Skip to Content

Bilingualism - Types of Bilingualism

 

  • Early bilingualism - there are two types: simultaneous early bilingualism and consecutive (or successive) early bilingualism.
    • Simultaneous early bilingualism refers to a child who learns two languages at the same time, from birth. This generally produces a strong bilingualism, called additive bilingualism. This also implies that the child's language development is bilingual.
    • Successive early bilingualism refers to a child who has already partially acquired a first language and then learns a second language early in childhood (for example, when a child moves to an environment where the dominant language is not his native language). This generally produces a strong bilingualism (or additive bilingualism), but the child must be given time to learn the second language, because the second language is learned at the same time as the child learns to speak. This implies that the language development of the child is partly bilingual.
  • Late bilingualism – refers to bilingualism when the second language is learned after the age of 6 or 7; especially when it is learned in adolescence or adulthood. Late bilingualism is a consecutive bilingualism which occurs after the acquisition of the first language (after the childhood language development period). This is what also distinguishes it from early bilingualism. With the first language already acquired, the late bilingual uses their experience to learn the second language.
  • Additive bilingualism and subtractive bilingualism – The term additive bilingualism refers to the situation where a person has acquired the two languages in a balanced manner. It is a strong bilingualism. Subtractive bilingualism refers to the situation where a person learns the second language to the detriment of the first language, especially if the first language is a minority language. In this case, mastery of the first language decreases, while mastery of the other language (usually the dominant language) increases. These expressions and their associated concepts were created by Wallace Lambert, the Canadian researcher who has been given the title of “the father of bilingualism research”.
  • Passive bilingualism - refers to being able to understand a second language without being able to speak it. Children who respond in a relevant way in English when they are addressed in French could become passive bilinguals, as their mastery of oral expression in French decreases.