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Defining Bilingualism

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Defining Bilingualism

Alexandra Gottardo, Ph.D., and Amy Grant, Department of Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University

Published online 03-26-08 in the Canadian Language & Literacy Research Network in their Encyclopedia of Language and Literacy Development

The definition of bilingualism is complex and is influenced by multiple factors such as the age of acquisition of the second language, continued exposure to the first language (L1), relative skill in each language and the circumstances under which each language is learned. Popular definitions of bilingualism conceptualize language knowledge as being a binary category—whether one is classified as having acquired two languages or not (Brutt-Griffler & Varghese, 2004). However, bilingualism should be thought of as being on a continuum, where one can have varying levels of proficiency in two languages, regardless of how and when they were acquired. In addition, language and literacy skills are comprised of multiple subskills. In any given language, bilinguals might be highly proficient in one domain of skills but not the other. For example, a person might show high oral language skills and limited reading skills. The problems in defining bilingualism and the consequences of bilingualism on specific reading related skills will be explored throughout this paper.

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Tags: SLP Language Literacy Bilingualism Article