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First Language Acquisition Theory (Interactionism)

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Our group has decided to look into Susumu Kondo’s case study titled “First Language Acquisition: A Case Study of a Japanese-Chinese Bilingual Child” from a publisher; who published about this case study in 2007. As stated in the titled, Susumu Kondo focused more on a bilingual child’s first language acquisition through interactionism with people around the subject that he chose to look into. His subject was his nephew, Kenta, aged 2.5 years old who’s a Japanese-Chinese bilingual child who lived in Japan together with his parents, one brother and his extended family members such as his grandparents, big uncle and young uncle who’s also Susumu Kondo. Susumu Kondo began developed interest in her nephew’s linguistic and cognitive development when he realized that he’s also a bilingual person but couldn’t speak both language fluently. He became interested in studying about bilingual child after he saw Kenta and was curious on how a bilingual child can balance out between two different language system and decided to make his nephew as his subject for this case study, look more into it by focusing on his speech towards his interaction with people around him and provide guidance towards other parents with bilingual child through his study.

Susumu Kondo looked more into interactionism theory by focusing on Kenta’s utterance speech when talking to people around him, in this case, his family and neighbors around their house in Japan. From what he can gained from his study, Susumu Kondo realized that a bilingual child focus more on subject or content of their conversation just the same as an English monolingual speaker and they also are bound to make grammatical errors which is to be specific, mistakes in functional morpheme grammar. Their acquisition however are different from an English monolingual speaker which we will explain more in our critical review section in this report. Not only that, Susumu Kondo also realized from his study that cognitive development also plays an important role in bilingual children’s language acquisition together with environmental factors. For this point particularly, he decided to focus more on base language, code switching and code mixing in which many people believed are a sign of language immaturity that a bilingual children develop. He proved them wrong. Lastly, from this study, he concluded that a child age as young as Kenta who’s 2.5 years old can distinguish between two different linguistic systems which I find it interesting consider the fact that we might have perception like how can a kid at that age possibly know that and where do they acquire this kind of knowledge without a proper education or teaching about it yet other from people surround them. In this study, Susumu Kondo managed to change our perception’s towards how far bilingual children can learn and gain their first language between two different languages and linguistic systems through interaction between them and people. It’s fascinating how his study taught us more about a bilingual children’s speech structure and it’s also a wonder why there’s not a lot study are made regarding this particular subject and topic as what Susumu Kondo has stated at the end of his conclusion in this study on how he strongly believed that there are a lot more confirmation, revision, and rediscovery that can be made on development of language acquisition.

Description of Contents/Summary

The study’s research questions started by stating that there are not a lot of research made on first language acquisition of bilingual children in Japan compared from other countries although there’s a lot of people who are interested about the study of childhood bilingualism in this modern era. Susumu Kondo also wanted to see if the theory of English speaking monolingual children regarding their acquisition of English as first language and their grammatical development are the same as compared to children who acquire other language as their first language. It was stated by Brown & Fraser (1963) and Hoff (2001) that English speaking monolingual children’s early speech is telegraphic which means simplified manner of speech where children use content-word to express ideas and what they want to say. They don’t really use grammatical functions such as bound morphemes as they are yet to learn about it and at this early stage, they focused more on delivering important subject or topic in conversation. This causes them to have grammatical errors such as ellipsis where they drop some sentences or words that they deemed are not crucial to be in their speech, statement, or conversation. In Kenta’s case, we can see that he often makes ellipsis mistake in his speech for both Japanese and Chinese where he would drop the pronoun of “I” to symbolize himself in his utterance or as what we called, “Subject-Ellipsis”. Unlike English speaker who’s used to refer to a subject or used a first person pronoun in their conversation, Kenta preferred to use his name rather than using a first person pronoun in both languages and Susumu Kondo’s concluded that this Subject-Ellipsis might happen because this first person pronoun is harder to use than proper nouns and regular nouns in which Kenta hasn’t learned yet.

Susumu Kondo’s other interest in this study was about code switching, code mixing and base knowledge of a bilingual child, in this case, his nephew Kenta. From what he can get as a result of staying over at Kenta’s family house for two days and type-recorded his conversation with his mother, there’s a distinct differences between Kenta’s code switching and code mixing of both Japanese and Chinese (Mandarin) when he speaks. According to Bhatia and Ritchie (1999), the definition of code switching is when there’s a mixing of various linguistics unit from two participating grammatical systems within a speech event or in long conversation. Code mixing on the other hand is when there’s a mixing of various linguistics unit from two participating grammatical systems within a sentence. As Japanese and Chinese has an obvious syntactic difference in the verb-noun combination in which when speaking Japanese, Kenta used noun + verb orders while for Chinese, he used verb + noun orders, this shows that Kenta are able to distinguish his two linguistic systems and not only that, based on these findings, we managed to know that there’s a base language between Kenta’s two main languages. For example, when having a conversation with his brother, Tatsuya in Japanese, Kenta might not know some words in Japanese so instead, he decided to use Chinese words to replace the word that he doesn’t learn yet in Japanese and vice versa. According to Brown (2000), Celce-Murcia & Olshtain (2000) has stated, language learners in the early stage of acquisition like Kenta might use their native language to replace words that they don’t know in their second language in order to give some hints to the listener in getting the real meaning of what they want to say. In Kenta’s case, he can do this back to back between Japanese and Chinese as both are his first language. This finding shows that code switching and code mixing are not a sign of linguistic immaturity and by borrowing words from another language are not always the cause of language confusion.


