Waheed Shehzad

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences


Bilingualism is a term used by linguistics like other terms. To understand its meaning it is necessary to be aware of monolingual. According to “Cambridge Advance Lerner’s Dictionary”   3rd edition “speaking or using only one language” is called monolingual. There is no simple definition of bilingualism. Often the term includes both trilingualism and multilingualism. According to Skutnabb-Kangas, the mother tongue is identified based on four different criteria, which are origin, competence, function and attitudes. The origin has to do with the language the person has learned first which is a primarily sociological criterion. Competence is the language that the person knows best and that is a linguistic criterion, while the language that the person uses the most is a function that is essentially drawn from sociolinguistics. The last one is attitudes, which is the language that the person identifies itself with and the native language that other people identify the person with. This all has to do with socio-psychology, individual psychology and sociology. However, sometimes a person does not fulfill all of these criteria but this is a definition not adopted Skutnabb-Kangas for example. A category of bilinguals is ‘semilinguals’, which are also sometimes called ´double semilinguals’. They are viewed to have insufficient competence in either language. Semilinguals are considered to have a small vocabulary and incorrect grammar and think about language production all the time. At the same time, they think it is difficult to think and express emotions in either language. Bilingualism is the ability to use two languages. However, defining bilingualism is problematic since individuals with varying bilingual characteristics may be classified as bilingual. Definitions of bilingualism range from a minimal proficiency in two languages, to an advanced level of proficiency which allows the speaker to function and appear as a native-like speaker of two languages. A person may describe themselves as bilingual but may mean only the ability to converse and communicate orally. Others may be proficient in reading in two or more languages (or bi-literate). A person may be bilingual under having grown up learning and using two languages simultaneously (simultaneous bilingualism). Or they may become bilingual by learning a second language sometime after their first language. This is known as sequential bilingualism. To be bilingual means different things to different people.

Skutnabb-Kangas uses a distinction between elite bilinguals, who acquired their second language through formal education with some opportunity to use the language naturally and folk bilinguals who acquired their second language through practical contact with speakers of that language. Elite bilinguals typically become bilingual through a free choice to learn a language. Elite bilingualism has always been highly valued and considered a form of cultural enrichment and a mark of learning and intelligence. The risk associated with failing to learn the second language is small and is equal to the consequences of failing in any other area of the curriculum. Students who do not excel in language studies are usually able to discontinue the area of study and concentrate their attention on other subject areas. Folk bilingualism, however, has frequently been stigmatized and has often been associated with educational controversies related to the integration of minority children into the majority society. It is not, however, the type of bilingualism or the way a language is acquired that are the cause of problems in education for folk bilingual children but rather a combination of social and other factors. Folk bilinguals may also suffer difficulties due to the education system's lack of support for speakers of non-dominant languages. These children frequently enter classes taught in a language they do not speak and often find themselves in the same class as native speakers of the dominant language. Moreover, for many speakers of minority languages, general educational prospects for successful learning and their acquisition of the dominant language are dependent to some extent on the continued development of their first language and of the conceptual basis they have already gained. the lithe education system does not assist children in this development, the result can be severe educational difficulties for these children.

Balanced Bilingualism

Balanced bilingualism has a range of meanings for different writers. For Haugen, a balanced bilingual is an individual who has native-like competence in both languages. More frequently, however, the term is used to refer to an individual who has the roughly equal ability in both languages. This would mean that someone whose performance was imperfect in both languages would still be a balanced bilingual if his/her skills in each language were about the same. Most bilinguals are usually dominant in one language or the other, although they may not be dominant in the same language in all areas as the example of the Vietnamese speaking child given above indicates. Often, there are domains of language use in which people use only one of their two languages. For example, an Arabic-English bilingual in Australia may use only English at work or school, but would normally use Arabic at home or with friends. As a result, this person would have a more developed vocabulary for work and school in English and a more developed vocabulary for domestic activities in Arabic. This person could be better able to talk about work in English and better able to talk about cooking in Arabic.

Is bilingualism either an advantage or a disadvantage?

The question of the advantage or disadvantage of bilingualism, particularly for children, has been subject to much controversy. Much early writing on bilingualism has concentrated on what were believed to be the detrimental effects of bilingualism. For example, Jespersen maintained that the bilingual child hardly learns either language, as well as such a child, would have learned a single language. Moreover, he claims that the intellectual effort needed to master two languages diminishes the child's ability to learn other things. These early studies were largely based on the intuitions of the writers concerned, but experimental studies were also produced which seemed to bear out such opinions. Saer surveyed 1,400 Welsh school children in five rural and two urban schools and concluded that bilingualism led to lower intelligence. However, Saer failed to consider other factors that may have contributed to his results, such as possible differences in social class between bilingual and monolingual students. Saer found that lower scores in intelligence tests applied only for children in rural schools and those bilingual students in urban schools scored slightly better on his tests than monolinguals. It appears that in Saer's study, urban bilinguals had more contact with the second language, English, both in school and outside school than did their rural. The urban students would, therefore, be more balanced bilinguals than the rural students and could perform at a level similar to monolingual students on verbal intelligence tests. In 1962 Peal and Lambert published the results of a study in which they aimed to overcome the flaws in research design that characterized earlier studies. Peal and Lambert surveyed l0year old children in urban public schools in Montreal, Canada. These children were assessed on a range of cognitive, affective, and language use variables and profiles were developed which equated groups for factors such as socio-economic group, parental education. Controlled groups of monolinguals and balanced bilinguals were then compared and the bilinguals were found to be significantly ahead of their monolingual counterparts in verbal and nonverbal reasoning, divergent thinking and subject matter attainment. Bilingual ten-year-olds also tended to be further advanced in the school system than monolingual ten-year-olds. These findings have since been confirmed by several studies that have shown bilinguals to be more creative, cognitively more flexible and to perform better on tests of verbal and nonverbal intelligence. All bilingualism leads to cognitive and social advantages. Cognitive and social advantage from bilingualism is linked in particular to additive bilingualism. Under favorable social conditions where both languages are valued and reinforced, bilingualism may have positive effects on the cognitive process and social attitudes. Under adverse social conditions in which the child's home language is under-valued and is not reinforced through the education system, bilingualism may impede cognitive and social development.

In today’s global society, the ability to speak more than one language is a valuable asset. Pakistanis fluent in languages other than Urdu enhance our economic competitiveness abroad, improve global communication, help to maintain our political and security interests, and promote tolerance and intercultural awareness. As globalization and population movements are increasing, different cultures inevitably come into more contact with each other resulting in growing numbers of multicultural societies. These mixed communities lead to multilingual families and children who identify themselves with more than one culture and in many instances use different languages for each parent; that is they become bilingual. Skutnabb-Kangas and McCarty maintain that a bilingual possesses “proficiency in and use of two or more languages by an individual; the term does not always imply an equally high level of proficiency in all the relevant languages”. Bilinguals do not suffer from any negative effects of bilingualism on their cognitive and metalinguistic development. Most studies from their publication point to a positive impact. On the contrary, some investigators such as Tsushima and Hogan, have reached the opposite conclusion where bilingualism negatively affected children’s verbal ability and school achievement. Nevertheless, most investigations have implied a positive link between bilingualism and cognitive development.