The RCSLT Core Guidelines (2006) define the term bilingualism as: “Individuals or groups of people who acquire communicative skills in more than one language. They acquire these skills with varying degrees of proficiency, in oral and/or written forms, in order to interact with speakers of one or more languages at home and in society. An individual should be regarded as bilingual regardless of the relative proficiency of the languages understood or used" (CQ3, 2006:268).
“Bilingualism is simply about [the use of] two languages” […] regardless of ability and proficiency (Baker, 2006:2-3).
Monolingual-Acquisition of communication skills in only one language

Multilingual-Acquisition of communication skills in two or more languages

Multicultural-A person operating across more than one cultural framework

L1 -The first language acquired as a child

L2 -Any second language acquired either as child or adult

Linguistic repertoire-All languages or dialects that a person speaks

AL-Term used to refer to Additional Language(s)

Societial Bilingualism

Official multilingualism (e.g. Canada, Wales, S.-Africa, Belgium, India, Pakistan)

Individual Bilingualism

No official policy towards bilingualism but individuals may speak many different languages.

Most of what follows on this page relates to individual bilingualism.


Children become bilingual for different reasons and in different social contexts. In the UK it is possible to identify three major groups:

Elite Bilinguals
Children learn a second language at no cost to their first language (additive bilingualism). They are frequently children of upper/middle class professionals such as diplomats and business people. 

Familial Bilingualism
More than one language is spoken within the family. For instance, this can be as a result of the child having an English speaking mother and a French speaking father.

Linguistic Minorities
Refer to groups of people who speak a mother tongue that is not the official language of the country of residence (Myers-Scotton, 2006:46). The largest numbers of bilingual children in this country are in this group and likely to be of most concern to teachers and clinicians. Whether they are from refugee or other immigrant families, the home language is likely to have low status or value in the new society.
Children from these families will be subjected to strong pressure to learn the language of the majority community and will need to become competent in speaking, reading and writing for economic survival (subtractive bilingualism). They are also likely to have pressure from their families to take advantage of better educational opportunities but also strong pressure to retain their first language and culture.


Simultaneous Development
This type of bilingualism is described as the acquisition of two languages together from birth, but before the age of three years.
Sequential/Successive/Consecutive development
This is when a child learns a second language after about three years of age. The second l language follows the first in the acquisition order. This defines second language (L2) acquisition for both children and adults.
In addressing the issue of second language (L2) acquisition for children however, it is helpful to distinguish L2 acquisition in the pre-school years from that in the school years when the child is at higher maturational levels and when literacy, reading and writing also becomes part of the total process of becoming bilingual.

Passive language development

Some of the pre-school children in the linguistic minorities group although potentially sequential bilinguals are primarily monolingual, in that they are mainly directly exposed to one language, their first language (L1), but additionally receive passive exposure to English (L2) from their surroundings (e.g. from siblings, television etc.). However, the L2 is not directly spoken to them, thus they can be termed “PASSIVE BILINGUAL” (Miller, 1994).
The way in which proficiency develops will depend on the social context that leads the child to acquire more than one language.

Additive Bilingualism

Additive Bilingualism refers to the positive effects on L1 of learning L2. e.g. children of diplomats.

Subtractive Bilingualism

Where the language policies of the host nation favours the replacement of the home language with the majority language it can lead to subtractive bilingualism. This refers to the negative effects on the home language when learning L2.  This is particularly the case when a child from a minority or immigrant background is forced to give up the home language but, either has not fully mastered the home language, or has not yet begun to acquire the L2.
This can result in negative consequences for both cognition and language.
“Bilingual children, who experience language loss in their first language, because it has not received continued support when they began to learn English, may demonstrate language profiles similar to those of bilingual children with language disorders.” (Cline & Frederickson, 1991)
 Therefore, one should not advocate the use of English only either at school or home.

Ref: Cline, T and Frederickson, N (1991), Baker, 2006:24:
Language ability or proficiency describes specific, observable, measurable outcomes of using language(s) in all modalities (i.e. speaking, listening, reading and writing). The ability of human beings to use language can be considered from different linguistic perspectives:
The proficiency of a bilingual speaker is best understood if competence in all five of these perspectives are taken into account; they complement each other. A speaker’s proficiency is thus not just made up of knowledge of the languages and skills in listening to them and speaking them. It also involves attitudes and feelings about the situations in which each language is used.  A proficient bilingual speaker requires not only competence but also confidence across a wider range of situations than a monolingual speaker will ever face.