Susumu Kondo brought us closer towards his findings in his data section where he stated all the details about his subject who’s also his nephew, Kenta. Kenta is 2.5 years old at the time of the case study and is a second child in his family. He used Chinese most of the time with his parents, grandfather and big uncle while used Japanese when he’s talking with his brother, Tatsuya, grandmother, young uncle (Susumu Kondo) and neighbors around them as they lived in Japan. Other than that, Kenta mostly acquire his Japanese language from watching TV programs and it seems like Japanese is his favorite language and used it as his base language in conversation most of the time due to the frequency of his usage in Japanese language and his environment. In Kenta’s case, his parents used Chinese (Mandarin) language with him due to the fear of confusing him with his already accurate pronunciation of Japanese. Both Kenta’s parents understand and are able to speak Japanese but decided not to when they are with him due to their pronunciation. This is also called as “one person one language” principle by Maneva (2004) that encourages a multilingual children not to mix their linguistic codes. However in Kenta’s case, this principle does not apply to him as Susumu Kondo’s spotted code switching in his speech and this also happens without Kenta’s knowing as he sometimes responds in Japanese when he’s talking with his mother.

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Susumu Kondo decided to analyze his speech more in Japanese, Chinese and both language (code switching and code mixing) through a session of conversation with his mother. He divided Kenta’s speech structures into two parts, subject (S) and predicate (P). He first type-recorded their conversation and then made three different table according to Kenta’s type of languages used. From what we can concluded from the table, Kenta’s Japanese utterance consisted less grammatical mistakes compared to his Chinese utterance. Common mistakes that Kenta made in his Chinese utterance are particle-past, particle-present continuous and particle-inclusive. However, Kenta made the same mistake for both language where he seldomly used first person pronoun when he’s referring to him. He either left that out and continue with what he intended to say or he referred him as Kenta thus this is where Susumu Kondo concluded that Kenta too, as a bilingual child, made the same mistake that an English monolingual speaking children did.

For both language combined, Susumu Kondo has separated the third table into two types, which are Table 4-A for code mixing and Table 4-B for code switching. From table 4-A, we can see which language Kenta used more in a single utterance and that shows what is his base language during the session. Most of the time, Kenta used Japanese as his base language as he speaks in Japanese syntactic structure where verb comes first before noun. For example, Kenta said “Heitian (CN) kowai (JP)” which means “(I’)m afraid of night” and in this single utterance, we can see that he used noun later for predicate although the first word he uttered in Chinese, his base language is Japanese due to this structure. As for his code switching in Table 4-B, his conversation with his mother showed that he unknowingly responded to his mother in Japanese more although his mother used Chinese with him all the time of the session.

Based on this table, Susumu Kondo concluded that Kenta’s Japanese utterance is still lacking in grammatical function where he’s still not able to use Japanese particles such as ga (nominative marker), topic marker or accusative marker in his utterance although in Japanese, these grammatical functions do not have meanings and only play their roles as grammatical functions. To this, Kenta’s Japanese utterance is still in “telegraphic speech” stage. If we were to compare Kenta’s acquisition of question in his utterance with an English-speaking children, it can be said that Kenta used adult-like Wh-questions although some grammatical functions are missing. Through this case study, they compared Wh-questions structure between Japanese-speaking children and English-speaking children and result shows that Wh-questions in English require more complicated transformation in sentence because of inversion of word orders, the needs to add verbal “do” and fronting of interrogative compared to Japanese, English required two more tasks for English speaker to go through in forming Wh-questions. Therefore, through this finding, it shows that language development varies depending on the target language.

As for Kenta’s base language, Susumu Kondo believed it is important to focus on compared to what Romaine (1995) has claimed. Romaine (1995) stated that there is no base language behind the mixed usage of languages and there’s no point in pointing which language is dominant. However, in this study, Susumu Kondo decided to focus on it in order to improve bilingual child’s balance in both language and identify which language is lacking in hope for them to become a well balanced bilingual person although it is impossible. In Kenta’s case, it shows that Japanese is his favorite or base language, and he preferred to use that language most of the time due to his environment. This also shows how lacking his Chinese (Mandarin) implementation is although his parents speak to him that language all the time. As for the solution to this finding, Kenta might need more input about Chinese language by exposing him to a Chinese-speaking people more and his parents maybe has to encourage him in speaking Chinese more often although the place where they lived are not suitable for Chinese language. Kenta is still young and it will be good to expose him to another peers who’s around his age (from Lev Vygotsky’s theory) that can speak Chinese to balance both of his language utterance.

Conclusion & Suggestion

From what we concluded in this case study, it can be seen that each children’s first language acquisition are different and doesn’t really follow the suggested model for an English speaking child although there’re some similarities between a bilingual child and English monolingual speaking children. It can be also concluded that not all misconceptions about bilingual children are true. We think that it is a waste that this case study only limited to one bilingual child where Susumu Kondo can also do more research towards other bilingual children in Japan that can provide more data towards his research. However, through this case study, we can conclude that interaction between people especially family is important in first language acquisition and children’s cognitive and linguistic development.

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First Language Acquisition Theory (Interactionism). (2022, February 24). Edubirdie. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from
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First Language Acquisition Theory (Interactionism) [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 24 [cited 2022 Aug 12]. Available from:
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