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 According to Saunders (1988),

bilingualism simply means having

two languages, and is often used
in literature to mean the same as
multilingualism, that is, having
more than two languages.
 Bilinguals can be ranged along a
continuum from the rare equilingual,
ambilingual or balanced bilingual (having
an exactly equal command of two
languages) who is indistinguishable from a
native speaker in both languages at one
end, to the person who has just begun to
acquire a second language at the other
end, or monolingual (having very little
proficiency in more than one language).
 Read the article and discuss:

“What do we mean when we talk about

bilingualism?” - Griffith University
 How is bilingualism defined?
 A person does not have to speak two languages
with equal fluency to be considered a bilingual.
 What is a ‘dominant’ language?
 Who is a ‘passive bilingual’?
 What is meant by the term ‘native-like’ ability?
 What are the advantages of the ‘One Person-One
Language’ pattern? What are the disadvantages
(if any)?
 What are the advantages of the ‘Minority
language’ pattern? What are the disadvantages (if
 Do you agree with the view that learning two
languages at the same time will confuse the child?
 Do you agree with the view that learning English
will threaten the mother tongue?
 Bilinguals acquire language better than
monolinguals? Do you agree? Why?
 Distinct from balanced and dominant
 Refers to a bilingual who does not possess
‘sufficient’ competence in either language
(Baker, 2001).
 ~ Displays a small vocabulary and incorrect
grammar, consciously thinks about
language production, is stilted and
uncreative with each language, and finds it
difficult to think and express emotions in
either language.
 Also referred to as double semilinguals.
 It is important to make a distinction
between bilingualism as an individual
phenomenon and bilingualism as a
group or societal possession (Baker,
 Bilingualism and multilingualism can be
examined as the possession of the
individual (individual bilingualism).
 However, bilingualism and multilingualism
are usually found in groups (societal
 Such groups may be located in a particular
region (exp. Catalan in Spain), or may be
scattered across communities (e.g. Chinese
in the US).
 Bilinguals may form a distinct language
group as a majority or a minority.
 Bilinguals and multilinguals within a country
may be analyzed as a distinct group.
 Romaine (1995) cites the work of Mackey
(1967) who suggest that there are four
questions which a description of
bilingualism must address:
 (i). Degree – concerns aspects of proficiency
(e.g. language skills);
 (ii). Function – focuses on the uses a bilingual
speaker has for the languages and the
different roles they have in the individual’s total
repertoire (functional bilingualism);
 (iii). Alternation – the extent to which the
individual alternates between the
languages (e.g. code switching);
 (iv). Interference – the extent to which
the individual manages to keep the
languages separated, or whether they
are fused (e.g. L1 interference on L2).
 Li Wei (2007)
 The key variables to be considered in
defining a bilingual person include:
 (i). Age and manner of acquisition;
 (ii). Proficiency level in specific
 (iii). Domains of language use,
 (iv). Self-identification and attitude
 Age and manner of acquisition help to
distinguish those people who are exposed
to two or more languages from birth from
the ones who acquire a second language
later in life, and those who have acquired
languages in a naturalistic context (e.g.
born to bilingual/multilingual parents or
living in a bilingual/multilingual community)
from the ones who have learnt languages
through formal instruction.
 Contrary to popular assumptions, age
and manner of acquisition have little
bearing on the proficiency level of the
individual in specific languages (Li Wei,
 Assessing the bilingual’s language
proficiency is a very complex issue. All
four modalities – listening, speaking,
reading and writing – should be
 Inadequate measuring can result in
misclassification of bilingual speakers
and misinterpretation of research
findings (Li Wei, 2007).
 Bilinguals use their languages differently for
different purposes in different domains.
 In some cases, the domains of language
use do not overlap, resulting in different
manifestations of the bilingual’s knowledge.
(using different language in different
 In other cases, the bilingual uses both
languages all the time in all contexts,
resulting in large amount of code-switching
(Li Wei, 2007)
 Not all bilinguals want to be described as
bilinguals. Some bilinguals may find
themselves in a socially disadvantaged
position and would prefer to conceal
their true bilingual identity.
 Others may have a particular view of
what constitutes bilingualism and would
not self-identify as bilinguals (Li Wei,
 What are the advantages (or
disadvantages) of a child becoming
 It is natural and meaningful to try to
categorize the complexity of individual
differences in bilingualism.
 People are constantly compared and
 The measurement of bilinguals attempts
to locate similarities, order and pattern
(Baker, 2001).
 (1). Distribution (Baker, 2001)
 ~ Example is found in the Census
questions, requesting information about
ability or usage in two or more
languages (exp. In US, Canada, Ireland,
 ~ to estimate the size and distribution of
bilinguals in a particular area – mapping
the proportion and location of minority
language groups within a state or region.
 Bilinguals may be distinguished as a
‘separate’ group for selection purposes
(Baker, 2001).
 Exp. Allocating children to classes or
groups based on their degree of
bilingual proficiency or language
 In a minority language context, emphasis is
often on measuring proficiency in both the
minority language and the majority
language (Baker, 2001).
 Exp. In the US, emphasis on minority
language groups becoming proficient in
English is dominant in the testing of
 Summing up a bilingual’s language
proficiency may occur at the end of a
semester or a school year.
 With proficiency testing, the
measurement of bilinguals become
fused with second language testing and
the general area of language testing.
 Also, focuses on measures of the relative
dominance of a person’s two languages
and the mixing of a person’s two
languages (‘interference’).
 A test or assessment device that gives
feedback during learning, and to aid
further language development is
formative assessment (Baker, 2001).
 A student may be profiled on a precise
breakdown of language skills to facilitate
 If the test reveals areas where a child’s
language needs developing, there can
be immediate intervention and remedial
 A diagnosis of a problem in language
may lead to the formation of a plan to
effect a remedy.
(Baker, 2001)
 ~ Self-rating scales. The measure actual
use of two languages as opposed to
 (Refer to example in Baker (2001) page
 Examples (Baker, 2001):
 (1). Census questions (exp. US)
 ~ questions are sometimes included about
speaking a minority language – i.e. ‘Does
the person speak a language other than
English at home?’, ‘How well does this
person speak English?’, etc.
 (2). Survey research (Refer to example in
Baker (2001) page 23)
 ~ self-rating on proficiency through research
survey. Exp. Linguistic Minorities Project (UK)
 A current movement in education is to
involve students in their own assessment
(Baker, 2001).
 It may help students to understand ‘why’
and ‘how’ their work is assessed, aiding
motivation and interest.
 Students may assess their language
strengths and weaknesses, review
progress made in a period of time, and
set future learning targets.
 Self-assessment in partnership with
teacher assessment can be a powerful
tool of teacher-student collaboration,
and of increased student responsibility
for their work.
 In the US, instruction for language
minority children (exp. Mexican) was
mandated to take place in the child’s
dominant (exp. Spanish) language. Thus,
some measure of language dominance
was needed and this may be through
English and Spanish language
proficiency tests (Baker, 2001).
 Use of psychometric tests:
 (i). Speed of reaction in a word association task
 ~ this sees to measure whether a bilingual can
give an association to stimulus words more
quickly in one language than the other.
 ~ No particular difference would indicate a
balanced bilingual
 ~ A person may be competent in two or more
languages while being dominant in one
 ~ A person may also have equal dominance
but a low level of competence in both
languages (Baker, 2001).
 (ii). Quantity of reactions to a word
association task.
 ~ Bilinguals are measured for the
number of associations given within one
minute when a stimulus word (e.g.
‘color’) is presented.
 ~ An equal number of responses may
indicate a balance between the two
 (iii). Detection of words using both
 ~ Words in both languages are to be
extracted from a nonsense word such as
DANSONODEND (Baker, 2001).
 ~ The letters in the nonsense words must
be equally representative of both
 (iv). Time
 ~ Time taken to read a set of words in the
respondent’s two languages.

