Last Updated on October 28, 2023 by Bilingual Kidspot
This article will talk about the two main categories or types of bilingualism: simultaneous bilingualism and sequential bilingualism
Types of Bilingualism
Almost every single bilingual person in the world is unique. Too many factors influence language learning make it almost impossible to compare two bilingual individuals.
This makes the studying and categorising of bilinguals extremely difficult.
Researchers and scientists have nonetheless attempted to classify bilinguals into types of learners.
One major distinction is the order in which bilingual children learn their languages.
Research makes a distinction between learning two or more languages at once or learning them one after the other.
Here we talk about the different types of bilingualism; simultaneous or sequential bilinguals respectively, and how as parents raising bilingual kids, you can choose the right method for your family.
What is bilingualism?
Bilingualism is where a person speaks more than one language fluently. You can more on the topic in our post: What it means to be bilingual.
What is simultaneous bilingualism?
Simultaneous bilingualism is the exposure to two or more languages from birth, during infancy and early childhood (Patterson, 2002).
By early childhood, we usually mean by age 3 (though this is also opened to theoretical scientific debates with some proposing a strict one month old cut-off).
Simultaneous bilinguals are people who have been exposed to two or more languages before they turned 3 years old.
This way of acquiring languages and becoming bilingual is also sometimes referred to as bilingual first language acquisition (BFLA), meaning that those children have two first languages.
Usually, given the age of the children involved, this type of bilingualism means the children learn the languages in a more natural, not guided way.
Simultaneous bilingualism is one of the most studied in the scientific literature.
Since 1913 and Ronjat’s very early study, there have been countless studies documenting how bilingual first language acquisition or simultaneous bilingualism may work.
Simultaneous bilingualism can happen under (but are not limited to these) certain circumstances:
- If one parent speaks to a child in one language and another parent speaks to the child in another language, both parents speak different languages to a child from birth (or at least if they start doing this before 3 years old). This is often called One-parent-one-language strategy.
- If the child hears one language at home and learns another language from daycare, nursery, a childminder, nanny or any caregiver, this language strategy is called minority language at home.
What is sequential bilingualism?
Sequential bilingualism is when the child acquires the second language(s) after having learnt the first language, for example when the parental tongue is different than the main language of the community or education system.
When children are exposed to additional languages from age three or older, they are considered sequential (also sometimes called successive or subsequent bilinguals).
A sequential bilingual basically learns a second language after the first one has been (at least partially) established.
In many cases, a sequential bilingual will have already figured out many of the rules of their first language. They will have worked out how to form sentences, have conversations, etc. And they will be cognitively more mature than an infant acquiring two languages from birth.
This may therefore affect the learning/acquisition of the second language.
There are different contexts in which a child can become a sequential bilingual. These include (but are not limited to):
- a child learns a child at home and is then placed in an immersion school where the language of instruction is different to that of the home. In this case, the acquisition of the second language will be more formal (while the first one was more informal) and the child may become a sequential bilingual.
- a child migrates/moves to a different country aged 3 or more and suddenly needs to learn a new language they had never encountered before. This child would be classed a sequential bilingual. The learning of the second language can, here, be formal or not or a combination of both.
Raising bilingual kids, which method is better?
It is impossible to tell which method is better.
Every family is different. Every personal circumstance is different.
Those labels are just that labels. Those labels only explain the order with which a person has learnt their languages.
They do not indicate anything about how balanced a bilingual may be or how developed a bilingual’s languages may be. They do not say anything about fluency, achievement or lack of.
Many factors influence a person’s bilingualism (age, circumstances, environment, personality, etc).
Choose which is better for your family and your own situation.
Types of Bilingualism
As you can see there are different types of bilingualism. Hopefully this article has helped you know the differences.