What are Bilingualism and Multilingualism in Linguists’ Perspectives?

Code-switching is a phenomenon where people switch between different languages in one conversation. This happens because there are many reasons why we might want to do it. For example, you could be speaking to someone who doesn’t understand English well, or you could be talking about something personal that you don’t feel comfortable discussing in front of everyone else. 

There are several types of code-switching, including lexical, grammatical, stylistic, and pragmatic. Lexical switching refers to words being switched between languages; grammatical switching involves changing word order or sentence structure; stylistic switching involves altering how you speak; and pragmatic switching occurs when you change what you say based on the situation.

In oral communication, people often mix multiple languages together in the same speech act, such as when you’re speaking to a friend who speaks another language. This is called code switching. While some linguists consider code switching to be a form of bilingualism, others believe that it is actually just a way of speaking that allows people to communicate better across cultures. However, the process of code switching isn’t always easy. People must learn to think about what they are saying in a different language, and they must adjust their speech patterns accordingly.

Bilingualism is characterized by the alternated use of two languages.


In general terms, bilingualism is characterized by the alternated use of two languages. The problem arises when we try to define the extent of the language competence required to be considered bilingual. Most of the definitions of bilingualism come either from Bloomfield (1930) who defines it as “the native mastery of two languages”, or from Haugen who considers it “the use of complete and meaningful sentences in other languages”. 

However, there are different positions within the spectrum of definitions of bilingualism. Some authors consider that bilingualism is “the use of two or more languages by the same people”. Other scholars argue that bilingualism requires “the ability to produce and understand both languages equally well”. Others still claim that bilingualism is “a linguistic system where two or more languages are learned simultaneously”. Finally, some authors refer to bilingualism as “a state of mind, rather than as a specific set of skills”.

Clearly, those definitions (and many others) may be situated within a continuum ranging from a ‘radical’ position to a less restrictive one. For instance, Macnamara claims that “there is no single definition of bilingualism because the term is used in very different ways across disciplines and contexts.” Similarly, Kraus and Valkenburg argue that “it is impossible to give a precise definition of bilingualism since it depends on what counts as a second language and how much proficiency is needed to count as bilingual”.

The term “bilingualism” refers to speaking two different languages fluently. In contrast, multilingualism involves learning multiple languages. While some linguists consider both terms synonymous, others use one or the other depending upon the context. For example, while most English speakers speak Spanish, it is possible for a person to be fluent in Spanish without knowing any English. 

However, many English speakers know Spanish because they learned it in school. Similarly, while most French speakers speak English, it is possible for someone to learn English and never speak another language.

A bilingual person may be anywhere along a spectrum of proficiency. Some individuals are highly proficient in both languages, while others are less skilled in either language. Most people fall somewhere in between these extremes.

As with any skill, there is no single way to become bilingual; rather, it depends on how much effort you put into acquiring a second language. If you spend enough time studying a foreign language, you can acquire sufficient knowledge to communicate effectively. To learn a language requires practice, patience, and motivation.

Misinterpreting the Role of Bilingualism

Clinicians are often misinformed regarding the role of bilingualism or multilingualism in stuttering. Some clinicians believe that it is important to speak only one language during treatment because they think that speaking multiple languages puts a cognitive load on their brain’s processing. However, research has shown that there is no evidence that supports such beliefs.

Researchers have established that bilingualism and multilingualism are better explained as contributory factors in the equation rather than as causative factors.

This means that speaking multiple languages does not necessarily cause stuttering, but may be associated with increased risk of stuttering.

The Difference Between Multilingualism and Plurilingualism in Brief

Multilingualism is often confused with plurilingualism. This is because both words mean “many languages,” however, there is a significant difference between the two.

Monolingualism refers to speaking only one language, whereas bilingualism describes being able to speak two languages. A person who speaks multiple languages is known as a polyglot. However, it isn’t always possible to speak several languages fluently. For example, someone who speaks English and Spanish might be considered bilingual, but they won’t be fluent in either language. In contrast, a student who studies French while attending school in Canada would likely be considered multilingual.

Plurilingualism is the ability to speak many languages, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you know how to write them. In fact, most people who speak multiple languages don’t have much knowledge about writing in those languages.

In addition, some people use the word plurilingualism to describe a situation where people speak different languages, but they aren’t actually proficient in those languages. For instance, a person who knows three languages, but only understands one of them could still be described as a plurilingual.

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