 (v). Mixing
 ~ Amount of mixing the two languages,
the borrowing (‘interference’) and
switching from one language to another
(‘code switching’).
 Seeing how bilinguals perform in both
languages in a range of real
communicative situations (Baker, 2001).
 Exp. Observations of bilinguals in their
everyday routines.
 Exp. Oral interview
 Usually classified into Norm Reference (e.g.
summative tests) and Criterion Reference
tests (e.g. formative tests).
 One advantage for bilinguals of criterion
referenced testing over norm referenced
testing is the point of comparison:
 (i). Norm referenced testing may compare
bilinguals with monolinguals.
 (ii). In criterion referenced testing the
bilingual will be profiled on specific
language skills.
 (1). Ambiguity
 ~ Words such as ‘speak’, ‘understand’,
‘read’ and ‘write’ include a wide variety of
levels of proficiency (Baker, 2001).
 (2). Context
 ~ A bilingual may be able to understand a
language in one context (e.g. a shop) and
not in another context (e.g. academic
lecture). Proficiency and usage will vary with
changing environments
 (3). Social desirability
 ~ Respondents may consciously or
unconsciously give a ‘halo’ version of
themselves (Baker, 2001).
 ~ People may say they are fluent in a
second language (when in reality they
are not) for self esteem or status reasons.
 ~ Questions about proficiency can be
interpreted as political referendum or
attitudinal questions.
 Are some families better placed than
others to produce bilingual children?