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In the first decade of life, children become bilingual in different language learning environments. Many children start learning two languages from birth (Bilingual First Language Acquisition). In early childhood hitherto monolingual children start hearing a second language through daycare or preschool (Early Second Language Acquisition). Yet other hitherto monolingual children in middle childhood may acquire a second language only after entering school (Second Language Acquisition). This Element explains how these different language learning settings dynamically affect bilingual children's language learning trajectories. All children eventually learn to speak the societal language, but they often do not learn to fluently speak their non-societal language and may even stop speaking it. Children's and families' harmonious bilingualism is threatened if bilingual children do not develop high proficiency in both languages. Educational institutions and parental conversational practices play a pivotal role in supporting harmonious bilingual development.
The ability to speak two or more languages is a common human experience, whether for children born into bilingual families, young people enrolled in foreign language classes, or mature and older adults learning and using more than one language to meet life's needs and desires. This Handbook offers a developmentally oriented and socially contextualized survey of research into individual bilingualism, comprising the learning, use and, as the case may be, unlearning of two or more spoken and signed languages and language varieties. A wide range of topics is covered, from ideologies, policy, the law, and economics, to exposure and input, language education, measurement of bilingual abilities, attrition and forgetting, and giftedness in bilinguals. Also explored are cross- and intra-disciplinary connections with psychology, clinical linguistics, second language acquisition, education, cognitive science, neurolinguistics, contact linguistics, and sign language research.