The language acquisition process, either first, second, or so on, is an individual process that may differ someone from others. This interesting topic almost always gives surprising stories with a huge variety of processes in every level of language masteries. In line with this, bilingual studies also give an endless topic for discussion, importantly, about how it happens, why it matters, and the benefits of becoming a bilingual person.
The stories of becoming a bilingual person could help others in learning their second language. Among those possibilities, there are somehow three major classifications of bilingual according to the process of its development:
- Compound bilingualism
The first bilingual classification happens during an infant language development phase when they get simultaneous exposure to two languages. In most cases, the contexts of compound bilingualism happen in children who are raised by bilingual parents or whose parents are from different origins and speak different mother tongues. The exposure to both languages is equal for the children thus it makes them master the languages equally and can easily switch between them.
Children who are raised in a bilingual environment will take both languages without distinction. They can process both languages in daily interaction at the same time and use them alternately as if those languages are one language.
The most common incident is when the children start attending preschool. They will talk in two languages alternately and make the teachers and classmates get confused. The process of code-switching and code-mixing just happens automatically while speaking since they do not perceive those languages as different codes.
- Coordinate bilingualism
The difference between coordinate bilingualism and the previous classification is the context in which a child acquires or learns the language. While a compound bilingual child acquires the languages simultaneously in a single context or environment such as in a family context from their parents, coordinate bilingualism is when a child learns his/her first and second language in different contexts or environments.
Unlike compound bilinguals, coordinate bilinguals are able to differentiate the two languages very well. They perceive each language as an independent entity that has a parallel status for a means of communication in different domains. Since the children are typically older than the previous classification, the coordinate bilinguals are fully aware of the context and purpose for using each language separately.
For example, an Italian boy lives in Germany with his parents who keep their mother tongue for communication among family members. He attends a public school in Germany and learns to speak German. Since he knows very well the different environments where he should use Italian or German for communication, then this boy is considered as a coordinate bilingual.
- Subordinate Bilingualism
While the first and second bilingual children are equally proficient in both languages, the subordinate bilinguals acquire the second language at a later stage of age. These bilingual people are usually adults who learn their second language due to some reason. Their mother tongue will still be the stronger language as it will interfere with the concept acquisition in the second language. They will associate every new concept in the new language with the concept that they already know from their mother tongue.
This association and filtering in the mental process also happen during language production, or simply when they are speaking using the second language. These subordinate bilingual people will first stream the language construction like an expression in their native language first before they can utter it in the second language.
For example, an American man who only understands English learns to speak Japanese for professional purposes. When he wants to say something in Japanese, he will make up the English sentence in his mind first and then translate it into Japanese. In the early stage of learning, his expression could be funny or not natural for native speakers since he might use English syntax but with Japanese words. However, their proficiency will increase with time and practice as this type of bilingual has the chance to be fully proficient in their second language.