Key points that can be summarised from SLA research are as follows:
Order and Sequence of Acquisition
The order and sequence of second language acquisition are roughly the same whether English is the mother tongue or an additional language.

Some typical patterns of second language learning

Language Universals
When linguistic minority children approach the task of acquiring a second language, they bring with them both the competence (the inner, mental representation of language) and performance (the outward evidence of competence) of their first language. They implicitly know the rules of their first language and its functions. From research it seems that certain language universals apply to all languages, e.g. words for names, actions, attribute etc, words grouped into utterances, phrases, clauses, sentences etc.
There may be some ‘typical’ errors in a child’s L2, which appears as the child transfers the linguistic rules of their L1 onto L2. This is sometimes called INTERFERENCE. This can be interpreted as having a negative effect on the development of L2. However, in a supportive environment it can be seen as positive L2 learning. Therefore, some knowledge of L1 is required to point out L2 errors/cause.
Silent Period
Often children learning a second language after the first has been established go through a ‘silent period’. This can often last quite a long time but its importance is to enable meaning in the new language. This may cause anxiety t o some teachers, but it should be treated as a normal phenomenon like any setting in period in a new environment.
Children will often experience a period of Non-Fluency as they learn to use L2.
They may also display a higher use of ‘empty’ words and interjections which should phase out their vocabulary in L2 increases.
Measurement of bilingual language skills – BICS vs CALP

A model developed by Jim Cummins (Canada 2000) looked at educational issues and examined the relationship between fluency in everyday conversation and ability to use language for academic purposes. His research suggests that children who start learning a second language (L2) after school admission may acquire a good level of fluency in everyday conversation (BICS) (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills) quite quickly – within two years – but it may be a long time – between five and seven years in one Canadian Study before they have caught up with average monolingual children on measures of CALP (Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiency).

Knowledge of these different rates of acquisition of different aspects of language is important in understanding bilingual pupils with alleged learning difficulties - if a child appears relatively fluent in English, academic problems may be attributed to underlying learning difficulties rather than the lack of appropriate language skills.
However, it could be that the surface fluency has misled the teachers/clinicians/EP into thinking the child’s language is sufficient for abstract tasks.


These terms refer to the way in which a bilingual speaker uses his/her two (or more) languages in the same interaction.

The language produced as a result of mixing, switching or borrowing is often treated as ‘gibberish’. This is because of ignorance and confusion about second language acquisition. It is important to remember that these are just typical of bilingual situations and should not be seen as a disorder.

These function as part of a complex sociolinguistic code available only to bilingual speakers. Switching between languages may be used to signal a change in intimacy, to signal an in-group reference/sentiment, to give emphasis, or to simply compensate for the lack of the precisely suitable word in one of the languages. Research suggests that even very young children can use their developing languages differently and appropriately to those with whom they share languages and those with whom they do not (Genesee, 2002:173).

Code switching

This occurs when L1 and L2 are mixed in a single sentence/conversation.
Punjabi speaker: ‘ama meh roti nahi khani, I want chips’ (Mum I don’t want to eat roti (chapattis) I want chips).

Code Mixing

Intermingling of L1 and L2.
Gujerati speaker: ‘Horse jump kare che.’ (The horse is jumping)

Lexical Borrowing

Only single lexical items, phrases or clauses are borrowed .
Swahili speaker: ‘Mimi na kula eggs’. (I am eating eggs)

Duncan et al, 1985 identified several factors:
• Area of origin in the respective countries.
• Length of residence and establishment in the present country.
• Language status and attitudes to the L1 and L2 in the home, community and school.
ii) AFFECTIVE factors:
Krashen, 1981 looked at Motivation and Anxiety of the learner in the second language environment. He concluded that low anxiety and high motivation, self-confidence and self-esteem in the acquirer are positive influences in learning second language.
iii) COGNITIVE factors:
Concept development and psycholinguistic features affect L2 development. A child with underlying learning difficulties is going to have far more difficulties acquiring L2 than one who does not.
iv) LINGUISTIC factors:
The development of competence in L2 is partly a function of the type of competence already achieved in L1 at the time that instruction in L1 begins. Therefore, children who do not master their first language will have difficulty acquiring skills in a second language. _____________________________________________________________________