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Bilingualism: Double the Words, Double the Fun

As our interconnected world continues to expand, cultural differences can create clashes, which hinder intercultural connectivity and collaboration. It also creates a wealth of opportunities, allowing us to leverage our differences for improved innovation, productivity and connection. Now, more than ever the value of learning a second, third or even fourth language cannot be overstated. To explain why, we’ll start with a dive into the world of linguistics. Happy Reading! 

What is the difference between mother tongue and native language?  

Mother tongue and native language are terms that are often used interchangeably, but there can be some slight differences depending on the use. Mother tongue used to  highlight the connection the speaker has to their mother, and how the language was acquired from her. Now, the term is used almost interchangeably with native language. A native language is most often used to note the language someone learned as a child. It can also be used to indicate the language spoken by the majority in a particular region. Additionally native language can also be used to demonstrate that the person speaking it is from the region that the language is spoken in. 

What is the difference between first and native language? 

First language, or L1, is a term often used by linguists to designate a language which was learned as a child, without the context of another language. The exact age is debated, and different for everyone, but is often said to be any language learned before the age of seven. L1 is also a native language. Any language learned after is considered a second language, or L2. 

What does it mean to be bilingual? 

The definition of bilingual can vary slightly, but it is a label for someone who speaks two languages fluently. There are different labels for those who speak three (trilingual) or more languages (multilingual and polyglot). There are also different types of bilinguals, though this is something we’ll explore below. 

What do you call someone who speaks more than two languages? 

In the globalised world we live in, many people are, or have become multilingual due to global mobility. When someone speaks three languages, they’re typically labelled as trilingual. However, when they speak three or more languages, they can all fall under the categorization of multilingual, plurilingual, or be called a polyglot. More explicitly, a polyglot is someone who speaks at least several languages. The exact number can differ, but typically anyone who speaks at least five languages is a polyglot. Plurilingual is an adjective to describe someone who speaks three or more languages. This is similar for the word multilingual, though it is also used to describe a culture or atmosphere in which multiple languages coexist. 

What are the seven types of Bilingualism? 

  • Simultaneous bilingualism is when someone acquires two languages at a young age. If a child is raised in a house in which one parent speaks English, and the other French, they could become a simultaneous bilingual. In this scenario, both languages would be considered L1. 
  • Sequential bilingualism is when someone acquires a second language after first establishing another. This might happen if a family moves to another country, prompting some or all of them to learn the native language fluently. In this context, the speaker would have both a first and second language. 
  • Receptive bilingualism is when someone has fluent comprehension of two languages but may be only able to speak one at a fluent level. This might happen when a child hears two languages at home, but only replies in one. 
  • Productive bilingualism takes it one step further than receptive bilingualism. It is when someone can both comprehend and communicate fluently in two languages. 
  • Coordinate bilingualism is when someone can communicate and express themselves fully in two languages but keeps them separate. This might occur when a family moves to a new country and the child acquire the local language, while the parents do not. When at home the children may speak their native language or mother tongue, while speaking the local language when out of the house, for example, at school, with friends, at restaurants, etc… 
  • Compound bilingualism occurs when there is no such divide as seen in coordinate bilingualism. The languages are learned in the same environment and are often used together. The speaker might use both languages in the same conversation, switching back and forth without noticing. If a child has bilingual parents who use the languages interchangeably at home, it would help establish the child as a compound bilingual. This can also be seen in adults living abroad. 
  • Subordinate bilingualism is when one language is more dominant than the other. Similarly to coordinate bilingualism, this might occur when a family moves abroad and the parents don’t fully acquire the local language. As the child grows up with the local language, it may become the dominant language for them in most settings, especially those that don’t include their parents. 

It is important to note that while these labels help us understand the variety of experiences we can have with language, they can vary from person to person. Some people might also have traits from more than one of these themes. 

What are the benefits of being bilingual?

  • Enhanced communication skills are a clear benefit from speaking more than one language. Beyond being able to communicate with more people, the benefits of understanding different language structures not only helps improve one’s listening skills, but also improves perspective taking and understanding of nuances. 
  • Alongside enhanced communication skills is enhanced access to the job market, should you need or want a new one! 
  • Improved cognition from being able to sustain more than one language gives people an edge in many situations. Multitasking is easier, maths, logic, learning another language and focus are all improved. 
  • Increased cultural awareness and empathy are natural benefits that come from learning a second language. Being introduced to idioms, sentence structure and slang can go a long way in creating awareness of the cultures which use the language as well. 
  • The ability for people to plan, organise, initiate and regulate their thoughts and emotions is improved when someone is able to learn and maintain more than one language. This is also known as executive functioning. 
  • Alongside executive functioning comes an increasingly understood preventative measure against degenerative neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s

Speaking one or more languages is clearly a benefit. Yes, it takes time and effort, but both the short- and long-term goals are tremendous. As little as 15 minutes a day can be enough to enrich your life. Of course it doesn’t have to be boring, nor do you have to do it alone. Our language services can make it easier. At Language Partners/BBi Communication we’ve developed a unique approach to language learning which we call Social Learning. It engages students in a variety of ways (teacher, peers, e-learning, and more), making the learning process both more effective and interactive. Take a look and let us know if you have any questions about how we can help you learn any of our 52 languages!

Paul Van Zanten
Paul is an American intercultural communications professional living in the Netherlands and connecting with his Dutch roots. With a passion for travel, as well as gaining new perspectives and experiences, Paul aims to further his growth, as well as that of others at Language Partners.

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