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'Bilingualism can be defined 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 languages understood or used’ (Communicating Quality 3; Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists 2006: 268). 




Mc Carty (2014) suggests that bilingualism has four main levels: individual level (own bilingual and bicultural development), family level (bilingual child-raising), societal level (cultural issues or government policies toward minorities) and the school level (bilingual education).


(For further reading see



Children become bilingual for different reasons and in different social contexts. For instance, in the UK, if more than one language is spoken within the family, which can be as a result of the child having an English speaking mother and a French-speaking father.


Linguistic Minorities refers to groups of people who speak a mother tongue that is not the official language of the country of residence (Myers-Scotton, 2006). The largest numbers of bilingual children in the UK 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 could probably have a low status or value in the new society.


Children from these families could feel pressurised to learn the language of the majority community to become competent in speaking, reading and writing to explore better educational opportunities and economic survival. On the other hand, there could be an expectation to retain their first language and culture from their families. 




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 an additional language after the first language has already been introduced.


Additive Bilingualism

Additive Bilingualism refers to the positive effects on the home language as a consequence of learning an additional language.


Language Attrition

This refers to the process of decline or loss of the native language due to isolation from speakers of the native language and/or due to interference from acquisition and dominant use of a second language. 




Listed below are some typical patterns/features of second language learning


• Language Universals

When children from bilingual backgrounds approach the task of acquiring an additional language, they bring with them both the competence and performance of their first language. 


• Language Transfer 

This is when a child transfers the linguistic rules of one language to another. It is also called linguistic interference. 


• Silent Period

This is a phase reportedly observed during learning a second language where the child is yet to produce L2. This is quite typical in children while they are actively learning another language. 


•Normal non-fluency 

Some bilingual children may repeat words or phrases, have hesitations or interjections which are typical during early language development. These phase out as they become more competent in the languages they’re exposed to.


• Code mixing

This occurs when the bilingual speaker alternates or mixes languages in a single sentence or conversation. Code-switching and code-mixing are often used interchangeably and it must be noted that this is a typical part of bilingual language development and production. Punjabi speaker: ‘amma mehne roti nahi khani, I want chips’ (Mum I don’t want to eat roti (chapattis) I want chips). Gujarati speaker: ‘Horse jump kare che.’ (The horse is jumping)



Language skills in each language can vary depending on the child’s environment. Being bilingual does not cause a language disorder. Bilingual children with language disorders are likely to have difficulties in all languages that they use and understand. Hence, determining that language difference is as a consequence of linguistic background is crucial when differentially diagnosing for language disorder in bilingual children. This is further discussed in the assessment section. 




Adescope et al (2010) conducted a meta-analysis of 63 studies that examined cognitive correlates of bilingualism. Results suggest that bilingualism was associated with increased attentional control, working memory, metalinguistic awareness and abstract and symbolic representational skills. Carlson and Meltzoff (2008) found similar advantages in bilingual children in their ability to manage conflicting attentional demands as compared to their monolingual counterparts. They attributed this advantage to ‘thinking in two languages’ where bilingual children had to hold in mind the relevant language whilst inhibiting the non-relevant one.



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