Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bilingual and Monolinguals

You know, I think the biggest mistake any of us make is trying to compare apples and oranges. Many people try to compare their language abilities with monolingual standards. Yes, bilinguals may have less vocab (in each specific lang., but more in both) , different pronunciation (not that pronunciation means anything if communication is achieved), and interference (well, this goes to the degree of control). But, they also have a capacity deal with situations that exceed anything a monolingual can cope. Unfortunately, bilinguals are not accepted for what they can do, but are judged by what they can't. This is done by everyone, even bilinguals themselves. "I am not good enough." I always here my students say... Can you ever be? We often set unrealistic, or unachievable standards, and compare ourselves to what we believe is right. Can we communicate? Is our communicative ability making it difficult to get our message across? Even if we have those difficulties that you say, does it mean that you are any less capable than a monolingual?

Which would I prefer? Of course, I would like to have complete control and a high degree of proficiency! However, recently I have come to notice...
1. Monolinguals don't always have complete control themselves (George Bush a case in point)
2. Bilinguals who are put into a situation of having to use their weaker language, often have to contend with everyone judging them (using unrealistic standards). Why does a bilingual have to be letter perfect, all the time?
3. My fellow Japanese/English speaking (Japanese dominant) coworkers seem to feel that they have to be perfect English speakers around other English speaking coworkers (including pronunciation). However, their level of English almost always surpasses my Japanese ability, yet they feel like they are deficient in some way. I am always in awe at the level of discussion (in English) they are able to participate in.
4. With my own limited bilingualism (closer to the incipient, than the balanced) I am constantly doubting myself and my ability. Yet, I can always go out into Japanese cities, and I can deal with a multitude of different experiences/domains. I know there will always be someone trying to knock down my ability, by saying my Japanese is not good enough (including myself). But, at my work (YMCA) we have a saying that I also like to live by, and that is, "Yes, I can."

It seems that the ideal is to speak both languages like you are a monolingual in both, but in reality I think that most bilinguals are more than the sum of two monolinguals (I think that was in Baker, 2000)...and are likely to be more effective than monolinguals in some domains, and less effective in others...
I certainly think of bilinguals differently now. I try to see what they can do, instead of what they can't.
What do you think?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Are Bilingual's More Intelligent?

A classmate's post got me thinking about the brain, and its capacity to deal with situations. Considering language and all its complexity, and the differences between languages, I would say that our brains have quite a job to sort it all out. I haven't read too much about the differences in the physiological make up of the brain, and the similarities or differences between the brain of the monolingual, and that of the bilingual individual, but I would imagine that bilinguals develop greater neural pathways (can anyone help me support that), in the brain. If this is the case, then more pathways means greater chance of mental flexibility and better conceptualizations. I have to try and read up on this and find support for this idea, however.
For the person learning a second language therefore, they go through the process of creating new or stronger pathways, that are able to link between ideas already established in their L1 and new concepts in the new language. Having these strong links, and ability to access paradigms outside just one language conceptualizations, makes it possible for the individual to think more 'outside the box.' Even if this doesn't make them more intelligent, it at least makes them more creative... What say you?
Steven Mondy

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Acculturation, extends beyond just the learning of a language, but to the social variables that come along with being immersed within the target language and group. The amount that culture plays within the acculturation process is in my mind quite significant, but somewhat understated. My favorite book to date on culture learning, is Damen's 1987, Culture learning: the fifth dimension in the classroom. The whole process of moving from the transient sojourner (short term traveler) through to the permanent resident within a culture (due to immigration, or other circumstances) is clearly set out within that book. The most interesting aspect for me is the idea that it is a process, dealing with social distance: assimilation/adaptation/adjustment. There seems to be a careful balance between culture shock and integration/positive acceptance of cultural protocols. I believe that the process has no end point, and that the individual continues to go through stages of distancing themselves or being totally accepting of various social aspects, throughout their lives. Life is not static, but ever changing, and with those new situations and circumstances there are chances of new kinds of culture shock. I don't know if you can say that you are totally assimilated to a particular culture. However, people can come to a point in which they are comfortable with the roller coaster ride between minimum and maximum social distance. I guess it would depend on how different the new target culture is, and how passionately an individual feels about their own cultural identity. Acculturation therefore (as I see it) is in the realm of the person who moves to a new culture and must deal with the process of fitting into their surrounding environment. Personally, I believe that once an identity is established within one culture, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to totally assimilate. I think that the ideas of adaptation and adjustment allow the individual opportunities to integrate aspects of the new culture into their own identity, or have tolerance for new ways of doing things.
What is to be learned?
Well, if we want individuals to 'fit in' to a particular culture, we need to make it possible for them to reduce the social distance as much as possible, and create opportunities for them to develop tolerance and understanding of different ways of doing things. We should also create environments that encourage (not discourage) the first culture and language, and that try to reduce the stress of culture shock.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Compound and Coordinate Bilingualism

My question today is how do we use the measures of compound and coordinate bilingualism?

I was struggling with the concept of Coordinate and Compound bilingualism. Basically, I have a good concept about how they differ: Compound being the individual that has one meaning, with two representations for that meaning, and coordinate being the individual who develops two distinct meanings and respective symbols. Kind of like the following representation:

Compound ~ A = a or b

Coordinate ~ A = a and B=b

At first, I thought of it as the following example:

In English, water is the same whether hot or cold,

But in Japanese, Water is ‘Yu’ if it is hot and ‘Mizu’ if it is cold.

Is this an example to illustrate the difference? I am not quite sure?

Then I talked with some colleagues, and we got into a discussion about cultural protocols influencing the bilingual individual, and how the compound/coordinate difference could also be linked to flexibility between cultural systems (a bit of a tangent, I know). However, the coordinate person would be able to switch between two systems, whereas the Compound person may only be able to reference one cultural protocol, which is used in either language, and in turn culture. The person that can use both of the cultural systems, meanings and symbols will have an easier time in fitting in within either system. However, the person who has one meaning for different symbols will be more efficient, but tend to make inappropriate choices, because of subtle nuances in either language caused by differences in cultural behavior.

I am a little confused, and I may be going off base here, but I would like to know how this concept fits. Hamers and Blanc (2000) seem to only skim over this concept. Maybe it’s not that important?



Hamers and Blanc (2000), Bilinguality and Bilingualism, Cambridge.