Throughout our lives, most people do not have difficulty communicating and thinking in their mother tongue, and they may have some knowledge of a second or third language without mastering it. In addition to these people, there are others who, either because since they were born they have been in an environment in which two languages ​​are spoken , or because they have studied and practiced a second language until they have mastered it , are considered bilingual , that is who can speak a second language as if it were their own . Currently, and thanks in part to globalizationbilingualismIt is increasingly common, and given the importance it has in the world of work and business, currents arise that try to make children who are born today speak a second language without problems , which, if you are a Spanish speaker, is usually English.

What is bilingualism?

Bilingualism is the competence that an individual has to communicate in two different languages ​​with the same ability and fluency . In this way, a bilingual person will be able to think, write, read, understand and speak in two languages ​​without any difficulty.

  • Definition of bilingualism
  • Characteristics
  • Types
  • Bilingualism and diglossia
  • Bilingual community
  • Bilingual education
  • Examples of bilingualism
  • Books on bilingualism

Definition of bilingualism

The bilingualism can be defined as the ability of a person to speak and think in a second language and do it the same way as if it were their native language , in fact sometimes both languages are those of the parents.



There are four characteristic elements of bilingual people , these are the following:

  • Degree of command of each language: the bilingualist will speak both languages ​​fluently.
  • Function given to spoken languages: What language do you use in the family environment? And at work? When you interact with friends in what language do you do it? Do you use both? And in everyday situations like shopping?
  • Level of alternation between languages: it indicates the ease with which the bilingualist can go from speaking one language to speaking in another.
  • Level of interference between the two languages: when bilingual people speak in one language, they tend to pick up words from the other language that they master without realizing it. This feature will tell us how well it manages to separate the use of the two languages.


Currently , a total of 17 types of bilingualism are differentiated , which, as we will see below, can be classified according to different aspects :

Depending on the moment in which each language was mastered:

  • Acquired bilingualism: it  is one in which a person who only speaks their mother tongue , studies a second language until they have mastered it. An example is that of Spanish-speaking people who study English from a young age. When they finally master the language, it will be considered acquired bilingualism.
  • Native bilingualism : this type of bilingualism is typical of people who, having been born in a country where a language is spoken, have parents from another country whose language is different. The child therefore begins to learn two languages ​​from the moment he is born.
  • Simultaneous child bilingualism : it can be confused with native bilingualism since it is one in which two languages ​​are learned before the age of three. The difference is that in the native language the languages ​​are those of the country and those of the parents, and in simultaneous child bilingualism the second language can be learned in an educational center.
  • Sequential bilingualism : is the bilingualism in which the second language is learned after having reached the age of three.

Depending on the use made of each language:

  • Individual bilingualism:  occurs in regions where only one language is spoken when a person is able to communicate in two different languages.
  • Social bilingualism: in this case, two languages ​​coexist in the same region or country.

Depending on the level of command of each language:

  • Complete bilingualism: it is when the person masters both languages ​​to perfection .
  • Incomplete bilingualism: it is so called because the individual already masters one language but the second has still been learned.

Depending on the status of each language in society:

  • Additive bilingualism : this bilingualism contributes to enrich the culture of the place by considering that one language is as important as the other.
  • Subtractive  bilingualism : unlike the previous type, in this case bilingualism can lead to a loss of identity since one language is considered more valuable than the other and is used predominantly.

Depending on when each language was learned:

  • Receptive bilingualism : this is the name given to bilingualism in which the person only dominates their mother tongue, because although they can understand a second language, they are not able to communicate with it.
  • Simultaneous bilingualism: it is the one that occurs when the learning of both languages ​​occurs at the same time.
  • Successive bilingualism: it is characterized by the fact that at first the person learns their mother tongue and then gradually learns a second language.

Depending on whether there is a dominant language and there is dependence on it:

  • Fluent bilingualism: the individual is fluent in both languages ​​and is able to express himself fluently in both.
  • Not fluent bilingualism: the individual knows and is able to express himself in both languages ​​but there is one that speaks more fluently. In this case, the person who communicates in the language that he does not master completely tries to cover his deficiencies by relying on words or expressions from his dominant language.
  • Incipient bilingualism: it is one that little by little begins to manifest itself. The person already masters a language and is in the process of learning a second language, so he will progressively make himself present.

