Bilingualism


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A bilingual person

A bilingual person is someone who speaks two languages. Speaking more than two languages means that you are multilingual. Multilingualism is not a rare phenomenon. It’s the norm for most of the world’s countries. A lot of people know and use three, four, or even more languages fluently.

Becoming a bilingual

Bilingual people acquire two languages at the same time in childhood because of many reasons:

  • Children from immigrant parents are exposed to their parents native language at home while receiving a lot of  target language input from outside in their daily lives: school, friends…
  • Some children may become bilingual if their parents themselves are bilingual or even multilingual.
  • Sometimes an other significant person in children’s lives (such as a grandparent or caretaker) speaks to them consistently in another language and thus the child becomes bilingual.
  • Sometimes parents coming from different cultures influence the children’s linguistic abilties when each parent speaks a different language to the child. In this sitution the child  may become fluent in both languages.

It is also possible to learn a second language sometime after early childhood. This is the case for people who study linguistics or just because of sheer interest in other cultures and languages.

Critical period

It is believed that there is a critical period during which a learner can acquire a new language much more easily. This critical period is said to last from birth to puberty. The child in this period can easily acquire any language if he/she is regularly exposed to it. According to this view, the structure of the brain changes at puberty, and after that it becomes much more difficult to learn a new language.

Does bilingualism threaten native languages?

Learning more than one language does not represent a threat to the native language; on the contrary, this fosters mastery of universals that govern all languages including L1. It is also an enrichment of  cross-cultural knowledge. Bilingualism or multilingualism may also enrich personality and enhance the values of tolerance and understanding.

Consider these quotes about learning a new language:

“A different language is a different vision of life.” – Federico Fellini
“Learn a new language and get a new soul.”  – Czech Proverb

Finally, I’d like to share this video by Barack Obama speaking about bilingualism in the USA.

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