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© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Bilingualism: Selected full-text books and articles

Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism
Li Wei; Jean-Marc Dewaele; Alex Housen.
Mouton de Gruyter, 2002
Reshaping the Mind: The Benefits of Bilingualism
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).
The Bilingualism Reader
Li Wei.
Routledge, 2000
Bilingualism in Development: Language, Literacy, and Cognition
Ellen Bialystok.
Cambridge University Press, 2001
Bilingualism: The Sociopragmatic-Psycholinguistic Interface
Joel Walters.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
International Handbook of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education
Christina Bratt Paulston.
Greenwood Press, 1988
Childhood Bilingualism: Aspects of Linguistic, Cognitive, and Social Development
Peter Homel; Michael Palij; Doris Aaronson.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1987
Tutorials in Bilingualism: Psycholinguistic Perspectives
Annette M. B. De Groot; Judith F. Kroll.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Literacy and Bilingualism: A Handbook for All Teachers
María Estela Brisk; Margaret M. Harrington.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Foreign Language and Mother Tongue
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
Suzette Haden Elgin.
Perseus Books, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "What is Multilingualism?" begins on p. 1
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