bilingualism, ability to use two languages. Fluency in a second language requires skills in listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing, although in practice some of those skills are often considerably less developed than others. Few bilinguals are equally proficient in both languages. However, even when one language is dominant (see language acquisition), performance in the other language may be superior in certain situations—e.g., someone generally stronger in Russian than in English may find it easier to talk about baseball in English. Native speakers of two languages are sometimes called equilingual, or ambilingual, if their mastery of both languages is equal. Some bilinguals are persons who were reared by parents who each spoke a different language or who spoke a language different from the one used in school. In some countries, especially those with two or more official languages, schools encourage bilinguilism by requiring intensive study of a second language. Bilinguals sometimes exhibit code-switching, or switching from one language to the other in the middle of a conversation or even the same sentence; it may be triggered by the use of a word that is similar in both languages.

See G. Saunders, Bilingual Children (1988); K. Hyltenstam and L. K. Obler, ed., Bilingualism Across the Lifespan (1989).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Bilingualism: Selected full-text books and articles

An Introduction to Bilingualism: Principles and Processes By Jeanette Altarriba; Roberto R. Heredia Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2008
Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism By Li Wei; Jean-Marc Dewaele; Alex Housen Mouton de Gruyter, 2002
Reshaping the Mind: The Benefits of Bilingualism By Bialystok, Ellen Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, Vol. 65, No. 4, December 2011
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Childhood Bilingualism: Aspects of Linguistic, Cognitive, and Social Development By Peter Homel; Michael Palij; Doris Aaronson Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1987
Tutorials in Bilingualism: Psycholinguistic Perspectives By Annette M. B. De Groot; Judith F. Kroll Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Literacy and Bilingualism: A Handbook for All Teachers By María Estela Brisk; Margaret M. Harrington Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Foreign Language and Mother Tongue By Istvan Kecskes; Tünde Papp Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "Language Processing Device of Multilinguals" and Chap. 7 "Pragmatic Knowledge of Multilinguals"
The Language Imperative By Suzette Haden Elgin Perseus Books, 2000
Librarian's tip: "What is Multilingualism?" begins on p. 1
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.