This book is written with the joy of a grandmother who feels that the study of her grandchildren, the focus of this book, can make a contribution to the understanding of early bilingual development and the human capacity for language. English and Spanish have always been present in our home. I spoke both with my children, switching smoothly from one language to the other depending on their appropriateness in a given communicative situation. Naturally, when the grandsons were born, their parents and I made the decision to expose the children to both languages from birth to facilitate their becoming bilinguals. I, the grandmother, was determined to use only Spanish with the children to counteract the strong presence of English in the family and the larger community. Being a linguist, I also decided to follow closely and record the children’s language development in a systematic way. How children acquire language so quickly has interested scholars for thousands of years. Less well investigated is how children learn two languages concurrently. This was the interesting and challenging question I presented to myself and now address in this book, where I examine the bilingual development of two of my grandsons, Nico and Brennan, to about age six.
In many cultures and countries around the world (e.g., Wales, Spain, Indonesia, India, Kenya, South Africa), bilingualism is a part of ordinary daily life and represents the norm as far as language acquisition and use are concerned. In these regions, the acquisition of two or more languages is considered neither a cognitive feat nor a hindrance; it is simply a matter of course. But the children in the present study did not have an easy journey into bilingualism. There were bumps along the way, especially when the vehicle used was Spanish, an unofficial, minority language in the children’s environment. Yet they succeeded, each one to a different level of bilingual proficiency, and, thanks to dual-language elementary education, they became literate bilinguals in Spanish and English. As was to be expected, the community and official language of California, English, developed into the siblings’ dominant language and evidenced only a few features characteristic of a language being acquired alongside another one: in particular, the use of Spanish words in English utterances. Spanish, however, soon showed some more obvious effects of the strong presence of English, as the ensuing chapters will show.