Definitions Relating to Bilingualism

There are many definitions of bilingualism, some of them incorrect and based on myth. A person does not, for example, have to speak both languages with equal fluency to be a bilingual. It is very common for bilinguals, even those who have been bilingual since birth, to be somewhat "dominant" in one language. I (Cindy) define bilingualism simply as using two languages on a regular basis. There are other valid definitions of bilingualism, of course; those who are interested in learning more are invited to skip ahead to the Books and Newsletters page and start reading some of the references mentioned there.

bilingual family
Quite simply, a family in which most of the members are bilingual. There are many reasons why a family may choose to be bilingual, and someday they may even be covered on this Web page.

consecutive bilingualism
Learning one language after already knowing another. This is the situation for all those who become bilingual as adults, as well as for many who became bilingual earlier in life. Sometimes also called successive bilingualism.

simultaneous bilingualism
Learning two languages as "first languages". That is, a person who is a simultaneous bilingual goes from speaking no languages at all directly to speaking two languages. Infants who are exposed to two languages from birth will become simultaneous bilinguals.

receptive bilingualism
Being able to understand two languages but express oneself in only one. This is generally not considered "true" bilingualism but is a fairly common situation worth naming here.

other definitions
Other distinctions are drawn in the literature, for instance between so-called elitist and folk bilingualism, or between compound and coordinate bilingualism. These terms will be further explained on the Politics of Bilingualism page; the controversies connected with them make short definitions inadequate.
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