This dialogue involves getting more closely acquainted with the phenomenon of bilingualism. Tim is the person who explains what bilingualism is about, and how both languages are learned. It is also clear from the dialogue that a different method of learning a language is involved. Just as Pavla can’t imagine having a “father tongue”, Tim can’t imagine not having one. The aim is to provide an introduction to at least some of the experiences of bilingual people.
Bilingualism (Latin root): This refers to the ability to use two languages.
Just as it is clear that a bicycle has two wheels, it would seem that bilingualism is simply about using two languages. However, the question of the ownership of two languages is not quite as clear as the ownership of two wheels. Ask someone if they are bilingual, or better still if they know two languages. Is a bilingual person someone who speaks one language fluently and a second not quite fluently, or someone who uses one language at home and another at work, or someone who understands two languages but speaks only one?
The answers to the questions “Who is bilingual?” and “What is bilingualism?” are not simple. In order to understand them correctly, we have to distinguish between bilingualism as an individual property and bilingualism as the manifestation of a certain social group. There are many different viewpoints from which to approach the question; differing perspectives are offered by sociology, socio-linguistics, politics, geography, psychology and pedagogy.
The most frequent classification of bilingualism is by individual and social bilingualism:
Social bilingualism occurs amongst people living in specific regions who form different groups, be they majority or minority. The bilingual or multilingual populations of a specific country or region can be analysed as a distinct group. In this case, linguists will study the transformation of the group’s vocabulary over time, geographers will chart the density of the settlements of people speaking two languages, educationalists will research the methods and means of bilingual education, etc.
Individual bilingualism involves the ability of an individual to acquire and use a second language. For instance, a discussion on whether bilingualism influences thinking requires surveys to be conducted of individuals mastering various levels of two languages, in comparison with people who are monolingual. As is the case with every classification, this also allows for a certain mutual diffusion and influence. For instance, the attitude of individuals to a certain minority language group can impact on linguistic renewal, on the nature of the switching between languages, and on the overall development of the language of a group.
Therefore, when we ask a person if they speak two languages, our question is highly ambiguous. Perhaps they really are able to speak two languages, but in ordinary life they incline to one of them. Or perhaps they use each language as frequently as the other, but they have different, more restricted abilities in the second language. Or maybe they use one language for everyday communication, but another for reading and writing. There is a basic difference between the question of linguistic ability and the question of language utilisation. We can define bilingualism in more detail on the basis of these two points of view.
Methods of classifying bilingualism:
1) According to age
Sequential (gradual) bilingualism: The child first learns one language, and then later acquires abilities in the second language. A person learns a language either by natural means, in their community, at nursery school, in the family, etc., or formally, i.e. at school, in adult education courses, etc.
2) According to skills
3) According to the level of mastery of a language There exist various definitions which delineate bilingualism by the completely different levels of ability of a person in the second language. However, there is great interest in the category known as balanced bilingualism. This presupposes the same level of ability in both languages. Even this term contains within it a certain level of idealisation. It is exceptional to find a person with the same abilities in reading, writing and speaking in various situations and environments in two languages. Nevertheless, most authors subscribe to an interpretation of bilingualism as “the ability of a person to use two languages appropriately in light of their age.” An example would be a student who can deal with a bilingual scholastic curriculum.
4) According to development
Progressive bilingualism: the second language is developing.
5) According to circumstance Elective bilingualism: this is where the person elects to learn a second language themselves. This is the bilingualism of majority groups, where a person does not learn a second language to the detriment of their native tongue.
Occasional bilingualism: a group of individuals which must become bilingual in order to function in the majority linguistic group which surrounds them. In most cases, survival is involved and a person has a very limited scope for choice.
How we perceive a bilingual person – 2 in 1?
It is commonly thought that a bilingual person is actually something like two monolinguistic people in one. A lot of older research is based on this idea, which compared bilinguists with monolinguists. The linguistic abilities of bilinguists were then evaluated in accordance with monolinguistic standards and thus, for instance, bilingual children questioned in their weaker language logically achieved worse results in IQ tests. The new perspective on the issue proposes viewing bilinguists as an integrated whole, which does not comprise two complete or incomplete monolinguists. Francois Grosjean offers an analogy from the world of athletics. His question is of how we can correctly assess a sprinter, a high jumper and a hurdler. The sprinter and the jumper concentrate on one skill in which they give their best performance, whereas the hurdler has two skills which they attempt to combine so as to offer their best performance. However, it is exceptional for the hurdler to run as fast as a sprinter or to jump as high as a high jumper. But it is meaningless to try and decide who the better athlete is.
Some potential advantages of bilingualism:
1) Advantages during communication:
2) Cultural advantages:
3) Development of cognitive abilities:
4) Personality development:
5) Advantages in the sphere of education:
6) Economic advantages:
Prejudices regarding bilingualism – children and bilingualism:
1) Bilingual children cannot speak either language properly Under advantageous conditions this cannot happen. When we are speaking of bilingualism arising from early childhood within the family, it is necessary to observe certain rules and to create favourable conditions. This includes a positive approach to bilingualism in the immediate surroundings, enough contact with both languages, and the creation of a sufficient need to use both languages. In the case of the one person - one language method, it is necessary that both parents abide by this rule and do not mix up languages when communicating with the child. If they fail to do so, the child could have a problem distinguishing the languages from one another.
2) The child will not be able to distinguish the languages from one another and will always mix them up
3) Bilingualism may be the cause of learning deficiencies or dyslexia, and poorer results at school
Likewise, there has never been any research revealing a link between bilingualism and specific learning deficiencies such as dyslexia or mild mental dysfunction! Naturally, bilingual children belong to the group of children with such problems. However, the deficiencies referred to are unquestionably not caused by bilingualism itself. Above all, the one person - one language method as described in the dialogue with the children does not usually involve any more serious problems. It is regarded as one of the most natural methods by which to acquire two languages. Specialist literature makes no reference to the impact of bilingualism on the presence of dyslexia.
4) Bilingualists are excellent translators
Veronika, 5 years old Jane, 32 years old
Jane, 32 years old
Baker, C. (2000). The Care and Education of Young Bilinguals: An Introduction for Professionasl. Multilingual Matters. Clevedon.
Baker, C. (1993). Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Multilingual Matters. Clevedon.
Hakuta, K. (1986). Mirror of Languages: The Debate on Bilingualism. USA: Basic Books, Inc.
Štefánik, J. (2000). Jeden člověk, dva jazyky: Dvojjazyčnost u dětí – Predsudky a skutečnosti. Bratislava: Academic Electronic Press.