Are You Bilingual?
Updated January 11, 2021
You might have encountered people claiming that they are bilingual or the term bilingualism, especially if you are a part of an international community.
A bilingual is an individual who can communicate in two languages on a native level (or with a very high proficiency). According to Webster’s dictionary, a bilingual means “having or using two languages with the fluency and characteristics of a native speaker”. At the same time it may mean “the constant oral use of two languages.” Oxford’s dictionaries define bilinguality as “speaking two languages fluently.”
It seems rather straightforward, doesn’t it? But wouldn’t it make us all who have English as a second language, bilingual? Let’s see what science has to say about this.
The Language You Speak and Think
“You have to THINK in English,” I remember my teacher saying when I started learning my second language. “THINK in this language, and the talking will be much easier.”
A piece of pretty handy advice: You see, even without knowing the scientific facts, my English teacher knew that learning a language is not only about speaking it but also about what was going on behind the scenes.
According to linguists, every language has at least two primary purposes. Firstly, it is the interpersonal communication (expressing something). Secondly, it is the cognition (thinking or meaning something). Bilingualism is, in this case, not only the ability to speak other languages but also the ability to think and create unique structures in that language. Paraphrasing your mother language into English (or your other language) is not enough.
Being bilingual-Did you know…?
Bilingualism and Bilinguality
The term bilingualism is commonly used to refer to communities where two languages are accepted and used by the majority of the individuals. For example, French and English in Canada. Bilinguality, on the other hand, refers to the state of an individual, stating that he or she can independently use two linguistic codes. A person speaking only one language would, therefore, be monolingual.
It is essential to state that not all the theories of bilinguality require individuals to think in the second language. Yet, the recent ones do require more than simply translating from a native tongue.
The Polyglot Case: Speaking Twenty Different Languages
Polyglot is a person that has mastered several foreign languages. Polyglotism is a synonym to multilingualism, yet it stands for a person that has learned additional languages as a hobby. To put it simply: polyglots learn languages for the sake of learning languages. In contrast, multilingualism is usually a term for a community where more than two languages are spoken and used in everyday life.
Polyglotism has recently exploded in popularity, mainly because of the easy access to foreign languages via the internet. See the video below where an American teenager speaks twenty different languages.
It is important to add that there is no generally agreed language level person has to reach to be considered a polyglot. Timothy Doner (our American polyglot in the video above) stated in one his interviews that most of his learning is because of high motivation, hard work and the time he devotes to studying, and most of his languages are on a beginner’s level, so do not feel discouraged about your learning 🙂
Keep Calm and Learn a Language
Whether you fit into the bilingual definitions or not doesn’t really matter. Follow your goals. Try to enjoy your language learning as much as possible. There are plenty languages out there waiting to be discovered and explored by you. And remember, shared joy is double joy. Don’t hesitate to share your insights with us!