Does True Bilingualism Exist?

It is never easy to raise kids who are able to speak two different languages. Nowadays, we have many parents who are enrolling their children in bilingual education in an attempt to expose them to different languages. The bilingual meaning is a person who is able to speak 2 different languages with the fluency of a native. This kind of standard can be hard to achieve and bilingualism can be a continuum where a speaker can have different levels of proficiency in the first as well as the second language.

How to attain a good bilingual balance

It is possible to achieve the truly balanced bilingualism. However, one thing that is worth noting is that this is not something that will happen naturally. Instead, it should be continuously and carefully cultivated by a person with the goal of remaining conversant in both languages and in all subjects, areas, and situations. This requires life-long practice and learning. There are people who get to that point but many still find that they’ve got a long way to go before their languages are true examples of bilingualism.


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Types of bilinguals

To answer the question of whether true bilingualism exists, we need to first understand the different types of bilinguals. There are generally two types of bilinguals. These can be categorized as:

  • Early bilingualism. This is also known as subtractive bilingualism. In this kind, the person is supposed to learn two different languages and in the separate environment. They maintain separation even after they have mastered both languages. For instance, there may be a students who acquire and speak a language at home. They can then learn a second language at their school. They will only speak that second language in school, in the classroom environment and the language will remain separate in their minds.
  • Compound bilingualism. When it comes to compound bilingualism, the line is a bit thinner as a person learns a language in the same context and environment. The students use the two languages interchangeably or concurrently. Also referred to as additive bilingualism, a good example is when the parents of a child are bilingual and they use both languages at home. In the  mind of the individual, the language isn’t separate and these can be switched at will even when the person is speaking

Approaches to teaching bilingualism

The recognized type of bilingualism can lead to 2 different approaches of teaching the language. There are some methods of teachings that try to balance between the growths of the two languages. It keeps an eye on the original language of the person while nurturing the growth of the second language. When the student gets to a point where they perceive the languages to be equal in a compound scenario, they will need to be careful to ensure that they learn each language in the same rate and depth if they are to communicate well in both languages.

Another alternative is to use the immersive approach whose aim is to provide preference to the target language while assuming that the teacher views the two languages as distinct. Therefore, the student needs to concentrate on the target language since there is no area of their lives where the language is being supported. With the passing of time and putting of more effort in a target language, the natural learning of the native language can happen at home without any obstructions. 


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Tips on how to be bilingual

It takes a skill to speak two different languages. Like it is the case with other skills such as driving, singing or even swimming, you need a lot of practice to be good in a skill. There are several methods that can help to improve your skills in the second language, its grammar, and vocabulary. These include:

  • The mother practice. This is the best way of learning a language. The more the time that you will devote to practicing a language, the faster it will b for you to gain more skills in it. In one study that was conducted by linguistics, people were placed in an environment where the language they were studying was being spoken. It was noted that these people became incredibly effective in the language. Some of the good ways that you can use to attain true bilingual include listening to music, watching videos and speaking with people who speak a particular language.
  • Age matters. When people begin speaking a language at the early age (4 to 8 years), they experience some fewer difficulties in an activity. This is a human intellect feature where people respond to knowledge better when they are introduced to it early in life. Sometimes people cannot adjust to the new language due to their age, and even students have to use the help of the essay writing services, like, if they feel like writing on foreign language is too hard for them.
  • Have a stimulus. It will be easier for you to learn a language when you have a stimulus. When you already have it, your body will function a bit different than usual and you will have the energy to learn the language.

Our final thoughts

A person who is fully fluent in two languages can be defined as bilingual. When we use such a definition, these kinds of people can be quite rare. However, according to the father of bilingualism, Uriel Weinreich, a linguistic of the 20th century, a more realistic definition is the ability to use 2 or more languages alternatively. Therefore, people who are able to use 2 or more languages in their everyday lives can be considered as bilinguals. This means that people such as professional interpreters who are fluent in 2 languages and the immigrants who speak the language of their host countries can be considered as bilinguals. The case same applies to a bilingual child who is able to interact with their parents in a single language and their friends in another language.

Author’s bio

Sandra Hayward is a linguistic expert with a B.A in Linguistics from the Boston University. She has written and published several papers on bilingualism.



*** We appreciate our guest contributor and friend Sandra Hayward for this in depth piece. Again, the opinions, beliefs, and musical tastes of our sponsors are not necessarily those of the handsome editors who humbly work day and night to keep this humble site going. 

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