to the examination of learner related factors in bi/multilingualism, this study also investigated the practice of raising a bi/multilingual child. Therefore, there were two more purposes : to see 1) if the parents and caregivers were satisfied with their bi/multilingual children’s cognitive development, and 2) if they could be provided with advice about their uncertainties regarding their raising a bi/multilingual child. Thirty-six questionnaires were completed and the analysis of the data revealed interesting points. All respondents recommended raising bi/multilingual children and they were certain about the advantages associated with it. From among the advantages pointed out by the respondents, Chlopek centered on the ease, speed, and effectiveness with which young learners learn languages when compared with adolescents and adults. The parents and caregivers revealed encouraging opinions. The majority of respondents believed in the power of bi/multilingualism in helping the children’s cognitive growth, and some even mentioned that such children benefit from a number of positive personality traits such as openness, lack of prejudice and bias, better communication, and group work skills. Thus the findings revealed that raising bi/multilingual learners could be an inspiring experience for both children and parents and their caregivers.

In the final part of this book, Chlopek sums up the findings obtained from the research and discusses the results in light of the findings from other research studies (for example, Casasola, Bhagwat & Burke, 2009; Paradis, 2001; Pavlenko, 2005). Chlopek arrives at significant conclusions based on these comparisons and elaborations. Firstly, the findings from this research are mostly in agreement with those of prior research studies. Both parents and caregivers see bi/multilingualism as beneficial for young learners. Neither the linguistic nor the cognitive development of bi/multilingual learners is negatively affected by learning additional languages at early ages. Even in contrast, bi/multilingual learners end up being more competent than their monolingual peers. There are however a few drawbacks such as delays in the onset of speech production and asymmetrical competence which do not even constitute problems since these factors equip young learners for life with capabilities which they will need to work on later arduously. Chlopek concludes the book by a citation from Meisel (2004, p. 92):

The view of child bilingualism as a potential source of possible disturbances must be abandoned. Instead, monolingualism can be regarded as resulting from an impoverished environment where an opportunity to exhaust the potential of the language faculty is not fully developed.

Thus, regarding the significance of this area of research, Chlopek calls for more research to shed light on this rather under researched area. More specifically, there is a need to create more appropriate multilingual research paradigms and a more holistic and multidisciplinary perspective towards it. The author also refers to the shortcomings in multilingual research shown by the inaccurate and varying uses of terminology.


To sum up, the book by Chlopek looks into the development of children up brought bilingually or multilingually. Parents and caregivers were asked to complete a questionnaire, providing information on 36 children growing up with two or more languages. The answers from the participants revealed that bilingual and multilingual children usually grow as well as their monolingual peers, and sometimes even better. This is significant considering the role that parents have in embracing and encouraging their children’s bilingualism. It seems essential for researchers and practitioners to better comprehend the role of parental engagement in learners’ linguistic accomplishment. Some disadvantages of early bilingualism or multilingualism, however, need to be noted. These can include a slight delay in the onset of speech production or asymmetrical language competences, which are compensated for by numerous benefits of early learning of two or more first languages and early contacts with two or more cultures. It is obvious that the book by Zofia Chlopek is a valuable text for those scholars whose research interests are in multilinguality since the book comprises a detailed and in-depth collection overviewing both theory and experimental studies in the area, accompanied by a critical appraisal of their merits. The book also presents the instruments used for the collection of the data and enjoys great practicality for interested readers and researchers in this area of enquiry. The book would therefore be particularly helpful as a reference book for those researchers for whom more recent publications on multilinguality are not easily accessible.


Casasola, M., Jui Bhagwat, A., & Burke, A. S. (2009). Learning to form a spatial category of tight fit relations: How experience with label can give a boost. Developmental Psychology, 45(3), 711-723.

Paradis, M. (2007). Early bilingual and multilingual acquisition. In P. Auer and L. Wei (eds.), Handbook of multilingualism and multilingual communication (pp. 15-44). Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Pavlenko, A. (2009). Conceptual representation in the bilingual lexicon and second language vocabulary learning. In A. Pavlenko (ed.), The bilingual mental lexicon: Interdisciplinary approaches (pp. 125-160). Bristol, Buffalo, Toronto: Multilingual Matters.
I am a Ph.D candidate. My research interest fields are FLL, SLA acquisition, Bilingualism, multilingualism, discourse, and cultural studies.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9783631667026
Pages: 223
Prices: U.S. $ 66.95
U.K. £ 41.00