What kind of a bilingual speaker are you?

In the net and the translation market places, we can find lots of people who claim to be native, bilingual or multilingual. But what exactly does this imply? Are they using the terms properly? When can an individual be considered as bilingual? And, which kind of bilingual?

A bilingual individual has some knowledge of two or more languages but, does this person need to be equally proficient in both languages in writing and speaking skills? Let’s see some theories about the phenomenon.


According to Weinreich (1953) there are three subtypes of bilingualism:

*Coordinate Bilingualism: languages are learned in different conditions and separate contexts (home, school) and meanings from both languages are stored separately in the mind.

*Compound Bilingualism: both languages are learned in the same context and meanings from both languages are intertwined in the mind (child learning both languages at home).

*Sub-coordinate Bilingualism: implies learning (at home) one of the languages first and the other later, one of them being dominant.

Macnamara (1967) classified bilingual individuals in two subtypes:

*Balanced bilinguals: who have equivalent competence in both (bilingual family and society where both languages have an equal status). It entails a high competence, although the speaker’s command may depending on the domains. The speaker would rarely be equally fluent about all topics in all contexts.

*Dominant bilinguals: their competence in one of the languages surpasses competence in the other, at least in some domains (a child learning one language from each parent, one of the languages being also used at school).


Lambert (1955) establishes that balance or dominance depends on the age of acquisition:

*Childhood Bilingualism: during the child’s cognitive development.

*Adolescent Bilingualism &*Adult Bilingualism: cognitive representation of the world is already completed.“Re-labeling”.

Childhood Bilingualism can be:

* Simultaneous Infant Bilingualism (L2 learned early in infancy, after some development of the acquisition of L1)

*Consecutive linguistic ability: basic linguistic ability in L1 and L2 acquired one right after the other.

Also, according to cultural identification (Hamers and Blanc, 1989), a speaker can be:

*Bi-cultural: identifies him/herself with both cultures. High proficiency does not imply bi-culturalism.

*Mono-cultural: the individual feels culturally identified with just one group.

*Acculturated: migration, implying that the target country will favour L2, can persuade someone to deny the culture related to his/her mother tongue and foster that of the target country. The speaker wish to blend into the new society and culture.

What kind of bilingual are you?

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