Bilingualism: Characteristics & Development

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  • 0:04 Bilingualism Definition
  • 0:52 Bilingualism Characteristics
  • 1:50 Language Development…
  • 2:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Frank Clint

Frank has been an educator for over 10 years. He has a doctorate degree in education with a concentration in curriculum and instruction.

Bilingualism is the norm, not the exception in the world. This lesson will talk about the characteristics of bilingualism and describe factors that influence the development of bilingualism.

Bilingualism Definition

Laura is a bilingual teacher who has been a life-long bilingual person. Her parents are second-generation Americans, and her grandparents were Mexican immigrants. She learned Spanish at home the way her parents did, and she studied English in school. Growing up, she heard different misconceptions about what it means to be a bilingual person, like that they must be able to communicate in both languages with equal fluency.

A simple definition of bilingualism is an ability to communicate easily in two languages. Anyone can become bilingual, but it's much easier to become bilingual when you are a child. Most often you'll find that a person with an accent became bilingual later in life. Bilingualism is a norm, not an exception. As surprising as it might seem, most people in the world are bilingual.

Bilingualism Characteristics

There are some general characteristics that many bilinguals share, though not each individual will have every characteristic. Exploring these qualities can help dispel certain misconceptions about bilingual people. Each bilingual person will have their own unique set of characteristics, but these characteristics generally apply:

  • Bilingual people are most often part of two cultures or a culture where more than one language is used.
  • Bilingual people may not speak both languages equally well. Bilingual people use each language in different areas of their lives. Some may speak one language at home and the other for everyday business.
  • Bilingual individuals may not be able to translate quickly. This doesn't mean they don't know the language well. Words don't automatically translate equally into another language, so it takes some thinking to figure out a good translation.
  • Bilinguals sometimes mix languages when speaking to each other. The major reason is that some words don't translate well.

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