Depending on the ability to use each language:

  • Productive bilingualism : occurs when the bilingualist is capable of both reading and writing, as well as listening and speaking in both languages.
  • Balanced bilingualism: the person dominates both languages ​​equally. You can communicate effectively with both.
  • Functional bilingualism : this type refers not to the ability but to the actual use that the bilingualist gives to each language when communicating.

Bilingualism and diglossia

The diglosia phenomenon occurs in places where cohabiting the least two languages and characterized by the existence of a dominant language which is spoken by social groups higher , and a second language considered inferior and is used exclusively by the lower social groups.

Having said the above, we must remember that previously we have spoken of a type of bilingualism known as social, which refers to the fact that two languages ​​cohabit in the same region.

As we can see, both terms are related but they are not the same and the combination of both can generate situations such as the following:

  • Diglossia with bilingualism: this situation occurs in regions where there are two languages , one being used mainly by the upper classes and the other by the lower classes . The communication between the two classes is possible because although not make use of the language of the other class in their day to day if you know it .
  • Diglossia without bilingualism: it occurs when there is a region in which the higher social classes speak a different language than the one used by the lower classes and communication between the two is not possible unless translators are used. That is, society is not bilingual because each social group speaks only one language and does not know the other.
  • Bilinüismo without diglossia: when two languages ​​coexist in a region and the use made of them is similar.

Bilingual community

A bilingual community can be defined as a group of people who inhabit a certain region that is characterized by knowing two languages ​​and having the ability to use them to communicate.

Communities in which bilingualism occurs

Some examples of communities in which bilingualism occurs are the Philippines, where Tagalog, English and Spanish are spoken, Belgium where Dutch, French and German are used, or regions of Spain such as Galicia where Spanish and Galician.

Bilingual education

Bilingual education is an educational model based on teaching students in two different languages , their own and a secondary language. This type of model arises from the demand of the labor market that professionals speak a second language, generally English.

It should be noted that bilingual education is not exempt from criticism because although it achieves that the student has better competence in foreign languages, it reduces the results they obtain in other subjects also considered essential such as mathematics . Despite this, more and more schools , institutes and even early childhood education centers decide to adopt this model.

Bilingual  education  in the United States

Although the official language is English, currently the United States is one of the countries where the most languages ​​are spoken in the world . Spanish, for example, is currently the second most widely spoken language in the country with more than 57 million speakers. In addition, other languages ​​such as French, Chinese or German are widely used. If we add to this the large number of immigrants that the United States receives each year, it is obvious that it is necessary for schools to have bilingual education programs.

As a result of this, bilingual education has begun to expand throughout the country, allowing students to learn in two languages ​​and facilitating the integration of foreign students by allowing them to continue studying in their native language while learning a second language.

Something that we must highlight is the case of Louisiana, this state has developed an educational model in which schools are encouraged to also teach in French in order to recover their French roots.

All this contrasts with the situation that was experienced in the country during the 90s. At that time, bilingual education was prohibited in states such as California and in the state of Louisiana itself, children had to avoid speaking French if they did not want to be punished.

Examples of bilingualism

Next we are going to see some examples of bilingualism, we will see both concrete situations and examples of countries where bilingualism is relevant:

  • A clear example of bilingualism is that of a child born in the United States whose parents are Spanish-speaking . From the moment it is born, it will acquire skills in both Spanish and English.
  • Another example is that of a person born in Spain who has been teaching English since the beginning of his school years . He continues to study and even goes to live in England for several years to master the language completely.
  • The children born in regions of Spain as the Basque Country will learn two languages from birth the Spanish and Basque, to the live both in the region.

Paraguayan bilingualism

Paraguay is a perfect example of a bilingual country since Spanish and the famous Guaraní coexist in harmony. Spanish is often widely used in urban settings, in official settings, business and education. For its part, Guaraní tends to be more colloquial and its use predominates in rural settings, although it is also used in cities. Currently approximately more than half of the Paraguayan population speaks both languages.

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